Literary analysis of the light novel/anime series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi is not God, Kyon is
The light novel series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, featuring a character named Haruhi who is a god unawares and her search for novelty, has a number of anomalies and unclear overarching plot.
I argue that these anomalies can be resolved, and greater literary depth achieved, by interpreting Haruhi as an ordinary “not special” girl whose wish made her extraordinary, because the first-person protagonist Kyon is the actual unaware god. Like the bluebird of happiness, Kyon found happiness only when he forgot about himself to care more about another (making it a positive twist on Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger’s despairing demiurge).
The real joy of reading Gene Wolfe is not so much for his imaginative plots1 or for his masterly prose2, but rather for the secret gems his stories conceal. Many Wolfe stories follow the pattern of telling some remarkable story, which an ordinary reader can follow and enjoy with pleasure, and when they reach the end, they are satisfied. But a more devoted or perceptive reader will find far more than that3. (One thinks of Shakespeare, and how his plays change on re-reading.) One reads through Peace and is amused and interested by Alden Weer’s reminiscences of 1900s Midwestern life; one re-reads it, and is troubled to discover that Weer is a ghost and his anecdotes conceal murders for which he yet moulders in his grave - that far from being idyllic, Peace is better described as a horror story. One reads through the diary that is the last third of The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and one thinks about eccentric anthropologists. But perhaps on a re-read, one notices an inconsistency4 and realizes that the anthropologist was murdered and replaced halfway through. And so on.
Gene Wolfe says that he writes for an educated reader5:
“My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.”6
Regardless of where Wolfe’s true greatness lies, reading him inculcates an active mindset. In normal fiction, one passively consumes the interpretations and descriptions of the narrator. With Wolfe’s unreliable narrators, this is impossible. Reading normal fiction with a Wolfean mindset sometimes leads to interesting results. I’d like to show a personal example.
Some time ago, in 2006, a short high school drama/comedy anime was released called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. (Yes, another one.) It was based on a popular light novel series of the same name, and it became the most popular anime of the year, an instant classic.
The basic plot goes that Kyon, our skeptical but solid ordinary7 guy, has just started high school. When the members of his new class introduce themselves8, one attractive girl sitting in front of Kyon (the eponymous Haruhi) makes the declaration that she seeks interesting & unusual beings such as “aliens, time travelers, ghosts, demons, ESPers”. She’s a weirdo.
Kyon is interested in her anyway, and eventually offhandedly suggests that she form a club for such beings. She takes him up on it, and applying the trademark Haruhi brand of arrogance, slyness, and impetuosity, rounds up 3 members besides herself and Kyon: Mikuru, a buxom red-headed upperclassmen; Itsuki, who likes to egg on Haruhi; and Yuki, a small quiet girl who is always reading.
As they go about their random club activities dictated by Haruhi, Kyon is startled to discover that each of the other club members is such a being as Haruhi desired9; and that further, the reason for this is that Haruhi is in fact the god who created and controls the universe he lives in. As she is entirely unaware of her true nature & powers, her primary focus is on having fun as a schoolgirl; the 3 uncanny beings have set their face on granting Haruhi her wish, and have enlisted Kyon in the mission.
Haruhi, though a tsundere10, begins to fall in love with Kyon, and vice versa. At the end of the season, she feels rejected by Kyon in favor of Mikuru, and begins to destroy the world in favor of a new & more satisfying one, but Kyon manages to convince her that he returns her affection and he preferred the old world.
One unique aspect of Haruhi is that there are 2 orders in which to play the episodes. The first is the sequence in which it was broadcast, the ‘Haruhi’ sequence. This sequence jumps around - for example, the first episode is an indie movie made for the school’s Japanese Cultural Festival, which chronologically belongs toward the end of the series. The second is the logical, chronological order (‘Kyon’ order).
The reason for the Haruhi order is that the original series was 14 episodes. So the creators (Kyoto Animation) had to draw on material from multiple books. But each light novel is structured normally: beginning, middle, climax, end. The series would feel a little odd to have multiple arcs, cutting out in the middle. Their solution was to focus on the story arc of the first light novel, which culminates in Haruhi and Kyon’s first kiss, and leave that as the last episode (Haruhi order). What was to be done with all the episodes that chronologically would come after the kiss? They simply stuck them into the beginning and middle!
So the Haruhi order keeps the story arc over the 14 episodes intact, which provides a real ending (a good & rare thing; see my discussion of compromises in anime adaptation endings), and also accomplishes a number of neat things: it’s original; it provides foreshadowing; it involves the viewer in trying to understand and piece together the plot; and it renders scenes freshly poignant or just different the second time around.
You can understand why I slipped into Wolfe-mode watching Haruhi.
The inner story in Wolfe is manifested most often in lies, inconsistencies, or peculiarities of characters. Characters act in realistic ways, pursuing their goals in a rational fashion. They eat, defecate, sleep, and so on, in a precise timeline. Wolfe makes it a point of pride to have few accidental errors. When you notice an error or wonder why a character did something so round-about, Wolfe is gesturing toward the real story.
The second time through, I noticed something odd about the setup. The other characters tell Kyon that they’ve existed and have been observing Haruhi for 3 years at that point.
Isn’t there something strange about this? 3 years and they haven’t made contact themselves; nor has Haruhi subconsciously forced them to take action that might interest her. For that matter, isn’t it a little strange that Haruhi might create such creatures and not know about them? How is it interesting or fun to live in a world with time travelers and aliens and ESPers if one doesn’t know of them at all? If they aren’t even doing anything unusual or affecting daily life? Haruhi’s life seems to be precisely as boring & melancholy after their creation as it was before.
