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.
12 thoughts on “Sharing Haruhi’s Melancholy: A Reflection”
Is this review meant for people who have seen the show and who you want to talk about the show with or to attract people to watch the show?
Because as someone who didn’t watch the show yet; “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.” literally makes no sense to me and is a spoiler as well, I think at least.
Also: God, that yellow font is hideous.
Yeah, I actually probably should start thinking about a new naming system for my pieces. There are definitely spoilers hanging around here, and it’s really more of a reflection or analysis than it is a review.
Yellow font: I know. That’s what I get for going legal for this show…
The dub for Haruhi is pretty good (some people find Haruhi’s English VA a bit grating, but she’s supposed to be grating). Crispin Freeman does an excellent Kyon. And no yellow subtitles to boot.
I actually did hear a bit of the dub somewhere and I remember thinking that Haruhi’s English VA sounded too smooth and gentle—but it was a down scene, not a typical hyper Haruhi scene.
A nice read for those like me who have seen the movie.
Your reflections on Haruhi and Kyon’s individual motivations were excellent.
There’s a small section in paragraph 3 where you use “might” as if you were going to mention the opposite, which confused me a bit but overall, very well-written.
It was an ironic “might,” since that was exactly what I did (and what I tend to do).
“You don’t have to love someone to acknowledge them. You just have to accept them as the are.” Thought this was an insightful comment, some think to think about as we meet people throughout our lives.
What a very beautifully written insightful post on one of my first anime. And this reminds me of how much I really loved it.
What are your thoughts on the theory that Kyon might be the sleeping God, rather than Haruhi? Interested to hear about your views on this one, seeing as I enjoyed reading this, but noticed that you didn’t really mention much about any of the characters supernatural tendencies, much less about Haruhi being some sort of god.
Personally, though I think the theory has a few things going for it, the fact that it hasn’t been acknowledged by the author or anything leaves me skeptical. I don’t really like the theory, either, seeing as I think it’s going against a number of things the show and novels are trying/tried to achieve.
Nonetheless, I’d be most interested to hear what you think about it! I’m really enjoying this anime, and am watching it right now. (In chronological order, thank goodness).
Eh, I don’t give any sort of credence to the Kyon-as-god theory. I understand the impulse to want to add in further complexity to the story, but I happen to really like Haruhi-as-god and I don’t see any reason to doubt the show’s presentation of her as such.
Furthermore, and more importantly, as you’ve already mentioned, I think Kyon-as-god would change the thematic focuses of the show and movie quite a bit. In fact, I suppose a large chunk of this essay would have to be reworked or scrapped entirely.
I also think that if Kyon were god, rather than Haruhi, everything would have come ended after his acknowledgement and acceptance of his life in the movie. The whole sleeping god thing is predicated on being unconscious of one’s power, and Kyon effectively has woken up to the subconscious desires Haruhi has yet to acknowledge.
where they get the first image of the SOS brigade looking tired while Nagato is reading a book, what episode is that from?
Excellent treatment of my favorite anime. The best part was your description of the fundamental motivations / world views of Haruhi and Kyon. I had never recognized them that clearly.
Connected with that, let me add that what really made this show, at least for me, was Kyon’s distinctive voice, through which he functioned as the classic unreliable narrator. But more importantly, in my view, was the fact that his unreliability was grounded not in any failure of perception, but in his perpetual failure to buy into Harhuh’s enthusiasm. Thus there were always two conflicting world views interpreting and evaluating what was happening, and their conflict, added to the total mystery of the events depicted, made the show something of a hall of mirrors, both in terms of facts and emotions.
I love complexity, and this show had it in spades.