The junkyard presents two articles about the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode Live Alive.
The view from 5930 miles away:
Chronologically we have now reached the 26th episode of Haruhi, but it is important to remember that these episodes were not originally made and broadcast in the correct order. We left the second season behind us with the end of the Sigh arc, and all the remaining episodes were made for the original 2006 broadcast, so if you’re looking for the series to built to a big dramatic climax then that’s not going to happen unless you factor in the film.
Instead, we have something far more important: character development. Beyond Nagato’s improbable fortune telling skills (“you will hit your head on a sign seven minutes and six seconds from now…”) there is no sci-fi element to this episode. We are as close to slice-of-life as we have ever been, and it’s that old favourite of the school-based anime: the school cultural festival. Just about every anime set in a school has an episode or two where this happens, and frankly I envy the Japanese hugely. We have nothing approaching this in our schools here. Thinking back to my childhood, it’s probably for the best, because our organisational skills and discipline just wouldn’t have come close to being able to pull off something like that. It all comes down to the ethos of compulsory or near-compulsory club membership for children, and the level of responsibility that is expected of them. The cultural festival is each club’s chance to contribute and it provides them with a showcase.
We have already seen the SOS Brigade’s contribution to the festival, so instead we have Haruhi helping out another club, and Kyoto Animation get in a bit of practice for K-On! by showing Haruhi and Nagato performing with the school band, while two of the members are incapacitated. It raises some uncomfortable questions about her abilities. It’s pretty obvious that Haruhi is responsible for the rain, because she wished for a good crowd to see the performance, but there is also the troubling possibility that she subconsciously caused the illness and injury to the other two band members, allowing her the chance to perform. Either way, she becomes an honorary member of ENOZ, a reference to ZONE, best known to anime fans for the beautiful ending theme to Anohana.
I suspect Mike will dislike this episode due to its lack of sci-fi, but it is a hugely popular episode with Haruhi fans, and I think that’s fully justified. Firstly, we have the magnificent performance of God Knows. It’s an absolute phenomenon in the world of anime, with the low-res video on YouTube having amassed over 95 million views at the time of writing. That’s not bad for something most non-anime-fans would describe as a song performed by a cartoon character. Wendee Lee does a great job with the English language version of the song, but I would advise anyone watching the dub of Haruhi to just switch over to the sub version for this track. Aya Hirano’s performance is blisteringly good. It’s not by accident that she spearheaded the voice actor / idol crossover phenomenon in Japan. She’s a genius at both.
But to get the most out of this episode you have to be paying attention. By the time we get to Haruhi’s explanation of how she came to be a temporary member of the band, we have already seen everything she mentions, playing out in the background of scenes earlier in the episode, including the band members discussing the problem and Haruhi and Nagato carrying guitars. It’s an example of Kyoto Animation’s meticulous attention to detail in their animations.
I mentioned earlier the importance of character development this week, and we get to see how much Haruhi has learnt from the Sigh arc and how it has changed her as a person. Despite being brilliant at just about everything, she lacks confidence in her abilities, something that is rare but not unprecedented. She is constricted here, because she can’t just make something up on the spot. She has to deliver somebody else’s vision, not her own. She is also doing something as a favour for other students, and not even ones who she knows well or is friends with. Nor does she use it as an opportunity to promote herself or the SOS Brigade. When she is giving her talk between songs, she focusses exclusively on the band and their songs, never mentioning the SOS Brigade, despite this being a perfect chance for self-promotion. And then we get to that lovely quiet scene with Haruhi laying under a tree and talking to Kyon, trying to express her conflicting feelings. She is used to not really being liked by many people, and she has developed a thick skin to deal with that, but now she is being thanked, praised and appreciated. It’s such an unfamiliar experience that she just doesn’t know how to handle it or react to it. Note how nervous she is when some of her new fans come to see her, only agreeing to meet with them if Kyon will accompany her. This is another side to Haruhi and it humanises her significantly. It’s just a shame that Kyon can’t bring himself to heap the praise on her that she deserves, because in the end there’s only one opinion that really matters to Haruhi. RP
The view from 6,868 miles away:
When I saw the title of Live Alive, I had no idea what to expect, but I assumed it would be back to the science fiction of the show. Picking up at the end of the festival was perfect too, because it placed the episode and I knew we’d get back into the weird alien-time traveling-esper stuff. I also knew I knew more than my parents when I was 16 and you can imagine how well that went! There wasn’t much to say about this episode. It’s like the writers wanted to make a music video, realized they had the weirdest anime ever (says a guy who has only watched one so far), and made a music video in the middle of their series. Good job. Wish I had seen that coming. So the bulk of the episode is hearing Haruhi with a really great voice, singing oddly addictive songs. She was in the zone, I’d say, but then I get things backwards sometimes.
There are a few standout moments. Yuki’s fortune-telling is marvelous. It’s not just her strangeness that makes you wonder if what she is saying will come true, but the twitch it gives the listener. Watch his arm! Subtlety can be more effective than over-the-top visuals! She is later referred to as a “super utility player” which is also clever because she is whatever Haruhi wants her to be. Once again we have an acknowledgement of the strangeness of the stars of the show: “Is she a member of you and Suzimiya’s bunch of wackos?” Like I said, remember who has the show! Wacko’s indeed. The wackos are more fun to watch anyway, I shout at the speaker! And the fact that there are two members of the band who can’t play is just showcasing how Haruhi’s wishes come true, and ENOZ gets exactly what they needed.
The best part of the episode though, for me, was the end. Not being done with it, I mean, the scene where Kyon recognizes that Haruhi is not used to being appreciated. Watching the two talk about what they will do next year is lovely. Their friendship is strong, no matter how outré Haruhi’s requests of Kyon and the others. And she does look to Kyon for her appreciation, so her unfamiliarity with it is interesting. She gets it from people she is not looking to provide it. It’s nice to watch at an episode that shows a pure victory for Haruhi and have her relax outside under a tree for a some much needed rest. She may be an odd character, even a little backwards in her ways, but for this episode, she was in the zone… ML