Haruhi season two’s biggest problem may not be what you think

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya needs no introduction. You’ve probably seen it, and if you haven’t seen it you’re aware of it. It changed the landscape of anime when it aired in 2006 and its ripples have held up for over a decade since.

I’m going to assume you have a working knowledge of Haruhi to spare us both the time it’d take me to pontificate its virtues. This has been done hundreds of times over by others and gets away from the main topic I want to discuss here: the second season.

Yes, the infamous second season where the same slice-of-lifest of slice-of-life episode is animated eight times over. The Endless Eight is controversial for taking up more than half of the season’s 14-episode length with what was deemed to be mindless filler. And in a way I think it can be taken as a parody of that type of filler– this is an incredibly meta series we’re talking about after all– but I think the writers were attempting to evoke a sense of immersion as you follow Kyon through the cycles of Haruhi’s closed time loop.

Yet in achieving this the show proves why having the audience sit through the same episode eight times fails as entertainment. The biggest pitfall you can stumble into as a storyteller is forgetting your audience has given you their leisure time. They’re looking for a worthwhile engagement of their emotions so when you take a risk like The Endless Eight you need to double down on fulfilling that contract. Lo and behold, most people didn’t enjoy watching the same episode eight times with very minor changes after the second cycle.

What the arc should have entailed was Kyon slowly coming to realize that time is looping. In each episode he would pick up new information with the help of Yuki in order to figure out the key to snapping Haruhi out of her Summer blues. Think a more subdued version of what Re:Zero did to such fan fervor last year. Instead we gets a deus ex machina moment in the final episode that’s wholly unrewarding for what you just sat through.

I haven’t read the light novel version of this arc but I’m willing to wager it doesn’t print the same chapter eight times over (if it does then disregard the point I’m about to make). If Kyoto Animation wanted to adapt it the way they did they should have made the requisite changes to make it compelling along its entire run. Otherwise it feels like wasted space that could have been used to further the plot, a feeling I’m sure was exacerbated for anyone watching it live. And considering we’ve yet to get a third season it doesn’t look great in retrospect either.

Ultimately you can skip episodes 3-7 of the Endless Eight and still get the idea, albeit not the existential dread. Heck, you could really just watch the end of episode 8 on top of that. Yet while it’s disappointing that this is what the arc amounts to I still justify its existence as worthwhile as a failed narrative experiment by the director. As critical of it as I am I applaud the show for taking a chance on what I see to be an artistic statement. It could have been so much more if it didn’t take its ambitions only halfway but people often mistake it for laziness.

So while The Endless Eight might be the biggest bugbear people have I actually think the bigger issue with the second season is the student film arc.

Nothing feels like it’s filling time more than an over-explained backstory to something we never needed to know more about. Haruhi and co.’s shooting of the student film that opens up the original series fits that bill: nothing happens here that changes our perspective of prior events. In fact it deflates what was a memorable activity the cast participated in to keep Haruhi in high spirits until all of its mystique is gone.

A phrase I like to use in these situations is “not knowing is half the battle.” Prequels come with a lot of baggage because they retroactively add context to what you had already loved. Often times what was used as a throwaway line to clue the audience into the past is expanded into a full story that never needed to be told. The student film arc does just this. Did we ever need to see the SOS Brigade bartering for filming equipment? Was an explanation for why Kyon’s cat could talk only in the movie really necessary? Does it really change anything to know the Mikuru Beam was, in fact, real?

To make things worse, this arc is the one time where the common misinterpretation of Haruhi as a mean-spirited character really pans out. I can understand why some find her insufferable but at her core she’s someone who (aggressively) follows her childhood wonder and wants to eschew the boredom she feels of the world around her. But this takes a turn for the sour when she’s straight-up abusive to Mikuru over the course of filming her movie, spiking her drink to force her to act more promiscuous. She then justifies it to Kyon as Mikuru being her toy, nearly causing a physical altercation between the two.

The series up until this point had made it clear that everything the characters did was in the name of fun and this steps over that line. It’s not some moment of being real either, the characters just aren’t acting themselves. I can’t rightly believe that Haruhi would move into the territory of abuse and that Kyon would resort to violence. It’s the same idea as never pulling a gun unless your character plans to use it: these characters never act this brashly again.

But ultimately it’s the sheer inconsequential nature of this five-episode arc that makes its inclusion the second season’s true sin. As a concept I actually like The Endless Eight and think it’s unfairly maligned by people who understandably had to live through its airing. And maybe I’d feel differently if that were me but its existence has merit but there’s no context in which watching the writers laboriously explain the making of a film I don’t think anyone ever asked to see (and if they did it was a case of the audience not understanding what they really wanted).

