There are several anime series that hold a special place in my heart. One of them is Kyoto Animation’s The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. After its 14 episode run ended 2007, I was left wanting more and the fan base always expected more, given that the series only covered a small portion of the storyline from the light novels the series was based on. So when it was announced that the original series would be rebroadcast, with 14 new episodes added into the mix, I was obviously excited. The 2009 rebroadcast, unlike 2007 broadcast, was shown in chronological order, with new episodes mixed in, each taking its proper chronological spot in the series timeline. When the first of the new episodes, “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody” was shown, I was anticipating the story arc from the 4th Haruhi Suzumiya light novel, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. However, when the second of the new episodes was broadcast, titled “Endless Eight,” it triggered something I never would have expected: an eight-episode story arc where every episode is about the events of the last two weeks of summer. If you’re not sure you read that right, I’ll repeat. The events of Endless Eight repeat themselves for eight whole episodes. Give that a moment to sink in.
First off, for those of you who don’t know anything about the Haruhi Suzumiya series, it tells the story of a high school girl obsessed with finding aliens, time travelers, essentially anyone who isn’t a normal human. The irony is that she’s surrounded herself with the people she’s looking for but doesn’t know it. In fact, she is under investigation by and alien, a time traveler, and an esper for one main reason: Haruhi Suzumiya is capable of altering the very fabric of reality, and according to one of the characters, an esper who claims Haruhi is the source of his power, she may in fact be a god…only she’s not aware of any of this. Based on a short story in one of the light novels, Endless Eight tells the story of the last two weeks of the group’s summer vacation. Haruhi has gathered the members of her SOS Brigade to finish off their summer with a blast. The SOS Brigade is a club Haruhi founded at school to essentially fulfill her wishes and attempt to find mysterious phenomena and extraordinary people and whose members consist of Yuki, an alien known as a humanoid interface, Mikuru, a time traveler from the future, Itsuki, an esper, and Kyon, the token normal guy and essentially Haruhi’s voice of reason.
The first of the Endless Eight episodes proceeds normally, with Haruhi gathering the group to spend the rest of their summer having fun, which they do. Unfortunately, the next episode begins with the same events unfolding, although a few of the characters seem to have an odd case of dÃ©jÃ vu. Eventually it is revealed, to all but Haruhi, that they are stuck in an endless recursion of time, due to a subconscious desire of Haruhi to not want summer to end, feeling there is something that needs to be done. Yuki, it seems, is the only one who remembers everything and reveals to the group that they’ve looped through the last two weeks of August 15,498 times. As the summer draws to a close, the group continues their activities, wondering what Haruhi could possibly want in order to end the loop. Alas, the summer draws to a close…and the loop, it seems, is destined to continue. And it does…for six more episodes. Again, allow that to sink in for a moment.
Now, I’m not one to browse forums for people’s opinions, but I knew that this arc was not going to be a popular one, especially after the third episode ended, again without resolving anything. And of course, fanboy rage was so evident I felt I was swimming in it. Still, regardless of how annoying and frustrating it was, it was somewhat interesting to see how this whole thing played. For one, it wasn’t the exact same episode eight times. Each episode was reanimated, the dialogue rerecorded, so each episode had a different feel, and in certain episodes, different events were focused upon. Sure, it felt tedious watching the same events unfold multiple times, but I think that was the point. In a way…it was genius.
It was a very bold move and, from an artistic standpoint, actually a bit groundbreaking. We’ve seen time travel loops and things dealt with in other media, especially in something like Groundhog Day, but regardless of what we’ve seen in those instances, there was never a moment where you felt the plight of the characters so intensely. In Endless Eight, you feel what Yuki Nagato must have felt, living through all those repetitions, doing nothing as her objective is only to observe. There were several instances in multiple episodes where it looks like she’s about ready to have a mental break down or something. And, of course, the fans were fuming about this at the same time. But there is something that has to be said about all this. It was a very bold move and something many people wouldn’t have tried. I have to applaud Kyoto Animation for being this ballsy.
I may be one of the few members of the fan base that enjoyed this arc, but then again, I’m a film student, so I am completely capable of enjoying something based purely on its artistic and aesthetic value. I mean, think about it…it was a very unique approach to dealing with a time-loop storyline. What better way to show how drastic the situation really is than stick the audience in a similar situation, making them go through what the characters are going through? Many will claim that the staff at Kyoto Animation is lazy…but each episode contained entirely new animation, an entirely new dialogue track. It is fairly obvious they put in a lot of effort into it.
It somewhat disheartens me to see fan reactions the way I’ve been seeing however. I get it…it was an unpopular storyline and not everyone can judge based on how artistic or ballsy it was. But with fans hoping the animation company goes bankrupt for the audacity of pulling such a stunt and that their DVDs don’t sell in order to teach them a lesson, how can I look at the fandom with any respect? A show you like deals with a storyline you think is unpopular and, immediately, you hope the show dies? I’m not asking for fans to not be upset with KyoAni for something they felt was a huge punch in the face. But seriously, don’t wish for the company’s downfall because of it. Complain and ask for something better, because if you’re truly a fan who wants to see better storylines in the show, hoping the show gets cancelled or whatnot is not going to make that happen. Besides, Endless Eight is over…it is official, given that the next story arc, The Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya, started airing last Friday. Still, fans are complaining, claiming that The Sighs, which is based on the second Haruhi novel, is essentially Haruhi at her lowest and would have preferred a storyline based on The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Still, even if it isn’t the best story in the book series, it still deserves to be told.
I wonder at how people will reflect upon this story arc. Like I said, it was something that annoyed me, but it was interesting to see the different variations of how everything happened, however minor those variations were and it made the overall conclusion so much more satisfying. Sure, something like this could have been done in three episodes; the initial summer events, the revelation of the time loop, and the resolution. But then again, something like that wouldn’t have caused the viewers to feel the pain of the characters. which was obviously the intent.
Hopefully the show doesn’t end, and once this season is over, we get a new season of episodes, which expands upon some of the better storylines in the novels (The Disappearance story arc is all but confirmed not to be in this season given the 28 episode order for this rebroadcast, though rumors are abound that it will be shown in the winter, when the storyline takes place in the novels). But, only time will tell what the future holds for Haruhi Suzumiya.