A special feature piece I’ve written for Anime UK News, looking at bizarre school settings. Series covered include Girls und Panzer (pictured), Vampire Knight, My Hero Academia, Danganronpa and Kill la Kill.
A special feature piece I’ve written for Anime UK News, looking at bizarre school settings. Series covered include Girls und Panzer (pictured), Vampire Knight, My Hero Academia, Danganronpa and Kill la Kill.
This article was originally published in MyM Magazine Issue #5 in 2012. It was published following the publication of the spin-off manga “The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan”. It is to date the largest article I have written for them. Here it is online in full for the first time.
The most powerful, erratic, destructive schoolgirl in the universe (not that she knows it) is still ploughing her own eccentric furrow.
The reality wrapping Haruhi Suzumiya and the rest of the SOS Brigade are still making their fun presence known, with the release this month of the latest manga adaptation of the original light novels. For a character so into the odd and supernatural, it seems only appropriate that is the thirteenth volume published in English.
This month also sees a new spin-off series of titles focusing on her fellow Brigade member Yuki Nagato, taking place in the alternative world created in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The release of these new titles provides the perfect opportunity for a in-depth exploration of one of anime’s most popular creations, from her origins to her fans, some of whom treat her with so much awe they claim she is actually a God.
This examination is not just for the hardcore however: if you have not yet come across this mysterious individual or her friends, here is all you need to know…
The Story of…
The series revolves around the life of an underachieving student known simply by the nickname of “Kyon”, a sobriquet which is something he does not really care for. Despite this his real name is never revealed.
On his first day of his studies at North High School the girl sitting behind him introduces herself with the following words: “Haruhi Suzumiya. From East Middle School. I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travellers, sliders or espers here, come join me. That is all.” It is not long before Kyon becomes somewhat fascinated with Haruhi’s unusual, if exasperating behaviour.
After trying out every club the school has to offer Haruhi decides that none of them are able to provide her with what she truly seeks, so she decides form her own. Haruhi persuades (or rather forces) Kyon to becoming a founding member of “The Save the world by Overloading it with fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade”, or in short, “The SOS Brigade”.
Haruhi soon finds others to join the Brigade. The first is quiet bookworm Yuki Nagato, the only member of the school’s Literary Club. She never actually joins the Brigade, but as Haruhi decides to use the Literary Club’s room as the base of her operations, Nagato becomes dragged into the Brigade’s activities.
Next to join (against her will) is Mikuru Asahina, a shy, timid, clumsy girl that Kyon likes because of her cuteness and beauty. Haruhi likes her because her appearance makes her perfect to get other people’s attention and she likes nothing more than to dress Asahina in various outfits, from maid uniforms to a rather revealing Santa costume.
The final SOS Brigade member is Itsuki Koizumi, who transfers to North High where Haruhi recruits him on the basis of him being a “mysterious transfer student”. The enigmatic Koizumi is always polite and, Kyon notices, is always smiling, no matter what. He later becomes the Brigade’s deputy.
All is well until Kyon learns from Nagato, Asahina and Koizumi that all three of them are exactly the sort of people that Haruhi wants to meet. Nagato turns out to be an artificial humanoid interface created by the Data Overmind, a powerful alien being; Asahina is, in fact, a time traveller from the future whose purposes are usually referred to as being “classified information”; and Koizumi is an esper working for a secret organisation called “The Agency” who has to fight giant blue creatures known as ‘Celestials’ in pockets of ‘Closed Space’ created by Haruhi in times of stress.
While all three of them are indeed the sort of people Haruhi wants to meet they all refuse to reveal their true identity to her, the reason being thus – Haruhi has the power to change, create and destroy all reality. Because she wants aliens, time travellers and espers to exist, they do. However, Haruhi is so emotionally unstable that she could easily destroy the universe simply by wishing it so. As a result, Nagato, Asahina and Koizumi are all keen on preventing Haruhi from discovering the nature of her powers in case she does something terrible.
Consequently, Kyon and the others devote themselves to keeping Haruhi happy, stimulated and entertained. Kyon has to cope with parallel universes, time loops and attempts on his life simply for the purpose of keeping the most important person in existence content and ignorant of her powers. As you can imagine, this is no easy task.
The Novels of…
Long before the anime and the manga, the first appearance of Haruhi and her friends were the original light novels. Written by Nagaru Tanigawa with illustrations from Noizi Ito, these stories range from full length books to serialised collections of short stories which first appeared in the seinen magazine The Sneaker.