“I thought that everyone in Japan had to be packed in there. So I turned to my dad and asked him,”Do you know how many people are here right now”? He said since the stadium was full, probably fifty thousand…I was only one little person in that big crowded stadium filled with people, and there were so many people there, but it was just a handful out of the entire population. Up till then, I always thought that I was, I don’t know, kind of a special person. It was fun to be with my family. I had fun with my classmates. And the school that I was going to, it had just about the most interesting people anywhere. But that night, I realized it wasn’t true. All the stuff we did during class that I thought was so fun and cool, was probably happening just like that in classes in other schools all over Japan. There was nothing special about my school at all.”
She then vowed to make life interesting. But this was during middle school. Why then does life only become interesting in high school, 3 years later? The timeframe seems more than a little odd.
Haruhi may’ve acted weird - her classmates note that she had a reputation even in middle school - but Yuki specifically tells Kyon that in those 3 years, nothing peculiar or godly occurred11. Are we to believe that Haruhi spent 3 years desperately seeking out freaks and oddballs and ESPers and sliders and anything unusual, and her powers just refused to supply anything at all? This when her mere whim in later years are supposedly enough to make cats talk, and when her previous desires had conjured ESPers out of nothingness?
Nothing interesting happened during those 3 years… but something interesting happened at the beginning of those 3 years. Kyon from the future appeared one Tanabata night and ran into contemporary middle-school Haruhi, and assisted her in her crop circle. This was a day noted by all the paranormal observers. Then Kyon left the timeline, returning to after 3 years in the future - which had been the point at which “Haruhi’s” powers began manifesting again. An interesting set of timings, wouldn’t one say? A remarkable coincidence that whatever suppressed Haruhi’s powers just happened to span the same time interval as her separation from Kyon.
[thinking] “The passing train gave me a moment to think about my response. Should I voice an opposing viewpoint? Maybe I should wax philosophical about her dilemma.”
[aloud] “…I see.”
[thinking] “I must be getting melancholic if that’s the best I could come up with.”
Another curious point is that the evidence of Haruhi’s divine nature is so meager. The ‘Data Integration Entity’ (a massive AI apparently modeled after the TechnoCore from Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos13) says only that Haruhi is at the center of the anomalies14. Yuki also tells Kyon that “For 3 years, I have gone through all sorts of investigations on the individual known as Suzumiya Haruhi from all perspectives, but up to now I was still unable to discover her true identity.”15, and that the whole ‘data explosion’ is ‘impossible to analyze’. So Haruhi being godlike may be a good guess - but from the AI perspective, it’s just a guess.
Itsuki and the ESPers are little more help. They fight various sub-dimensions whose appearances are correlated with emotional disturbances in Haruhi - but correlation is not causation.16
The time travelers as represented by Mikuru, are even less help. She speaks only of a barrier in time, and has little justification for believing Haruhi god.
Indeed, the other characters manifest far more power than Haruhi:
Nagato can create and break into sub-dimensions and do nearly arbitrary things there
- she has 1337 hacking skill
- she can also modify ordinary objects like baseball bats to have extraordinary powers.
Itsuki becomes a superhero in sub-dimensions, able to fly and shoot energy.
Mikuru as a time traveler can have future selves show up and render aid (in addition to any future weaponry, which she may or may not possess).
What does Haruhi do? Well, there are the sub-dimensions filled with rampaging monsters. (But that’s not clearly Haruhi’s doing.) There is a mysterious shadow on the desert island as they leave. (But that’s not much.) Some birds changing color are supposed to be her work. And… I am sure there are other things, but they are not quite coming to mind.
And for that matter, all the powers seem to center around someone else. For example, the mysterious shadow on the island is not spotted by Haruhi but by Kyon and Itsuki. Likewise the white birds. Shamisen the talking cat talks only to Kyon, after Haruhi has left the scene.
Haruhi is often defeated or set back:
Founding the club, she is swiftly prevented from advertising it while wearing a Playboy bunny suit.
She is prevented by Kyon from placing skimpily-clad photos of Mikuru on the club website.17
In episode 5, while drawing lots for wandering about the city and looking for strange events to investigate, Haruhi twice gets the wrong stick and so isn’t paired off with Kyon. This deeply angers her. But what sort of god can’t influence a random draw even when she really wants to?
Haruhi is completely cut out of the one truly mysterious case Kyon & the club investigates, the computer club president’s disappearance.
In the desert island episode 06, Haruhi suggests that there be a murder mystery, and in particular, that the master murder Mikuru. Kyon vetoes it. Nothing happens to Mikuru.
Indeed, in both desert island episodes, Haruhi’s detective skills and wishing fail. No real murders happen, and certainly not the way she suggested. And Kyon solves it.
When filming the movie for the student cultural festival, Haruhi insists that Koizumi kiss Mikuru (the two protagonists); Kyon stops it18.
in Disappearance, Haruhi’s powers are stripped from her entirely and all the supernatural phenomena she is interested in are removed from her world, frustrating her chief desire; this is surely a major defeat for her, although she doesn’t realize it. The regular world is ultimately restored by the decision of Kyon.
When does Kyon really fail? (Indeed, Haruhi’s list of defeats is almost as much a list of Kyon getting his way.)
I used to read often. When I was in elementary school, my mom used to borrow illustrated books from the children’s book section for me to read. There were all sorts of books, but I remember that all the ones I’d read were quite interesting. However, I can’t remember any of their names anymore. When did I stop reading? When did reading start becoming boring for me?
So we may be convinced by now that something is going on. (Or we may not be; plausibly, each of these could be explained by something like an error, a consequence of time travel, or artistic license etc.)
