The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2 9 – Not With a Bang, But With a…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

9 thoughts on “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2 9 – Not With a Bang, But With a…”

  1. I’m glad that you found a way to enjoy Endless Eight.  When you wrote “apologies would be avoided”, I was initially thrown off because I hadn’t seen anything that needed an apology.  I’ve enjoyed this season wholeheartedly.  What I’ve taken issue with is the intolerant hostility of those otaku who insist that those of us having a good time must be self-deluding “harutards”.  What should be obvious is that nothing I say can compel you to enjoy anything.  What should be obvious is that it’s your own interpretation which makes animation entertaining.  The mistake is to read the mass confusion of fans as clear evidence of bad judgment on the part of the studio.  Confusion always precedes discovery.

    This is not prevarication.  The whole bloody point of Endless Eight, IMHO, is that comprehension is hard.  Are there “hints” in the episodes you skipped over?  Well, no.  There is no plot development.  That is, after all, what has prompted this controversy.  The SOS Brigade repeats the same events with only trivial differences several times.  Most of those times, they fail to improve their circumstances.  To appreciate these episodes, you must interpret them; you have to “read into them”, or in other words, “delude yourself into liking them”.  To put it yet another way, this controversy is about otaku being surprised that they can be expected to work for their entertainment.

    I think you may be getting it.  Kyon knows that he failed many times before he ultimately understood what he needed to say.  The incredible majority of his selves suffered to the end in confusion, unable to grasp the subtle yet critically necessary point: why does Haruhi insist on continuing the summer?  What could be missing from her list, unwritten and unspoken, that leaves Haruhi so unfulfilled?  It cannot be “Kyon’s homework”, after all.

    This book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out.

  2. I kind of enjoyed watching the whole 8 episode of this  time-loop PR-stunt, but it was more of a meta-watching experience to make. Observing the rage and opinions on the net produced by this incomprehensible story-setup reminded me of the controversial discussions when School Days or Lucky Star aired.

    I agree with you that 3 episodes would have been a good way to convey the essence of the story and putting all this stylistic devices in these 3 episode in compressed form instead of spreading them around in 8,  it may not have been a acclaimed revolution in anime history but a solid and enjoyable story.
    The irony in this is that the manga choose the other extreme by presenting this in only one iteration which also seems like a waste in potential IMO.

    Well about hints: I think the whole filler-watching was about hoping for hints or small steps in the right direction but after all there were not real hints. In one episode there was imagery about clouds and a flying paper plane connected to Kyons thoughts about Haruhi but either this was only to distracted from the answer or I didn’t get it. ^^
    I also thought about how he may eventually  ask Nagato what’s wrong with the deja-vus when he stopped her on her way home to realice the problem sooner and also find the solution earlier.  But only his determination to say anythink he still couldn’t put in words changed over the course of episodes.
    I guess much of the fans frustration also resulted from wrong expectations. Stories like Higurashi and Groundhog Day are famous for there style and topic like slowly changing fate but that wasn’t really the point to this story like you mentioned.

    What I liked about the ending was that it reminded me about some mindfuck crack theory for the whole Haruhi story I read long ago. People assumed that there is a whole new layer of meaning behind what happend and suggested that Haruhi and Kyons roles are actually reversed. (meaing: Kyon is the really the almighty, bored being left out of THIS loop and Haruhi is his way to cope with this) It fits to some stuff happening in season 1 but there isn’t really much strong evidence to this.
    The whole idea of the homework afternoon fit this quite perfectly. Again and again we are shown Kyons reason to worry about the end of the holidays. And every episodes put more and more emphasis on his indifference towards this problem… from “Useless… not enough time to do anymore” to “Who cares… will repeat anyway… no need to hurry… let’s do this next time”.

    The conclusion from this theory may been: The loop was Kyons fault and knowing about it made it even worse. Concluding from this Kyon didn’t find the answer to the pressing question about Haruhi because there was nothing to begin with but his own problems he got distracted of.
    Seems all to familiar: Trying to avoid stuff you don’t want to do but searching for more fun stuff to do instead and having regreds about it afterwards but still too late. Some peolple never learn from this mistake and do it over and over again. Perhaps its only this idea put to a world-warping scale (or how they put it in the story).

    Don’t know if later stories may address this concept but I really like those alternative story interpretation.  :P

  3. Yea there was hints. 
    Fake hints. They did some stupid shit in one of them with the sky and paper planes or something.
    I knew the ending early on (googled it -_-), so when i saw the whole paper plane thing i starting laughing to myself.

