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.