But what is the real story? It could be anything, from what really happened to who characters really are. In Wolfe, though, deception tends to focus on characters and issues of identity. In Peace, Weer is not what you think he is. In The Book of the New Sun, characters like Dorcas are not who they appear to be20. So what character should we be most suspicious of?
“This is what I think,” Koizumi continued to ramble on, “Someone granted Suzumiya-san omnipotent god-like powers, yet they did not allow her to become aware of it. If there were a God, then Suzumiya-san would be the person chosen by God. But no matter how you look at it, she’s just a normal person.”
I didn’t have to think a lot on whether that girl’s a normal person or not. But why did Haruhi have such omnipotent power that she’s unaware of? Enough power to turn pigeon feathers white. Why? Who was behind this?
“Well, I also don’t know; do you?”21
’What’s wrong with that? So you’re saying if the movie ends in such an unresolved way, this reality would be permanently distorted and become the new reality? Haruhi must have an ending in mind, and it must be an ending that is in line with reality. This is a problem that we must consider, as Haruhi would never consider such stuff, and even if she does, it would only end in disaster. So it’s still better for us to do the thinking. But why must we think of such stuff? Isn’t there someone else that can carry this cursed burden for us?
“If he even exists, then yes.”
Koizumi shrugged his shoulders, “I believe he would have appeared before us long ago if he existed. So we must find a solution as soon as possible, especially you. I look forward to seeing you work harder.”’22
If Haruhi is not the god, then who is (s)he?
I believe the god is really Kyon. We are expected to swallow the thesis that the god of this fictional universe is ignorant of its identity, and wouldn’t that describe Kyon as well as Haruhi? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. All throughout the series, Kyon is as much of an anomaly as Haruhi. We are told this quite directly:
The biggest mystery would be you.
Koizumi, to Kyon
Even bigger than Haruhi, eh? As well, Kyon is one of the 2 people who has not “shown me honest proof of their identity”.
Kyon claims to be an ordinary high school student, and the other characters constantly tell Kyon how normal he is - but he’s much like Haruhi. In the introduction, he tells us that he was once obsessed with the same subjects as Haruhi - but he gave them up on entering high school (that is, 3 years ago, while in middle school).23 He claims to dislike the adventures and be stressed out, and this is the public image put forth in things like his image songs24, but actions speak far louder than words; Kyon has never had to be seriously forced into club activities. His reluctance is only feigned.
Many of the things that seem to apply to Haruhi only, with a small shift of perspective, apply to Kyon. Consider Kyon’s criticism of Haruhi-kami:
“If that’s true, then why hasn’t Haruhi discovered that [existence of ESPers etc.] yet? In contrast, it’s just you and me who know everything. Isn’t that a little strange?”
“You find it inconsistent? It really isn’t; the real inconsistency is within Suzumiya-san’s heart.”
Can’t you say something that I can understand, please‽
“In other words, she does hope for the existence of aliens, time travelers, and ESPers. Her common sense, however, is telling her that these things don’t exist, and this creates cognitive dissonance. Though she may be eccentric in her actions and speech, her thinking is still no different from the ordinary person…”25
We already know that Kyon hoped/hopes for the existence, and that he has given in to his common sense. And Kyon has already joined the SOS-dan and survived Ryouko Asakura’s reality-warping assassination attempt, both eccentric actions. Notice that the criticism doesn’t apply to Kyon-kami - he knows perfectly well of those entities’ existence!
No, wait, I probably did realize, I just didn’t want to admit it. Deep inside my heart, I still wanted those aliens, time-travelers, ghosts, monsters, ESPers and evil organizations to suddenly appear. Compared to this boring, normal life of mine, the world of those flashy shows was much more exciting; I wanted to live in that world, too!
Many of the otherwise peculiar events become explicable when considered from a Kyon-kami perspective.
The curious 3 year gap where nothing at all curious happened? Kyon had vowed that high school would be different, until, of course, he realized how bored and depressed he was.27
Nagato’s observation that nothing unusual had happened during those 3 years, until high school started (and Kyon was around)? Unlike Kyon, she was fully bored and waiting for, something, anything, interesting to happen (like the return of John Smith); yet - nothing happened. But explained, if Haruhi has no powers: she was bored during those years and wasn’t deferring anything to the mythical ‘rose-colored life’ of high school, but Kyon was.
The desert island incident? Kyon didn’t want there to be any real murders, but he was still interested. Witness his constant conversation and thinking on the topic. He is also the one who solves the mystery, and suspected the answer from the start. Is this combination of knowing the answer, being involved, and having fun really consistent with the Haruhi-kami hypothesis? The shadow at the end, one says? A gift from Kyon to a disappointed Haruhi; we never hear of anything happening on that island thereafter (an argument from silence which is more consistent with Kyon-kami than Haruhi-kami).
In the universe of Haruhi, the answer for the theodicy is that God is human and is imperfect. Further, it is capable of the usual range of emotions: every character plausibly suggested to be God can apparently evince pleasure, anger, shame, etc. Thus, it is possible that this god might create a creature to do what he’d be too embarrassed to do. In this light, we must ask ‘cui bono?’ when it comes to Haruhi’s treatment of Mikuru Asahina’s body and Haruhi’s own exhibitionism28
I contend that Haruhi does not - as she derives no gratification from it, not being a lesbian, nor does she really care about Mikuru apart from her utility29 to the SOS Brigade (she’s a lackey, a rival, or a plaything) - but there is another major character who is both greatly pleased by Haruhi’s actions and shamed by his pleasure30. Haruhi’s body is another issue; Kyon is quite physically attracted to her 31, yet Haruhi herself cares little for physical beauty and uses her athleticism without a thought.
We can tie this line of thought to larger concerns: is it not true that fans enjoy anime in part because things happen in the anime that would never happen in real life (eg: harem animes), or that we would ever actually do (eg: martial arts, action, and sports anime)?
For an anime, those who are gratified are the fans and creators, who stand to the anime in respect of god. The analogy for Haruhi is clear.
More prosaic examples of the true beneficiary of events might include Haruhi obtaining a computer; who winds up using it and creating the SOS Brigade website? Kyon.
Or, consider one of the examples in the Losses section: Haruhi wanted to be with Kyon, but on the other hand, Kyon likes Mikuru (whom he went with the first time), and had good reason to want to be alone with Nagato, who had only recently revealed her true nature to him. Under the Kyon-kami interpretation, Haruhi losing the draw is expected.
“Endless Eight” puts the SOS-dan in a time loop where they repeat the end of summer vacation, endlessly going through a list of stereotypical32 activities like the pool or a festival with fireworks. Itsuki suggests that Haruhi keeps resetting the world (and herself) because they omitted some activity and left Haruhi unsatisfied. Eventually, Kyon realizes that the missing ingredient is a group session to do homework, and time moves on.
Naturally, one assumes it’s Haruhi’s homework that was left undone. Japanese schools assign a lot of summer homework (unlike American schools) and it’s natural to regret and fear the first day of school. Perfectly reasonable for her to reset the universe, and then procrastinate her homework in favor of having fun.
But no! Haruhi’s homework is done! (The anime even shows her spending the group session playing videogames with Kyon’s sister.) The person whose homework is undone is… Kyon.
Once again, we see the question of cui bono. Who benefits from the group session? Why would Haruhi regret the SOS-dan not doing homework together, of all things? To suggest that she regrets it so much as to reset the world is… a bit strained, I think, especially considering that if she had ever thought of it, she would have put it on the list and they would have done it (Haruhi had even allotted a spare day for such a last-minute thought). Another explanation, that Haruhi wanted someone to take initiative and suggest something, anything, to do is also a little odd; in >15,000 iterations no one ever suggested a single activity? I could understand Kyon not suggesting - of all things - a homework session for that many iterations, but it beggars belief that not a single SOS-dan member would suggest a single activity for 15,000 iterations. Itsuki’s explanation - that Haruhi regrets the inconvenience the others will experience with undone homework - is so contradictory to what any person would expect of Haruhi (that monster of egotism) I am tempted to take it as sarcasm.
But for Kyon? No, I could understand him resorting to a reset. When has Kyon ever worked hard?
There is also an issue here of why Haruhi seems to suffer from no déjà vu whatsoever, while Kyon suffers the most - in other words, why the reset works perfectly on Haruhi and the world, not so well on Mikuru and Itsuki, even less on Kyon, and not at all on Yuki. This sort of consideration of ‘who has power over whom?’ leads directly into the next section.
Perhaps you dislike pointing to Haruhi losing in small incidents. Perhaps Kyon loses in some way, and often enough that his losses are as difficult to explain on the Kyon-kami theory as on the Haruhi-kami theory.
Perhaps. So we might want an alternate tack - situations in which Haruhi is treated in a way that ought to be impossible for a god. One major example come to mind that is difficult to explain away with Haruhi-kami.
While fairly complex due to its time travel, the plot of the 4th book is: Yuki falls in love with Kyon, and seeing his claimed distress at the SOS-dan’s paranormal adventures, rewrites the world to render normal all aliens, time travelers, or ESPers, leaving intact only Kyon himself. Her power to do so, it is claimed, is stolen from Haruhi. Haruhi is rendered as powerless and normal as anyone else; she is restored to her usual self when Kyon rejects the mundanified world in favor of the old one.
There are multiple points of interest in Disappearance.
Firstly, Kyon’s rejection of the truly normal world gives the lie to all his previous claims. We can no longer argue in good faith that Kyon dislikes paranormal phenomenon and his dislike is disproof of Kyon-kami.
In book 1, Kyon rejecting Haruhi’s new world could be explained away as him fearing or disliking whatever extreme novelties Haruhi no doubt populated the new world with.
But this rejection cannot be so easily escaped: it’s made 100% clear that Yuki’s world is completely mundane, safer in that regard, and circumstances even conspire to bring the SOS-dan together - so Kyon sacrifices nothing whatsoever. The only reason to reject Yuki’s world is if he truly does want paranormal events. This choice renders Kyon even more consistent with Kyon-kami.
The second major issue is: how is Disappearance even possible? It’s glossed over, but it’s clear that Yuki has changed the entire universe, and is not merely masking things, nor is Haruhi a fake or deluded version, but a genuinely powerless high school girl. As Yuki says:
“Therefore, the altered Suzumiya Haruhi does not possess the power to create data. In that dimension, the Integrated Data Sentient Entity is non-existent as well.”
And the origin of the power?
“Using the powers stolen from Suzumiya Haruhi, the temporal converter was able to alter data concerning past memories in the range of 365 days.”
Riddle me this: how can an omnipotent god lose its powers? How can it be altered by its own powers? (Remember, Yuki never lies about important things to Kyon, and if you assume her power comes from her creators, that raises even more issues.) How can the power be restored to it?
How does Disappearance make sense if Haruhi is the creator of the universe, its sustainer, and omnipotent? How does it make sense if she is only an unique data-generating organism more powerful than the IDE? How does it make sense if she is the master of dimensions and time, who can permit or forbid time-travel?
On the other hand, it’s not so strange if the power is merely a gift, a loan, or stolen itself. What has been stolen once can be stolen twice. Haruhi wielded the power for a time, unconscious; little surprise if it could be stolen from its sleeping owner, and even less surprise if its new owner, Yuki, wields it far more dramatically.