  4. rayyhum777: who said anything about devotion? I decided to approach it my own way. :) And yes, you are absolutely right. The KyoAni of 2009 is not the KyoAni of 2006, it seems. It must be a product of them working on these episodes and K-ON! at the same time.

    MacGuges: sorry for not being a bit clearer on the director apology thing. I’m referring to how the director of Haruhi S1, who was at Otakon this year, apologized “on behalf of the SOS Brigade” for the way the Endless Eight turned out (even though he wasn’t involved in this season and has actually left KyoAni). Apparently plans were in the works to do it this way for over a year, and he opposed them.

    Believe me, I know the pleasures that can be had when things are read into, even in anime. I did much of that in the beginning with Evangelion, deriving my own personal meaning and application from that mess of a show. I continue to do the same with other shows, and in this one as well. I’d suggest, though, that the way E8 was handled does not invite that kind of probing response for many people. In that way it’s very different from the infamous episode 0 of S1, which immediately begs the question: “what the heck is this amateurism? Who is this sarcastic narrator?” etc. It provoked curiosity, which was fulfilled by the episode’s end. This method of repetition seems to provoke boredom and disgust more than anything else.

    And length does make a difference here. After 4-5 episodes of red herrings and repetition only the most patient of devotees will naturally want to keep guessing and theorizing, I think. I have no problem with the general concept of having to work at interpreting entertainment. However, to have to sit through it for over a month is asking a lot.

    Digdri: thanks for filling in some details. I think it could only be enjoyed on a meta level, really. As MacGuges talks about in his comment, you have almost “delude yourself” into liking it by finding some external reason.

    I like your stab at an alternate, Kyon-centric theory, though I tend to think that what was missing for Haruhi was the need to do something together till the very end. From Kyon’s POV it was his homework, but look at the embarassed, quasi-romantic expression on Haruhi’s face as she confronts him: her definition of fun is about doing things as a group, which might especially mean with him. The loop ends when everyone is on board with everything together till the last day of summer. At least that’s how I read it.

    Mr Black: just as I expected. :) Well one thing KyoAni needs to be more aware of is all the people who have read the novels and know how things will turn out. Does the story work at all given this kind of audience? They had surprise on their side with the first season, a luxury they couldn’t rely on as much for this one. IMO they should have focused on simply telling th existing story well, and not go for a meta-gimmick again, which mainly worked because of the surprise factor.

  5. ” I think it could only be enjoyed on a meta level, really.”
    Guess you’re right. Without that its just bad entertainment.

    “The loop ends when everyone is on board with everything together till the last day of summer. ”
    Thats also a nice explanation.
    I liked how this had kind of an open end.  Resulting in all this opinions about the meaning of this last day. Sadly their stunt overshadowed the story so much that only few fans still seem to care about the story they wantet to tell which wasn’t so bad after all.

    “IMO they should have focused on simply telling th existing story well, and not go for a meta-gimmick again, which mainly worked because of the surprise factor.”
    Somehow reminds me of SHAFTs “Shinboism” style which also usual seem to been some hit or miss tactic relying strongly on some weirdness appeal and meta-humor. Sometimes very fitting to the atmophere / story etc., sometimes very distracting, even misplaced.
    But so much of boring repetion in endless 8  was easily predictable as an big miss for the major part of the intentend audience. Thats why I see this more as a “Bad news are good news” tactic to keep people interested in her doings. Still no explanation I’d call a good logical explanation / decision but whatever way you look at it few theories are better. ^^

    I read a joke in another blog suggesting if KyoAni really had the balls to troll their fan the should add are recap episode to this arc or something similar. :P

  6. The only development I saw was that, when Koizumi proposed to Kyon that he instead (Koizumi) tell Haruhi that he loves her, Kyon looks progressively more pissed off at the thought. In initial episodes, you can’t see Kyon’s expression, but in one of the later episodes (the sixth? maybe.) he clearly is more… bothered by this idea. As cute as that is, that’s it, as far as I could tell.

  7. I watched all 8 episodes and it was definitely frustrating to see the story going nowhere. I was really hoping Kyon and Koizumi would communicate more at the pool or at least they would do something different for each loop. Didn’t Yuki mention there were variations? But then again, there was no point to the variations. It didn’t add any additional logic or character development to this arc.

    But although perhaps the most unchanging portion of the loop was how Yuki described the repetitions of their summer, that was the part which endeared Yuki more and more to me as the episodes progressed. Maybe I imagined it but she just seems to get sadder everytime she tells them how many times they have looped. If anything, this 8 episodes allowed me as a viewer to feel her pain and powerlessness.

    I agree though that 3 episodes would have been perfect. If only…

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