The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

The Otafest Answer: Discovering Fun and Camaraderie in Exploration Through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

“If there’s really that many people in the world, then there had to be someone who wasn’t ordinary. There had to be someone who was living an interesting life. There just had to be. Why wasn’t I that person?” –Haruhi Suzumiya

Upon entering high school, Kyon’s dreams of living out a normal life are dashed when he meets the eccentric and seemingly-cold Haruhi Suzumiya, a girl known for her escapades during middle school and a bold introduction on the first day of class. Against his better judgement, he speaks with Haruhi and learns that she’s intent on finding aliens, time travellers and espers to have fun with. Haruhi takes Kyon’s suggestion to start her own club seriously and ends up building the SOS Brigade, hauling in fellow students Yuki Nagato, Mikuru Asahina and Itsuki Koizumi. Haruhi turns out to be far more energetic than Kyon anticipated, and he finds himself being hauled off on various odds and ends at her whim. Each of Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki separately approach Kyon and reveal that Haruhi is of note to the factions they represent, and that it is in everyone’s interest to keep Haruhi entertained. Thus, the SOS Brigade set off in search of mystery, from investigating the disappearance of a fellow student to solving a locked room mystery on a summer island, and also making the most of their youth, whether it be playing baseball, living life to the limits during the summer or putting a home-made film together for the cultural festival. While Kyon begrudgingly accompanies Haruhi, who seems constantly gripes about his lack of spirit, the two are actually perfect complements to one another: she is brimming with energy and life, with grand visions about what she wants from the world, and he is a pragmatist, trying to do what it takes to bring peace and quiet back into his world. Together, Kyon and Haruhi come to represent how polar opposites can fit one another so well; Haruhi brings colour and adventure into Kyon’s life, and Kyon finds ways of scaling back Haruhi’s dreams such that they can be realised to capture her fancy. The interplay between Kyon and Haruhi forms the heart of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a light novel by Nagaru Tanigawa that was adapted into an anime by Kyoto Animation in 2006 and rebroadcast in 2009 with additional episodes as a part of the second season. During its run, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya proved wildly successful, and is counted as one of the most influential anime of the 2000s.

At the series’ beginning, Kyon resembles Bilbo Baggins, an average hobbit from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, who is content to live a quiet life of routine and comfort. This world is a monochrome one, unremarkable and familiar. Haruhi changes this completely, throwing Kyon’s world into one of adventure and exploration, driven by the unstoppable, manic Haruhi. Haruhi thus acts as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s catalyst for disruption: much as how Gandalf “persuades” Bilbo to accompany Thorin and his company to reconquer the Erebor from the clutches of the fire-drake Smaug. Reluctant to play his role as a burglar, Bilbo considers adventures as being “nasty things [that]…make you late for dinner”, but nonetheless finds himself rising to the occasion. Kyon feels similarly about Haruhi, with her zany schemes and desires disrupting the peace, but in spite of this, finds himself entangled in her yearnings for excitement: as it turns out, Kyon had been the one to set Haruhi down her path, first by convincing her to become a North High student and then in the present day, inspiring her to form the SOS Brigade. In this way, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya supposes that even in the most peace-loving of folk, there lies a drive for adventure, and that the right person in the right place, at the right time, can set in motion many unforeseeable events. For his troubles, Bilbo manages to help Thorin take Erebor back, visiting places as varied as Rivendell, Laketown and the mountains before coming face-to-face with Smaug himself. Similarly, Kyon is exposed to the very entities that Haruhi had been seeking out, being very nearly knifed by a rogue Ryouko Asakura before Yuki saves him, witnessing Itsuki battle the Celestials and travelling in time with Mikuru to set in motion the very events that lead to his adventures. Through the majestic and the perilous, both Kyon and Bilbo gain a considerable amount of life experience from their adventures that helps them to both appreciate the wider world beyond themselves, and further appreciate what they have as being irreplaceable, invaluable. The positives brought on by adventure are shown as vividly in Nagaru Tanigawa’s The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as J.R.R. Tolkein had portrayed through The Hobbit, suggesting that extraordinary experiences drives people to be more open-minded and concurrently, grateful for their blessings. Among anime fans, this adventure would manifest as a desire to really share their enjoyment of their hobby with the wider world, in turn shaping anime conventions like Otafest in the years to come.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Admittedly, it feels a little strange to write about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya after finishing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, but for completeness’ sake, I’ve decided to return and write about what was, in 2006, the biggest icon of the year. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya became a cultural phenomenon for anime fans both in and outside of Japan: the series’ success is largely owing to the fact that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has something for everyone: my best friend likens it to a buffet at one of the local places in town, which features a wide selection of everything from prime rib and snow crab to various Chinese-style stir-fry dishes, fried meats, seafood, noodles, rice and salads: at such buffets, one could pick anything of their choice and have an excellent time.

  • With the current circumstances, going to a buffet is not the wisest idea, but with some places opened, it is possible to enjoy cuisine from the local Cantonese restaurant – this past weekend, I enjoyed sweet-and-sour pork, golden crispy salted egg-yolk prawns, Chinese broccoli with satay beef and deep fried oysters as the summer solstice brought with it brilliant blue skies and warm weather suited for 10-kilometre walks. Right out of the gates, Kyon is the architect of his own fortune: despite his grumblings, he is directly responsible for inspiring Haruhi to create the SOS Brigade (full name “Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade”) and bringing about the curious characters that come to his life. This becomes a recurring theme in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where Kyon sets in motion events that he appears to be dissatisfied with, but ends up going with it.

  • Haurhi’s brazen efforts to make the SOS Bridage a reality become most apparent when she extorts a new-model computer from the Computing Research Club. This particular moment was my first exposure to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: one of my friends had brought it in to the anime club and declared it to be one of the funniest moments he’d ever seen in an anime. My best friend immediately hopped on the series and found it immensely enjoyable, but I myself had been weary to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, given that all I’d heard about it were the memes and comedy: at the time, I was just getting started on anime. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I’d entered university, that I decided to check the series out – I would do so shortly after wrapping up my second year and ended up finishing the series just before a vacation to the Eastern Seaboard in July.

  • Yuki is the first to reveal her station to Kyon: her explanations are prima facie far-fetched, and like Kyon, viewers cannot help but wonder if what Yuki’s saying has any merit. Yuki is voiced by Minori Chihara (Kaori Nakaseko of Hibike! Euphonium and Erica Brown from Violet Evergarden), while Tomokazu Sugita voices Kyon (Kanon‘s Yuuichi Aizawa). Stoic and reserved, Yuki fulfils the alien archetype that Haruhi seeks: she’s a member of an organisation known as Data Integration Thought Entity, who is interested in Haruhi for having created a “data explosion” that is supposed to accelerate humanity’s evolution. The precise nature of this data is never specified, although I will admit that its composition weighed on me even as I completed my courses on databases and data mining.

  • On the SOS Brigade’s first outing, Haruhi decides to draw lots to see how the groups are dispersed. On the first draw, Kyon ends up with Mikuru, a time traveller voiced by Yūko Gotō (Junko Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Azur Lane‘s HMS Edinburgh). She explains that most of her duties are classified, and warns Kyon not to get too close to her. By the afternoon, Kyon ends up with Yuki and takes her to the local library. While Yuki only remarks she’s “moderately” into books, she practically drifts away to the nearest shelf in happiness. The library is modelled after Nishinomiya City Central Library, which, curiously enough, resembles the library in my area. I’ve not been to a library in quite some time: with the trends towards electronic media, libraries have become less well stocked, and I’ve taken to buying the books I enjoyed borrowing a decade ago.

  • At this point in time, Itsuki also joined the SOS Brigade and introduces himself as an esper. Kyon similarly has trouble believing the three, and still prefers to spend his days in peace, playing shogi and chess against Itsuki while enjoying the tea that Mikuru brews for them.  Kyon’s wish of the peaceful are satisfied by these ordinary days where nothing happens to the SOS Brigade, and while Haruhi occasionally livens things up by forcing Mikuru into various costumes, nothing out of the ordinary happens.

