The view from 5930 miles away:
“I’m not going to stay here and do nothing while you pour boiling water on my head.”
The next six episodes are among my favourite episodes of Haruhi, so I was surprised to find that they are not popular with a lot of fans. A quick trawl around the internet revealed the reason for that: Haruhi’s extreme behaviour.
Back when I first started writing about Haruhi I mentioned that we weren’t necessarily supposed to like her at the start, but that’s fine because she’s not the only character, and is not our identification character. That would be Kyon. We just need to find her interesting. I would extend that to a lesser extent to the entire series. I think it’s perfectly fine to enjoy Haruhi but not like Haruhi, and the series works well on that level. However, I do think it’s difficult to not like her, despite her bad behaviour, and the run of episodes we are embarking on here fully explores the nature of the viewer’s relationship with Haruhi, via Kyon’s relationship with her.
Right from the start of the series, Haruhi’s treatment of Mikuru in particular has been abominable, verging on sexual abuse. I choose those words carefully. Were it not for cultural differences, which make me uncertain about the differing levels of tolerance towards the sorts of things Haruhi does to Mikuru, I wouldn’t even use the qualifier “verging on”. This had to be addressed eventually, to avoid the series becoming morally bankrupt, and things are coming to a head now, starting with this episode. Firstly, Haruhi’s behaviour is ramped up to really hammer the point home. She is increasingly unkind to Mikuru:
“Shut up and sit down.”
I do think people misunderstand the hot tea scene. I don’t think for one moment Haruhi is stupid enough or monstrous enough to have any intention of following through with her dangerous idea. I think she is deliberately putting Mikuru on the spot, testing her, making her uncomfortable, highlighting her weakness. When Haruhi grabs the tray, look how half-hearted her approach to Kyon is. Kyon can easily take the cup from the tray. Haruhi doesn’t so much try to throw it over him, as gently hold the tray over his head so he can take the drink. She’s making a show of it, but it’s all talk. She’s actually just serving him the tea!
It’s often difficult to get into Haruhi’s head, and there are a number of possibilities here, which we will have to keep in mind as this arc progresses. I think there is a strong possibility that Haruhi is testing the boundaries and wants to push Kyon into taking the initiative and stopping her. Maybe she wants him to tell her off. She wants him to be a man, to step up and take the traditional male role in the relationship (much more the case in Japan than here) and set himself up as a suitable match for her, proving himself her equal. Note how her bad behaviour this episode is almost always followed by a winning smile. She knows what’s she’s doing. It’s hard to stay angry at a smile like that.
There are also ways of interpreting Haruhi’s opinion of Kyon beyond the obvious. She justifies interpretation as an emotionally complex character after all. Take, for example, the list of jobs she assigns Kyon:
Assistant Director, Photographer, Editor, Gofer, Assistant, Errant Boy, Quartermaster, Everything Else.
Now, superficially you might think this shows a lack of respect for Kyon, treating him as a dogsbody. But I think that misses the point. I think Haruhi actually has immense trust in Kyon and thinks he can handle whatever she throws at him. Her insults could be interpreted as very childish flirting (remember the toddler-ish “I wanna come too!” from last episode – she has a very childish side to her nature) and on some level I do think Haruhi is in awe of Kyon. After all, he is the only person in the world who ever answers her back and challenges her, and what’s more he often does so with humour:
“You don’t have to worry about anything at all.”
Of course she’s in love with him. How could she not be? And look what she has as comparison in her circle of friends. Yuki quietly co-operates (Haruhi’s request to appropriate the lit club’s money for example), Mikuru is clearly terrified of Haruhi, and Koizumi is an insufferable suck-up, who “just sits there smiling like a weirdo”, with no understanding of personal space.
But Haruhi plays a dangerous game. By testing the boundaries, pushing Kyon for a reaction, and using Mikuru as a tool in that game, she risks pushing Kyon into the arms of Mikuru. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Kyon is already starting to become protective of Mikuru:
“You’re going to tell us what you need her for.”
Haruhi’s bad behaviour is constantly ameliorated by humour, and this is a very funny episode. The laugh-out-loud moment for me was Nagato’s super-speed running. But is humour going to be enough to sweeten the bitter pill of Haruhi’s increasingly selfish behaviour as we progress through this arc?
We’re moving towards something here, and I maintain that this is an enormously clever series. There are also a couple of hidden hints for the future in this episode. On the train there are a couple of girls wearing a different school uniform, and then there’s Haruhi’s philosophy towards film making:
“How come on TV shows when they get to the last episode someone dies… I would never make a movie like that.”
Sometimes our lives stubbornly refuse to follow the scripts we write for them. Then again, this is Haruhi… RP
The view from 6,868 miles away:
I was so glad that the Endless 8 cycle had stopped, I would have been happy if they made an episode about making an episode. OH, wait, that’s exactly what they did do! Haruhi decides that for the cultural event at the school, the SOS Brigade should make a movie. I love when one of the kids refer to Kyon as one of Haruhi’s “band of freaks” because it recognizes that to outsiders, Haruhi is an oddball and so are her friends but we are following those “freaks” and they are so cool that we have a series dedicated to them. Nice when the underdog has a victory, as Kyon noted repeatedly in the Endless 8. This is something that, because of the nature of the show, we might easily overlook. We’re following the misfits and it is the misfits who have the show.
So the group will make a movie and Haruhi will be the director (and any other role of authority she can be). Kyon’s role will be assistant director, quartermaster, gofer, assistant and among other things, “everything else”. Haruhi really sees Kyon as something different to the others. I can’t tell if this is a crush or simple annoyance with him. Part of me thinks she just doesn’t know how to understand him since he is so “normal” while another part of me thinks she has a crush on him. For instance, when she tells Miss Asahina that she has to trip and stumble at least 1/3 of the time (hilarious by the way). Needless to say, the expectant action would be spilling boiling tea on Kyon’s head. Now, to a certain extent, this is playful crush territory if not for the fact that scalding your crush now goes beyond playful. And I wonder: is this in fact something darker? Or just childish?
I can’t think “darker” when Haruhi says she would never make a movie where someone dies, but you’ve got to wonder. Alright, maybe you don’t have to, but I am full of wonder now! Is she a darker “god” than we were lead to believe up until this point? There are some great lines in this first part like Kyon mentioning a look like “Hannibal crossing the alps”. He often has the best lines, because he represents the viewer and so much of what he is subjected to is so outré, that I think his reactions mirror the audiences perfectly. (I was less fond of the line “you look like a dirty old man” because it draws attention to the awareness of sexuality again, and I still cringe a little because of the age of the kids in this series.)
That all said, the episode ends abruptly leading me to want to start the next one right away. This is one of those scenarios where it’s evident the story was one long block that had to be cut. (Although with Haruhi, it could be as bizarre as individual episodes designed to appear like one long block!) We will see as we get into part 2… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya II