Haruhi’s been on a pedestal for 3 years now. It has long been held as Kyoani’s ace in the hole: yeah yeah yeah, x anime is pretty good, but when the next season of Haruhi comes out, it’ll blow everything out of the water. Since when did Haruhi ever deserve such high praise and devout worship? When you really look at it, isn’t Haruhi just another goddamn harem with the same stock harem characters?
Haruhi just isn’t that good. But still, I liked the first season somewhat so let’s get through some of its finer points. For 2006, the animation was pretty amazing. When other anime studios were churning out trash like this,
Kyoani was giving us this.
It’s a little hard to tell from just one screenshot, but this scene was, in a technical sense, very well done. And who could forget the famous “God Knows” scene where Kyoani animated the fingering of the guitar. In contrast, classy Nodame Cantabile, which came out later and was specifically about music, had nothing but static scenes of the orchestra. So yeah, Haruhi officially ushered in Kyoani as the king of TV animation in a sea of lazy, uninspired shit.
I guess another good quality about the first season was that, on the surface, it never really felt as if the show was taking itself too seriously. Sure, it had a tsunderekko, a maid and a meganekko, but it was self-aware or at least appeared to be.
I initially thought Kyoani might do something clever and subvert the common harem tropes. Surely, Haruhi is more than just another mega tsundere chick. After all, she’s a God; she’s gotta be empowered and not just another damsel who defines herself by the male protagonist. And surely, Mikuru’s superiors would not send such an utterly worthless and cowardly girl prone to breaking down over nothing back in time on a serious mission, right? And Gainax did Rei Ayanami first and better just more than a decade ago; Yuki has to be more than that, right?
I watched with some amusement as Kyoani dragged their feet over the last three years as to just what to do with Haruhi, this tremendous monster they created. Oh how they confused and enraged fans. Season two was coming, oh now it’s not. Haruhi’s gonna be redesigned, oh now she’s not. We’re gonna move on ahead with a rebroadcast of a three year old series anyway, oh hey, check out these unannounced new episodes.
While Kyoani was busy trolling their loving yet rabid fans (I call Haruhi the first Youtube anime for that stupid dance; you know which dance) over the years, I started to wonder why it took so long just to come up with 14 new episodes. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of source material since the show’s based on (count them) nine light novels over a span of 4 years by a lawyer-turned-writer (that’s an odd career choice; not so much the writing, but the writing of a high school tsunderekko and her silly hjinxes). But if you look a little closer, Nagaru Tanigawa, the author, hasn’t released a new novel in over two years.
Guess what: he doesn’t know where the series is going either. He doesn’t have the slightest damn clue what to do with the story. The first novel caught fire and since then, he’s been churning out 90% filler. People assumed, naturally, that the first season was merely the precursor to perhaps an epic story. And Tanigawa hints at it a lot; he hints often at just how valuable Haruhi is to each of the different factions observing her. Be honest, though; none of this ever goes anywhere in the novels because he has no clue. Haruhi’s own creator struck gold and now he has no clue what to do with it, but, as fans, we just like to think he does. And that’s just one of the many deceptions of Suzumiya Haruhi.
If the creator of the series doesn’t know what to do, what should we expect from Kyoani? Should they animate that 90% filler, build up the Haruhi craze to an even higher crescendo and face the inevitable letdown when there’s nothing left to base the show off of? Although I liked the first season, I thought about it and ultimately arrived at the conclusion that Kyoani should have simply let go of the Haruhi franchise. It wasn’t as if they weren’t successful since then (Lucky Star, Kanon, Clannad, and the surprisingly meteoric rise of K-on! but you know how I feel about that) so they certainly didn’t need another Haruhi. And they must have known they’d run out of stuff to animate with Haruhi even though the series must eventually end. Unfortunately, Haruhi’s probably just too big to simply come up with an original ending. It made sense for Kyoani to simply let go.
But another Haruhi certainly would have been nice, wouldn’t it? Not just for us, but for their coffers. How many lameass amateur dance numbers on Youtube can be attributed to Haruhi? Haruhi’s face has become ubiquitous the world over. With all the money involved, it would almost be dumb not to cash in. The foolish assumption that many fans have is that there is any integrity in Haruhi. It isn’t a story that a master storyteller was striving to bring to his adoring fans; it is simply a cashcow that Kyoani decided to milk bone dry. Haruhi doesn’t have to change a single thing. As long as it maintains its Haruhi identity, established by the first season with its sudden and, quite frankly, unforeseen success, the show will continue to draw in its lauding fans. Here is where the real shame lies. That, however, isn’t even the biggest problem. The biggest deception of Haruhi is in its ability to disguise its “harem-ness.” Let’s take one of those trashy harem series… Shuffle! for example. Do you think Haruhi is in another class heads and shoulders above Shuffle!?
Most people would answer yes, but they’re so so wrong (it’s fitting that both shows’ male protagonists are voiced by Sugita). Haruhi is no better. It’s a show that stuck its tongue out at harem conventions in the first episode, but wholly embraced them the rest of the way. This right here is the biggest deception of Suzumiya Haruhi.
Haruhi’s literally God of her world. She isn’t just powerful. She can literally destroy and remake the world in a flash. Not only that, she’s good at everything; hell, she just picked up a guitar and rocked out on stage because she felt like it. Haruhi’s one capable anime chick in a world of cowering moeblobs (one of which is in her own show). Or so you would think. The often overlooked reality of Haruhi is that she’s just another tsundere. And for all her powers, she’s identified by her man. Think about it–she was ready to throw away her old world, the one she grew up in for the last 15 years, but changes her mind over a silly little kiss and I bet there wasn’t even any tongue.
Have you ever thought about why she even likes Kyon? I mean, he’s a bit of a dick. It sounds kinda silly, but Kyon was refreshing at first just because he was sarcastic; it seems as though he often said stuff that we, the viewers, wanted to say. He wasn’t like most innocent harem leads. But again, that was simply just another deception. He didn’t say half of the things he (and we) wanted to say; he merely thought them in his head. Ultimately, Kyon’s a little passive aggressive; he complains a whole lot about Haruhi, but he really couldn’t bear to be without her. And I mean it–damn does this guy bitch constantly about her so why does she even like him? He’s not a particularly nice guy, no one ever says he’s mega attractive, nor is he talented at anything. He doesn’t even relate to her all that well. Oh he tolerates her, but so does Itsuki, and neither really bother to stand up to her so it’s not that either. There’s absolutely no reason for Haruhi’s world to revolve around Kyon, but it does. He reminds her of John Smith? One night years ago is no reason to throw your life away to some ungrateful prick.
So to recap, her name’s in the title, she has God powers, and she has almost no flaws (so she can be a bit bossy). She’s someone worth looking up to, right? Okay, let’s pretend she was a guy. Would most anime fans (presumably male) look up to “him?” Would you really want to be defined by a girl? So why should a girl look up to Haruhi? Remember, Haruhi can destroy and remake the universe on a whim, but she doesn’t because of Kyon. He, ironically since he’s just a normal human being, holds all the power. It’s ultimately demeaning and deceiving. Haruhi isn’t empowered; she’s just like every other “powerful” tsunderekko who is really held in check by a man (e.g. Shana). The show itself is hardly progressive, but actually regressive. Hey, cool powers but in the end, you’re controlled by your unchecked emotions. Women are so typical. Sure, Nagato has powers too and she never changes throughout the series. I’ll grant that, but don’t forget that Nagato is practically mute. She hardly has a human expression in her. So first, power isn’t feminine… now it’s dehumanizing? Just exactly when is it okay for a girl to be powerful, Kyoani?
