Friday’s Feature – Remembering Haruhi Suzumiya

If you weren’t an anime fan ten years ago, you may have missed the fuss around The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (then again, given the persistent internet presence of Haruhi its possible that you’ve since caught up on what was a massive craze that then pretty much completely dissipated). Whether you loved or hated Haruhi, you couldn’t ignore her if you were part of any anime community and today I want to look back at this fad that all but sparked its own religion (Haruhiism – not joking).

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For those who still have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a brief overview. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an anime based on a series of light novels and it follows Kyon, a typical highschool boy who is just a bit jaded with life, as he starts highschool and has the ‘pleasure’ of ending up in the same class of the girl who works hard at being the weirdest student around, Haruhi Suzumiya. And so begins the adventure as Kyon is literally dragged into Haruhi’s little world and she starts a club, dragging other students into it. That in and of itself is pretty standard and would work for a story but of course there is more.

It turns out that Haruhi really wants there to be magic in the world. She wants to meet aliens and espers and time travellers. Little does she know she already has as the other three members of her club represent each of these groups. Kyon, on the other hand, becomes very aware. As he is also aware that literally everything Haruhi wants, happens, though she’s all but clueless. Haruhi is in simplest terms, rewriting reality at her own whims. The main job of the club members is to keep Haruhi happy and on an even keel so she doesn’t decide to destroy the world. No problem.

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Still, even with its off the wall protagonist and mish-mash of science, magic and religion why is it that Haruhi gained so many followers (and lost most of them just as quickly)?

For full disclosure I will point out I am a major fan of Haruhi Suzumiya including the Endless Eight (which we will get back to). It was kind of exactly what I was looking for at the time so even though other shows have done more or less the same kinds of things, the combination of elements in Haruhi just worked for me. I will get around to a review of this series at some point but like many of my favourites its actually kind of hard to review. But as this isn’t a review I won’t be examining Haruhi’s core character or some of the more problematic elements of the show.

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I’m going to start with the format of the show. The DVD collection of this gave you two options for viewing. Broadcast Order and Chronological Order. Chronological Order mixes season 1 and 2 together and the events run in the actual order they occur which makes things much easier to follow but certainly takes a lot of the wow factor out of the series (particularly as the season 1 climax ends up at episode 5 – they need to warn people that things will never be that intense again). Broadcast Order is the order the episodes originally aired in and they are literally all over the place. No Haruhi wasn’t the first anime to mix up time like this and it certainly wasn’t the last but it is a defining feature of the show.

With the events all out of order the question is how do viewers figure out what is going on and how it relates to other events? In Haruhi they give the viewers their landmark which is the clubroom, which was originally the literature club’s room that Haruhi kind of took over given they only had one member. Over the course of the series the room gradually fills up with different artefacts (as noted by Kyon our narrator) and while some of these are simply functional, the vast majority are specifically linked to key events in the story. Therefore, by looking at what is and isn’t in the club room at any given time, you know where in the narrative the episode is taking place. Admittedly, the first time you watch it through this won’t be a big help to you as you won’t be familiar with most of the artefacts anyway.

Some purists absolutely believe you should only watch Haruhi in broadcast order but I disagree. I don’t mind the fact that we don’t end up with a climax if we watch it in chronological order because I like watching the character journey play out (though some will argue there is no character journey). I genuinely like how Kyon and Haruhi’s relationship changes and develops over the course of the show (even when those changes are at times miniscule). It’s kind of like real relationships where you aren’t sure when they started to change but they did and you end up somewhere different.

However, while not unique, the fact that Haruhi was originally aired in non-chronological order was one of the things that made it stand out from the vast array of anime of the time and the fact that it works in both broadcast and chronological order just makes it better as it gives people options. That said, this novelty isn’t enough to give the series staying power so while it contributed to the momentary popularity, if this was the only gimmick the show had rolled out it was never going to be remembered as anything more than vaguely quirky.

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Other than the format, we have the fact that Haruhi is completely full of references to other stories (a lot of these are anime but we have references to a wide range of literature). Actually, watching Haruhi and counting the references could become one of the best drinking games ever.Β  We’ve got Gundam references, Full Metal Panic references, Evangelion references, even a couple of obvious Dr Who shout outs, and while some of these work to create extra meaning in Haruhi, most of them are just plain entertaining.

Again, Haruhi is not the first anime to reference other anime or texts. Nor has it done it better than other shows, or in a unique fashion. However, what it did was to fully integrate those references within its central narrative. These characters live in the world (a real world even if it is one of Haruhi’s design) and as a result they read and watch TV and they do speak and refer to events in stories and discuss the parallels between the weird situations they end up in and works of fiction. It makes these characters more believable as characters even while the show mocks itself for being derivative.

This is both part of the short term draw of the show and part of the reason it became harder for newer fans to get on board. There is definite pleasure in recognising the reference and some of the references were old even when Haruhi aired. It got around this by mostly referencing very classic texts that were likely to still be known but there are still some comments and visuals that are clear references to something that I just don’t get and I know that a lot of the references go over the heads of people these days. It isn’t funny when you know a character has just said something in reference to a show you’ve never heard of.

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Thirdly, defining Haruhi Suzumiya as a genre. It’s pretty much impossible to nail it into one category. The closest you could get is a high-school slice of life but that severely diminishes the importance of the fantasy and sci-fi elements that come through in the show. At times we get mystery, others romance, and there’s also a healthy amount of comedy thrown about. The slice of life stuff works as a frame for everything else and they literally cram in everything else.

This gives the show both broad appeal and limited appeal. There’s probably some parts of Haruhi you will like depending on your favourite genre but there will be other parts that just won’t work for you personally. So while you can get people to watch the show by dangling whatever genre might appeal to them in front of them, the show itself won’t be a brilliant anything because it doesn’t fit in to any genre exclusively.

Okay, there’s a bunch more stuff I could talk about but this post is already getting long so the last point I have to talk about is the Endless Eight. If you haven’t heard of this and want to know just how much the Endless Eight annoys some people just google it and you will find both a collection of some of the most intensely written justifications for eight almost identical episodes and some of the most vicious rants I’ve ever seen attributed to an anime.

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Again, love or hate the Endless Eight, it is a defining part of Haruhi Suzumiya. Part of season 2, it is essentially eight episodes of a time loop. Literally. Each episode starts at the beginning of the loop and we watch the characters live about two weeks of their lives before they fail to stop the loop continuing and the episode ends. At least for viewers it is only eight episodes. For the characters they experience the loop 15,532 times which apparently equates to 595 years (googled that as I couldn’t remember).

For me, I enjoy watching the very minor changes in interactions and costumes that occur throughout this sequence am happy enough to watch through the eight episodes. For most people this is nothing short of torture and when the second season was only 14 episodes having 8 of them playing a time loop could be considered kind of a cheat. But it is very Haruhi. Yes, we’ve seen shows with time loops before. Yes, we’ve seen characters become aware they are stuck in a loop and struggle to break it and fail. What most shows don’t do (for good reason) is stick the viewer in the same loop. That frustration you are feeling at the fifth episode, imagine you are the character now.

It is again a defining trait of the series and one of the reasons it exploded across the internet but it is also one of the reasons why people turned away from the show and it clearly divided the fandom.

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As I said, one day I’ll actual review this series, and look at the spin-off about Nagato (not such a fan), but today I just wanted to look back at an anime that whether people enjoyed it or not certainly got them talking. What are your thoughts on Haruhi?


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37 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – Remembering Haruhi Suzumiya

  1. I’ve been intending to write something up about Haruhi Suzumiya for years now, but despite my unbridled love of the series, none of the projects I’ve conceived have ever taken off. Taking that into account, I really enjoyed reading this think-piece about the series, which was both loving and fair to the franchise. Hopefully I get off my ass and follow suit.

    I especially want to write about the cringeworthy “ASOS Brigade” features.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s hard to write about Haruhi. Eventually I want to write a review of the series, but to be honest it will be awhile before I try to do that. I’m too in love with the show even while knowing its flaws.

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  2. It’s been years since I first had the Haruhi experience, but I remember being able to look past all the chronological confusion, and just get swept up in the hilarity and wonder of it all. The overriding everyday serenity makes up the majority of what I can recall, and that seemed to make most of the jumping about in time a non-issue. That said, the Endless Eight was definitely frustrating. Perhaps now I’ve been through it once, I could accept it for what it is and better appreciate the details.

    One lovely thing you pick up on, the feeling of not knowing when someone, or even your relationship with them, started to change and yet it did. That’d be a beautiful way to rewatch it, with that in mind.

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  3. This is a show that, like Higurashi, falls into my favorites list, but I don’t frequently rewatch. It’s that initial viewing that matters. Once you know the ins and outs of the story, a second viewing can be rewarding, but doesn’t pack the same punch.

    Which is where both shows both succeeded and failed. That initial punch is well worth the trip, but it doesn’t have staying power, simply because it doesn’t hit the same later.

    Which is why I think Haruhi kind of gets short changed. We all loved it the first time we watched it. It was only with later viewings people became more critical of it. Mostly, I think, because it didn’t hit them the same way, and they expected it to.

    As a story, Haruhi is pretty well thought out and written, however, so I still love it, even if I don’t rewatch it very often. When I do, I sit through the Endless Eight, because that’s just how I am.

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  4. Haruhi Suzumiya is one of my most favorite anime. Like you said, it is really hard to nail into one category, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I really like it: it has an actual serious story, but it’s also silly and so many other things, and it does a lot of them pretty well. It also is fairly experimental (for its time), and I like it for that too.

    I was late to the party though, when I got introduced to the series. I think it was 2014? On my watch-through, I challenged myself to watch the entirety of Endless Eight in one sitting. It took me 3 tries, because I fell asleep the first two times, but I did it.

    I also haven’t reviewed the series yet either, for about the same reason lol.

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  5. I know of this and the Endless Eight but I had no clue that it had spawned a religion. That’s impressive.

    Haruhi sounds like a mishmash of genres and though it does sound interesting, I’m not sure if I want to watch it. Haruhi herself seems to be the kind that will piss me off in no time.

    This was an enjoyable feature though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, lots of people skip the Endless Eight when rewatching the show (or only watch the first and last episode of it). I enjoy watching it most of the time, but sometimes put it on while working on other things.

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  6. My library had the first season and I actually enjoyed it a lot. It wasn’t my favorite thing ever but it kept me entertained. I never did finish it though and your post reminded me of it! I actually want to pick it back up and rewatch the first season to see if I still enjoy it.

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  7. Tbh I need to rewatch the first season and watch the second, since I haven’t. The first season didn’t grab me a decade ago, but I wanna give it another chance πŸ‘€πŸ‘€

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As you know I love this show and defend the broadcast order to the grave! :p

    I wouldn’t call the broadcast order a gimmick though. The way I took the big picture idea of showing the series in that order was that most of the characters themselves were experiencing it in a non-linear fashion as well. I’d say that’s also what sets it apart from other anime that aired in this fashion but I’m not sure I can name any off the top of my head.

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    1. That’s true. If the purpose of the endless 8 was to put the audience in the character’s shoes than showing the events out of order may very well have served a similar function. I’d still label it a gimmick, though that doesn’t make it necessarily a bad thing. A gimmick is just a device use to set something apart or draw attention and it may very well be something that is interwoven into the narrative and serve a valuable function. Or it could just try to disguise a lack of depth by distracting the audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved Haruhi back when it first aired, and it still has a warm place in my heart, although watching Endless 8 on a weekly basis felt like torture (perhaps intended but still unpleasant).

    It’s a really bizarre series in that it was pretty unique at the time (not that series hadn’t used some of the elements it used, but it was the first to put them all together in combination with solid production values), but its insane popularity spawned a whole lot of shows which were similar in style so it’s no longer really unique, and in the subsequent 10 years, there’s definitely been series which have done most of the individual good things better.

    I loved the broadcast order of the first season, but one of my sisters got fed up after the baseball episode and in spite of only having access the the broadcast order at the time figured out the chronological order from the episode previews and watched it that way.

    I think I’d like to revisit the series at some point and write about it, but I don’t know whether that will take the form of a review where I talk more critically about the show’s problems, or just mention the reasons why I like it so much. Every time I try to write about a series I really like, I seem to be unhappy with the result or just stall.

