The view from 5930 miles away:
We’ve reached the point where I need to mention the viewing order of episodes. Although this episode clearly picks up where last week’s left off, the two episodes were not originally consecutive, as broadcast, strange though that may seem. Let’s take a step back and see what happened here.
Most anime that gets made is based on manga or light novels. I have watched a lot of anime series now, and I don’t think I have found a single one as yet that differs significantly from the storyline of the original books. There seems to be a strong ethos for adapting what exists, and then stopping. I find this commendable, as a rule.
To take a random example of a British television show which adapted the storyline of some books, out of thousands I could have picked, I offer in evidence The Darling Buds of May, for no better reason than it just popped into my head. I’ve read the H.E. Bates books, and they are brilliant. There are five of them. The television series was a huge hit, and was structured at 3 episodes per book, which would have meant calling it a day at 15 episodes, but there are 20 episodes in total. In order to do that, and to use a vulgar modern expression, they just made s*** up. The end result is that the episodes based on the books are sublime, and the others are barely watchable. In the world of anime, that sort of thing seems to be almost universally avoided.
But we have a swings-and-roundabouts situation. Making episodes that are only based on the manga series keeps the quality high, but it also means that there are a shed load of anime series that don’t conclude properly, because the books were an ongoing series when the anime was made, and by the time the book series finished it was too late to go back and make more of the anime because the interest had waned at that point, or there was something more important to make.
Haruhi started life as a light novel series, and a manga series soon followed. When the anime was being made there were something like seven light novels completed, and just one or two manga volumes. We now have a final tally of 20 volumes of the manga, with less than half of those adapted into anime episodes. The ones that didn’t get made are phenomenally good, but that’s a subject for another day.
So when the first series of Haruhi was made, the end result of this strict adaptation policy was that the first six episodes were hugely exciting, ending with what felt like a big climactic moment; these are followed by a lot of hugely fun episodes, but the first series ended on what felt like a mid-season filler. The reason for this was that the ongoing book series had been exhausted at that point, so in terms of the books the storylines being adapted were not created to be finale material. Having realised this problem, the powers that be took the bizarre remedial step of mixing up the episodes. The first six were spread across the season, so the original episode 6 provided a satisfying big finale.
Having watched episode 3, you might already spot some problems with that. It’s not just that these episodes all run consecutively, but there are other issues as well. This episode introduces Koizumi, so if you throw in later episodes in between then he pops up out of nowhere as part of the group before getting introduced later. Basically, it was all a mess.
There are plenty of fans who actually love that approach. Watching the series in its original broadcast order is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, where things only make sense in retrospect. It’s a bizarre and fun experience, and in a strange way it works. But the whole world of Haruhi is strange enough for me without adding this level of confusion. The episodes were later re-broadcast in the correct chronological order, with the second season episodes added in where they belong in the narrative as well. My advice (which 50% of the Haruhi fanbase would probably disagree with) is to watch the episodes in the order they appear on the blu-rays. That follows the pattern of the book series, and is the way the story of the SOS Brigade was originally intended to be experienced.
I must at this point sincerely apologise for taking 700 words to explain why The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya III follows on from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya II, but I felt it was a topic that needed to be covered. Let’s move on to the episode itself.
This is an episode that is heavy on the exposition, to the point where a huge amount of screen time is devoted to people sitting around and talking. At least it gets that all out of the way in one go, and by the end of the episode the premise for the whole series has been set in place. You do need to concentrate though, because the info-dump is huge.
Haruhi wanted to meet aliens, time travellers and ESPers. Unknown to her, she has all three in her club now. Let’s look at them one by one.
Nagato is our alien, created by a formless entity that exists on the astral plane, as a way to communicate between aliens, humans and Haruhi. We learn from Nagato that Haruhi “has the power to manipulate the environmental data around her for her own benefit”. Some aspects of the first two episodes now start to come into focus, such as the random selection of seats that resulted in Haruhi and Kyon sitting together again, in the best seats in the classroom. Haruhi is actually manipulating her surroundings somehow, according to Nagato. Note how she says “interfaces such as myself”, so there are more aliens around somewhere. Could somebody else we have seen so far be one of those? Another “section of the entity” wants to use “more proactive” methods, and that potentially places Kyon in danger. If somebody wants to provoke Haruhi, there’s an obvious way to do that now.
Asahina is our time traveller, from the future. She adds in more information about Haruhi. Three years ago there was a “time quake”, and Haruhi was “at the very centre of the time distortion”. For time travellers like Asahina this represents an absolute barrier, making it impossible to travel further back into the past than that point. So what happened three years ago? Will we get to see those events?
