The view from 5930 miles away:
The second episode of Haruhi is probably the most uncomfortable to watch, almost as if we are being challenged to walk away from this series, if we can bear not to find out what happens next. This is of course paralleled within the narrative, when Kyon suggests to Asahina that she just quits the club.
“No, it’s alright, I guess. But you’ll stay, won’t you?”
She could be forgiven for leaving. The episode pushes us further down the route of making Haruhi a character who is very hard to like. Although much of what happens in this episode is played for laughs, there is no getting away from the fact that Haruhi will do just about anything to get what she wants, irrespective of the feelings of others, and she doesn’t stop at blackmail, sexual assault, and, perhaps most shockingly of all, making a threat that she will accuse the computer club members of gang rape, delivered in such stark terms that it has to be bleeped out of the dub.
Importantly the episode doesn’t pull its punches in showing the impact of Haruhi’s actions. Note how we see the computer system being installed, including cabling, and then after all that Kyon finds Asahina still hunched up on the computer room floor, in tears. She must have been like that for a couple of hours at least, and she is utterly traumatised. So why doesn’t she just quit the SOS Brigade?
“I guess the probability of this happening in this particular time frame is unavoidable…and I’m worried about why Miss Nagato’s here too…I might be a little inexperienced, but I know I’m going to get along with everyone here.”
…and this is the kind of thing that makes it so difficult as a viewer to walk away from Haruhi, despite the lead character so far being almost entirely unsympathetic. The mysteries keep piling in on us. Why is Asahina taking about “time frames”? In what way is she “inexperienced”? After all, she’s the oldest of the group (and it’s easy to keep forgetting that).
The relationship between Asahina and Kyon is already interesting. Firstly, she is being overly informal with him. This is something that is easy to miss from a Western perspective, and by necessity gets lost somewhat in the dub. In Japanese schools, children almost always call each other by their surnames (which in Britain is generally just a posh school boy thing), and that includes the girls. Honorifics or diminutives are added to the ends of their names. For example, a younger student such as Kyon or Haruhi would generally be expected to add “senpai” on the end of Asahina’s name, to indicate her status as an older student. Only very close friends will use first names (which are actually second names in Japan, so we say Haruhi Suzumiya but it’s actually Suzumiya Haruhi), and will still almost always add an honorific on the end. If this is confusing don’t worry about it, but the point is that Asahina using Kyon’s nickname is unusual, but even more unusual is the moment where he asks him to stop being so formal and call her Mikuru. He’s not going to actually be able to bring himself to do this (and don’t be fooled by his use of “Haruhi” – it’s a quirk of the dub. In the manga it’s “Suzumiya”). Actually, being asked to use her first name is a hair’s breadth from being asked to be her boyfriend. For a good comparison, see Clannad, where Nagisa struggles to call Tomoya by his first name even when they are in a relationship. There’s no way Kyon is going to call her “Mikuru”, and if he did so the whole school would assume they were in a relationship. Could this be something to do with Asahina’s “inexperience”? As I said last week, this is an enormously clever series, and nothing is here by chance.
Also in terms of the relationship between Kyon and Asahina, it is interesting to note that he promises to protect her, and then completely fails to do so straight away. He is enough of a gentleman to dash out of the room when Haruhi is stripping her off (and that’s important, because it speaks volumes about the kind of character Kyon is), but he can’t bring himself to step in and stop Haruhi. Will he ever be able to, and what consequences will that have? We’ll have to wait and see.
With all Haruhi’s abusive shenanigans, just when we think we might not be able to stomach this series any more it suddenly piles on more mysteries and gets really interesting. Step forward, Yuki Nagato.
“Take it. I’ll lend this to you.”
This simple act of lending a book should make the viewer sit up and take notice, because it is the first thing Nagato has said that hasn’t been a curt reaction to a question from somebody else. It’s her first non-reactive act. It becomes Nagato’s first use of enigmatic clues: a message on a bookmark.
