Over the last six months we have written about every episode of Haruhi, plus the film, but our journey through Haruhi’s world wouldn’t be complete unless we take a quick look at what comes after that. And that means looking at either light novels or manga. Everyone will have their preferences and I believe I’m right in saying that you will experience basically the same stories by either route, but manga is more my thing, so that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
I don’t generally buy a lot of manga. The problem is not just one of space (although that is an issue, as I’m not living in a house the size of Tsuruya’s!) but also cost has to be taken into consideration. Collecting anime on DVD and Blu-ray is not a cheap hobby (although anime doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re happy with just viewing rather than owning – a Crunchyroll subscription is in my option an absolute bargain) but manga is in another world of expense. There are 20 Haruhi manga volumes, and they are very roughly a tenner each to buy. Obviously they’re much quicker to read than a novel, so I was powering through one of these a day. A ten pound a day hobby is not something for most people to jump into unless it’s really worth it. Luckily, Haruhi most definitely is.
The first seven volumes cover the same ground as the television series, which adapted virtually everything contained within those volumes. Then we’re onto the Disappearance arc, running from volumes seven to nine. There are three “Parallel Sidestories” that didn’t get adapted for the film, and wisely so. They are unrelated apart from talking place in other parallel worlds, and they are disposable and generally silly. So I pretty much speed read through the first nine volumes, and if you’re not a completist but are just looking to find out what happens next then I would suggest starting with volume ten. Lover at First Sight is our first new story, and although it takes the logical next step after Disappearance of exploring Nagato’s growing ability to feel emotions I found it hard to connect with this story. Snowy Mountain Syndrome is a lot better. If you enjoyed Remote Island Syndrome then you will like this, because it’s another trip away for the SOS Brigade, and it’s actually a far superior story with some proper supernatural stuff going on. That continues into volume 11, and tacked onto that is another fairly forgettable murder mystery story. Volume 12 contains our coda to the Disappearance arc, with Kyon, Mikuru and Nagato finally travelling back in time to rescue Kyon from Asakura.
After a couple of humdrum chapters to do with Mikuru and her tea obsession, we’re onto the next major arc, Editor in Chief: Full Speed Ahead!, which runs through volumes 12 and 13. It introduces a couple of fairly important new characters. Firstly there’s the president of the student council, who challenges Haruhi to justify spending the lit club money by actually doing a lit club activity, with the threat of closing it down (and therefore denying the SOS Brigade a club room). His motivations are not straightforward, but it sets Haruhi on the path to putting together a collection of literature, and everyone has to contribute. The stories they tell are fascinating (and Nagato’s is a glorious window into her soul), but Kyon’s is probably the most significant as it introduces the other major new character, Miyoko Yoshimura, who features in his story. At first it seems like she might be a love rival for Haruhi to contend with, but her true identity is a fabulous last minute twist in the tale.
For the next two volumes we’re into the Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya arc, which is a confusing timey wimey tale that involves a second Mikuru from eight days into the future. Volume 16 starts with Wandering Shadow, a rather odd three chapters about data lifeforms infecting dogs, and then we’re into the big exciting storyline that will close out the whole Haruhi series, with The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya in volumes 16 and 17, followed by The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya from volumes 17 to 20. We are now in Kyon’s second year of high school, and several important new characters are introduced, who make up a rival group to the SOS Brigade. Their membership mirrors the Brigade, with a time traveller, esper and alien all of their own, and also a potential rival god to whom they wish to award Haruhi’s powers. What they don’t have is a Kyon of their own, and he has to decide if the world would be a better place if Haruhi’s amazing powers were in the hands of somebody more stable. Confusing things for Kyon, the potential replacement for Haruhi is an old love interest of his. It’s an absolutely fascinating and compelling run of volumes, and by far the most exciting story out of the entire body of work that makes up the Haruhi stories. The fact that this never got made into an anime series is an absolute tragedy. Seeing the frankly terrifying Kuyou Suou in animated form would be a sight to behold.
And that’s it. We end part way through Kyon’s second year so I suspect the author had enough material in mind for another ten volumes at least. That’s just a guess, but the series does feel like it ends before its time. If you are looking for a happy ending with Kyon and Haruhi getting together or whatever then you won’t find that. It all feels frustratingly unfinished, although at least the Surprise arc wraps up very neatly. I suppose that’s the price we have to pay for a series with such compelling characters. One day it has to finish, and then we are left with a void where a few more stories should be. So in the end a feeling of incompleteness hangs over the whole Haruhi franchise. The manga series seems like it ends before its time, and the television series certainly leaves us wanting more, and missing out on the best that the manga has to offer. I suppose we should be happy with what we’ve got, because as it stands it’s a fantastic body of work, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sad about what might have been. Maybe… just a little bit melancholy. RP