Hear me, know me, see me.
So cries out Haruhi Suzumiya, through all her rampaging across the world and through all her brash confidence.
Universality of theme and emotion is perhaps the greatest feat towards which any act of fiction can strive. Fiction, no matter how fictional, is always a reflection of real life (a terrifying prospect, truly) and the degree to which it mirrors the truth of life, humanity, and its audience often plays a key role in determining how effective any work of fiction can be. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya [Kyoto Animation, 2006/2009] and the subsequent movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya [Kyoto Animation, 2010] (Rankings) are two such fictional works that have taken a single aspect from the truth of human existence and spun it into a compelling and touching narrative.
As a young girl, Haruhi Suzumiya entered a stadium and was struck with the insignificance of her own existence. Yes, this is the brutality of being human—you are one of literally billions, and billions of those billions will never know your name, never recognize your face, never care about something as small as your existence. And the worst part about it is that nobody is deliberately ignoring you. You are, in fact, so small that they aren’t even conscious of you. But Haruhi, despite realizing the hopelessness of her situation, responds in (what I would say is) an admirable fashion—she refuses to become invisible, embraces life, and constantly seeks more from it. Haruhi demands attention from the world. She demands that it pay her enough to heed to entertain and delight her.
A sentimental fool like me might reframe Haruhi’s hyper-manic drive to pursue entertainment, stimulation, and attention as a desire to be loved—and her actions in forming the the SOS Brigade bear this out. Haruhi forms a group of misfits around her, for the sole purpose of having people around to accompany her on her adventures. And at the center of this group is, of course, Kyon.
It’s pretty easy to understand why Kyon means so much to Haruhi, enough that she would re-create the world and keep him as the only constant in her new universe. Kyon is the first person to acknowledge Haruhi’s existence; he gives her the attention she craves from the universe—in the best and most personal form it can offer, as a one human being to another. It’s a sentiment echoed often by Koizumi; Kyon is the one person Haruhi trusts to stand by her at all times, to join her in her adventures no matter how much he complains. Most importantly, though, is that Kyon does this without understanding Haruhi. Haruhi doesn’t demand understanding. She only wants to be loved, and you don’t have to love somebody to acknowledge them. You only have to accept them as they are.
This is not an easy road for Kyon. Until the events of Disappearance, Kyon’s acceptance is more of passive complicity—he tags along, but wishes Haruhi was not Haruhi. For Haruhi, that’s enough. But that’s not good enough, Kyon. It’s not. And so we come to The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, the brilliant capstone that takes Kyon and sets him squarely in a place where he must make a choice. “Disappearance” is an apt title for the movie, because Haruhi is not only gone from Kyon’s literal life, but she disappears as a force in his life and in the franchise. Disappearance is not about Haruhi. Disappearance is about Kyon. He takes on the role of an active participant in his own life and, for the first time, truly becomes the main character.
In Kyon, we see Haruhi’s negative image—a person who understands his insignificance in the world and has accepted it. Kyon is willing to accept a life of unacknowledged, unknown being. In the context of Melancholy, this resistance to Haruhi’s frantic scrambling for attention frames Kyon as almost an oppositional force. Sure, he’s not preventing Haruhi from doing anything, but he also isn’t actively supporting her. Haruhi’s hyperactivity is consistently and constantly at odds with Kyon’s passivity. And yes, Haruhi sees Kyon’s mere presence as confirmation of his commitment, but Kyon has been getting by with the bare minimum of effort.
And it’s not as if Kyon has been blind to this reality. He’s well aware that the faith Haruhi places in him a faith he doesn’t really deserve, yet he can’t seem to shake himself out of his complacence, out of his comfortable acceptance of the status quo—an ironic acceptance, at that, because he doesn’t even really have the type of life he idealizes. Disappearance removes Kyon’s new reality and places him into his “ideal” life and he finds out that it’s not quite a wonderful as he imagined.
Kyon may not desire the existential attention Haruhi does, but he’s been infected with her love for life. Haruhi loves being alive. She loves it so much that she strives to be fully alive, fully embracing the world around her at all times.
This is a bit of digression, but nowhere else in Melancholy is this so well shown as in the Endless Eight. Let me begin by saying that I liked the Endless Eight (although watching all 8 episodes in a single sitting would not be a recommendation I would make to anyone). Let me follow this by saying that anyone who, unconsciously or not, is willing to relive the same few days thousands of times has to love life to an unparalleled degree. And Kyon, for all of his cynicism and all his protests, has fallen into the same spell that Haruhi has—the simple pleasure of existence.
And so, in Disappearance, we see Kyon finally make a choice (actually, even better, a series of choices) to take action. In easily the most powerful scene of the film, he challenges himself, berates his own hypocrisy and apathy, and demands an answer of himself. When Haruhi is removed from his life, Kyon finds that he has come to value her much more than he realized.
In other words, Kyon gives up on his old ideal of a normal life and accepts—even rejoices in—the reality of his current life. He finally fully participates in Haruhi’s world and, in doing so, he joins her in the quest for recognition and for love. I realize that when Kyon pleads with a young Haruhi, “Please don’t forget that I was here,” it is a literal request, but in the full context of the situation, Kyon is begging Haruhi to enable him to return his real life. The life that Kyon comes to accept and cherish is non-existent without Haruhi. He needs her just as much as she needs him.
So, what I guess I’m trying to say is this: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya explore the human desire for connection, acknowledgement, and love from two sides. In Haruhi, we find someone who has realized her needs on an unconscious level. In Kyon, her best friend and best foil, we see someone who has denied his needs, but comes to understand and accept them.
“Of course it was fun!” Kyon declares to himself in the climactic scene of Disappearance. At long last, the great cynic acknowledges himself and his own feelings. And I celebrated. Because the world is a place worth having fun in, a place worth living in, and a place worth looking for love in.