An Unscored, Sort-Of Final Review
This is a sort-of review for a show I sort-of didn’t watch all the way through–you can see my reasons here–so it’s fitting to point out that the conclusion The Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya can sort of be seen as a redemption for the battered series. It’s yet another good Haruhi story that exemplifies what makes this series unique, even if it comes on the other side of the “Endless Eight” publicity stunt/fiasco. There’s still something left at the end of the day.
We’re reminded once again in these final two episodes that Haruhi is self-consciously, deliberately postmodern in its questions and its issues. This is a show, after all, that spends several minutes talking about the uncertainty of human communication and conversation–with a talking cat, no less. It is about the blurry line between reality and fiction, within a fictional work. It helped bring “meta” into the mainstream and this time, it’s poured on thick. Kyon is faced with the realization that there is no reliable narrator of all the strange happenings going on in his world–neither Koizumi nor Mikuru nor Yuki’s side of the story can be proved, much like in Rashomon. You could practically start teaching a literary theory class with these as illustrations.
It’s done in a much more talky and overt fashion than in much of the first season, however, which might be fitting in that 1.) we know these characters better now so there’s not much else to reveal; 2.) we know the outcome of this plotline for the most part, so it’s time to ruminate on the “how” and the “why”. Still, though, this is not the thunderous climax of the end of the original “Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” arc, or even the end of “Endless Eight.” Instead, it ends on a reassuring, even sitcomish note, where we are now secure in the knowledge that even when Kyon tells Haruhi the whole truth about the rest of the brigade, she’s not ever going to believe it. Hence the world is safe, and the other Haruhi narratives that have already been told chronologically later can continue apace.
In terms of drama, character, plot and the like: good. On the blogosphere, I saw much being made of Kyon finally cracking and nearly retaliating physically for Haruhi’s Mikuru abuse. A commenter noted how this was the main turning point of this arc, Haruhi’s chastening in the wake of this rare defiance of her commands. He’s right; the slow buildup and the continual Mikuru bashing was meant to lead up to this point, and it worked. The vulnerability Haruhi showed in particular during the climactic confrontation was real, not to mention very human. The undercurrent beneath all of Koizumi’s efforts to keep Haruhi happy is a realization that her world–which is their whole world–is actually quite fragile, and more dependent than she realizes on the support of people she likes such as Kyon. She may have the power of a god but she has the heart of a human being, which is why I can still empathize with her to some degree. The intensity of emotion drawn in her face is masterful.
But it was then followed up by much philosophizing, which dampened some the intense emotions that had been raised up to that point. Afterwards, that Haruhi’s spirits would be instantly revived by a single word of affirmation is actually in character for her, but as part of the story feels somewhat anticlimactic–though that may be quite intentional. This arc’s last two episodes do not proceed like an ordinary, linear three act story. While the happenings are supernatural, it is paced like a contemplative slice-of-life drama with much talking in between, perhaps to reinforce the idea that this level of the story is “real.” It felt a bit off-kilter as a result, but again, that may be the whole point.
Which brings me to a final point about the philosophy of this show: at the end of the day, one of the reasons why the show can get away with all this is that from the viewer’s perspective, the situation is clear. Kyon may be living in a blurry world where strange things happen, but we don’t. A huge amount of the show’s appeal rests on dramatic irony, where we know what the characters don’t–except, perhaps, which competing theory of Haruhi (Koizumi’s, Asahina’s, or Nagato’s) is the correct one. (Is it fair to say that these three are, in a sense, having a theological argument?) The fourth wall breaking actually only goes so far, and is safely contained in a sandbox; it’s not really a “mindfuck” anime in that regard compared to some other shows, and the most recent arc is a great example. Mysteries that happened in the very first episode are explained thoroughly. There is thus a rather traditional sense of closure at the end, with the details tidied up considerably. The show can feel weird and unique and not be terribly unclear.
I wish more shows that want to explore these issues would take the time and care to go this route, rather than lazily apply surrealism and abstraction. Several scenes with Yuki did a great job mocking just those kinds of scenes, and at least so far it’s a shame that most anime that follow in Haruhi’s footsteps have only picked up on the otaku self-referentialism rather than the loopy, but startlingly coherent, plot structure. It’s almost Charlie Kaufman-esque in a way, but with moe elements. Haruhi may not be as moving and pitch-perfect as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it’s trying for something similar in approach.
And so we reach the apparent end of new Haruhi animation. This conclusion is just the end of another Haruhi story, with no definite sense that the series is over for good; so long as there is more novel material to adapt, it might go on indefinitely. In theme and presentation, character design subtleties excepted, these episodes are consistent with the Haruhi of past days. When the hype and the intense fan reactions are stripped away, I still stand by my observation that Haruhi Suzumiya is still a great, inventive anime comedy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of its medium–full of satire and sly philosophy mixed in with absurd humor. It’s probably nothing more than that; it’s not the greatest anime of all time or even the decade, and certainly not worth an actual religion named Haruiisim. But even now it does not feel like the formula anime we’ve come to expect each season. It’s held its own quite well with its distinctives intact, mostly the same ones that won so many otaku hearts in 2006. It’s changed a lot less than people think, if it’s given a fair shake and perhaps a large snip in the middle of one arc.
It’s still, in short, worth watching.