That’s how we first encountered each other. I solemnly swear—I really want to believe it was just a coincidence.
One thing would suggest the universe is designed for Haruhi and not Kyon. The club would seem to be the best example - doesn’t it just impose on Kyon? (Let’s leave aside the mystery for Haruhi-kami proponents of how Kyon, who Haruhi apparently didn’t love at that point, got into the club in the first place.)
It is true that Haruhi enjoys the club, but ultimately she is not the instigator and main beneficiary of events. As Koizumi points out, Kyon suggested the club, and Kyon is in love with Haruhi from the start. From the moment she stands up, he is rapt and fascinated by her. They are even seated together (despite the seats randomly changing every month34). If the real story is just Haruhi-kami, then that’s some coincidence. But it makes perfect sense if we postulate Kyon-kami.
Kyon is the narrator, as befits the tutelary deity of the anime. He also just goes by ‘Kyon’. No last name, he’s always just ‘Kyon’. (Gives off a sort of Jesus vibe.)
Kyon is also remarkably stable and consistent throughout all the events. Not only is he remarkably sanguine - far more calm than his more esoteric clubmates - he is also affected less by various dimensional and time-travel and alternate universe changes.36
From day one, it is Kyon who approaches Haruhi and not the other way around. In the final episode, Haruhi comes to realize she is happy with the world as it is and with her friends and Kyon. This averts the imminent Armageddon, but is it that God was pleased and changed her mind, or that God was glad that Haruhi had found a world she could be happy in, and so he refrained from changing things?
Another way to put it is like this: if everyone and everything that is happening happens at Haruhi’s wish, then how did she come to wish for Kyon when she doesn’t even begin to switch from tsun to dere entire episodes in? Shouldn’t Kyon’s repeated declarations that he is utterly ordinary and hopes for a life of utter ordinariness make us suspicious? Shouldn’t it bother us that Kyon hopes deep down for excitement and admits as much (episode 2)? Shouldn’t it bother us that the ‘melancholy’ of the title could as easily be Kyon’s?
The later novels apparently focus more on the other characters, and less on Haruhi. A little strange…
For that matter, isn’t it remarkable how Kyon can order around the other club members and even Haruhi to some extent? One might not expect timid Mikuru to exert any authority over Kyon, but you would think Itsuki or Yuki would at some point brusquely order Kyon around. (Why not? He’s just an ordinary with no powers…)
Misc. notes on episode 14: Kyon precedes Haruhi to the dream world, and knows more about it than she. When the two are arguing, Haruhi doesn’t say that she herself was bored and fed up with the old world, but claims that Kyon was, and Kyon’s own narration supports this:
That’s right, that day we conducted our SOS Brigade activities peacefully. Nothing associated with aliens from a different dimension, time travelers from the future, blue giants, or red glowing spheres happened at that time. No one wanted to do anything special, nor did anyone know what they should have been doing. We just allowed ourselves to ride on the flow of time, living our high school life idly. Everything seemed perfectly normal.
Even though I was dissatisfied with such a normal life, I’d always tell myself, “Why think so much? You’ve got so much time.” And then I would once again look forward to the next day.37
There’s an interesting quote early on:
Taniguchi sarcastically put on an awed expression. Then Kunikida popped up from behind Taniguchi.
“Kyon’s always gone out with strange girls.”
Hey, don’t say things that’ll create a misunderstanding.
“It doesn’t matter if Kyon likes strange girls. What I can’t understand is, why Suzumiya would talk to you? I don’t get it at all.”38
Haruhi appears disappointed that the ‘mysterious transfer student’ is male, and not female. Kyon, though, is pleased.
If there’s really that many people in the world, then there had to be someone who wasn’t ordinary. There had to be someone who was living an interesting life. There just had to be. Why wasn’t I that person?
Haruhi, episode 5
This might seem to leave Haruhi unexplained - just some random girl who acted weirdly, and whom Kyon happened to make his stalking horse. But looked at with the right eye, Kyon admits as much:
“In a way, doesn’t that make me an insider to this mysterious event? Just as I said in the beginning, I had wanted to be a bystander that got sucked into these events, content with being a mere sidekick. But as things stood, I was already the protagonist! That’s right, I had really wished I was a character in a story involving aliens, but when I’d really become one, it put everything into perspective. To be honest, I’m quite troubled by it.”39
He only wanted to be a bystander, or a sidekick. But as presented, Haruhi is the protagonist. Hmm…
Just what the hell have I been doing all along?
We must of course consider evidence militating against Kyon being God.
One particularly important bit of evidence is an interview with the novel author. I’ve always respected the ability of readers to get more value, or entertainment, or moral reflection out of a work than the author had put in it - but I still feel the author is the final word on what happened in a book. So let’s see what Nagaru has to say:
“I had wanted to write novels for many years, rather than to be an author. I think it’s because some ‘I wanna write novels by myself’ neural networks were gradually established in my brain while I read various kinds of novels in my childhood. I still don’t know if I’m a writer or whatever.”
That’s a positive point. A literary man is naturally sympathetic to such a plot inversion as I suggest here.
“Q: When and how was the typical incompliant character, Suzumiya Haruhi, born?
Nagaru: I can’t remember at all. She already existed in my mind by the time I noticed her there. In a sleepless night at the beginning of the 21st century, the idea seemed to have come down from heaven into my head at the moment I rolled over in bed.”
Oh dear. The author speaks of Haruhi in divine terms. This suggests he buys into Haruhi-kami.
“Q: Haruhi hates boredom most of all and seeks ‘extraordinariness’ in school life. And the one who is always at her beck and call is the narrator of this story, Kyon. He is an ordinary boy with no outstanding features, whose name is not even revealed. What do you think about him?
