- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Number 2: Haruhi Suzumiya!
Fiction is one of the greatest inventions of the human mind.
It can creates wondrous worlds in our minds that have swirls of creativity as grand as a cosmic spiral.
Bubbles of ingenuity percolate to the surface of our thoughts, and pop with a sparkling light, like a Christmas gift unwrapping itself to reveal interesting intriguing ideas within.
Images intensely imprint upon the individual psyche, and give way to imaginations that exhilarate the human spirit, and captivates the human soul.
This ties into Haruhi Suzumiya in two ways; two ways that weave a mobius strip, as each way ties back into the other.
1) Haruhi Suzumiya is, of course, a fictional character. She herself was one of those bubbles of ingenuity, perculating to the surface of the thoughts of an excellent light novel writer by the name of Nagaru Tanigawa. She herself is an infinitesimally small piece of the puzzle of that human invention called fiction.
But... she is nontheless one of the more important such pieces, I would argue.
Every so often in the world of fiction, there is a new character that takes the world by storm. There is a character that defines, if not transcends, the fictional genres or mediums that the character becomes popularized within. This character so impacts the world of fiction that, for some people, it can become oddly difficult to imagine what life was like before that character even existed.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Alice in Wonderland.
Dorothy in Oz.
And, I believe, that a strong case could be made for Haruhi Suzumiya being to anime what these characters are to their own respective fictional genres and mediums.
Consider that an entire anime (other than her own) exists in large degree to spoof and promote her; that anime being Lucky Star.
Consider that even the most casual anime fans could recognize her by the slightest of glances.
Consider the memes that have sprung from her anime, such as the endlessly copied hare hare yukai dance, and the dreaded Mikuru Beam, killer of the likes of Captain Falcon and Perfect Cell.
Even something as broad as moe is said by many to have been popularized by the anime that is experienced though the thoughts and eyes of Kyon, but revolves around the melancholy and whims of Haruhi Suzumiya.
This, of course, is very much a mixed blessing.
Superman is beloved by many... but disliked by many as well. Some view him as the pinnacle of superhero comics. Others view him, and the trends that he created, to be holding comic books back.
Haruhi Suzumiya is much the same. And later on in this blog entry, I will look at the controversies that surround her like the various signs surrounding the SOS Brigade in the Super Driver OP.
First, however, I return to the mobius strip...
2) Haruhi is the creation of a real person's imagination... but her character is one with an immense imagination itself. The creation of imagination is the holder of vast imagination herself; fiction reflects back on reality.
This screen shot from the OP of the 2006 airing of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, features Haruhi gazing up into the enchanting nightime sky... searching with such longing eyes for... what? What is she looking for, or looking at, you wonder? And then an hand extraordinarily reaches down to grasp Haruhi's hand... and Haruhi's eyes and mouth light up in a blaze of white glory.
This symbolism reflects the interpretive talents of Kyoto Animation at its finest. As much as I've been critical of Kyoto Animation, it does deserve some acclaim for its moments of sheer ingenious brilliance.
But... all of this aside, what is Haruhi looking for or at?
With apologies to Star Trek, I would say that Haruhi is looking for the Undiscovered Country.
Above all else, Haruhi is a pioneer.
She craves the unknown... the uncharted... the unexplored... the untried.
This, I believe, is a big part of what drives her character.
She desires newness.
New areas distinct from the commonly known. New beings to interact with. Future or alien civilizations to become immersed within. Different kinds of existences represented by those that can slide through dimensional doors, and those with extra sensory perceptions... espers, to be short. ;)
And, in her frustration in not finding that (or so she thinks), she was going to destroy the world itself and remake it into something new, to achieve her whims.
But one man stopped her.
One man dragged her back from the brink.
One man is the anchor to her majestic sailing vessel.
That man is Kyon.
Kyon is (in)famous for constantly being led around by his tie. He appears to be whipped, some would say. But the truth of the matter is that his tie, and how Haruhi uses it, is symbolic of the bind that these two complimentray characters have forged for the benefit of each other.
An anchor needs a ship and a crew to show it new worlds... to drag it along even if it would rather go nowhere and lazily stay in place. And, over time, the anchor enjoys a more interesting existence because of it. Even when the opportunity arises for the anchor to forget about that demanding ship and crew, the anchor still longs to return to the voyage that it was already on...
And the pioneering voyager needs the anchor too. The anchor keeps the sailing vessel grounded when the passionate ocean waves grow too high and out of control. When tumultuous times and typhoons threaten to rip the sailing vessel asunder. The anchor then assures the sailing vessel of success, even when the hull is almost breached with the punch of angry waves...
Kyon is the anchor to Haruhi Suzumiya's sailing vessel and crew. Or, you could think of the rest of the SOS Brigade as the crew. This, I think, is at the core of Kyon and Haruhi's relationship. Kyon needs the adventure and excitement that only Haruhi can bring, and Haruhi needs the man who's generally grounded in reasonableness and sensibility to keep her vessel safe when the storms of her desires grow too great.
Deep down inside, I think that they both reliaze this, and that is why they are virtually inseperable.
Haruhi, I think, revealed as much when she openly questioned (to Kyon) the way that she was living her life, back in the episode Live Alive.
But... as important as the anchor is, it is still the sailing vessel that determines the course of the story. It is the sailing vessel that captures the imagination; that points and leads to brave new worlds and unpredictable adventure.
