(yes, I have posted this one elsewhere, but given that I have started my own blog, and the last book is coming out in English in about a month, I’ve decided to re-post it here).
Fans of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise eagerly hope – even over 7 years after the first series, that a third season will be made, regardless of the fact that the initial fans are most likely having kids by now. Not only do I doubt that it will ever happen, I honestly couldn’t care less about the series largely because the source material leaves so much to be desired.
Anime had been a forgotten memory for me for years until I entered the Anime society at UNSW in Sydney, when I visited Australia for a semester way back (in Anime terms anyway) in fall 2006. Being suddenly reunited with the phenomenon I had shunned for the best part of a decade (except for Studio Ghibli films which were hip enough to be watched by high school/college students without risking instant ostracizion) I set out to cover all the anime I had missed in my absence. One anime repeatedly came up on peoples’ top ten lists: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I nonetheless avoided this series for years, partially because I thought it was a sappy Shojo series, partially because being a recent college graduate I just couldn’t imagine going back to something concerning high school – especially since Japanese people appear to treat high school the way Europeans treat middle school in terms of what stage of your life you are in (where I come from, legal drinking age was 15 for example!).
Nonetheless I eventually picked it up if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss was all about. And I was deeply impressed with the first 6 episodes (yup, I bought the DVD and watched it in chronological order, silly me). It just kept keeping me guessing as to what would happen next. Since then though, I realized that the only reason I kept watching was to see what cute facial expression (or outfit) Mikuru would make/wear next. It seemed that the very conventions Tanigawa was mocking were being embraced in later episodes, and the perceived epicness of the story was but a bluff. He could talk the tawk but not walk the wawk. I nonetheless sat quite happily though season 2 and Dissappearance though the latter didn’t impress me as much as it did many others – perhaps because I had already seen “It’s a wonderful life” and so the story thus didn’t seem as fresh.
Curiosity alone kept me reading the light novels (fan translated of course – no way I was waiting three years to catch up with the story), but my initial suspicion was only confirmed more and more. Tanigawas was good at hooking his readers only to disappoint them later – Epic quest to correct time hinted at in Disappearance? Nope, resolved in a prologue. Conflict between time travellers and espers? Nope, they make a truce before anything happens. Big rival faction of espers? Nope, just an utterly useless teenager. He manages to put in just enough teasers to keep people reading only to follow up with a load of filler before deflating their hopes. Particularly book 10 felt almost unreadable in its endless philosophical mumbo jumbo and unnecessary conversations. That entire ark felt like a pale imitation of the first book, only padded out to three times the length. Some believed of course, that the series was going somewhere again and that books 10-11 were but forerunners to a slew of new “adventures” by Haruhi & co., but two years on it looks like Tanigawa has once again fallen into the same slump he fell into in 2007 – about the time he realized that he had made more money that he would ever need.
In honesty, looking back, the series had numerous inconsistencies in it. Was Haruhi a stone cold psycho, a clueless aspie or straight up sadist? Those aren’t mutually inclusive disorders and Haruhi seems to switch between them at will even in the first novel. Is Mikuru the moe or the fanservice character? Is she moe played straight or deconstructed? Even Kyon’s memories of some events like the movie screening changes throughout the series. Later in the series Tanigawa seems to have forgotten what people liked in the first place. Where is the black humour? Where is the suspense? Where is the satire?
I honestly think many people are being polite in their reviews of the latter books in the series because of the anticipation that the series will somehow justify everything and reveal all that meandering as set up for the long promised “epic Sci-fi plot” that many have waited for. Having read the Surprise ark with some disappointment, I expect the official English release in november to be met with some disappointment from critics as well. Should this be the last of the series, it leaves the series with a legacy of broken promises.
We should perhaps commend Tanigawa for at least trying – ever since the first novel (which he was expecting to be the only one) he has been mired by the stories’ own premise: That the numerous factions he hints are in existence can’t reveal themselves as Haruhi must be left in the dark.
But even without this problem, I doubt that Tanigawa truly wishes to do anything with the Sci-fi universe he has built up; Going full-on Sci-fi adventure would ruin the series appeal as a nostalgic high school slice-of-life comedy. However much we may see this series as for teenagers, the truth is, that the most rabid (and lucrative) fans of the series are single men in their thirties. They love reading about high school life, because it reminds them of a recent past where the world (ie Japan) was simpler, companies didn’t lay people off, filthy foreigners were rarely seen and women didn’t entertain any silly notions of independence from their husbands.
But he knew he couldn’t go on with a story that went nowhere without some of his fans feeling had, so the result was this half-hearted anticlimactic ark that for all it’s talking did little except cancel out many of the promising elements that had been introduced in previous books.
So this is where I’m going at – why should we see a third anime season of Haruhi Suzumiya? Intrigues would be almost nothing but internal monologue from Kyon (this was getting annoying already in dissapearance). The rest would likewise feel like a slow moving march to (nearly)nowhere. It would take 20 or so episodes (at least) to get to the big finale in Surprise. And by the time we got there most people would wonder why they had to wait 4-5 years for that. If the purpose of animating the series is to promote the books, Kadokawa would be better off leaving it alone and leaving potential new fans of the series to buy the latter books in the series in the hope of reading the epic story development that will never come.