Nagaru: Though I could give him a decent name, I thought it feels stupid and funny that he is called by that queer nickname from beginning to end. As for his featurelessness, I originally planned he would be an ESPer, but while writing the Prologue, I had subconsciously turned him into a common person. And you said he is an ordinary boy, but I think, in a sense, he is not an ordinary boy, such as his way of thinking.”
Even worse; one of the central arguments for Kyon-kami is his lack of apparent powers - but here he apparently had those powers and lost them through mere authorial oversight at the last minute! And other curious aspects, like his name, are waved away as further evidence of his anonymity and mundanity. His only unique feature is his philosophical way of thinking.
This is not a smoking gun against Kyon-kami since the grand inversion or subversion could have occurred to Nagaru only after most of the elements were in place, and series can sometimes change dramatically while being written (if Nagaru had even planned out more than the initial setting or the first novel); for example, over the 10 novels there is a major shift in emphasis from Haruhi to Yuki Nagato, although someone reading the first novel would be hard pressed to guess that Yuki would become such a focus as opposed to another character like Mikuru or Itsuki.
And let’s not forget the aspects that don’t seem to work for either Kyon-kami or Haruhi-kami. Consider the making the festival film in book 2; Haruhi remarks that she wanted a local Shinto shrine stuffed with white birds instead of ugly ordinary one. Kyon is taken there the day after, and sure enough, all the birds are vividly white. Or in book 2, Haruhi’s screenplay demand that Mikuru have destructive eyebeams (lasers, mini-black holes, etc.), which nearly kill Kyon several times. Neither case seems quite right; why would Kyon make the birds white the day after, when Haruhi will never see or know of them? Why would Kyon endue Mikuru with entirely unnecessarily destructive powers which nearly kill him, and damage Yuki whom he likes? For that matter, why would Haruhi turn the birds white only long after she needs them white for her movie; ditto for the eyebeams.
Sometimes I get the feeling that we’re all just a bunch of clowns standing on our tiptoes at the edge of a great abyss.
Are you ready to go all the way down the Wolfe den? Here’s the real story:
There once was a lonely god who lived as a human. He lived his life and eventually even he thought he was just a human in an ordinary world - because even the most extraordinary world becomes ordinary after long enough. He fell in love with an unusual girl. Still ignorant, he sought to create a world she could be happy in and where he could go on adventures and they could do all sorts of fun things together and perhaps even fall in love. The end.
Ludicrous? Consider the scenario we are asked to accept at face value: Haruhi unknowingly creates the world and all the paranormal factions, but nothing happens for 3 years, and she just so happens to run into Kyon at high school and form a club with him; and Kyon comes to be crucial and confided in by them, because simultaneously Haruhi seems to becoming fond of him.
Isn’t that scenario actually more complex than a scenario in which Kyon-kami creates a world to live in with Haruhi, and tries to let her happy by forming the SOS Brigade and creating the members necessary to carry out its functions and put her at the center of things? Kyon-kami would want to know and participate in events. He couldn’t enjoy the club as he did if he were in the ignorant Haruhi’s position. And enjoy the club he and Haruhi does. it’s worth repeating this thought: Haruhi is happy, even though she is cut out of most of the supernatural events - in the end, “the Power of Friendship” defeats her melancholia. To return to the previous criticism of the “Endless Eight” episodes in season 2:
At another level, I feel that KyoAni’s rendition Endless Eight was, in fact, a scathing criticism of otakudom. Here you are, Endless Eight said to me, sitting down every goddamn week to watch the same goddamn anime. Outside it’s summer and there are infinite possibilities, infinite lives you could live; Haruhi’s even compiled a list! But no, you’re a fucking moron. You’re living an endless loop of the same day, just like these guys, and Endless Eight is your punishment.
Takashi Murakami makes an incisive observation on the uniquely-otaku DAICON IV video in his otherwise-mixed essay “Earth in My Window” (particularly when one remembers that the video was produced for a SF convention, an institution of desperate value to otaku - as one feels acutely watching Genshiken_ or reading Yasuhiro Takeda’s The Notenki Memoirs):
…After the sequence in which Bunny Girl flies around tirelessly, everything is destroyed by (what can only be construed as) an atomic bomb. In the ensuing whirlwind, petals from Japan’s national flower, the cherry blossom, engulf everything in a blast of pink; the streets become scorched earth, mountains are burnt bare, and the whole world becomes a wasteland. Amidst this devastation, Spaceship DAICON, symbolizing otaku, floats in midair emitting a powerful beam - the beam of science-fiction fans. The world revives, giant trees rise in a flash, and Mother Earth is once again bedecked in green. Characters from the world of science fiction gather on the restored planet to celebrate. In accordance with the rubrics of otaku taste, all of the characters are happy, their chests puffed up proudly at the light of hope. Characters who have never occupied the same screen gradually interact with each other and assemble in the final mob scene - a perfect encapsulation of the science-fiction conference’s message…Hideaki Anno, who later directed Neon Genesis Evangelion, created the explosion scene, and it is almost painful to watch his pathological obsession with it, as an atomic whirlwind destroys the city…One indication of the filmmakers’ obsession with quality and concept was their use of a then-rare personal computer, which enabled them to calculate planetary orbits and thus design the solar system that appears in the last scene. The complexity of this design process offers further evidence of the filmmakers’ obsession with realism. Surprisingly, it turns out that the ultimate dream of otaku aesthetics, scrupulous yet fanatically obsessed with reality, is a happy party, a peaceful festival.