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    1. I have that issue as well which is why I keep putting off writing about some series even though I really like them and I’ve watched them over and over. That’s also why I decided just to remember Haruhi in a feature for now and not try to review just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I pretty much enjoy Haruhi, however just like the anime am an odd ball as I’ve ever watched S1 xDD. So natrually the endless eight would go over my head xDD. I think it’s about time I watched the second season, as I’ve put it off long enough. Good post too!!!.

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  11. I saw Haruhi in chronological order because it just made sense. Honestly, I wasn’t really a fan of the series. There’s a core concept there that can be great, but it didn’t really live up to its potential until “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” film was released. That movie is pretty damn good.

    The endless eight did give the series some buzz. Whether it was good or bad, people were speaking about the series. I found it to be the worst part of the series, but I know people that liked it and I’m glad they enjoyed.

    The series also spawned the moe craze in anime. Thanks Haruhi lol

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  12. I was majorly into Haruhi around the hype days but the Endless Eight lost me. It didn’t stop me from loving the show, but I don’t watch that stretch of episodes because it was so irritating and just seemed lazy to me. Loved the rest of the series though, and still do.

    I like the spin off better, probably in the minority with that lol. I think it’s a lot funner but I like slice of life more. Need to watch the film, I actually never have done that.

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    1. Definitely need to watch the film. It is one of my favourite parts about Haruhi (which is odd because normally anime films are kind of okay but not amazing). It just kind of feels perfect for the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I was a big-time fan of Haruhi Suzumiya. The Endless Eight didn’t bother me so much; the only bad thing about it was the fact that it caused many fans to leave the fandom. I miss Haruhi; it’s up there in my top 10, maybe top 5 anime. I did a panel at a con called “Haruhiism” where I explained the 10 Commandments of Haruhiism. Haruhi herself is definitely one of my favorite characters of all time. Nice review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find it odd that people left the fandom over the endless 8. It was so perfectly Haruhi. But, that is one of the odd things about the show. How popular it became and how fast that popularity waned and then those of us who just still love the show.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The problem with the Endless Eight arc is really only super bad when looking at it from a weekly perspective. I mean, you write weekly reviews, would you want to watch 8 nearly identical episodes in a row? Probably not. In a marathon setting however, it is a lot more tolerable because you know it’s coming and can break it up.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s true. Haruhi was definitely pre-weekly anime viewing for me. I only ever watched series once they were finished and I could marathon them (though that was more due to lack of access to weekly streaming than a preference). Thinking about it, if I had to watch it week to week, I’d probably be pretty annoyed about the Endless Eight.

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      2. It is sad that Haruhi lost so many fans. Because Haruhi was a unique show – on the surface, slice-of-life, but as you wrote in your article, so many more things than that. When I did my panel on “Haruhiism,” I got maybe 15 people to show up. A similar panel on Haruhi several years before got almost a full room. The Hare Hare Yukai is barely played at conventions anymore; in 2009 it was a convention staple. Other stuff like InuYasha or Bleach still has a good fanbase, but the Haruhi fanbase just “disappeared” (pun intended).

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Haruhi is great! Really enjoyed the series (even with the dreaded Endless Eight, for reasons I’ll delve into if I ever review the series πŸ˜„ ) but the real winner was the Disappearance film. Holy cannoli that film was ridiculously good! πŸ˜€

    I enjoyed the spin-off too but to enjoy that you have to have /really/ liked S1,2 and the film for it to even be worth your time. It had some really strong moments but I’d agree that it is a lot weaker than the original, which is no surprise.

    Any way, was a fun read πŸ™‚

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    1. Eventually I’ll have to actually review this series and really look at it from a more critical point of view rather than just remembering the nostalgia of it, but I love Haruhi. The series and the movie just work and tell an interesting story even though it seems like such a mundane and generic anime setting (5 kids in a fairly pointless club at school).

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      1. Totally understandable, at the surface level a lot of shows can fall flat. With Haruhi though, I think what made the show so successful was both Haruhi and Kyon. Each as characters and how they interacted with each other. Not to say that the other characters weren’t dynamic or interesting in, but those two really sold the show for a lot of people I know and myself included.

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