Our mysterious transfer student that Haruhi wanted has arrived. He’s our ESPer, although we don’t yet know what his powers might be. His explanation of Haruhi is the most scary of the three, because he suggests that she could be a god, capable of destroying or reshaping the world if it’s not to her liking. That puts into perspective how Koizumi never challenges Haruhi. He watches her abusing Asahina and just stands by, unfazed by it all, infuriatingly calm, presumably because the consequences of intervention could be severe. He sees Haruhi as a god who could destroy the world if she’s not happy with things. Koizumi is part of an organisation, and he mentions differing opinions as to how to deal with Haruhi, with others in the organisation wanting to be more active in provoking Haruhi’s abilities. This is another example of something I flagged up in previous episodes, where everything has some kind of significance. The forward planning is astonishingly clever, and this piece of information won’t come to fruition until the later manga volumes, which were written long after the anime was made.
In another bit of forward planning, Nagato’s first visit to a library, with Kyon helping her with a library card, is also a hugely significant moment, for reasons that won’t become apparent until the film and the spinoff series.
As Koizumi points out though, the biggest mystery is Kyon, because we now have an after school club made up of the following: god (perhaps), alien, time traveller, ESPer (or so he says), and a human. Why is Kyon part of this group?
There is certainly some kind of a strong connection between Kyon and Haruhi, although it is unclear why. But if you are paying careful attention something happens here for the first time that is going to keep happening. A large part of the narrative of Haruhi is told through the medium of allowing the viewers to hear Kyon’s thoughts. He is our audience perspective character. When the group is drawing straws to decide who will pair up in the first of many out-of-school-hours get-togethers, Kyon is delighted to end up with Asahina, and starts thinking about it in terms of having a date with her. Haruhi is quick to react:
“Would you be serious here. This isn’t a date!”
But here’s the thing: Kyon only thought about that. He never said it out loud. This is going to get confusing… RP
The view from 6,868 miles away:
Well after episode 2, I was dying to push on to 3. What was the alien stuff Yuki was talking about? I was certain there’d be some exposition now. And once you bring up aliens, surely no more weird sex stuff would go on with the underage cartoon girls. I took a deep breath and began episode 3. Besides, Roger told me, the most off-putting things were behind me! Let’s find out about the aliens…
Well, the episode was exposition-heavy with a ton of dialogue from 3 characters all filling in background about Haruhi. Something happened 3 years ago which changed reality and we now have an alien, a time traveler and an ESPer. Now we’re in my territory! This is the sort of stuff I go for. Too many humans in a TV show without even one alien… I get twitchy. In an odd twist, my wife was sitting with me too and I think she could tell I was happy with all this talk of aliens. (She had been reading the news when the opening music started and stopped and stared. I think she was as stunned as I was that first time!) Anyway, on it goes with exposition that is so fast at times, that when the subs show the on-screen words, they last about the same length as the legal limit before it’s considered subliminal. I accepted that I could not read it all, but I got the gist of it. And Yuki has the best voice of all the females in the show. (Haruhi’s is annoying and holy God, who on Earth thought to make Mikuru sound like a half human, half frightened mouse?!! I hate her voice! Kyon is the best of the group, voice-wise.)
But then it happens. Haruhi decides they should, and I quote, “let’s have some fun” as she tries to take Mikuru’s clothes off and fondle her breasts. (I begin to think high school in Japan would have been a far more enjoyable experience than the one I went to in the States!) But obviously this is so wrong, my news-reading wife looked at me as if to say “are you watching the same thing I see on the TV?” (I quietly hit my Star Trek communicator and asked to be beamed up, but I wasn’t wearing one and it doesn’t work anyway!) I looked at her but couldn’t even muster an apologetic shrug. I just sort of stared hoping an idea would cross my mind. We just looked at each other, unsure what to do. So I went back to the episode hoping she’d forget I was there.
It did get better after that. For one, I can say is that this episode offered a lot of laughs when I got past the sexual assault aspect of it. (This sentence does not seem like one a person should ever type, but I’m watching anime, so I have no idea where my life is going. It’s akin to saying, “Jeffrey Dahmer was actually a good friend after I got past the fact that I caught him eating my parents…”) Still, when Yuki tells Kyon (of Haruhi) “she does not take the data you feed her seriously”, I laughed out loud. His reaction is one of casual realization which made it even better. I also can’t help but expect the Brigadier to be sitting in the chair at some point. “The Chair” meaning the one dedicated to Brigade Leader – you know, from the SOS Brigade. Surely this is the same parallel world destroyed in Inferno right? The one where it’s clearly ok to sexually assault ones friends?
So I went online to see about the soup situation from the previous episode only to learn that that has nothing to do with anything either. That was as made up as adding the Brigadier from Doctor Who. So if we can turn family members into soup, I can bring the Brigade Leader in with Liz Shaw and reinitiate the Stahlman project. At least Jeffrey Dahmer will have soup with my parents. Moving on! I’ve had enough human drama. I’m going to bed. I hope the aliens, time travelers, and ESPers start to make an appearance with less shockingly abusive sex scenes. I feel like a prude, but I’m sure if these were adults I’d feel differently. Hell, I watch Game of Thrones and don’t feel nearly as debased when that’s over.
Tomorrow I’ll see about #4… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya IV