Yes. Exactly. Just so. (One might ask why Kyon doesn’t just give Haruhi her heart’s desire; but if Haruhi knew that aliens and time travelers and ESPers weren’t any more interesting than her clubmates, that would only destroy her happiness and return her melancholia.) The ending of the first novel takes on additional poignancy:
“I didn’t know whether her frown had to do with today’s low attendance rate, or the fact that I arrived earlier than her. I’ll just have to ask her when we get to the cafe…
By then, I’ll have many things I want to talk to her about, like where the SOS Brigade is going from now on, Asahina-san’s costumes, trying to have her talk to other classmates for once, and asking her what she thinks of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.
However, I need a good topic before I can start a conversation with her. Ah, I’ve already decided what to say. That’s right, I’ve decided……
……To talk about aliens, time travelers, and ESPers first, of course.”
I feel this is a lovely story; it touches me. It may not be true. The story of Haruhi may be just as it seems. But if it isn’t true - it ought to be42.
To put it another way, supposing the Kyon-kami hypothesis were true, the premise of the story (the strange life of an unwitting god) would still be correct. But then it wouldn’t just be some of the characters who are unwitting, it would be all - even the audience wouldn’t be in on the trick.
What a joke!
The reason I began reading Gene Wolfe was because I idly picked up his The Shadow of the Torturer and began reading for half an hour. Some chapters into the book, I ran into a scene set in an ancient library (chapter 6, ‘The Master of the Curators’). The librarian begins describing his wares, and the prose reaches a level I rarely see outside of such great authors as Oscar Wilde or Sir Thomas Browne:
’“…At last I realized that instead of reading it, I had been observing it as a physical object. The red I recalled came from the ribbon sewn to the headband so that I might mark my place. The texture that tickled my fingers still was that of the paper on which the book was printed. The smell in my nostrils was old leather, still bearing the traces of birch oil. It was only then, when I saw the books themselves, that I began to understand their care.”
His grip on my shoulder tightened. “We have books here bound in the hides of echidnes, krakens, and beasts so long extinct that those whose studies they are, are for the most part of the opinion that no trace of them survives unfossilized. We have books bound wholly in metals of unknown alloy, and books whose bindings are covered with thickset gems. We have books cased in perfumed woods shipped across the inconceivable gulf between creations - books doubly precious because no one on Urth can read them.”
“We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams. Books whose pages are not paper at all, but delicate wafers of white jade, ivory, and shell; books too whose leaves are the desiccated leaves of unknown plants. Books we have also that are not books at all to the eye: scrolls and tablets and recordings on a hundred different substances. There is a cube of crystal here - though I can no longer tell you where - no larger than the ball of your thumb that contains more books than the library itself does. Though a harlot might dangle it from one ear for an ornament, there are not volumes enough in the world to counterweight the other.”
“All these I came to know, and I made safeguarding them my life’s devotion.”
The specific clue is that the anthropologist is a crack shot and right-handed; his usurper is neither. If this seems excessively subtle to you, many would agree.↩︎
The irony of course being that Wolfe’s allusions and discourse range so widely that one would have to be a pansophist or have the same personal library in order to follow each reference and perceive the whole pattern.↩︎
I mean this in the sense of socially-well-adjusted, and not nerdy or otaku. Many high school anime have ‘ordinary joes’ who are actually unusual (in the same way that hardcore anime watchers are unusual). If everyone you hang out with resembles the cast of Genshiken, it can be easy to mistake what I mean by ‘ordinary’ in an anime context like this.↩︎
Japanese high schools are not like American high schools in this respect; classes stay together as they rotate through the subjects.↩︎
More or less; Yuki is a robot/AI, which counts as an alien; Itsuki Koizumi is an ESPer, but only in sub-dimensions that sporadically appear; and Mikuru is a time traveler, though she only seems to make 2 trips. There don’t seem to be any ghosts or demons in the cast.↩︎
Haruhi is one of the paradigmatic tsundere characters; consider a quote from episode 1: “Feelings of love are just a temporary lapse in judgment. Like a mental illness.”↩︎
“I have been doing this since I was born 3 years ago. In the last 3 years, no particularly unusual elements were discovered, and things were very stable. However, recently an external factor has now appeared beside Suzumiya Haruhi that cannot be ignored.” Chapter 3, Book 1↩︎
The Data Integration Entity has factions which conflict on how to handle Haruhi, similar to the TechnoCore’s conflicts over whether to create the ultimate machine intelligence/god, the AI characters Yuki/Asakura/etc are reminiscent of the John Keats “cybrid” character, and a translated copy of The Fall of Hyperion being read by Yuki Nagato features prominently early on and during The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (alluded to in the LN as “Nagato Yuki was in her usual spot, reading a hardback book about a minor satellite of Saturn falling down, or something like that.” and shown more explicitly in the anime).↩︎
“The information sparks emitted from a certain area in the bow-shaped archipelago instantly covered the whole planet and started to spread towards outer space. And the center of all that is Suzumiya Haruhi.” Chapter 3, Book 1↩︎
Chapter 3, Book 1↩︎
Particularly not here. If the ESPers can observe Haruhi’s emotional distress - which they must be able to, in order to notice the correlation - so could someone else. For an outside observer, it’s hard to tell the difference between a causal sequence like ‘A → C’, and ‘A → B → C’.↩︎
“I quickly warned her about the dangers of putting personal details on the web, and amazingly for once, Haruhi actually paid attention and listened to me seriously…She then very reluctantly allowed me to remove the images from the page.” Chapter 3, Book 1↩︎
Chapter 6, Book 2↩︎
Chapter 4, Book 1↩︎
Dorcas appears to be a random young woman Severian saves and sleeps with; in fact, she was resurrected by Severian. And she’s his grandmother.↩︎
Chapter 4, Book 2↩︎
Chapter 5, Book 2↩︎
Kyon; Prologue, Book 1:
“I couldn’t help but get depressed at how normal the laws of physics were. I began to stop watching for UFOs and paying attention to paranormal TV shows because I finally convinced myself it was impossible. I even reached a point where I only had a sense of nostalgia for those things.
