I have finished the “Endless Eight” arc of Haruhi Suzumiya, and I have an opinion. In short, “Endless Eight” is a good story, well in keeping with the zany sci-fi spirit of Haruhi that we know and love.*
*DISCLAIMER: only applies when episodes 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, aniblogosphere drama, and director apologies are avoided. Use as directed.
The premise is a good one, for starters. Haven’t you ever wished that this vacation, this kiss, this walk along the beach, would last forever? Especially when the school year or the work week is about to start again? The “Endless Eight” story explores that wistful desire and what might happen if it literally came true, and true, and true again–with one only slowly waking up to that fact. Since it’s Haruhi, she always gets her way; as usual, everyone else is more or less along for the ride, and only Kyon can stop her. It’s a standard Haruhi plot with the standard existential angst and fear of boredom lurking underneath the surface. When compressed into 3 acts, as I chose to make it in my viewing, it works as such and is actually quite satisfying.
That makes it quite different from Groundhog Day, because in that wonderful film, the whole point rested on Bill Murray’s ability to remember everything that had happened in every previous time loop. His character only changed by going through every iteration and seeing and remembering the consequences each time. Now, it is true Kyon says something similar at the very end here, but I was able to skip all the episodes after the second one in the arc without feeling like anything was lost–which suggests that the previous episodes were unnecessary. Fans were thus treated to 5 episodes of filler, and for those following along week after week, the frustration is understandable and perfectly justified.
I decided to save myself the trouble and drama and simply wait until the arc’s end to see the conclusion–and I have no desire at this time to return to the episodes in between. In fact, I have a challenge: can anyone tell me if there were any crucial hints in the final episode that only the in-between ones showed? Spoilers are welcome; it’s over, after all!
But enough about the meta issues this arc has intentionally spawned. Taken on its own, and as the conclusion of a 3 act story, the last episode’s pacing was actually masterful. The deja vu effect was in full swing, which made the episode very distinct from the first two. Much of the animation was significantly different–not just the clothing but also the shots and framing. The building tension as Kyon realizes what’s going on finally comes to a climax, where he has his now-or-never moment that is appropriately drawn out and dramatic. And, folks: I actually like that it’s about homework, not about him confessing his love to Haruhi or kissing her. For one, he’s done that already, in the first season; second, they made fun of that possibility with Koizumi’s proposition; third, much like Mulder and Scully on the X-Files, Kyon and Haruhi’s relationship works best when the romance is sublimated. Look at that body language as Haruhi confronts Kyon for acting without her authority. Y’all can read tsundere body language now, can’t you? This is what the show is all about.
Unfortunately, I seriously doubt anyone is going to remember the minor gem of a story this actually was. It is entirely their fault, too: “Endless Eight” is going to go down as one of the largest PR fiascos in anime history. The names “Haruhi Suzumiya” and Kyoto Animation, once held in the highest esteem, are now tarnished for a great many fans, even if subsequent episodes are of good quality. After all, nearly half a season was wasted on filler. Whether it was a “test of faith” for the Haruhi devotees, or simply another attempt to try a gimmick a la season 1, it has clearly backfired. In no way could this be seen as an artsy dodge the way The Prisoner‘s ending or Twin Peaks came off, or even the last two episodes of Evangelion. This was the same damn thing over and over again, like a sitcom from hell.
And yet…it sometimes seemed as if viewers forgot they had a choice. There is no law that demanded watching each episode week after week. From the beginning, I felt that this arc needed no more than three episodes: one to set it up, one to reveal the time loop problem, and one to resolve it. When it became clear that it was going to take more than three episodes, I decided to wait it out until the conclusion, and I’m glad I did. No, this is perhaps not what “the artists intended,” but one of the great things about (post) modern fandom is that we’ve discovered that we can create our own pleasures too. Whether it’s the Phantom Edit version of Star Wars Episode I, or AMVs, or fanfics, or fandubs, fans have shown that the creators need not have the last say. There is a good story hiding in 3/8ths of “Endless Eight.” You, too, can find it if you so desire.
Just so long, of course, as you call it “Endless Eight: The Gendo Edit.” ‘Cause I did it first.