I’ve avoided any real spoilers for the broader Haruhi series in this post so I’ll leave you with this viewing guide if you’re planning to watch it for the first time– and you should, it’s required viewing.

Make sure to watch the first season in its airing order. The lack of chronology is a big part of what makes the series great, throwing you off-balance with each episode as you piece everything together leading up to a finale that hits hard but would otherwise only be the sixth episode chronologically followed by a bunch of slice-of-life shenanigans. I’ve never seen any other story be told in quite this way and definitely not to this effect. The way information is doled out could use another post dedicated to it in the future.

Then watch the first episode of the second season (a critical episode for the series) and at least understand the gist of the Endless Eight arc before stepping into the utterly fantastic film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. But skip the student film arc. Your time is more valuable.

 

Edit: I want to address a point I make at the end of the post about skipping parts of the series. In retrospect that’s not a statement I stand by. I think different people will find different value in things and suggesting people skip parts of a series that you personally didn’t enjoy isn’t fair. As such I actually think you should give the full Endless Eight and student film arc a shot if/when you watch Haruhi. I’d love to hear what you think after!

11 thoughts on “Haruhi season two’s biggest problem may not be what you think

  1. I actually have a post about Haruhi coming out on Friday. It’s weird as it was ages since I’d read anything about this anime and then in the last week or two I’ve read about three posts on it.
    I really like the Endless Eight. I know that makes me a very strange person, but it is the minor changes in each loop and being forced to feel as the characters do as they realise they are trapped in the loop and the end is drawing near and they can’t break out of the loop. I get that it isn’t exactly for everyone but enjoy it as being something different to experience.

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    1. Exactly! I think the Endless Eight is a really cool concept and while I would have liked to see a bit more of a narrative weaving through each cycle it’s still incredibly ambitious and narratively interesting. For as critical as I was of it here I hope the message comes through to people to think about it from a new angle.

      I look forward to your Haruhi post ^.^

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I adored the Endless Eight, but I’m also a sucker for experimental cinema. Like with the character of Haruhi, you can understand why everyone hates it while still being completely in love with it. I’ll fight anyone who says it *shouldn’t* have been made though. Time travel and looping is popular enough in modern media, so even if Endless Eight has a niche audience, I’m glad someone still took that concept to it’s figurative extreme.

    I’m mostly neutral about the student film arc. I see the two seasons as being both a string of continuous meta commentary AND episodic/disconnected slice-of-life antics. I’d agree that they perhaps act of character but then again I already see their personalities as having a degree of fluidity to them. The alternate realities, time traveling, distortions and double lives make establishing a strict ‘cannon’ difficult, if not impossible. My memory is a bit fuzzy so I can’t really build a case for or against the arcs content, but I see the spirit of what you’re saying.

    Nice to see the infamous ‘airing or chronological’ debate come up. I like both methods, as well as both sub and dub for the other side of the coin. My personal preference is chronological though. In a not dissimilar way to the Endless Eight, you have to know the person will have an appreciation for it before you can wholeheartedly recommend it. If they don’t know what they’re signing on for they are probably not going to like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring up some good points here. I think I did a poor job expressing that I actually like the Endless Eight as a tonal piece despite my misgivings (and that the real focus of the article was supposed to be the student film arc. I just spent too much space talking about Endless Eight, talk about burying the lede). So I definitely agree with you there. And that feeling of being stuck in a loop would definitely be altered if my version of it had came to pass. I can agree with both arguments on that front.

      As for the film arc you make some good points that I can’t really refute. I think I’d honestly dislike it less if it were shorter and part of a season with more different stories going on.

      You’re right about tailoring recommendations to specific people although I definitely feel pretty strongly re:airing. I think everyone should at least give Haruhi a chance if they haven’t though. Even if they drop it after a few episodes few anime are as significant to the direction the medium would take after.

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  3. I totally agree with you on Endless Eight, it would have worked out quite epic if there were subtle real changes through the arcs, although I guess the way it’s worked out means it’s infamous for being experimental.

    With the student film arc, I found that going chronologically through the show as I did recently, Haruhi became more amiable and willing to help after the incident there. I like it because it shows one of the only real limits she has, accidentally going too far and it shocks her that she did, she won’t admit it but you can see in the aftermath before Kyon forgives her, and though you see her appearing to return to her old self the following episodes show a subtle change in her behaviour and I don’t think any of her questionable moments take place chronologically after this, her worst, and indeed, several of her best ones like stepping in for the band at the concert and her loyalty towards Kyon as a member of the Brigade in Disappearance. You’re right in that the execution of the moment could have been done better (it didn’t have to be spiking a drink (unless Kyon wasn’t going to snap otherwise) and that is the sort of thing it’s a bit harder to explain away by ‘she got so overexcited she didn’t realise it was wrong’) but I’d actually disagree with you on the importance of the moment.

