21 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

The Multiple Misfires of Haruhi Suzumiya

Haruhi Suzumiya is one of, if not the most influential anime of the past decade. It’s partly to blame for the moe boom (although Azumanga Daoih laid the seeds for that a few years before) but certainly the reason that so many Light Novel adaptations are being made nowadays, regardless, and often in spite of quality. It has legions of fans, ranking as the 7th most popular on MAL.

You cannot count me amongst its fans. However my viewing experience of the franchise really didn’t do itself any favours.

I started watching anime mid-07, my gateway drug being Love Hina. Thanks to that, I spent the next 6 months or so searching for another half decent seinen romance, a quest that led me to watching endless amounts of shitty harems. This ‘Search for a Decent Seinen Romance’ is largely why I developed such a harsh dropping routine. Reading reviews of Haruhi Suzumiya seemed to fit the bill of seinen romance pretty well. Genres were listed as comedy and romance. Reviews were absolutely ecstatic about how funny it was. I had found the next anime I was going to watch.

However, you must also remember this was very early on in my fandom. Hence, I was clueless. I knew nothing of what fansubs were, the sub vs dub debate, shounen and seinen. To give you an idea at my level of cluelessness, the halfway ad-break in the Love Hina streams I watched had the message ‘not for sale or for rent’. I had assumed that this was a joke by the series itself saying that the Grandma wasn’t going to sell the Hinata Inn because Keitaro was in charge. This naivety came back to bite me hard when watching Haruhi.

First, Haruhi Suzumiya is partly successful due to its slightly playful parody and subversion of moe. You need to have watched a fair amount of anime before you really ‘get’ Haruhi. Secondly, and more importantly, I watched the dub. Now there isn’t all that much wrong with the dub. Haruhi doesn’t have nearly as much power in her voice as the Japanese version, Nagato is blandly monotone but Kyon’s sarcasm is perfectly nailed. The problem wasn’t the voices. It was the dub is shown in chronological order.  The effect this has on the storytelling is crippling. You get an excellent, albeit very jerkily directed first half of the series, followed by half a series of filler. There’s no build up to the final/middle episode that the original airing order had. The plot suddenly disappears for no apparent reason. There was an entire episode built up to a concert scene that I watched for a few seconds before fast forwarding. The final episode killed it. Half the episode is just Nagato reading a book while Kyon goes out to buy a heater.

As I became more involved and knowledgeable about anime, only then the cult of Haruhi become clear. That I had watched it in the incorrect order and was therefore baffled by how popular it appeared to be. I sorta liked Haruhi, but certainly not enough to ever consider going back and watching it in the ‘correct’ airing order. But Haruhi still had time to save itself. Remember the build up to season 2? Looking back, it truly was on of the most fantastic pieces of trolling I have ever seen. Delay announcement after announcement. Announce a new Haruhi anime, only for it to be that Haruhi-chan flash shit. Have a new Haruhi airing, only for it to turn out to be simply a re-airing of the first season. And then, in the middle of all that, sneak in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody.

I had been largely immune to the craze that surrounded this new season. Hence I downloaded that new episode of Haruhi with little expectations. Suddenly, in that single episode, I saw a spark of what everyone else had seen in Haruhi all this time. Was this anime always this well directed? Was it always this clever with it’s humour? Was this new season going to turn me into a Haruhi fanatic like half the rest of anime fandom?

Well…we all know what happened then.

::Edit:: Second half to this post, after having watched the movie

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21 Comments

  1. Posted October 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    It took me 3 viewings to “get” The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The first time, I watched it in proper airing order, and I thought it was mildly entertaining. A couple months later, out of curiosity, I watched it in chronological order and, as you said, experienced the poor pacing of the episodes. But seeing it that way also gave me some more insight on exactly what was going on there. The third viewing was again in proper airing order.

    After which I was blown away by how good it was. Again, I believe seeing it in chronological order allowed me to get a clearer picture of what the director was trying to do with the airing order, and I could appreciate it as well as just how successful he was in executing it.

    Up until The Tatami Galaxy this year, I would’ve said flat out that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is the best TV anime made in the past decade. It really is a marvelous piece of work. And I’ve absolutely hated everything else by KyoAni I’ve ever seen.

  2. Posted October 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I think pretty much everyone I know who didn’t enjoy or “get” Haruhi was someone who watched the first series on DVD in chronological order – even I couldn’t stomach a rewatch of the series in that episode order!

    Looking back on it, I think the first season of Haruhi *is* over-rated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not great – it’s a fantastic piece of work, and the light novels are genuinely excellent as well.

    If you enjoyed Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody though, you should definitely give the Disappearance movie a chance – you might struggle with some of the back story if you’re not “into” the show as a whole, but it’s still a damn good movie in its own right as long as you know the basics.

