The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 21 – The Humiliation of Mikuru Asahina

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We never knew the depth of humiliation and disgrace Mikuru was subjected to in the making of the film. Or how incredibly hilarious that would be in this gut-bustingly funny episode, the best Haruhi anime in a long time.

The episode was funny in spite of the lack of any real surprises. We know that Kyon is the mule, and that Mikuru is very uncomfortable, to say the least, in her costumes, and that Haruhi is a nut. It’s the how rather than the what in this episode, and just how Mikuru in particular is put upon is the primary subject of this episode, one that really shouldn’t be as funny as it was if you actually take this scenario with any degree of seriousness. Seriously, someone like Haruhi in any normal circumstance would be considered abusive.

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The nervousness she shows during the commercials, for instance, was revealed to have another dimension: there was a whole gaggle of people, mostly lustful men, watching her as she “advertised” in a bunny girl outfit. Or, when it’s finally confirmed that Haruhi is making the up the story as she goes along with no script–that aspect now certainly makes much sense of the way the scenes were shot, why Yuki is wearing the witch outfit, etc. In my previous article, I expressed the fear that these kinds of revelations would dilute the original episode 0, by demystifying it and making it banal. It turns out, so far at least, it’s making it even funnier, because it amplifies the kinds of emotions that we got out of the original: the bad acting and embarrassment that follows, the bewilderment and horror that something so amateurish could be made at all (it’s even worse than we thought!).

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Most of all is Haruhi herself at the center, her blithe overconfidence carrying her hapless subordinates along. It was her mixture of fearless megalomania and unswerving commitment to her own (shifting) ideals that actually drew so many, myself included, to her as a character. You know she’s crazy, but there’s something magnetic and powerful that makes you want to follow that insanity. These aspects come to the fore in a way here that’s vastly entertaining, especially as the shoot begins. Of course someone like that would be scary in real life more than entertaining (this is basically what cult leaders do), but that’s not what we watch anime for, right?

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The episode even gets in a good meta-moment. Itsuki wonders out loud about what it means to be trapped inside a world, a story where their movie roles are uncannily similar to their “real life” ones but where Haruhi must be prevented, at all costs, from realizing this is no coincidence. It’s a moment of dramatic irony for the audience, of course, and it serves as a glancing reflection on the nature of free will. Not to get too theological here, but, what’s interesting about the situation is how reversed it is perspectivewise–the goddess is both consciously and unconsciously writing the script not just of the movie, but of all their lives together (as we saw all too much in “Endless Eight”); but her followers know more than she does and are trying their best to keep her in ignorance. The way Haruhi is making up the story as she goes along is not just a reflection of her whimsy and capriciousness, but also perhaps an illustration of life’s messiness in general. The universe of Haruhi Suzumiya is at once both determined and bizarrely random, which is what the world can look like too at times. Is there a plan, or isn’t there? Why is it sometimes that it looks like there is someone guiding things along, and sometimes not? Perhaps KyoAni is playing the role of Haruhi with regard to its audience, throwing things out in a frustratingly whimsical fashion like all the fake out announcements, the Nice Boat, and of course Endless Eight…but still assuming the audience will follow. Whether this will work in real life or not, as Moritheil suggests it just might, is yet to be seen.

Argh. I once criticized the tendency to overthink Haruhi on someone’s blog somewhere some time ago, and here I am, doing it myself. (Who was it–if you’re reading this, speak up!) In either case, this was a good, even a great, episode and I’m feeling confident that this is going to be an enjoyable story arc.

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