  • However, when classmate Asakura decides to murder Kyon to see Haruhi’s reaction, Yuki intervenes, and Kyon realises that Yuki wasn’t joking. Kyon is therefore thrust into an unbelievable situation, and is forced to accept that, given Yuki was telling the truth, Mikuru and Itsuki must also be telling the truth about their station. Kyon will go on an adventure with them that proves beyond any doubt that the aliens, time-travellers and espers Haruhi so wishes to meet, in fact, exist, and moreover, have all converged on Kyon.

  • The universal appeal of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya comes from the fact that the series presented a world where the extraordinary co-existed with the mundane. For most of its viewers, students at the time of airing, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya showed the possibility of adventure, and having a fulfilling high school experience, was a matter of perspective: Haruhi believes that if the fun things won’t come to her, then she’ll find a way to make things fun on her own. Anime fans were similarly inspired and began looking to make their world more entertaining: as Haruhi livened up Kyon’s world, Haruhi would also liven up the world of the anime’s viewers.

  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would shape the anime convention experience as Lucky☆Star did after it: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s universal appeal meant that fans of all genres were brought together by the series. Regardless of whether or not one preferred slice-of-life, science fiction, philosophy or comedy, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had something for everyone, and this was universally expressed by the Hare Hare Yukai dance. The anime would perceptibly impact anime conventions for years to come, as hosts and attendees alike began expressing their enjoyment of their series in increasingly intricate and exciting ways.

  • It turns out that Haruhi’s desire to stand out and be unique stemmed from attending a baseball game, where she was but one in a crowd of fifty thousand and saw for herself how large the world was. From there on out, Haruhi realised the mundane nature of her world and sought to make it unique: that she shared these thoughts with Kyon this early on suggests that she sees him differently than everyone else. Haruhi and Kyon never become a couple in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but even early on, it becomes apparent that the two complement the other very well.

  • Mikuru somewhat resembles CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa in appearance; coming a full year before CLANNAD, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would come to influence many of the design choices in CLANNAD, from the use of lighting and colour, to camera placement and framing to convey specific moods. Throughout the series, Kyon expresses his fondness for Mikuru, and after an incident where Haruhi obtained a pile of photographs of Mikuru, Kyon decides to quietly archive the folder instead. Mikuru notices the folder and becomes curious, but before anything else goes down, Haruhi arrives.

  • When Itsuki shows Kyon his esper powers, he remarks that his duty, along with others like him, is to contain “closed space” and “celestials”, monstrous beings that mirror Haruhi’s frustrations with the real world. It turns out that Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki had foreseen a time where Haruhi would attempt to rebuild the world: one evening, Kyon awakens to find himself with Haruhi, on the deserted school grounds in closed space. Haruhi is enthralled to see a sight so unusual, but Kyon, recalling advice from Yuki and Mikuru, decides to kiss Haruhi. The next morning, he and Haruhi both turns out to have had the same nightmare. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya excels at suggesting some of the more outrageous events in the series can be explained away, leaving it ambiguous as to whether or not something really happened.

  • For The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s fans, the Japanese festival, Tanabata, is of special significance: the real festival is a celebration of the meeting of deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, and Haruhi sees it as a time to make her wishes known to the respective corresponding stars, Vega and Altair. Despite the community’s decision to celebrate Tanabata alongside Haruhi, I’ve noticed that no one’s ever offered an explanation of why Tanabata is so important to the storyline of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: most discussions only can agree the significance of Tanabata as the time when Haruhi and Kyon meet for the first time.

  • The anime community of 2006 didn’t have me around, though: the reason why Tanigawa chose Tanabata as the time for Haruhi’s meeting with Kyon is deliberately to mirror the legend that drives Tanabata: there is a certain romance in two deities that cannot meet except under specific conditions, and the custom of wish-writing indicates that Kyon and Haruhi are meant to be parallels of Hikoboshi and Orihime. Tanigawa’s focus on Tanabata three years ago, then, is to show that, for better or worse, people can be connected by circumstances that appear beyond comprehension.