Consider it from another angle. Sure, the first season was put out of order, but merely out of artistic license. As the series chronologically continued, you can call it “The Normalizing of Suzumiya Haruhi.” Or to be blunt, a nipponese Taming of the Shrew. As the show continued, Haruhi lost much of her quirkiness. The show is telling girls to stop being unique; be normal or boys won’t like you.
To fit in, to find friends, to get a man to love her. It has gotten to the point where she no longer uses her powers. Remember girls, don’t be strong or boys won’t like you. This is a show where Mikuru whines to Kyon, “If I become ruined for marriage, will you take me?” It’s the 21st century, but women are still being defined in the (not just Japanese) media by whether or not they get married. The show constantly situates Mikuru as the superior female, evidenced by Kyon’s constant approval for her over Haruhi. The show’s obvious, and regressive, conclusion is that Haruhi should just be more feminine.
Not giving a shit about social taboos isn’t feminine; it isn’t feminine to change in class in front of boys. Mikuru is ashamed of her body and thus she is feminine. On the other hand, Haruhi’s disregard will simply ruin her for marriage. This becomes a stark contrast to, later in the series ,when Haruhi finally becomes self-conscious in front of her man.
And if we’re honest to ourselves, this is what the otaku croons for, isn’t it? Anime is full of the exploitation of a woman’s shame, i.e. her body. All those panty shots, all those unfortunate failure of clothing… it’s all designed to center the woman’s body as the site of both sexual play and failure, a seeming contradiction that is simply too potent in reinforcing the dominant gender (male) that feels no shame and no ostracization for its own sexuality. If you don’t think the contradiction exists, what do you make of Kyoani’s lavishing attention toward Haruhi’s slamming teenage body?
Juxtapose this with Haruhi at the height of her Japanese femininity later in the same episode. Recall that she utters Kyon’s name first, checking with his approval for the man’s approval is what defines her. Don’t forget either that in this scene, there is both a time traveler working for some shady agency and a goddamn alien who can alter the world and its physics. Sounds impressive right? But here they are, served up as meat, as the epitome of Japanese femininity in their yukata.
Just think about it. Haruhi initially didn’t want to deal with ordinary humans, but she falls in love with one. She wants to hunt for aliens and solve mysteries, but at the end of the day, she’s happy just dressing up with her girls, preening to the delight of her man’s dick. Haruhi as a powerful female character? Don’t kid yourself. Ultimately, she’s just another tsunderekko, and the whole point of tsundere is to tear down any strong-willed, independent character until they’re brought down below the level of the male protagonist.
Pingback: Final Thoughts on Spring 09 Anime Season « Moe Sucks
This makes alot of sense, you know.
You are very smart. ♪(ﾟ▽^*)ﾉ⌒☆
While some of your criticisms of the Haruhi/Kyon relationship are very valid, and resonate with me, I think that you overemphasize the importance of their relationship (at least at a romantic level) within the anime itself.
Haruhi is not defined by Kyon. Her interest in the extraordinary and supernatural predates her meeting him (or even “John Smith” for that matter), and it continues on often in spite of his protestations. If Haruhi was defined by Kyon, she would listen to his protestations far more often than what she does, and she wouldn’t boss him around most of the time.
Also, tsundere qualities is only one small part of Haruhi’s character. She also has a lot of genki girl qualities to her, as well as a fully fleshed out and distinct personality.
It is true that Haruhi “normalizes” somewhat as the plot progresses, but this shows through in her relation to all the other characters in her anime, not just Kyon. Haruhi basically becomes more sociable in general, and starts to truly care about her fellow SOS Brigade members as individuals in their own right.
I’ve recently read through some of your other blog entries, and I find it very odd that a person that is against the objectifying of female characters often done in “moe animes” would view Haruhi becoming more modest about undressing in front of boys to be a negative change. Furthermore, this change wasn’t about Haruhi becoming more feminine, per se. This change was about Haruhi becoming less oblivious to her surroundings, and basically being more alert and “with it”. Isn’t this what you want, given how moe critics dislike airheadedness?
I’m going to be frank here: I think that you’re allowing your general dislike of moe to give you an overly negative and biased impression of an anime series (and titular character) that basically popularized the very term “moe”.
Overall, I agree with maybe 25% of what you wrote in this blog entry, and disagree with the rest of it. You make a few decent salient points, but your overall stance on the character of Haruhi Suzumiya (and hence her anime0 is very flawed due to you overemphasizing the importance of her relationship with Kyon. Also, while I’m not a HaruhiKyon shipper, there is at least one logical reason for why Haruhi likes Kyon: though he won’t admit it, he shares her interest in the extraordinary and supernatural. Perhaps Haruhi is picking up on that at some level, and hence Kyon is important to her simply because she knows that, deep down, he shares her interests.
That certainly strikes me as a good starting point for a good, healthy, and equal relationship: shared interests.
Most of his protestations are just general whininess (because, after all, he really enjoys his time in the club even if he likes to pretend he doesn’t) so I’m sure she doesn’t take those seriously. When he does put his foot down, she seems to follow lock in step.
I’m not against moe because it objectifies female characters, though it does commit its fair share of this crime. I’m against moe because it reduces the female character to a concept, a concept created only to elicit a feeling of protectiveness from male fans.
I spoke out about Haruhi’s newfound modesty because women are often taught the double standard that their body is shameful and sinful. I feel that throughout the anime, Haruhi goes from non-traditional femininity to traditional, and I cited her newfound modesty as one example of this change in Haruhi.
Sharing an amount of interests that I can list on one hand is not an ironclad argument for love. I remain unconvinced that Haruhi should have any significant feelings for Kyon for any other reason other than that he’s the designated male lead. In particular, he often deals with her brusquely and dismissively. One would assume that’s a turn-off moreso than a turn-on.
When did Kyon put his foot down?
Can you provide me with even a handful of examples of Kyon putting his foot down?
The closest Kyon came to putting his foot down was when he and Haruhi argued passionately over the making of the school film. And neither side really gave in there. Mikuru simply passed out, and being the lead actress, that brought everything to a grinding halt.
Furthermore, you don’t have to think that your body is “shameful” or “sinful” to think that you shouldn’t be casually undressing in front of the other gender within a public setting. It’s perfectly normal for people to feel this way. There is nothing inconsistent about a strong woman having a moderate degree of modesty. I know many strong men who wouldn’t feel comfortable undressing in a public setting with women around, so what’s the big deal if Haruhi doesn’t feel comfortable undressing in a public setting (i.e. a school of all places) with guys around?
Also, Haruhi obviously doesn’t think that her body is “shameful” or “sinful” or she wouldn’t dress up in bunny costumes, of all things. You’re really reading way too much into one small scene, E Minor.
Another possible reason for Haruhi having some feelings for Kyon is how he’s not afraid of her like many of her classmates are. If people tend to avoid you, but one guy has the courage to approach you and talk to you, all the while taking notice of your changing hairstyle, then that’s enough to at least spark interest. And from that point on, Haruhi finds Kyon useful to have around while Kyon finds Haruhi fun to be around (though he usually wouldn’t admit it).
At the very least, the basis for their friendship is reasonable.
All of this being said, I thank you for your reply. I still think that you’re not giving this anime, or its female lead, a fair shake, but it’s good that you at least acknowledge the other side of the argument.
I haven’t seen the anime in a year, about the same time this article was written. You’ll have to forgive me if I can’t sit here and brainstorm examples nor do I really have a desire to rewatch the entire thing. I’ll just concede this point with a caveat — her destructive tendencies are kept in check by a high school romance. Given the same power, I’d have moral and ethical debates on whether or not I should abuse my power, not because my HS girlfriend keeps happy chemicals flowing into my head.
Why should you be? Men can walk around topless so why can’t a women? Unless we assume that women are somehow more vulnerable than men, that is.
