The last three episodes have aired and so, as promised, the second part of my Haruhi Suzumiya rant has been brought into existence. The question before us at the end of the last rant boiled down to whether the series could pull out of its downward spiral, or whether it could pick up and end on a high note. Unfortunately, if not unpredictably, the former option turned out to be the case.
Episode Twelve: Every series needs a rock concert
Another stand alone story, this time from volume six, episode twelve brings us the events of the very school festival that the first episode’s movie was created for. Surprisingly, this was the first episode in a while that didn’t seem to drag, but that’s not to say it wasn’t without its problems.
The episode follows Kyon as he wanders round the school festival, and in true Haruhi fashion we are treated to all the usual clichés- Yuki is fortune-telling in a tediously meticulous and precise manner (think Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Mikuru is a waitress in a cosplay café, and Itsuki is just his usual supremely uninteresting self as he performs in a play. Nothing particularly outstanding there, but as a bonus this episode sees the return of classmates Taniguchi and Kunikeda, and Mikuru’s friend Tsuruya- minor characters, to be sure, but ones who could have added a bit of interest and variety had they not been neglected.
All this is a prelude to the main event, however- a rock concert in which Haruhi and Yuki replace two absent members of a band and get to perform onstage. Insert songs usually have an aura of time-filler about them but in all honesty the concert itself was not too bad- the problem lies with the aftermath, in which Haruhi explains why she chose to help the band. The Haruhi we all know from episodes before or since (in whatever order you shuffle them) is so completely focused on herself that she expects the world to revolve around her skewed viewpoint- and given her godlike powers, it usually does. Without any prior indication or development, however, this week’s Haruhi is a different creature, suddenly possessed of the ability to care about the plight of others and even put herself to some trouble for a cause other than her own crazy schemes.
Despite the abruptness of this change of heart, it might seem odd to complain about it- surely this new version of Haruhi is a lot better than the annoying and dislikeable personality we had been treated to before? Unfortunately, this improvement does not last- with the closing lines of the episode, Haruhi is back to her old self, all trace of the false character development returned from whence it came.
Episode Thirteen: Exposition, Exposition, Exposition
The final two-parter takes us back to the last two chapters of novel one, a tale of the narrowly averted end of existence. Before the crisis can be reached, however, the series had one more loose end to tie up- Itsuki’s explanation of his powers. Cue a lengthy and dull exposition section as Itsuki discusses the nature of his abilities and his thoughts on Haruhi’s powers, before finally taking Kyon on a trip to closed space.
A phenomenon not too dissimilar to the barrier fields of X/1999, closed space is a greyish reflection of our own world, where Haruhi’s frustration manifests in the form of rampaging blue giants. Itsuki and his nameless contemporaries have the job of destroying the giants before the closed space that contains them expands and engulfs the real world, and so we are treated to a brief battle in which the latest giant is slain.
There really isn’t much more to say about this episode; like Itsuki himself it fails to leave much of an impression.
Episode Fourteen: The Darkest Hour
It was with a mixture of disinterest and relief that I approached the final episode of Haruhi; I didn’t particularly want to watch it, but the thought of having the series completed and out of the way was too much to resist. And so it was the I entered the animated world of Haruhi for the final time (at least until season 2-8 appear and I find myself watching them for some reason), for the concluding episode of this rather dull and lifeless two-part arc.
Just as the end of the series was finally with us, so did the end of the world seem to be here- Haruhi had finally got so fed up with the current reality that she cosed it off in favour of a dull grey world populated only by Haruhi and Kyon. Unfortunately, I had likewise become so fed up with Haruhi that this episode seemed to drag on forever, but some twenty four minutes later and a combination of the powers of love and plot necessity had brought everything back to normal- or at least as close to normal as makes no odds.
Final thoughts on the shuffling
The infamous episode shuffling- did it achieve anything of worth? Are new insights gained by watching the series in chronological order rather than broadcast order? Although I’m not particularly inclined to invest time in assessing the latter, having at least read the first novel in the ‘proper’ order seems to indicate that whilst things would make more sense that way, it would not greatly improve the quality of the series.
As for the point of the shuffling in the first place- it is true that the chronological order of events would make for a top heavy series with the first half consisting of the ongoing plot of novel one, and the second half being a collection of standalone stories. Nonetheless, this does not lessen the annoyance and confusion I felt at the ‘new order’, and shall therefore propose some alternate approaches which I feel could have been more successful.
1. Instead of drawing chapters from all over the place, keep things in order- part one of the series would therefore cover the first novel, part two would cover a retooled version of volume two’s ‘school festival movie’ story. Future novels could be covered in further seasons.
2. Begin with chapters 1-5 from the first novel, then include either the volume two story or some standalone chapters, whilst keeping episode 13-14 as they are for that required ‘dramatic’ ending.
3. Start with the standalone stories and go back in time later in the series to explain ‘how it all began’ Berserk-style, instead of jumping back and forth.
4. Fully integrate the events of volume one with standalone stories in between, so that it makes a continuous and coherent timeline, if not one that is identical to the novels.
The novels continue…
Given my feelings about Haruhi, it may seem odd that I continue to subject myself to the novel translations, but what can I say- that old mixture of morbid curiosity and completion is at work again. Since writing the first rant, I’ve made it over halfway through the second novel, a mixture of repetitiveness and tedium that truly makes me doubt whether the entire franchise had any value in the first place.
As I’ve mentioned above, this spectacularly unexciting tale centres on the school festival movie glimpsed in episode one, or to be more specific, on the making of said movie. It all begins one day when Haruhi decides that movies in general are so bad that she could easily construct a better one herself, and charts her efforts to produce such a film in time for the school festival. Naturally, when Haruhi wants something, she gets it, and soon everything in place, from a camera ‘borrowed’ from a local store, to the unwilling participation of the SOS Brigade.
From hereon, the novel is replete with cliché- Mikuru cowers and squeals as Haruhi forcibly dresses her in various cosplay outfits; Kyon secretly ogles Mikuru; Itsuki remains his dull, good-natured self, Yuki does very little except employ her own remarkable powers to clean up Haruhi’s messes and Haruhi herself just continues forth in her usual selfish vein. To this volume’s credit, Taniguchi, Kunikeda and Tsuruya all get some exposure, but unfortunately Tsuruya turns out to be as annoying as Haruhi herself- even going so far as to slip some tequila into Mikuru’s juice to ‘improve her acting’.
With the novel series now into its eighth volume, there is plenty more material to read, and depending on my mood, I may well end up sampling it all. If the anime has taught me anything, however, it is to keep my expectations distinctly low.