  • Because of Kyon’s frequent references to historical figures and the series’ enjoyment of technical jargon, a small subset of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s fans felt the series to be a philosophical masterpiece. Kyon only mentions these in the passing to compare his situation to an equivalent, and most of the philosophical or historical elements have no impact on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s theme, so it is not strictly necessary to have an extensive background on these disciplines to enjoy the show. The inclusion of such elements into The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the attendant impact it had on the more academically-minded fans (or perhaps, those who want to flex their smarts) meant that these viewers were right at home with the show, alongside mystery, comedy, science-fiction and slice-of-life fans.

  • While the SOS Brigade is more often seen going on fabulous adventures rather than finding and solving mysteries, there are several cases where Haruhi is met with a mystery to solve; one Emiri Kimidori arrives one day, seeking the SOS Brigade’s help in locating her boyfriend, the Computing Research club’s president, who has been missing for a while. Emiri only makes this appearance in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but in the original novels, she is in the same faction as Yuki.

  • As it turns out, the president’s disappearance is attributed to the irregularities accumulating in the SOS Brigade’s website; Haruhi’s subconsciously imparted unusual properties on it, causing those who visit to be whisked away into a parallel dimension. After Haruhi leaves, the remainder of the SOS Brigade get to work and save the president, after which Yuki modifies Haruhi’s logo to prevent future trouble and explains that Haruhi’s abilities can create troublesome events.

  • Itsuki and his Agency view Haruhi as a god of sorts, being able to freely create and destroy the known universe at will. In order to keep Haruhi entertained during the summer, he and his colleagues prepare a special event for Haruhi, which entails travelling to a remote island and staging a murder mystery here. When The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had been airing, Itsuki’s revelation that Haruhi might’ve been a god given human form resulted in the creation of a pseudo-religion known as “Haruhiism”, of which the core tenant is to have fun and accept things as they are, since they are the “will” of Haruhi.

  • Haruhiism is not a religion that is officially recognised, to the disappointment of the series’ most ardent of fans, although that did not stop them from celebrating the series. The most prominent example of the community’s devotion lay in what would become known as “The Haruhiism Time Capsule Project”, which aimed to submit images to Yahoo’s 2006 Time Capsule Project. This was ultimately a failure, as the time capsule was never reopened per Yahoo’s original terms. While Haruhiism captured the fancy of many, Itsuki believes that this is simply the views that the Agency shares, and that others see Haruhi differently. It exemplifies The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s appeal in that it was able to accommodate so many viewpoints even in-universe, and as such, Haruhi fans were free to interpret the show however they saw fit. Because there are so many ways to enjoy the series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s appeal would ultimately lie with the exceptional execution that Kyoto Animation had poured into bringing the series to life.

  • From my perspective, it was ultimately Kyoto Animation’s excellence that made The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya such a success: Tanigawa’s light novels remain unfinished to this day the same way Half-Life 3 is unfinished, a consequence of the fact that once Kyon and Haruhi established the thematic elements, the series only needed to continue explore the universe further; themes and character growth stagnated, which could have made it difficult to create a satisfying conclusion. Indeed, following The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, there’s been no continuation of the series in an animated format: Kyoto Animation believes the series has done its job in promoting the light novels and closing off on a satisfying note, as Kyon’s shown to have accepted a world with Haruhi in it.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’s first season was a universally-praised smash hit, the second season made decisions that saw a cooler reception. The infamous Endless Eight arc, consisting of eight episodes portraying a two-week span of summer vacation, marked the first time Kyoto Animation had ever been at the centre of a controversy; many fans of the series and studio expressed their disgust and disappointment with such a decision. More vehement fans boycotted the studio and destroyed their merchandise in protest during Endless Eight’s run; the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was further compounded by complaints that Haruhi resembled K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa, diminishing some viewers’ enjoyment of the series.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya showed how a series could bring the anime community together, Endless Eight highlighted the worst excesses of the same community. Detractors of the arc called Kyoto Animation “lazy” and “unoriginal”, amongst other things that are not quite as presentable. The reality is that Kyoto Animation has always been at the cutting edge of conveying emotions through animation, and each episode in the Endless Eight series actually features subtle differences, being animated completely from scratch. The point of pushing viewers through two months of the same story was to really drive home to viewers the sense of hopelessness that Yuki experiences in this time: the weariness she develops as a result of recalling each and every second of the two weeks through the 15532 iterations, would set in motion the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

