I remember 2006.
I remember when no one had a clue what The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was, let alone knowing that it would turn into a phenomenon that persists to this day. I remember watching it before true Haruhiist mania had caught on, which was sometime around the release of the second broadcast episode. I remember dropping everything I was doing, once a week, to watch the new Haruhi episode. I remember arguing with people about whether it was meta-parody or not, about whether it was the horribly generic and silly series it had lampooned in the student film episode or not, about whether it was “just another silly harem series” or not, about endless permutations of quality and the lack thereof. In short, I remember it being a highly complicated time, and not exactly a good environment to foster sane, rational opinions about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
I also remember, after it had concluded and the post-good-series glow had faded, wondering what all the hooplah still going on was about.
Don’t get me wrong, I still like the series, but there was always something different about the way I liked it. Sometimes I thought that there was some quality that I’d overlooked, one that may or may not appeal to me, but that obviously appealed to the legions of fans, that drove the series from a fad to a phenomenon. Other times I thought that everyone else was grossly overestimating it, and the value of Haruhi became less intrinsic to the work so much as intrinsic to the fandom surrounding it. The average of these two feelings was the simple, almost apathetic, stance of “it’s good, even great, but why all the fuss over it?” (I should point out here that this statement encompasses my current stance on Neon Genesis Evangelion as well)
I have, however, recently read the Yen Press release of the first volume, which (by way of review) was quite well-done. Except for the fact that they published a hardcover without a dust jacket–like seriously, dust jackets can be super annoying at times, but I like them, and I really wanted a Haruhi dust jacket. But I’m a bibliophile plus an anime fan, so that makes for a deadly combination indeed. The translation was also fairly solid, and, in fact, at times felt like Strato’s a.f.k. subs that I almost suspect that he was the translator, or, at least, that the translator/editor had certainly seen more of of the a.f.k. subs than any other subs. But more important than the content, it turned out, was the chance to revisit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya with fresher eyes.
I cannot–will not–speak for the fandom at large, but for me, after reading the first novel, I at least have a more firm grasp on what I like about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I chalk this up to three factors: time, distance, and personal maturity. There is almost no new information in the novel that isn’t in the anime as well, with the only significant disadvantage of the anime being that some of Kyon’s narratorial snark is lost. And yet, somehow, it felt like I was experiencing Haruhi for the first time all over again.
What Haruhi is to me–and I remember seeing very vague glimmers of this three years ago, although nothing that could ever make it to a concrete thought–is less a showcase for a bevy of cute girls (and a couple cute guys if Kyon x Itsuki is your thing) or a complicated meta-parody of stereotypical tropes (although it certainly is those things to varying degrees, as well as others I can’t quite put words on now) but more of a story of Kyon, who lost his imagination, and Haruhi, who is utterly enveloped in it. Kyon spells it out straight right at the start: as he grew older, in the name of “maturity” and “adulthood” he shelved his boyish obsessions with the paranormal, the nonexistent–the fictional–and resigned himself to his daily trudge up the massive, giant hill that his high school resides upon, and the hours upon hours of mindless drudgery that occupy the space inside those walls. This, he sighs, is life. Mindless, meaningless, and merely something that one has to trudge through.
Starkly contrasting with Kyon’s dreary and bleak acceptance of the “normalcy” of the world is Our Lady of Abnormal herself, Haruhi, who insists that there are paranormal events, that there are things that are greater than reality, and who lives so much in a world of her own creation that she has no interest at all in the mundane world. She later reveals that she has the same basic worldview as Kyon does, albeit expressed differently, but she draws the exact opposite conclusion–that nothing fun will happen if you sit around waiting and accepting of the dreary drudgery that surrounds you–and drags it to the same illogically extreme pole that Kyon drags his. Kyon is content to sit around and be bored a lot; Haruhi isn’t content unless she’s yelling a lot in a bunnysuit and handing out flyers advertising her new super-cool yet still-unnamed club.
The extremes of Kyon and Haruhi’s personalities, of course, are played more for laughs, but there’s a darker edge. Kyon may be sardonic, but he’s also jaded and retains no passion or fervor for anything. He has no interests, nothing that distinguishes him from the crowd, and (aside from the snark) no personality. Haruhi, meanwhile, has passion and fervor for her multitudinous interests to spare, and her antics relating to said passion and fervor get her in more trouble than it seems to be worth–not to mention that her entire forthright personality is very much a cover for her own depression. No matter how wacky Haruhi’s antics get, or how bitingly snide Kyon gets, neither of these are good extremes. And yet, even in the first novel, and in the anime, you get the feeling that Kyon is (very gradually) learning to enjoy non-reality, and Haruhi is (very gradually) learning to enjoy life as it is; both have more fun than they are willing to admit. Even in the first novel, Kyon is the “unknown factor” of Haruhi because he has an active interest in her–he denies it constantly, but it’s blatantly obvious that he is attracted to her, and Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki all agree that Kyon himself is important to Haruhi (even if she won’t admit it either).
The important thing that Haruhi tries to get across, at least in what I’ve read/seen, is that the extremes of Haruhi and Kyon, lovable though they both are, are not to be desired, founded, as they are, upon inner turmoil and abject apathy. Together, however, they seem to counterbalance (and tolerate) each other’s extremes, and pull the other towards a more coherent, integrated median. Those grounded on Earth learn how to stick their heads up in the clouds, and those with their heads in the clouds learn how to place their feet on the ground. Fantasy and reality are two halves of a whole, and life is hollow if it lacks one or the other.
And that is why I suddenly have a newfound appreciation for Haruhi. I’m pretty sure I won’t run out and join a Haruhiist cult, but, on a personal level, it’s quite nice to step back from the former insanity that was Haruhi‘s airing and the roaring undercurrent it is now, and find something more in a series that I didn’t see at first. Even if it’s not there, and Haruhi really is about a bevy of attractive anime characters of both genders (who is which gender is debatable after the Great Discovery of Kyonko).