  3. Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Watching a lot of anime won’t help you get Haruhi, unless what you watched was moe anime. I watched plenty of anime before Haruhi. For example, I got the Touch references in the baseball episode that few other western anime fans got. Nobody seemed to be missing out for not getting them.

    Here’s the thing: I had no idea what moe was at the time, nor do I have an inherent liking of moe. When they were dressing up in maid costumes, I thought it was a complete waste of time. I had no idea Nagato was supposed to be hot. Now I’ve seen enough moe in anime to realize it was supposed to be fanservice. Still a waste of time, and Nagato still isn’t hot, but at least now I know what they’re going for, which surprisingly makes watching it more enjoyable.

    The first time I watched the series, I watched it in its airing order. Didn’t work for me at all. Filler before you complete a non-trivial portion of a story is usually a terrible idea. Why should I care about a bunch of characters I barely know screwing around? If you’ve seen the show before, or if you think they’re moe, that can be reason enough. Otherwise I’m not interested.

    The second time I watched the show, I watched it in chronological order. It was better, slightly. I can only assume I would’ve liked it best chronologically the first time around.

    The only thing I really liked about the anime was the climax. You’d think I’d like Kyon’s sarcasm, but it didn’t come through with much punch in the anime, as least compared to the book. It’s a problem inherent in showing thought-out sarcasm during real-time scenes. There’s really no good way to do it.

  4. Fundefined
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    The strategy with the first season airing order was basically put the 5 most exciting episodes in the end to create an awesome finale, and it worked. The first couple of episodes were above average but nothing amazing. Outside of Eightless Eight, the second season is actually good, especially the breakdown between Kyon and Haruhi when they are filming the movie.

    If you haven’t watched Disappearance, watch it, it’s ridiculously heart wrenching/warming, you’ll ignore the shitty camrip. It really ties the two season together and even somewhat mitigates Eightless Eight. Everything that is good about the Haruhi franchise is in that movie, it really is redeems the faults.

  5. luffyluffy
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I watched Haruhi subbed and in Broadcast order, WTF’d my way through it and now the show is just “meh” to me.

    Though, the Dub is delicious, Kyon is HNNNGGGGG, and I’m totally buying Series 2, even WITH all the Endless Eighting going on.

    I had fun with Haruhi, I really did.

  6. Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    What I really like about Haruhi is well…Haruhi. And Yuki. And Mikuru. I think a threesome should happen.

  7. Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m a rather big fan of the Haruhi series, but I think thats because I watched it at the right time unlike yourself. When I watched Haruhi it was a few seasons after its original airing, and I was only just getting into the world of downloads/fansubs (although I still had a good 5+yrs of anime fandom under my belt). I watched it in subbed broadcast order which left me awed but confused, so I immediately rewatched in chronological order and it made more sense plotwise but lacked the charm the broadcast order has.

    I keep coming back to the series – couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it now. S2 was a complete fiasco and somewhat soured my love of the series, but I’m still a big fan of the light novels and massively looking forward to the Disappearance movie.

    There’s absolutely no doubt that the series is over-rated and over hyped, but it marks a personal turning point in my fandom so I really love the series.

  8. Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    I loved Haruhi from the start. I must have watched episode 0 5 or more times while waiting for episode 1 to air. As soon as the first season ended, I went through the previews to figure out what the “chronological” order was, and re-watched it that way, which deepened my appreciation, but is definitely not the best way to experience the series (and especially not the first time).

    One of my favorite experiences was the WTF factor when, only a few episodes in, we inexplicably have added some guy to the cast, and they are fighting aliens, all with no explanation as to what happened. The “broadcast order” emphasized the curious mingling of the commonplace with the fantastical, which is at the heart of Haruhi.

    Endless Eight was a too-clever artistic experiment that simply didn’t work. I’m very glad that the team managed to put out Disappearance, as I do believe it represents the franchise well, and I’m happy to see the franchise ending on a high note.

  9. Roghek
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    I do like haruhi, but I don’t really love her.

    The story is promising, and the mystery of Haruhi gives the plot the thickness it needs, I din’t mind the firs season being in complete disorder, I did love Kyon sarcasm and the way he narrated the story (he is funny), but honestly the endless eight was really a fiasco, I wouldn’t have mind two episodes (even if the were all of the same) just to show endless repetition but eight I mean EIGHT!!!

    That really was sad, I’m unsure if this was the origin of the moe boom, and if I think carefully I might like moe but God please, give me a plot or I will die!!
    Haruhi apparently did have a plot but a bug made the same episode repeat 8 times in a row, thank you bug!

  10. Posted October 29, 2010 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Haruhi rekindled my love of anime. I’d lapsed in my anime viewing after a couple of years where very few series did much to interest me. A friend of mine downloaded it shortly after it completed and got me to check it out. I didn’t think much of it at first, what with all the generic-looking cute girls and the school setting, but that first episode with the student film won me over and I devoured the series.

