Jonathan Clements on the creator and star of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Born in 1970, Nagaru Tanigawa graduated in Law from Kwansei Gakuin university, and first published SF with Shock! Aegis 5 (2003), a light-hearted pastiche of the kind of TV shows in which rubber monsters are kept at bay by superpowered teenagers. Like his later school-for-psychics series Escape from the School, it foreshadowed his later works, effectively by repackaging magical realism for a young adult audience.
Tanigawa’s most lauded creation is the Haruhi Suzumiya series, whose title character sets up a genre-influenced school club, hoping to attract creatures from other times, planets or dimensions. The club is later revealed to comprise, almost exclusively, the aforesaid creatures, who have converged undercover on our world in order to police the actions of Suzumiya herself, who has somehow gained godlike powers that make her imagination real, and hence poses a risk to the fabric of the universe unless her expectations are carefully managed.
A postmodern allegory of both authorial ambition and youthful aspiration, Haruhi is the pinnacle of the fan-centred otaku culture of the early 21st century, and its heroine an idealized sf fan, but also an unattainable love object and a quasi-divine Muse. In positing an environment where science fiction fans can and do change the world, it sits firmly within the “by fans, for fans” tradition first established by Gainax’s Otaku no Video in the 1990s, but also serves as a bold statement of where science fiction finds itself in the fragmentary 2010s.
In its TV incarnation, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, it was shown out of chronological sequence, viewable either as a linear story or a cut-up character study. Such genre-bending exercises reached a controversial breaking point with the second season’s “Endless Eight” sequence, which repeated some, but mercifully not all of the 15,532 iterations of a time loop. Clinging to a summery paradise in the manner of similar scenes in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the Endless Eight sequence trapped viewers in a repetitive cycle for two months, with discreet alterations in setting, costume and dialogue presented as clues to the resolution of the mystery. For some, it was a twist too far, for others, a daring experiment unprecedented in science fiction storytelling… Now you can decide…
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, season 2, is out now on DVD in the UK from Manga Entertainment.