The first novel, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, debuted on 6th June 2003, and was published by Kadokawa Shoten. Subsequently eleven printed editions of the stories have been released, each following a similarly titled structure. Each book is always called The [Insert Different Word Here] of Haruhi Suzumiya. Following The Melancholy we have had The Sigh, The Boredom, The Disappearance, The Rampage, The Wavering, The Intrigues, The Indignation, The Disassociation, and the two-part book The Astonishment of Haruhi Suzumiya (although this is actually a continuation of The Disassociation).
There are several indications as to the success of the books. For starters there are the sales figures. By September 2007 sales in Japan alone had exceeded 4 million. By May 2011 sales totalled 16.5 million across the globe, 8 million of which were Japanese.
The series also received a number of accolades. The original Melancholy novel was given the Grand Prize at the eighth annual Sneaker Awards. This was only the third time a Grand Prize had been given out in the history of the award.
However, perhaps the greatest success of the series is that someone, somewhere, within the western publishing industry, decided that people who speak English might like the books. The Haruhi Suzumiya series is one of only a small number of Japanese light novels that have been translated. Only a few other titles have had this honour (e.g. Spice & Wolf).
Arguably the best thing about the books in comparison to the other formats, is that as the series is narrated by Kyon, we get to hear more of his internal monologue which often consists of the funniest passages in the series.
For example, in the scene in which Haruhi orders Asahina to leave her current club so she can join the SOS Brigade, Kyon says that: “Asahina looked like a future murder victim who has just been given the option of taking potassium cyanide or strychnine.” Or there is this description that Kyon gives of Haruhi herself during a time of crisis: “I wanted to grab Haruhi’s shoulders when I realised I was still holding her hand. Haruhi, however, had a look on her face like she thought I had mad cow disease.”
It is these kinds of passages that you miss when you read the manga or watch the anime. Instead of these passages, the action quickly jumps to what the next character wants to say or do. Of course both of the anime and manga are visually pleasing, but sometimes normal, old-fashioned prose can be just as, if not more satisfying. This leads us to the first adaptation.
The Manga of…
Following the novels, the publisher Kadokawa Shoten soon decided to adapt it as a manga series. However, instead of the original artist Noizi Ito, the task of turning the series into a manga went elsewhere.
The first attempt however was not a hit. Drawn by Makoto Mizuno in 2004, this version of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya only lasted around seven months and only had one printed volume. There were some negative issues with this version, the most crucial being that novelist Tanigawa had little input with this version of the manga and the plot was considerably different. As a result fans generally hated it and this version has never been published outside of Japan.
The manga that we in the West have since come to know was the much more successful second attempt. This, by Gaku Tsugano, remained truer to the plot of the original novels. On the downside, the manga is targeted at a younger audience compared to that of the novels.
In terms of differences between the novels and the manga, most of these are concerned with the structure. For example, the third novel is adapted before the second, and chapters from certain books appear before others. However, this does not really harm the enjoyment of reading the manga.
In 2008, the manga was adapted into English by Yen Press. So far 13 volumes have been translated, taking the series up to The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya. A notable point about the translation was that when it was announced, the co-publishing director at Yen Press, Kurt Hassler, insisted that the manga would not be censored for Western audiences.
This is a probably a good thing considering how much of the novels are a bit on the mischievous side, especially when it comes to Haruhi’s taunts of Asahina and the changes Haruhi makes to Asahina’s wardrobe. In the first volume of the manga, there is a scene in which Haruhi and Asahina try and attract members to the SOS Brigade by handing out flyers while in bunny girl costumes. While some people would probably complain about seeing schoolgirls dressed in such outfits, it would arguably have been worse for Yen if they ended up getting even more complaints from angry fans unable to see the supposedly offensive depictions in the first place.
The manga adaptation looks unlikely to stop. Yen has already agreed to licence the 14th volume, due to come out in December 2012, and in Japan the manga has now reached its 16th volume. Unsurprisingly, considering her popularity, it was not long before Haruhi jumped from paper onto the screen.
The Anime of…
To date, two anime series of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya have been made, both created by Kyoto Animation. The first was released in 2006 and the second the following year. Both series were directed by Tatsuya Ishihara, who later went on to direct Clannad (out on DVD) and Nichijou (which was streamed on Anime on Demand).
In terms of chronological order, the anime follows the books even less faithfully than the manga. For example, the first season, based on the first book, often contained chapters mixed with those from later books in the series. However, the series was later rebroadcast again in 2009 with the episodes in the right order.
The second series meanwhile had issues with regards to one strand of episodes, which has divided fans of the series between those who think it was an innovative idea and those who thought it was a ghastly, terrible error. This strand is known as the “Endless Eight”.