    Great post though, I could read discussion about Haruhi all day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it has everything to do with the order you watch the series in. I honestly enjoyed the broadcast order of season one so much due to how it tells its story in a uniquely nonlinear fashion so I’ve stigmatized watching the series chronologically but perhaps I should give it a try. Because of this I didn’t really come at the film arc as taking place at a specific point in the chronology as I’d assume is the case for a lot of people and I think it doesn’t work as well there. While we might have seen what happens after in S1 it’s hard to piece it back together when considering the events of S2. It probably does seem a lot more natural when the entire series is watched chronologically though.

      It’s worth noting that in the subreddit thread I linked in the article somebody brought up that in the light novel the making of the film happens before the film itself. Coming from that angle it supports your interpretation as well. I think that’s what makes Haruhi an interesting series though: there are multiple valid ways to approach watching the series that will give you a wholly different experience.

      I’m really thinking I should write a follow-up to this where I discuss S1’s nonlinear storytelling (even if it’d require me to rewatch it because it’s been a few years). My main problem with watching it chronologically is that the big emotional resolution would happen six episodes in before the series becomes a more straight-up slice of life until Disappearance. But again that’s observation without experience watching it that way.

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      1. Yeah, I watched it first via broadcast and it was only on my recent rewatch that I saw some parts of it in a new light (as well as remembering things that I’d completely forgotten about from seeing the broadcast order so long ago).

        Indeed, I love that the whole order thing happened, it gives a whole new set of things to discuss about which is better. And I can definitely appreciate broadcast, I was hooked wanting to find out what happened from episode 1 on broadcast – so I guess I’m leaning towards broadcast to introduce yourself to the series then on a rewatch do it chronologically to get a more complete picture of what’s going where as opposed to the jumble it gets into.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. weebtopiablog

    Glad to see a reaction to Haruhi’s second airing that isn’t “1/10 because Endless Eight” and nothing else. I saw Haruhi first as its full 2009 re-airing and only recently re-watched it as its original 2006 run, which probably makes my perspective different from most people’s. Perhaps because of that, I have some bones to pick with this post.

    First, I think the phrase “deus ex machina” is highly overused and very often mis-used, as is the case here. No as-yet-unknown outside force comes in to solve Endless Eight. Instead, Kyon’s scattered and highly confused mind – warped by suddenly feeling the effects of countless time loops – finally comes up with the correct answer to the situation after thousands of tries. The hints were always there for him, it just wasn’t easy to come up with that answer on the spot. If all of the elements to the solution were in the story to begin with, it does not have one of the crucial characteristics of a deus ex machina.

    Second, I agree only partially on the Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya. Excessive backstory is annoying (your comments remind me of my thoughts on the recent Rogue One), but the content of the arc is spot-on. Haruhi is presented as more of a villain than ever before, even though many of her actions were ethically questionable and even vindictive at times. Haruhi is a great character in spite of her flaws, with an indescribable charm that makes us want to root for her, but we can’t pretend she is strictly a good person.

    The scene you describe between Haruhi and Kyon at Tsuruya’s house also never struck me as out of character, but rather as a boiling point of the tensions building between our two main characters. Haruhi had almost always treated Mikuru as a toy, placing no importance on her feelings or what she wants to do, but only then did she voice her attitude clearly. Part of this is her jealousy of Mikuru, in particular how Kyon views her. Kyon outwardly perceives Mikuru as something precious that needs protected, and Haruhi as a pain in the ass he begrudgingly deals with. Correspondingly, Kyon has been pushed one too many times by Haruhi’s selfish behavior, and is moved to violence by his pent-up anger. What struck me most about it was how much it shows his care for Haruhi, given the way he frames his actions to Koizumi. As he says, Haruhi will never be able to get along in life if she just keeps pushing other people around with no regard to their views. His attempted violence is meant to be a wake up call for her, and it serves its purpose. One notices that her treatment of Mikuru never gets as bad after that.

    Kyon then makes the realization that, even if Haruhi is stepping on a lot of toes to do what she does, at least she has a vision she attempts to realize. His own tendency to merely bitch and sit, as personified by Taniguchi, seems worse by contrast. In context of the larger series, he’s starting to become conscious again of Haruhi’s ability to achieve great things, the payoff of which is that highly memorable concert scene from the culture festival. While learning about the making of the movie may not have been necessary in a narrative sense, I think Sigh helps firmly establish all of its characters in a way that had been done less substantially before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thanks for this great comment!