Within a certain moral framework. There are plenty of places in the world, in civilized countries no less, where women walk around topless in public. Haruhi wasn’t even going topless but merely stripping down to her underwear, no different than what you’d expect to see on Japanese beaches.
But she wasn’t before. I know that you attribute this to her obliviousness, and certainly the anime states this at face value, but I think there’s a certain subtext about it I’m not entirely comfortable with. Am I reading too much into it? That assumes there’s one correct way to interpret a body of text, which I wholly disagree with.
Just because she willingly dresses up in bunny costumes doesn’t mean she isn’t ashamed of her body. She simply realizes that sex is a commodity, one that she has in abundance, and can leverage as power with certain trade-offs, but — at the same time — she knows that society frowns upon it. It is the duplicitous nature of women’s sexuality, treading the fine line between the virgin/whore dichotomy. Why would she react so vehemently to Kyon being in the same room if she was not ashamed of him seeing her body? if it wasn’t “proper” for him to see it? And yet, she may think the benefits of the bunny costume outweighs any shame it may bring.
Ah, she exists in the fantastical anime world where every male is flawed but one. If this comes off snarky, it is. I have no response to the notion that the only man who isn’t afraid of Haruhi is Kyon, because this resembles nothing in the real world. So the conclusion I’ve arrived at is that either A) she has no reason to like him or B) the world is contrived for them to be together so the relationship is hardly authentic.
Hey, the feeling’s mutual. We may disagree, but — I can only speak for myself — it isn’t personal.
E Minor – I’ll admit that the Haruhi/Kyon relationship feels a bit contrived due precisely to a lack of competition for Haruhi, which is a bit unrealistic as Haruhi is clearly portrayed as very attractive. This lack of authenticity, that you point to, is the main reason why I’m not really a HaruhiKyon shipper.
I’d prefer it if Kyon had real competition for Haruhi’s liking, and that this competition basically forced him to be more respectful towards her, hence making the romance feel more “real” and less of an one-sided affair. It is a bit unfair that Kyon has several girls to choose from (your points pertaining to Mikuru were well-made) while Haruhi doesn’t seem to have any viable option for romance other than Kyon.
To be clear, I don’t think that Haruhi is a feminist trailblazer. But at least she is very forthright, outspoken, openly opinionated, energetic, very ambitious, a high achiever, and eager to take charge. Relative to most anime female leads, she’s a strong character. She has her traditional feminine side, but it’s counterbalanced somewhat by a generally assertive personality that has real goals outside of familial or relational ones. I mean, she’s far from a Yamato Nadeshiko, I think you’d agree with me there at least.
I’ll leave it at this. Thanks for the spirited discussion.
There are worse female characters in anime by far. But what does being better than zero mean, especially in Haruhi’s case? I wrote the article to gripe that there is still a long way to go in combating one-sided female portrayals and gender expectations.
What’s wrong with being a Yamato Nadeshiko. The concept WAS NOT invented for the sole purpose of oppressing women. I’m so sick of the hatred of femininity in Western society. Why do so many Westerners (especially Americans and Swedes) think a female character is only “strong” if they are anti-girly or do something masculine. Its a type of left-wing misogyny if you think about it. The fact that so many feminist actually preach that crap shows how deranged feminism has become. This “real women don’t wear dresses” mentality has to end.The main reason why traditional modes of femininity still exist in Japan/East Asia and most other cultures is because many (not all) of women in those countries CHOOSE to be that way. They are just following their personal desires, NOBODY IS FORCING THEM, no “patriarchy” is doing that to them.
I kinda agree with almost all of the issues you pointed out. But I still kinda enjoy watching it, anw will still if ever a season 3 comes up. Am I dumb?
I wouldn’t say so. Being aware of the underlying issues is often all we can really do. We can’t always fight our inclinations.
Haruhi suzumiya is not a harem by definition, since kyon does not have 3 love interests.