After junior high, I completely grew out of that fantasy world and became utterly grounded in reality.”
"This warped, looping collection of people Before I know it, we're all involved, and her delusions run rampant (Someone, stop her!) ...Just set me free from this-kind-of-thing Chase after them (By yourself!) Try catching them (By yourself!!) Because I have no dreams & dreams (Just do what you want) ...Don't hold my hand in yours If you're going to face anything, face it alone!"
Chapter 6, Book 1↩︎
Prologue, Book 1↩︎
volume 1 tells us Kyon’s melancholy was - ostensibly - due to having to climb a hill:
And so, I entered the senior high school in my area. At first, I regretted this decision as my new school sat on top of a very high hill. Even during spring, students would become hot and sweaty just from climbing the steep road - clearly, my intention of “going to school leisurely” was not going to work. Every time I remembered this, along with the fact that I would have to repeat the same procedure every day for the next three years, I became tired and depressed. I overslept a bit today. Perhaps that’s why I walked so much faster, and perhaps that was why I was so tired then. I could have woken up ten minutes earlier, but, as all of you know, you sleep best right before it’s time to get up. I didn’t want to waste that precious 10 minutes, so I gave up on the thought, which meant that I would need to repeat this early exercise for the next three years. This was just too depressing.
The bunny suits have been mentioned already. More pointed is one custom of Haruhi (Chapter 1, Book 1):
“Clue #2: For PE, classes 1-5 and 1-6 would combine and take it together, with the boys and girls separated. When we changed clothes, the girls would go to the 1-5 classroom, and the boys would go to the 1-6 classroom; meaning at the end of the previous period, the guys from our class (1-5) would move to the other room to change.
Unfortunately, Haruhi totally ignored the guys in our class and removed her sailor uniform before they had left.
It was as if, to her, the guys were pumpkins or potato sacks, and she couldn’t care less. Without any expression, she would throw her uniform onto the desk and start to get into her sweatshirt…But, seriously, Haruhi has a really great figure… argh, this isn’t the time to say that kind of thing.”
“I leaned on the corridor wall and waited for them to change. Seems like Haruhi wasn’t really a born exhibitionist, just that she had no idea what effect the sight of her being half naked would have on guys. The reason she dressed herself up in a bunny costume wasn’t really to show off her sexy body, but rather to attract people’s attention.” Chapter 2, Book 1↩︎
Kyon repeatedly enjoys Haruhi’s molestations, right from the start. Consider his first encounter with Mikuru in Chapter 2 of Book 1: “Asahina-san screamed instantly. But Haruhi was unmoved, clutching her breasts through her sailor uniform. ‘Aaaaa!’ ‘She’s so small, yet her breasts are larger than mine! A cute face plus large breasts is also an important factor in turning people on!’ Oh my god, I’m about to faint.”↩︎
“I still remember how gleaming her white neck was - standing there was an astounding beauty. Haruhi, with her provocative eyes, scanned the class slowly, stopped to glare at me (I had my mouth wide open), and then sat down without so much as a smile.” Chapter 1, Book 1↩︎
Perhaps more stereotypical in anime than Japanese culture in general. The anime adaptation re-animates the same episode many times, in a bizarre waste of resources; the best defense (although surely not what was intended) was that the episodes represented a “scathing critique of otakudom”.↩︎
Chapter 1, Book 1↩︎
“It seems that someone decided everyone in class needed to change their seats monthly. Therefore, the class monitor, Asakura, wrote all the seat numbers onto little pieces of paper, placed them in a cookie tin, and let each of us draw from it. In the end, I got the seat in the second to last row next to the window that overlooks the courtyard. Guess who took the last seat right behind me? That’s right. It was the ever-scowling Haruhi!” Book 1, Chapter 1↩︎
Chapter 1, Book 1↩︎
An example of how Kyon seems to know what’s real better than the other characters, from Haruhi Theater, Act 1; Kyon also falls into his role to a lesser extent than the others (indeed, he acts like a warrior not at all):
’OK, then let’s think about the current problems before defeating the demon king. “Where are we?” I asked. “What is this RPG-like world? Why are we here? Who got us here?”
Koizumi smiled, showing his dazzling teeth.
“To be honest I am not sure as well. Before I realized it I was already in the King’s Chamber. I’m assuming that you felt something similar. My memory of that time is very hazy. What do you remember?”
I can’t remember. That’s why I feel uncomfortable. What were we doing before we showed up before the king?’
Chapter 7, Book 1↩︎
Book 1, Chapter 1↩︎
Book 1, Chapter 6↩︎
Here was my plan: to plot a detective novel of the current sort, with an indecipherable murder in the first pages, a long discussion in the middle, and a solution at the end. Then, almost in the last line, to add an ambiguous phrase - for example: “and everyone thought the meeting of the man and the woman had been by chance” - that would indicate, or raise the suspicion, that the solution was false. The perplexed reader would go through the pertinent chapters again, and devise his own solution, the correct one. The reader of this imaginary book would be sharper than the detective…
[Hull’s] solution, however, is so unsurprising that I cannot free myself from the suspicion that this quite real book, published in London, is the one I imagined in Balvanera, three or four years ago. In which case, Excellent Intentions hides a secret plot. Ah me, or ah Richard Hull! I can’t find that secret plot anywhere.