  • In the end, Kyon ends up breaking the loop by convincing Haruhi that his summer can’t finish until he’s done the homework he’s put off. This turns out to be what breaks the loop, and a similar concept would later be applied to Aobuta when Sakuta briefly dates Tomoe and she ends up falling in love with him, wishing their time together would never end. Aobuta, having a shorter runtime and lacking Kyoto Animation’s experimental mindset, would execute its loop differently to avoid the same negativity that befell Kyoto Animation. While Endless Eight remains contentious to this day, I find the reactions surrounding Kyoto Animation’s decision to be disproportionate and callow.

  • Once Endless Eight is done, the next arc deals with the SOS Brigade making an independent film for their school’s culture festival after Haruhi and Kyon’s class do a measly survey. By this point in time, the SOS Brigade’s Club Room has become populated with clutter from their various activities: various costumes Haruhi forces Mikuru to year, appliances for preparing tea, and various board games. The SOS Brigade’s film would put Kyon’s patience with Haruhi to the ultimate test.

  • The sort of energy that Haruhi projects when she’s happy brings to mind the atmosphere surrounding an anime convention like Otafest, and for most anime fans, anime conventions represent a chance to be immersed in an environment where their interests are celebrated. On a typical day, the average anime fan partakes in their hobby on their own, so events like Otafest, in bringing fans together, have a very uplifting feeling. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya reveals that Haruhi is perhaps a bit of an otaku herself, being quite versed in the moé aesthetic. To most anime fans, Haruhi’s appeal lies in the fact that she’s always on the hunt for something fun to do, bringing excitement into wherever she goes.

  • By portraying how a familiar world could nonetheless be exciting, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would raise the bar for series set in the real world and have an impact on numerous series in years upcoming. At the time, series like Death NoteCode GeassErgo ProxyNegima! and Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple were counted as some of the most enjoyable series of the day. The anime club of my old secondary school certainly seemed to think so, as well; we used to watch these shows during lunch hour. In these early days, I was mildly interested in these series, and it was mainly my best friend’s interest in Gundam 00 that sent me down the path of being an anime fan. In subsequent years, my preferences would diverge wildly from what most of my friends enjoyed: as my second year of university ended, I became very fond of slice-of-life series for their cathartic effects.

  • Haruhi’s movie lacks a script and theme, being a mish-mash of random moments held together by Mikuru. Without any clear direction of where she’s going, Haruhi’s film offers insight into her world, where things simply happen as they happen. Kyon ends up being the “everything” for the movie, handling everything from filming to editing. Things quickly take a turn for the dangerous when Haruhi subconsciously allows for Mikuru to fire a coherent, amplified stream of photons from here contact during filming. Yuki steps in to save Kyon from being lobotomised.

  • Unaware of what’s going on, Haruhi shrugs off the improvised scenes and decides to change the combat sequences out for romance. This arc is when the nature of Haruhi’s power manifests the most strongly, and although she only makes minor changes to the world, fans have conjectured that Haruhi could square off against other beings like Devil Homura or Thanos. A great many of these “versus” battles, however, depend on what are colloquially referred to as “feats” (i.e. quantifiable displays of a character’s abilities) in order to work. Haruhi’s powers are, in this case, more similar to Gandalf’s in that most of them are abstract and not shown at their fullest.

  • I’ve found that there are a surprising number of parallels between The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings: both series deal with an every-man who is thrust into adventure and finds that they wear their duties well, powerful beings whose abilities are abstract, and a world that is familiar, yet not quite our own. This is what motivates my comparison between Kyon and Bilbo Baggins. Here, Tsuruya laughs at the thought of needing to chuck Mikuru into putrid pond water for filming.  Tsuruya is Mikuru’s best friend, and makes an appearance: energetic and easygoing, Tsuruya finds most everything funny. Her family is said to have ties with Itsuki’s agency and despite being quite air-headed, is aware of Haruhi’s nature, actively choosing not to disclose this to Kyon and the others.