      I’m not sure I can agree that I used deus ex machina incorrectly. The definition of the term states “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.” I want to put emphasis on “event” because that’s what occurs in the Endless Eight. I can’t really recall all of the events coming back to him (if I’m misremembering then so be it) but rather that he happens to stumble upon a solution that makes little sense. So in the context of the character’s point of view I think it’s very much a deus ex machina. I understand that this is a debatable topic though.

      I don’t think your reading of Sigh is invalid but rather a result of how the series is watched. I’m not sure if you saw the reddit thread about this post but this is an argument that was often made over there about how the arc works better in chronological context. The problem with that for people like me who watched the broadcast order is that any events that transpired after Sigh had happened back in the first season and thinking of the show strictly chronologically was against the way we had trained our brains to watch it. Some might have gone back and pieced that together after the fact but emotionally in the moment this context was not immediately apparent. Thus it comes off different. Even if the original season aired in chronological order and the second season slid new arcs into it this wouldn’t be immediately apparent.

      And perhaps that’s the big problem with season two: it works much better when the series is watched in chronological order. I mean heck, season two was even aired in-between season one episodes. As someone who thinks the original broadcast order of Haruhi is an ingenious format for reasons I plan to write about once I get the chance to rewatch and dissect the show it’s how I would recommend people watch it. That’s where I’m coming from with this post. It’s been interesting to see the reaction of people who viewed the show differently and how wildly their impressions are. To me, neither is correct and that’s what makes discussing Haruhi so great. 🙂

      To bring this back around: for us who had already watched the series the characters had already been established and adding a “critical moment” as chronological viewers view Sigh feels retrofitted. This was actually a big part of Rogue One’s problem as well. It gave new context to a story that didn’t need it for people who had already seen what comes after. I can imagine a very different take on that for people who see Rogue One before A New Hope though. Thus why Rogue One didn’t connect for some people. That’s the problem I had with Sigh.

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      1. weebtopiablog

        Yo, thanks for the reply!

        Using Kyon’s realization as an example of deus ex machina is, to me, a dilution of a term whose connotation is best applied to particularly egregious ass pulls. Throughout Endless Eight, we see Kyon in that scene looking for something, anything he can use as pretext to stop Haruhi from leaving. All of his focus had been shifted toward the time dilemma, and not to his incomplete homework, such that he forgot that the homework was the obvious solution. Despite it being an anticlimactic, silly punch line (which is itself the joke), Endless Eight’s resolution does make sense, and it occurred to me while watching the show initially as a possible solution.

        Haruhi’s original order was ingenious in my opinion, and it foreshadowed the way many great series like Monogatari would tell these layered, interrelated narratives that keep getting better as you go back to them and realize their context. All of the subtle build to revelations about Haruhi’s true nature create an air of tension and mystery that the 2009 re-airing just doesn’t have. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the insights that come from viewing the show’s events the way the characters do. I, for one, would have wanted to punch Haruhi around the time she started extorting valuable property through blackmail, so the lack of any release for Kyon’s mounting frustration in the original series strikes me as leaving out an important part of his growth. This is perhaps in much the same way that it seems “retrofitted” to you to have such a thing happen.

        Yet, i think it is possible discuss both airings on their merits, and it seems defeatist to say that each person is stuck in their respective view because of how they initially viewed the show. I think watching both airings in their entirety – hopefully with a little space to think and digest the original in between – is the best way to go, then you can follow it up with Disappearance.

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  5. The problem is that I don’t think Kyon was remembering the time loops, only what he was told by Yuki. I may be misremembering this though, the last time I watched the series was nearly two years ago. But sure, I can accept that it’s not the biggest asspull in fiction, just one that felt jarring to me in an arc that offered very little in the way of narrative progression until its final moments.

    I didn’t mean to be dismissive! Sorry if my comment came across that way. I was actually trying to put forth that both ways are worthy of following the story, just that the guttural reaction myself and others had to Sigh was indicative of the way we viewed the story and thus the chronological context didn’t matter as much. I’m a very staunch believer in the importance of the emotional response media evokes from its audience. I also like looking at things from different lenses but in this case I can only be true to my experience. (A show where I would take a different approach is Neon Genesis Evangelion where I put a lot of value in how I tried to reject its final episodes/End of Evangelion but quickly came to regard it as brilliant.)

    I may one day get to watching the series in chronological order though. I’m interested to see how it changes my approach to its narrative but there’s a lot to be said about how you first experience a story as to how it’s ingrained in your mind.

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