    In the end, it was the non-linear storytelling that sold me on the series and how it hid everything from me until the right dramatic moments. Without that, it’s just another generic school-with-weird-shit anime– it’d be decent and all, but it wouldn’t stand out.

    I didn’t realize that until I watched the series in chronological order and tried to read the translated light novels. The series just didn’t work chronologically and the novels sucked pretty hard. I had to force myself to finish Disappearance and I failed to complete any of the others I started to read. It’s a case where the animators took a mediocre-to-bad product and vastly improved it in translation.

  11. Someone Else
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait for your opinions about the movie when the DVD/BD comes out. And yes endless eight…

  12. Posted October 29, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    I watched the first season during the fall of 2006, two seasons late and it just blew me away. I’m a fan of Haruhi no matter what. There is just something about the anime that I can’t get enough of. I enjoyed the endless eight despite everything. That’s how it is for me.

  13. Posted October 29, 2010 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    If you’ve seen enough of my blog, you probably know that I’m a Haruhi fan through and through. But I can respect the fact that the series has oddities that don’t appeal to everyone. Unlike other fans, it didn’t become my favorite until I watched it in chronological order a year after I watched it in its original TV order.

    I’d like to point out that Endless Eight isn’t a total troll and there is at least some reasoning behind why KyoAni made it (http://animeyume.com/blog/2010/02/12/the-end-of-the-melancholy-of-haruhi-suzumiya/). Whether their decision was good or bad, you can decide for yourself, I just think it should be known that it was based more on logic than pure trolling.

    I do hope you’ll decide to watch the Haruhi movie when it comes out. It’s redeemed the series for many people and I believe it’s already ranked higher than the original series on ANN and MAL. And though I’m sure you wouldn’t care to check them out, I will say that the series starts to change in the later novels, for better I believe.

    • Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I thought it was obvious that Endless Eight was to fill up the rest of the season after the Disappearance movie was announced.

      Fitting how it’s eight episodes too. \o/

  14. Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is probably one of KyoAni’s best works, though it’s not my favorite show because the pacing, even in airing order, was a little jarring.

    But I have to disagree in large part with your contention that “Haruhi Suzu­miya is partly suc­cess­ful due to its slightly play­ful par­ody and sub­ver­sion of moe.” Interacting with the Haruhi fanbase makes it clear that the appeal of Haruhi is a widespread love for both the personalities of and the chemistry between Haruhi, Nagato, Kyon, Itsuki, and Mikuru. Just based on the rabid fanbase, “subversion of moe” is definitely NOT even close to being on their list of “things I really loved about Haruhi”.

  15. Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    I watched Haruhi back in 2006 (I think). It was recommended to me on a fansub forum but I didn’t bother until I watched that Stop Looking at My Beep AMV and found Mikuru’s boob being grabbed.
    Read Wikipedia beforehand (I tend to spoil myself that way…), but never found out that it was aired in a non-chronological order. Man that first episode was…interesting.

    Got obsessed, read the novels (I don’t think I’d like Haruhi as much as I do if I never read them; they’re brilliant), got even more obsessed, then kinda got out of the fandom.

    I don’t know, I’ve always had a high opinion of Haruhi and never realized many feel the opposite. I suppose it’s the light novels and all those mindfucks and mindfucks and twists and stuff.

  16. Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    well…i guess im in the large minority since i couldn’t get past the second episode of this series. the plot was interesting enough and i wanted to see what all the hub bub was about since everyone was raving about this anime but….oh god i couldn’t stand haruhi. cant really enjoy an anime if the main character rubs me in all the wrong ways. sorry ;/

    i mean, i do intend to try it out again…but…probably not anytime soon.

  17. hika
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I experienced a phase of Haruhism, which didn’t really last. Maybe it’s because of my approach – like you, I watched the first season chronologically, and only a few of the episodes managed to keep my interest.

    So much so that I haven’t even watched the second season. But I heard that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is quite good. If it was it might just rekindle my interest in the series.

    For me the best part about the anime is Kyon’s narration and the parody. Most of the time the moe element and Haruhi’s ultra-tsundere attitude just turn me off.

    …It does make me feel kind of guilty for not liking a show that practically the entire anime community worships though…

  18. Elysium
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I’m part of the minority that still hasn’t seen a single episode of Haruhi.

    … I guess I should watch it now.

  19. Fai D Fluorite
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    This is my first time commenting in here!
    I heard about your blog long time back but didn’t browse through in detail!
    I saw around in “About” section,it’s nice to know about Cart Driver :)
    I’ll try and be a regular follower like the other blogs which I follow.

    Okay coming to the topic,about Haruhi anime;
    I watched this show few months back after seeing the hype all around me.I saw it in the chronological order.It was an okay show,not too great!
    But yeah,Kyon’s sarcasms where amazing!
    I am waiting for the DVD version of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie to be released.I’ve heard it is a big hit.Hope that doesnt turn out to be too much of a hype.

  20. Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Watch the movie, then we talk. It’s a masterpiece.

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