  • The filming of The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina was not without its tensions, and things reach a boiling point after Haruhi spikes Mikuru’s drink and asks her to kiss Itsuki. Pushed beyond endurance, Kyon prepares to strike Haruhi, feeling that if he doesn’t discipline her now, she’ll continue to be unaware of the consequences of her actions and cause trouble for herself, as well as those around her. This moment marks a turning point in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya; up until now, Kyon had always kept Haruhi in check by speaking with her. Haruhi herself is surprised by this, having believed that Kyon would always be there for her, and in the aftermath, filming for that day comes to a halt. Itsuki pulls Kyon aside and reminds him of his responsibility to Haruhi.

  • When Kyon hears Taniguchi bad-mouthing Haruhi’s independent film, he expresses annoyance. In actuality, Kyon here has heard someone voicing his own doubts, and realises just how immature the complaints sound. He comes around and feels that Haruhi should be commended for at least having taken the initiative to do something for the culture festival; just to spite the naysayers, Kyon aims to see the film through. However, since their disagreement from earlier, Kyon must first reconcile with Haruhi. It’s a tense few moments, but when Kyon does apologise and resolves to make the film a success, Haruhi’s spirits immediately are rekindled.

  • With the strange events continuing, such as cherry trees coming into full bloom during the summer, Kyon struggles to determine how to nudge Haruhi into restoring the world to normal. After a conversation with Itsuki, Kyon appears to have found the answer: he asks Haruhi to put a disclaimer at the end of the movie. Filming finishes without too much difficulty, and Kyon spends the night editing the clips together with Haruhi. Despite falling asleep during editing, Kyon wakes up to find the movie finished. It was quite rewarding to see the SOS Brigade’s project reach completion; Kyon’s role in things is a constant reminder that his sarcasm and griping manner notwithstanding, he genuinely does care about Haruhi and enjoys the adventures she brings into his life.

  • While The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya itself shows that the filming process was evidently a difficult one, especially for Mikuru and Kyon, the end result is unexpectedly good. Subtle details shown in the movie itself, which aired as a part of the first season, are present, and despite how turbulent the filming was, the resultant was of a strong quality. The movie itself shows Kyoto Animation’s excellent craft even at this point on: for me, they began to develop their current style as a result of learnings from both Kanon and The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaThrilled at how the movie turned out, Haruhi declares the project well done: while Kyon is exasperated, from a third party perspective, I consider the film to be every bit as good as Haruhi feels it to be.

  • North High’s Culture Festival finally comes to, and Kyon spends the day exploring: after visiting Mikuru and Tsuruya’s yakisoba stand, he checks out various displays, including Yuki and Itsuki, before crashing at the gym, where various bands are performing. Kyon is shocked to see Haruhi on stage performing: Aya Hirano ends up emceeing for the concert and sings “God Knows”, as well as “Lost my Music”. Of the two songs, I’m particularly fond of “Lost my Music” – its lyrics mirror Haruhi’s feelings for Kyon. The culture festival represented a chance to see a different side of Haruhi, and it is here that I found my answer for the questions I had surrounding Otafest.

  • The reason why Otafest retains its distinct atmosphere, even a decade after Michelle Ruff and Todd Haberkorn’s attendance as special guests, lies largely in the impact The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had on the anime community. In particular, Haruhi’s energy and enthusiasm has come to symbolise the very positivity that fans go towards expressing love for their hobby. Further to this, I imagine that a handful of people also fancy finding the SOS Brigade in their life amidst this positivity: whether it is something brimming with life, dependably present or adorable to a fault, this would be someone special who really brings colour to their world, complementing their existence and giving it a higher purpose.