Cool technicality, bro.
There are so many errors in this and other articles that I feel compelled to respond.
1. The belief that it is sex & the female body is shameful doesn’t actually exist in Japan, in fact Shintoism has traditionally taught the opposite (sex as holy/divine). Its only in Western/Christian socialites where this kind of slut shaming exist (ironically by many feminist.) THAT is why Japanese media is more relaxed about sex & nudity, even in kids shows. There is no “contradiction” about that outside of the minds of social justice warriors. You a projecting Western assumptions with that comment.
2. You are misreading several aspects of the show (and many other anime) just to project your social justice ideology. Mikuru is not ashamed of her body, she’s just shy and lacks self confidence, people with those personality traits are less likely to be comfortable showing off their bodies. Also, being shamed of your body is NOT considered feminine in Japan and most cultures in fact.
3. Not giving a shit about social taboos has NOTHING to do with femininity or masculinity, its just not caring about society’s views at all. Don’t tell me your one of those biology-denying morons who believe gender is a “social construct”. Nowhere in the series is it ever implied that Haruhi ought to be more feminine to be acceptable. In fact, Haruhi never really comes across as non-feminine at any point in series (or to most viewers for that matter). Gender is not about what you do, it the manner of your instincts and its a sliding scale (for example, even though assertiveness is considered masculine, there are both men & women who are masculine-passive people and feminine-assertive people).
4. There is no such thing as sexual objectification. The concept is nothing more than demonizing both men and women who value sex & beauty, perpetuate a myth about men’s sexuality as coarse, predatory, animalistic and vicious. It doesn’t make any sense unless you believe sex itself is evil and therefore we shown all become sexless robots. What you and other SWJs call “objectification” is nothing more than the admiration of the human body. Men aren’t “reducing” women into “objects” as stated in your “male gaze”, they are being praise for being attractive. The more attractive someone is, the more our instincts are drawn to them (its why Muslims cover their women), and women are the prettier sex on average by mile, THATS why they are more “objectified” in every society.
5. Finally, a moe character is any character that inspires protective/nurturing feelings in people. Its (and the tsundere concept which actually has a basis in psychology) not some male conspiracy to oppress women (in fact, moe characters are actually slightly more popular with and even designed by women than with men for multiple reasons, one being that a lot of women (and some men) have some of the same personality traits) but just an exaggerated version actually traits in people. Critics of both concepts often hypocritically fail to address the male examples of them (which are NOT rare).
Didn’t the Japanese try do de-sexualize their culture post Meiji redtoration in order to appear more western and “civilized?”. If sexuality is so worshipped in Japan, why are they having so little of it (from what I heard) and why is stuff like cleavage or hugging onsidered shameful? Why are oral contraceptives banned?
One last point about sexual objectification. Most examples of “objectification” of women in the media are in fact just as popular with women as they are with men, because they embody what most women want to be: attractive. That’s why a lot of girls look up to models and hot female celebrities, society is not making them do that.
I’d just like to point out this article and its comments didn’t have a single vehemently dismissive comment on feminism OR anti-feminism and the debate was quite civil… then you have that comment written in 2014… lol.
It’s quite okay. I didn’t read those comments anyway.
>One day, it was decided that animating too many women’s faces (since they’re emotional, heh) would be too costly. And thus Yuki’s ancestor Rei was born.
I think it’s cool characters like this are being depicted and refute the notion that people with a flat affect don’t truly have emotions.
To follow up on this, one may argue that with this depiction that another woman is being depicted in terms of emotions, and I can see it. Nevertheless, I see it a different way. When I was a kid, I had serious problems with emotional expression, which would often cause my feelings to get bottled up until I blew up. In _Disappearance_ the same thing happens to Yuki. Later in the series Yuki seems to get better, in that she’s still flat but overall she finds ways of handling her emotions, pursuing her own interests, and working to become more independent from the alien being that created her. I find that direction of character development encouraging.