Hello out there in TV Land! Things have been a bit on the hectic side lately, which has left me without much time for reviews, but fear not! December looks to be full of delicious holiday blogging.
When last I mentioned Haruhi Suzumiya I was in the throes of the controversial second season, which (spoilers) features an eight-episode-long Groundhog Day-style time loop. I don’t really want to get ahead of myself here, but I would like to state now, unequivocally, and for the record: I liked Endless Eight. Please take this opportunity to rage quit the internet if you must. Otherwise, here are my general thoughts on the series:
I have to admit that I sort of liked the conceit of ordering the episodes non-chronologically. I watched the series in the “Kyon” order (the original broadcast order for the first season, with the second season in the DVD order). The only exception to this rule was the “first” episode (the movie), which I actually watched last. I did this for a reason, and it actually turns out that this is an excellent time to watch that episode, since it keeps the references in the school festival episode (which follows it in the chronological order) a bit more cryptic. I definitely do want to re-watch in chronological order next time, though.
Despite how much I enjoyed this anime, I have to say I only really liked about half the cast. Haruhi’s clueless imperiousness was more grating than goofy, and her constant molestation of Mikuru honestly made me uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as the slime-dog-monster bukkake gang rape in Hyperdimension Neptunia (yes that is a thing that happens), but uncomfortable nonetheless.
I do really like Yuki, whose little moments of humanity are endearing (glasses, much?) and for whom you can’t help but feel empathy during the whole Endless Eight plot-line, as you realise just how exponentially worse it must have been for her to relive those same experiences so many thousands of times.
I also have a soft spot for poor, long-suffering Kyon. Something about his downtrodden demeanor and sheer exasperation in dealing with the others earned him quite a bit more sympathy than I usually feel for your run-of-the-mill harem master. This is, in fact, the biggest reason why “Someday in the Rain” is my favourite episode in the series: the quiet time we get to spend with Kyon as he picks up the heater by himself feels somehow more intimate than our usual experience of his world. It’s almost like we see behind the curtain of his usual POV.
And then there is Itsuki. I adore Itsuki. I could spend hours just listening to him talk–while some might find his style to be over-formal I just think it’s elegant. If I ever manage to be fluent in Japanese, that is how I want to sound. And even if I don’t, there is a first-class ticket directly to my bed for anyone who does. And to be honest, I find the distinct layers in his public persona (enthusiastic and almost servile with Haruhi while cool and collected with Kyon) to be especially interesting in light of the heavy intimations that both are purely cynical acts he puts on for their benefit.
Now, I’ve been informed that Itsuki’s advances and numerous invasions of Kyon’s personal space come off as significantly creepier in the novels than they do in the anime. This may very well be. But at least as presented in the anime, he is definitely the best fleshed-out and most intriguing member of the main cast, and his relationship with Kyon is the most developed. Not to mention we get to see him in eight different bathing suits.
Overall Premise and Plot
Generally speaking I thought the premise was clever, and the way in which it is revealed to the audience through the Kyon ordering is particularly effective in that it gradually expands on the viewers’ experience of those surreal elements that they nonetheless know are operating in the background. Another benefit of temporal discontinuity is an overall impression that we are being offered little vignettes in the style of Azumanga Daioh rather than a unified, overarching story. This can be particularly fun and/or relaxing in some of the themed episodes (the island, the baseball game, etc.).
Okay, and Endless Eight?
Honestly, Endless Eight is just about the ballsiest thing I have ever seen anyone attempt in mass entertainment media. Yes, yes, I understand why it upset people, especially as it seems unlikely that we will be getting more episodes in the future. I will, however, give a few reasons why Endless Eight was secretly amazing.
I don’t think I have ever felt the kind of sustained, unrelenting dramatic tension these episodes provide anywhere else, and certainly not for such a long time. Once you (and the characters) become aware of the time loop, you become incredibly attuned to detail. What is different this time around? Will that be what breaks the loop? You eventually come to realise that every single instant holds the opportunity for the loop to be broken. Every line of dialogue. The whole scenario induces a kind of sustained hyperawareness.
This hyperawareness and attention to detail actually leads you to appreciate what they did here. Each episode is different in just about every way possible: the outfits are different, the camera shots are different, the dialogue is delivered differently. You come to realise that no one episode contains every single scene in the story; each one has its own unique combination. Even the scenes themselves vary in length, with some lines being left out in different tellings. They could have made much less effort in their repetition, but decided not to. This was an aesthetic choice and it makes a huge difference in my opinion of the whole endavour–had more things been repeated verbatim, I would not have found it worthwhile.
This is all to say that, when Haruhi’s cicada returned and landed on Kyon’s net, I flipped the fuck out. I knew exactly what that meant–it was returning the favour and letting them go. Halfway through the last episode I knew it was over, and it was only a matter of seeing how things played out. Attention to detail, kids.
Were there problems with the whole thing? Yes. It probably would have been just as effective with six episodes rather than eight (however I definitely think it takes more than four for the full effect). I also think that Yuki’s persistent memory presents a bit of a plot hole: why, once this was revealed, did no one ask her to warn them earlier on in the next time loop? I am sure this is why they were baiting us with Kyon’s awkward conversation in the street, but…it just didn’t quite click. Her excuse for not doing more (that she was there only “to observe”) is really not enough to make me think she would have ignored such a request had it been made. She could at least have said that she determined a time loop to be the safest course of events and therefore thought it unwise to break it.
So there you have it: my two cents on Haruhi Suzumiya. I hope we do manage to get some more episodes in the future, but in the mean time I hope to be able to give the books a shot. Be sure to tune in next time! Same cat-time, same cat-channel.