  • When the band members come to thank Haruhi for having helped out, Haruhi is uncharacteristically quiet and greets their appreciation with a hesitant smile. Her mood, however, grows reserved, and Kyon is quick to deduce that Haruhi was so used to doing things for herself that she’d become quite unaccustomed to meeting a situation where someone was grateful for her help. In the aftermath, Haruhi explains that after hearing their story, she felt duty-bound to help out, hating the thought of seeing the band’s efforts go to waste. This growth shows another side to Haruhi and shows that during the course of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (especially following the filming of their movie), she’s also matured.

  • After Kyon finds Haruhi resting outside, she wonders what’s his deal and throws grass at him, only for the wind to carry it back into her face resulting in an adorable moment. The culture festival gives viewers a chance to see a side of Haruhi that is rarely presented; and it was here that it becomes apparent that Haruhi and Kyon could be a couple. One element in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that I’ve not mentioned until now is the soundtrack: the incidental music to the TV series was never released as standalone albums, but instead, were packaged with special CDs. With pieces for conveying atmospheres ranging from everyday to extraordinary, from mysterious to wistful, the soundtrack to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya complements the series nicely. The music in the series is best captured in The Symphony of Haruhi Suzumiya, in whcih the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra really brings to life series’ grandeur and scale through music.

  • Towards the endgame, the SOS Brigade accept a challenge from the Computing Research club with new hardware as the bet: having been humiliated by Haruhi earlier, their president decides to take back their machine. The wager: if SOS Brigade can beat them in a game they’d created, the Computing Research Club will give them new laptops, otherwise, they will get to retrieve the machine Haruhi had relieved them of. Initially, the match goes poorly, but once Yuki discovers the Computing Research club is cheating, she injects code into the server that levels out the playing field, allowing the SOS Bridage to mount a comeback. Seeing how happy Yuki was prompts Kyon to allow Yuki to spend time with the Computing Research club. At Tango-Victor-Tango, the site’s users once asserted that Yuki is using syntactically correct C code and her incantations in the anime are complex SQL commands. Some time ago, I did a post demonstrating that the former is not entirely true, and in the anime, Yuki’s speech is not of any known language: the light novels use only primitive SQL queries (no table joining is done, for instance) rather than the complex ones as Tango-Victor-Tango asserts.

  • The final episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a breather episode original to the anime. It bridges the gap between the series and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and is a relaxing depiction of what the typical day in the SOS Brigade is like when there are no major adventures going on. Kyon picks up a new space heater, plays games with Itsuki and eventually falls asleep. He awakens to find a pair of cardigans draped over his shoulders: Haruhi and Yuki are implied to have left them, hinting at the feelings that both have for him. While with Haruhi, it’s evident, it would be a bit of a surprise. The developing emotions Yuki has sets in motion the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and also motivates the spin-off series, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. I stand amongst the minority of people who enjoyed the latter.

  • As winter begins setting in, Haruhi and Kyon share an umbrella while walking home together: Haruhi is feeling particularly playful and in good spirits. Overall, having revisited The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, it becomes clear that while the series may no longer be as well-remembered as it was a decade ago, Kyoto Animation’s superb adaptation of it has left a considerable impact on anime in general; The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s standing point was being able to appeal to all manners of audience, and even now, there are few anime that have such a broad impact on the anime community, in such a positive manner. This brings my post on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to a close: I deliberately chose to time the post for today because it is of a special significance for one of my friends. However, today also marks the beginning of Apple’s WWDC 2020: the most exciting updates for me lie with MacOS Big Sur, which is set to feature a substantial update to the UI, as well as iOS 14, which introduces a Windows Phone-style live tiles UI to the home screen.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s success and appeal came from a unique combination of having a fantasy world accommodating exciting adventures melded with a more familiar world that allow for calmer moments of self-discovery, a cast of unique and memorable characters whose interactions with one another simultaneously brought about humour and a compelling narrative, combined with Kyoto Animation’s excellence in animation, artwork and aural elements. From life lessons to philosophical quandaries, from visually impressive sequences to catchy music, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had something for everyone in the anime community: the series was universally acclaimed, being praised on almost all fronts, and this stems from the fact that the anime hit enough of the right notes with enough of the readers, all of whom were brought together by Haruhi’s boldness, Kyon’s sardonic wit, and an equally interesting cast that served to build the universe out, drive comedic moments forward and explain just enough of what Kyon was experiencing to keep viewers guessing without frustrating them. Combined with the rather audacious claim that Haruhi was a god, and the infamous Hare Hare Yukai dance, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya immediately took off, capturing the interest of anime fans broad backgrounds and unifying them in a shared love for the series, rather similarly to how Haruhi brought together Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki along with Kyon to brighten things up considerably. This sense of commonality is nowhere more apparent than amongst the fans of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: shortly after the series aired, the internet became flooded with unending memes from the anime, and the Hare Hare Yukai dance became a staple at anime conventions, summarising the entire energy and atmosphere of a gathering of people united by a shared interest in a few minutes of music and choreography. Few series have done so much to bring anime fans together so effectively, and it is in the synergy between all of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s elements that created such a positive outcome for fans. Far more than the novels themselves, Kyoto Animation’s masterful execution of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya left a massive impact on the anime community and would come to play a non-trivial role in cementing Kyoto Animation’s reputation as a top-tier anime studio with a commendable dedication to quality.

