Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, by Tanigawa Nagaru

This may surprise my readers, but I used to be an ardent Haruhist. Shocking, I know. For a number of years everywhere you turned there was just a ton of Haruhi-related stuff. Cosplayers, posters, models. (I even own two!) The reason behind all this hubbub was the release of the anime series titled The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, based upon a series of light novels written by Tanigawa Nagaru. For those of you unfamiliar with the medium, light novels are very much like novellas. Very short, usually not more than about a hundred pages or so, and often have a handful of illustrations. My first exposure to Haruhi had been the animated series which had taken stories of the several light novels to create about half a season of episodes. And for whatever reason I fell in love. Of course time went on and eventually a second season was released which included, in my opinion, an extremely frustrating time loop, and a theatrical film which I've yet to see. However, I think the mania seems to have died down quite a bit, granted I've been out of the anime scene for quite some time after safely retreating to the relative sanity of pulp science-fiction! However I still have a certain fondness for this series and so I've decided to look into the original light novels.

The stories are told from the perspective of Kyon, an average Japanese high school student who is incredibly unremarkable in every way. Kyon tells us as a kid that he really enjoyed sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure stories, desperately hoping that they were real and the world was filled with such wonders. As he got older he realized the world was much more mundane and came to accept it, satisfied with his humdrum life. When in high school it turns out there's a girl in his class named Suzumiya Haruhi who claims she's not interested in ordinary humans, only aliens, time travelers, and espers. Needless to say this labels Haruhi as an oddball, but Kyon is soon dragged into Haruhi's orbit. Things are only made far more complicated as it's revealed that aliens, time travelers, and espers all do exist and they're quite interested in Haruhi!

I think the real appeal about this series for me is it's very much gratuitous wish fulfillment. As someone who spent their childhood fantasizing about space and magic, and then read almost nothing but a steady diet of pulp novels in their teenage years, I too have often wondered what life would be like if we had superheroes, time travelers, and wizards running around. In a way I almost envy Kyon, despite his constant protests about finding himself in such strange situations, because he gets to be in exactly those situations. And it's fun to see time travelers, aliens, and espers all have to keep up the facade of being normal while doing perfectly normal things, like make a bad high school movie. (Which I am also guilty on multiple counts of doing.) Play video games, go on vacation, or play a game of baseball. There's just a certain charm in harmless wish fulfillment that makes it really appealing to me. If you're the same sort of person who's always sort of wished that the world we lived in was just a little more...fantastic...then you'd probably enjoy this series as well.

The first book I will admit, is a little dry because it has to do all the setting up for the later books. We get introduced to Kyon, Haruhi, and the other members of the SOS Brigade, as well as their unconventional secrets. We do get to see at points that Yuki, Mikuru, and Koizumi aren't lying, cementing both Kyon and our own belief that this world is littered with aliens time travelers, and espers. Well, maybe not littered but at least significantly populated. There are also a ton of awkward parts because of the sexual assault/rapey things that Haruhi does to poor Mikuru which perhaps a Japanese audience might find entertaining but I personally find really cringe-worthy. Fortunately I remember that diminishing as the series goes on, but I may have blanked that from my memory.

Personally I highly recommend both the anime series (where you can find it) and the light novels which are fortunately very readily available in e-book form on Amazon. I plan on continuing with the book series and eagerly anticipate the parts that were not included in the anime series.

- Kalpar

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