In the Endless Eight, Haruhi decides that the SOS Brigade should have the perfect summer vacation. As a result they try to do as many fun things as possible during the holiday, between 17th-31st August. However, Kyon and the others soon discover that their vacation turns out to be longer than they expected. Because Haruhi believes the vacation to be less than perfect, she and the rest of the Brigade relive the holiday over and over again with the result that the five of them become stuck in a time loop. Every time the loop ends, they return to the start, with only Nagato remembering anything.
Due to this time loop, Haruhi, Kyon and the others have been repeating the same fortnight 15,498 times. They have spent over 590 years doing exactly the same things over and over again. The only way to resolve the conundrum is for someone to figure out how to end the vacation perfectly.
Now, the main issue with the way the anime covered this plot is not so much with regards to quality, but to quantity. In the original novel, it appears as one single large chapter in the fifth book, The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya. In the manga this was split into two smaller chapters. In the anime however the Endless Eight was covered in eight standard-length episodes. That is eight episodes with the same plot – a testing piece of viewing by anyone standards.
Those adapting the series did make some changes. The first episode is just one of the standard loops they live in. The second is another, almost exact same loop, with slight changes to the dialogue and animation. Eventually the characters find out what is going on, but it takes Kyon a few attempts before they solve their problem.
Unsurprisingly some viewers found it extremely tedious watching what was virtually the same story eight times. Those that defend this adaptation argue that the way the anime was handled was in fact clever and innovative. My own view is that it is best not to watch the Endless Eight in one go, but instead to watch it one episode at a time over a longer period.
The Film of…
After the TV anime series Haruhi progressed to the big screen. On the 6th February, 2010 the film adaptation of the fourth novel, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, was released in cinemas.
The Disappearance is set a few days before Christmas. Haruhi plans to hold a party for the Brigade to attend, but Kyon is disinterested. Things suddenly take a much more dramatic turn than any party could provide when Kyon wakes up in a parallel universe. In this world there several key differences, chief among being that Haruhi is no longer attending North High School, and other members of the Brigade are now normal humans. Kyon has to try and figure out what is going on, locate Haruhi and how to return home.
Although the film was criticised by some for being too long (it is over two-and-a-half hours in length) it did well in the box office, making approximately ¥850,000,000 (around £7,000,000). It sold 77,000 Blu-Ray discs and over 19,500 DVDs. Critically, it fared well winning several honours such as the “Best Theatrical Film” award at the Animation Kobe Awards.
The film also did some good in the real world. When the film was shown in Thailand, nationwide floods prevented the screening of it around the country and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya could only be shown in one single cinema in Bangkok. After this screening the company which licensed the Haruhi Suzumiya series in the country held a charity auction in order to raise money for the flood victims.
In terms of the impact of the film and its storyline, the main thing it does is help establish Nagato as a more central character to the series. In most of the previous books her role is using her alien technology and knowledge to provide help in times of need. However, the film’s “normal” version Nagato provides the story with new ideas to play with, which has been expanded by other people. This leads to some other elements to the series.
The Spin-Offs of…
In July 2009 a new spin-off manga based on The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was launched and this series has just been released in English by Yen Press. Drawn by an artist known as Puyo, this new series was set in the same parallel world as the film and instead focuses on a different character: Nagato.
In The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan there is no SOS Brigade, mainly because Haruhi and Koizumi are not in North High School. Instead it is Nagato’s very own Literature Club which takes precedence. Rather than being an alien, Nagato is a normal, although shy, human being. She is also no longer the sole member of the club, as Kyon is a member. The other member is Ryoko Asakura, a minor character in the original series, albeit a key one in many aspects, who serves as Nagato’s best friend. Over the course of the manga, Nagato keeps trying to find the best way of expressing her true feelings for Kyon, but constantly fails to do so.
Like just about everything to related to the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise, this spin-off series has become highly popular in Japan. Four printed volumes have already been published and there are no plans to stop there.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is just one of a wide range of spin-offs from the original series handled by Puyo. The first creation was a more comic series called The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya. This is the official parody of the main strand, drawn in the four-panel gag driven yonkoma style. Since 2007, six printed volumes have come out and the series was later turned into a series of anime short episodes in 2009 which was broadcast online.
This is not the only parody either. Another yonkoma parody by a different artist called Eretto came about even earlier, in 2006. Called Nyorōn Churuya-san, the main focus of this version is the minor character, Tsuruya, a friend of Asahina, who has persistent problems concerning her love of smoked cheese. Again, this proved popular, being printed in three small volumes (not available in English) and also given a short online anime. It was not just fans who liked these spin-offs. Like the original, both The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Nyorōn Churuya-san won Animation Kobe awards.