5 responses to “The Otafest Answer: Discovering Fun and Camaraderie in Exploration Through The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

  1. railgunfan75 June 23, 2020 at 11:52

    Wow what a great examination on the series! It can be hard to describe what makes Haruhi great but you were spot on here. Haruhi was a series that I watched as an anime rookie and it blew me away. I would agree that the fact that the series has a little bit of everything is part of why I think it is amazing. Many series would suffer from an identity crises if they did that but Haruhi strikes the right balance and the plot swings never feel out of place. The dynamic between Haruhi and Kyon struck with me as it is a conflict that many of us face as we grow older compromising the childlike desire for adventure and the jaded reality that we all come to experience. Absolutely love this series and am glad to see someone talk about it!

    I am also excited to see someone not dump on Endless Eight or the Nagato spinoff. I thought both were quite great! This was an awesome read-thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • infinitezenith June 28, 2020 at 14:03

      The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is one of those series that very few other anime have been able to replicate, a combination of Tanigawa’s own creativity and excellence in Kyoto Animation’s delivery. It takes considerable skill to balance everything that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was doing, and for me, I admit that prior to watching it, I did not get the hype surrounding the anime. Having gone through it, my thoughts on it changed, leading me to this conclusion!

      Kyoto Animation, while well-known now for being able to precisely convey certain emotions and feelings to viewers, was still experimenting back in those days. Endless Eight was one of these trials to see if they could convey the frustration and weariness that Yuki experienced. By all definitions, they succeeded: I can imagine that those viewing the series during the second season’s airing would’ve been equally as frustrated at what amounted to two straight months of Haruhi’s summer. Admittedly, I came to the party after the fact and since I know precisely where things end, I won’t be able to feel the same way as those who saw the series as it aired. Finally, on The Disappearance of Ngato Yuki-chan, I came to love it after picking up the manga and feeling a sense of wistfulness that had permeated The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. It offers a different scenario, of a world where Kyon had chosen Yuki and routine over Haruhi and excitement, and I rather enjoyed the gentler romance developing between the two 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David Birr June 23, 2020 at 13:21

    While I didn’t see the anime version of *The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan*, I collected the manga and liked it a lot. It was interesting to see Yuki being a bit silly, and Ryouko being genuinely nice, and then when Ryouko worried that Kyon and Yuki might be getting close too fast, _Haruhi_ was the voice of reason. That was weird but sweet.

    Like

    • infinitezenith June 28, 2020 at 14:06

      The anime adaptation of The Disappearance of Ngato Yuki-chan, if memory serves, finishes the first five volumes of the series. It’s very faithful to the manga, but if you’ve not seen it, you haven’t missed too much. There is a sincerity in The Disappearance of Ngato Yuki-chan that I rather liked, and while many fans of the original series aren’t fond of it for exchanging the science fiction and philosophy elements in favour of a love story, I personally enjoyed the calmer, more introspective direction that The Disappearance of Ngato Yuki-chan took.

      Like

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