After briefly introducing us to Kyon’s cute kid sister (she’s going to be a great character), we get to the climactic moment of the episode, with Kyon being taken to Nagato’s apartment. It is immediately obvious that something isn’t right here. The place is empty, and Nagato has no family. Then she drops her bombshell:
“I have been created by the Data Integration Thought Entity… I believe I would be classified as an alien.”
Talk about leaving us wanting more! And note that she said she had something to say about Haruhi as well, and also said that “Haruhi Suzumiya and I are not ordinary human beings.” So the question remains: if Nagato is an alien, what is Haruhi?
So at the start of the series Haruhi stepped up and announced that she was looking for aliens, time travellers and ESPers. Seemingly by accident she has stumbled across an alien, and something weird is going on with Asahina and her “time frames” as well. Think back also to the seating positions, with Haruhi and Kyon just happening to get the best seats in the room, still sat together. It’s almost as if Haruhi’s wishes are all coming true somehow. Earlier in the episode, she expressed another wish, which didn’t come to fruition this episode:
I want to get my hands on a mysterious transfer student.”
I’ll just leave that thought hanging there. You can’t beat a good cliffhanger ending… RP
The view from 6,868 miles away:
Ok, so just when I thought: hey, it can’t get any more awkward than this, episode two has our lead, Haruhi, manipulating the computer club into giving up one of their computers for her own SOS Brigade. How does she do it? By getting photographs of the head of the club sexually assaulting her friend, the moe character, Mikuru. While it seems to be done for laughs, it’s very awkward to sit through because of the ages of the characters. During this same episode, Haruhi buys bunny costumes to attract attention as she advertises for her club. She and Mikuru walk around in bunny costumes putting up fliers.
All of this is, in a word, awkward. I tried to laugh it off, but some part of me rebels. Maybe some decency code saying: hey, these are kids. But my mind argues back: um, actually these are cartoon images, not even portrayed in a live action sense. Can I feel badly about cartoons being groped? Next thing I know, I’ll be lobbying outside Warner Brothers for their inhumane treatment of Daffy Duck at the hands of the wascally wabbit. No cartoon girls were sexually assaulted in the making of this cartoon. And hell, it’s the product of another nation whose mores and norms are allowed to be different. So what the hell, let’s more on.
I was thinking this was a slice of life drama series, knowing how much Roger likes them right up until Yuki invites Kyon to meet her in the park. Ok, here comes the expected twist: she likes Kyon and wants to go out with him but he only has eyes for Haruhi, right? Oh, no.. she’s inviting him back to her place and her parents are non-existent. Please, don’t get any creepier with the sexual stuff… these are anime cartoon not-real girls! “Haruhi Suzimiya and I aren’t normal people”. What? She goes on to explain that she is something else… some kind of alien life form, I think. Ok, now curiosity has been spiked high. I now have little choice but to press on! I must know what this means… but the episode ends mere moments later. I’ll have to wait until next week to investigate further.
Before I go though, I wanted to get the quote right, so I went online and looked up the episode and found the subtitled version on Youtube. Either I was so stunned that I missed it in the English dubs, or this was totally omitted. “I am part of an organization of soup cultists who plan to turn the world into soup!” This, right after telling Kyon that the tea (I assumed) he has been imbibing is in fact her parents, which she murdered and made into soup! She tells Kyon that there are others who turn people into piss, but that’s gross, so I guess the soup cult is way better. Now, I pay close attention to shows I’m watching and pick up on a lot but Anime is new to me. Perhaps I faded out? Daydreamed about my own adolescence that was curiously lacking in bunny clad females? I don’t know, but I’m reasonably certain that a revelation about alien soup cultists would not have been missed. That’s like missing Godzilla as he walks across your front lawn. You don’t doze off during that.
So now I’m doubly curious – are the dubs the same as the subs? Do I have to watch this show twice to get the full meaning of it? Well, onto episode 3… potentially twice. I really feel like I’m falling down the rabbit hole! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya III