Matt Kamen weighs the pros and cons
God-like schoolgirl Haruhi Suzumiya may well have a near-religious following, but she’s got just as many atheists denying her merits. Matt Kamen embraces his bipolar disorder to examine the vices and virtues of one of the anime world’s most divisive series!
Pro: an innovative storytelling structure! The first season of Haruhi Suzumiya was lauded by fans for playing around with how it told its story. Following the broadcast order of the episodes on Japanese television meant the first episode shown was actually the eleventh in story order; the second was the first; the fourth the seventh, on and on. The show challenged viewers to pay attention and piece the series’ arc together for themselves, never pandering to them by spelling anything out. How many shows can claim to have that much confidence in their audiences’ intelligence?
Con: An “innovative” storytelling structure…. Ever seen the movie Memento? It tells the story of a man suffering amnesia through two plot threads – one in chronological order, the other reversed – that only combine at the end. This anachronological tactic is largely what the first season of Haruhi was lauded for. The problem is, it’s not all that laudable, and far from a unique narrative device. Memento itself premiered in 2000, and examples of such jumbled chronologies go back decades; 1927’s “The Three Sided Mirror” being possibly the earliest onscreen example! So, strip away the ‘innovative’ order and what are we left with? A pretty generic high school comedy with sci-fi elements. In other words, nothing special.
Pro: It takes chances! It’s not cheap to air anime in Japan – a lot of the time, studios pay networks for airtime. So when Kyoto Animation chose to screen eight episodes that were essentially the same, it was a bold move. The so-called ‘Endless Eight’ saw Kyon and the other members of the SOS Brigade trapped in a time loop, each episode seeing only the subtlest of changes. While it could have driven viewers away, it instead became a hallmark of the series’ brilliance.
Con: Those “chances” are a waste of time! The Endless Eight was a waste of not just viewers’ time but a waste of the animators’ time. Time loops are nothing new in sci-fi, and while stretching it out over more than one episode is slightly original, eight was overkill. At best, it was an exercise in laziness – digitally change some clothes here and there, add in some slightly changed scenes and bam, done. The arc of Kyon and co. trapped in time could, and should, have been told in one episode.
Pro: The characters are genuinely interesting! Where else can you find a cast that includes a time traveller, an android, aliens, and a girl with ultimate power who doesn’t even realise it? The cast mix of Haruhi is one of the richest in all of anime!
Con: The characters are an annoying mess of clichés! Sure, the character concepts are interesting but the character personalities are all picked from the “Generic Anime Character” guidebook. Aloof quiet girl? Check. Overly friendly secondary male? Check. Cute and ditzy girl? Check. Wake me when someone who’s actually original shows up.
Pro: It’s gorgeously animated! Kyoto Animation did an outstanding job on bringing the cast and their zany world to life! It’s rich and fluid, and is simply a pleasure to watch.
Con: It’s…. gorgeously animated? OK, it does look good; on that we can agree. And KyoAni are amazing – their Full Metal Panic series are gorgeous too. It’s fair to say that Haruhi’s not the most dynamic show for most of its run though.
Pro: The Hare Hare Yukai Dance. ‘Nuff said. What other series has had its iconic ending animation used for a rehabilitation exercise in a Thai prison dance performance? I think that says it all…!
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Con: …I got nothing. Fine, on the Hare Hare Yukai alone, Haruhi gets a pass!
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.