10 years ago The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya took the anime world by storm, and it hasn’t been the same since. Back then, I was only just beginning to get into anime and Haruhi wasn’t on my radar. I became more cognizant of it as I started growing deeper into the fandom. It didn’t seem like something that would appeal to me. Romance is my favorite anime genre, but it is something that developed over time. On the surface Haruhi looked like a standard romance set in a typical high school setting. After having watched Haruhi, I can safely say that assumption was sorely misguided and Haruhi has a special factor to it that makes it stand out from other shows.
There have been a lot of shows over the past decade that have tried to copy Haruhi’s school life formula, but the key factor with this series is that it combines science fiction with slice of life elements and a great supporting cast. The school life plot lines are fairly standard. There is a culture festival arc. There is a brutal arc about summer vacation. The show even begins with the formation of a club and the various tasks that are associated with it. As a viewer, however, I found the science fiction elements to be the most compelling. Each character in the cast, which is comprised of five members, has some sort of special ability or theorized to have one. Yuki is an alien. Mikuru is a time traveler. Kozumi is an esper. Haruhi is God, and Kyon is thought to be a slider, someone who can move between time dimensions. These titles probably don’t mean much to the average person who hasn’t seen the show, but they are explained as the show progresses and become increasingly important near the end. The adventures of Haruhi and her friends seem normal at first, but every single time there is a strange occurrence, it can be chalked up to the science fiction elements. Essentially, Haruhi is God and that causes problems for everyone else. She is not aware of her power, and all of the different factions, represented by the titles everyone has, are trying to appease her and in doing so, are chasing after their own ideals.
On the surface level, science fiction with school life isn’t the most organic combination, but it works so well because of the cast of characters. Kyon is the main character and the glue that holds the group together. The reason why I liked him so much is because he is never afraid to say what is on his mind. Because his role is only theorized, he is also considered to be the only normal person in the group. Haruhi values his opinion more than anything else, most likely due to her feelings for him, and as a result, his words and actions are often the catalyst or the solution behind the strange events we see throughout the show. Being the main character, Kyon has a relationship with each member of their little club, and seeing those relationships unfold is part of the magic of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
To understand the crux of the show, it is important to understand the relationship between Yuki and Kyon. Yuki is the quietest member of the SOS Brigade, the name of the motley club Haruhi put together. In fact, she was a member of the Literature Club before the SOS Brigade even came to be about, and spent her afternoons sitting in an otherwise empty classroom until Haruhi shows up. What Kyon discovers is that Yuki is an alien that was sent to Earth to simply observe Haruhi. Yuki will sometimes intervene in events when it appears there is real jeopardy of Haruhi’s emotions being affected. She intervenes in a baseball game for example when Haruhi becomes very upset at that outcome. However, Yuki and Kyon develop a special bond. Yuki understands how important Kyon is to the whole equation. Furthermore, because she helps him and is the first person to reveal her identity to Kyon, it is assumed he has some affection towards her. Not only is Yuki the prime focus of the Endless Eight arc, she is also the main focus of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, the movie which was made after both seasons of the anime concluded. I got the impression that Kyon feels indebted to Yuki because of the times she helps him when he needs it the most. There is no question that Yuki is the most intelligent person in the group, and on some level, Kyon has respect and admiration for that.
The difficult aspect about the set-up of the show is finding ways to both fill in the audience and Kyon at the same time. Koizumi is the driving factor behind information dumps. Kyon and Koizumi have interesting conversations with each other. He tells Kyon about not only his own ability, but also the organization he is associated with and the time rifts that Haruhi causes. Much like Yuki, Koizumi respects Kyon’s importance in the whole equation. This is his motivation for keeping Kyon informed of the different races and groups working behind the scenes. While I was watching, I got the sense there was a lot more going on with each faction than I or Kyon actually realized. We even see brief glimpses of some of the other members of Koizumi’s organization. Later on in the series, we learn about a battle that took place in the past and rogue elements of each faction. The world of Haruhi is certainly interesting to say the least, and Koizumi is an integral part of the show for that very reason. Every story needs a means of providing information, and even with that aside Koizumi is interesting as a character. He is witty and acts nonchalant most of the time, but he is incredibly aware and all of his actions have meaning behind them. I would argue he is far and away the most mysterious member of the club, and I wouldn’t have it any other way as I think the unexplained and the mystery regarding the world’s back story and lore is an integral part as to why Haruhi can be so wonderfully captivating at times as an anime series.
Every group usually has one member who is not the brightest apple in the bunch. In the case of the SOS Brigade, that person is Mikuru. She often finds herself in precarious situations that involve her falling down or some other similar hurdle. Haruhi reinforces frequently that she is the eye candy of the group and dresses her in costumes, sometimes to promote the club itself in public. With such treatment, it can be easy to form a less than stellar opinion of her intellect. However, Kyon learns that Mikuru is in fact a time traveler. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much to change the opinion of how smart she is because she receives orders from a person higher up in her organization that is later revealed to be an older version of herself. There is an interesting contrast between the two versions of Mikuru. Older Mikuru is well-grounded and aware of the situation, mainly because she already lived through it. She understands Kyon and you get the sense she is sympathetic towards Kyon’s feelings that is often torn between feeling frustrated and intrigued by Haruhi. The relationship between Mikuru and Kyon is perhaps the least complex because Kyon views her a lot of the time as an attractive woman who needs protecting. Yes, he cares about her more than that, but it doesn’t change the fact he often sees her in distress and revealing costumes. It is unfortunate because in a lot of ways, Mikuru feels like the fan service element of the show. I think something can be said for Kyon’s desire to protect her. He likes to complain about Haruhi and be sarcastic, but he does protect others. Mikuru being present shows another side to Kyon which we don’t get to see often as audience members, because quite frankly, everyone else doesn’t need protecting.
The relationship that forms the story itself is the one between the two most important characters: Kyon and Haruhi. It is interesting because of the romantic implications behind their actions and thought processes. It is very clear that Haruhi has feelings for him. When Kyon first meets her, she comes to school every day with a different hairstyle. He makes a comment about liking short hair, and Haruhi changes her hairstyle permanently to be short. With her stubborn personality, she would never do that for someone she didn’t obviously care about. When the Endless Eight arc is finally resolved, it is only after Kyon makes the suggestion everyone, Haruhi included, visit his home to work on homework together. She takes his suggestion to heart. Haruhi also orders Kyon around a lot of the time, and in her own way, that is her showing that she has feelings for him. The opposite of love is not hate, but apathy and at no point is Haruhi apathetic towards him. That leads to its own question. Is Kyon interested in Haruhi? That question is a lot more difficult to answer. Kyon complains about her a lot of the time, and not in an affectionate manner. It feels like he puts up with her more than anything else. With that said however, he does acquiesce, but it is difficult to know if that is to appease because of who she is or because he has actual feelings for her. In fact, Kyon doesn’t express or exhibit romantic interest in anyone. Perhaps the idea is completely off his radar. An argument can be made that Kyon does have interest in her because of how much time they spend together and how much he ultimately does do for her. It is questionable to me considering we are given an insight into his inner monologue, but it could be possible he simply represses those thoughts and feelings.
People still talk about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in today’s anime landscape. Haruhi was not only a show a lot of people grew up with; it was able to present two different genres and fuse them together with a great cast. Not a lot of shows are able to do that, and while there are flaws it still provides a lot of discussion for the average anime viewer. I was worried going in that it wouldn’t hold up and I would be disappointed. Haruhi is something I can add to my belt as an anime fan, and if you haven’t seen it in a while, give it a rewatch. It might surprise you.