While you may think this is sufficient material for everyone, it clearly is not so for fans. In May of this year, Puyo began working on a further spin-off similar to The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan but based on another of the regular characters. This new series is The Intrigue of Itsuki Koizumi. No doubt it will, like the others, be very successful.
As you will no doubt appreciate by now the series is clearly loved by its fans, which leads us neatly to them.
The Fandom of…
As mentioned earlier the books have sold in their millions. It is one of the few light novels to have made the successful jump into English. Both the print and the anime versions have won numerous accolades. According to one survey held by IGN last year, Haruhi was voted the 19th greatest anime character of all time.
Much of this adoration comes from the devoted fans of the series. The series became a massive hit online, with fans from not just in Japan but throughout the world making their own YouTube clips, from homages to the series to parodies of it. This however did not please several of the people in Japan’s pro-copyright groups. One such organisation, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, requested that these clips should be taken down as they breached Japanese copyright law.
Despite this, the fandom remains very strong. You can go to just about any anime convention around the world, and who will be able to spot someone cosplaying as Haruhi or her fellow Brigade members. Within the anime community, Haruhi is attention grabbing, inspiring and inescapable. If you think otherwise then take note of the following: you are currently reading an article about Haruhi Suzumiya, and the cover of the magazine itself is devoted to Haruhi Suzumiya. She is all everywhere. You cannot escape her even if you wanted to.
Perhaps it is somewhat fitting that the show does have a massive cult following. Indeed it is a cult amongst some: the cult that is “Haruhiism”. Haruhiism is a mock religion, based on the idea that Haruhi is so powerful, possibly the creator of the universe and may have previously destroyed the universe that she is therefore God.
The idea of Haruhi as God is mentioned in the original novel by Koizumi, who says to Kyon: “You could consider her an incomplete god. She is still unable to control the world at will.” Koizumi also talks about the “anthropic principle”, the idea that the universe exists because we observe it to exist. Because Haruhi wants to observe aliens, time travellers and espers, she is able to, but is unaware that she can.
As a result, Haruhiists jokingly claim that Haruhi Suzumiya is the creator and destroyer of everything. Now, it is tempting to joke that this is laughable nonsense… but it is probably best not too. After all, supposing there is even the tiniest chance that God is a fictional character in a series of popular Japanese light novels – would you want to incur Haruhi’s wrath? If she did and you denied her existence, you might end up being the one who never existed in the first place. Just imagine what Haruhi’s idea of Hell would be like? Having said that, she might be lenient of course. She may just trap you in a time loop for 590 years until you eventually came to realise what you did wrong.
The Future of…
So what can we say about the future adventures of the SOS Brigade? Well, unless we are like Asahina and have the ability to travel forward in time, we cannot know for certain.
However, we do know one thing that is certain. There is demand for it. So long as Nagaru Tanigawa wants to keep on writing Haruhi’s adventures, we will continue to read into them. People will still want to buy the novels, read the manga adaptations, and read the spin-offs to the main series. If more anime is created, whether it is a TV series, an online version, or a new film, people will want to watch them. There is currently no diminishing of the anime audience’s appetite for Haruhi’s antics.
But how else could the growth of the fandom expand? Maybe we should look at the Haruhiists. If people are so keen on her that are willingly to jokingly call a comic character God, perhaps they should expand it, and try and make it more popular. After all, if thousands of sci-fi can claim in the official census of this country that their religion is “Jedi”, then why cannot anime fans claim to be “Haruhi”?
The “Apostles” of the SOS Brigade are dedicated to their divine leader and some aspects of the philosophy of Haruhiism would seem to be appealing. Let us not forget what the Brigade stands for: saving the world by overloading it with fun. That would be a great mantra to live by. If one could just dedicate their life by just making things more fun for themselves and other people, the world would no doubt be a much happier place.
Perhaps this should be the next step. Let us embrace this girl and life forms of all kinds, whether they are humans, espers, time travellers or aliens. Let us join together and embrace the fun world that we live in and make ourselves happy. With this, it might be best to start now and end this article with a Haruhiist prayer.
Our Lady, who art in North High School.
We pray that you are happy with your creation.
We pray that you are happy with yourself.
We pray that like you we will strive to save the world by overloading with fun in your name.
May you be guided in your infinite eccentricity by your friends.
We pray to the aliens. May the Data Overmind protect you with its infinite knowledge.
We pray to the time travellers. May they let us know of what is to come and how to make it even better.
We pray to the espers. May they protect us from the destruction of the Celestials and from Closed Space.
We pray to the rest of humanity. Let us share in our fun, for making you happy makes us happy.
Please remember us in our prayers.