Haruhi is a creation of a real man's imagination, but she creates with her own imagination as well... and all the time, literally and figuratively.
The mobius strip is now complete... but that doesn't mean it always leaves a good impression...
From what I've heard and read, this picture above sums up a lot of the Haruhi haters criticisms against her.
Here's a funny story, to take a perhaps needed break from all the high-falutin' poetic language of this blog entry so far... ;)
This image above was two firsts for me.
It was, honestly, the first "motivational image" I ever saw. It was also the first image of Haruhi and/or Mikuru that I ever saw... before I was even introduced to their anime. When I first saw this image, I had no idea of who these two girls were. For all I knew about them at the time, I thought it was just one young slender lesbian Japanese teenager sexually forcing herself upon an unwilling weaker teenage girl.
I did know, however, that the image left me with some negative first impressions, to be frank...
Sometimes, inside jokes, and tongue-in-cheek self-depreciating humor, can be great. But it can be lost on the uninitiated, as I was at one time, as it pertained to anime.
And I think that this particular side of Haruhi... the side of the malevolent Mikuru molester... is what hurts Haruhi's image as much as anything does.
It's part of the reason why I actually disliked Haruhi quite a bit in the early going.
But, of course, as I watched further and further into the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and also when I read further and further into the Haruhi novels, I gained a vastly more complete image of the character of Haruhi Suzumiya.
And, one of those amazing aspects of Haruhi, is just how multifaceted she is.
Haruhi can carry herself like a great villain...
Haruhi can convey distressing disquieting displeasure...
She can be loudly cheerful and the life of the party...
She can be genuinely caring and sweet...
She can be surprisingly, smoothly, softly responsive...
She can help others in a culturally relevant way while still being true to her individual flare...
She can betray a piercing thoughtfulness that lies within an outer bombastic style...
There are many faces and sides to Haruhi Suzumiya...
And here's the key...
She has the eccentricities of the typical anime schoolgirl... within a look and overall personality just like that of a real life girl next door.
Haruhi has numerous anime trope features to her. I will not deny that.
She plays some tropes staight, subverts some tropes, and even does both with some tropes.
But the key thing is... the character incorporates tropes into herself; the tropes don't define the character.
That's a key distinction, and one that I want to raise as it pertains to "Haruhi is a tsundere" debate.
Let me make a confession here that may surprise people.
In the sense of tsundere as a trait, one of Haruhi's character traits is tsundere. Yes, I admit that.
But I wouldn't call Haruhi a tsundere as an archetype, becomes she's so much more than that alone. A tsundere is just a small part of what she is... it's one facet or side to her complex very well developed character.
There is also how she's very demanding, but also impeccably loyal, to all of her closest friends... not just love interests. ;)
There is how she longs for the extraordinary, yet embraces enriching exquisite cultural traditions and festivals.
There is a restlessness to her that, I will admit, is probably typical of many a teenage girl, yes.
And so, there is another mobius strip sense to Haruhi's character... the combination of the commonplace eccentricities of the anime school girl, with the commonly known features of the real life girl next door, to arrive at an unique character.
And by grounding those eccentricities in a girl that's drawn to look like the picture perfect presentation of pleasant but typical youthful femininity, those eccentricities don't make the character feel too unreal.
Haruhi feels a bit more real because her character design, and because even much of what motivates her and inspires her actions, is so simple, streamlined, and realistic.
And yet, while she is realistic, she often comes across as larger than life.
There is such exuberant electrical energy to almost everything that Haruhi does. There is a vigor of youth that simply explodes from her as each of her whims is instantaneously grabbed for, pulling by the viewer's tie almost hard enough to choke him or her.
And when you roll all of the above together, and you do it to the crisp and clean and sleek and anatomically refined and ideally lined and shaded artwork of Haruhi's 2006 episodes, you arrive at a subtle sexual sensuality that pivots and thrusts the character over the top...
Is it any wonder why beautiful cosplayers dress up as her?
Haruhi is a character that balances strength; real strength, with vibrant femininity. That can, of course, be very alluring to many men and women alike.
And speaking of men... Kamina and Simon had to find a way to channel chaotic spiral power, and to their monumentally mighty manly credit, they found a way to do so!
But while Kamina and Simon can merely seek to tap into spiral power... Haruhi Suzumiya is spiral power, personified. ;)
Most of what I've wrote in this blog entry so far comes close to the sum of the full appeal of Haruhi Suzumiya. I humbly hope that I have managed to do justice to this character, and to why so many like her, and love to cosplay as her (as even a cursory search for "Haruhi Suzumiya" at Deviant Art will show).
However, I also recognize that some may think that I've gone too far in speaking well of her; that I'm exaggerating her good points and downplaying her flaws.
If so, I understand why some would say that, and I even understand why many folks don't like her. Once a character reaches the prominence of a Haruhi Suzumiya, they tend to be "love or hate" characters. Again, I return to Superman... most either love him, or wish he wasn't there at all.
Cultural phenomena characters tend to be trend-setters and all-encompassing symbols for entire industries. They can feel suffocating, no doubt... just as suffocating as Mikuru Asahina no doubt often finds Haruhi Suzumiya. ;)
But, one of the good things about Haruhi is that it's her bad points that tend to make her entertaining and challenging (in a good way) to fully understand; while it's her good points that humanizes her and makes her feel more likable and real.
Ultimately, Haruhi is a pioneer, not all that much unlike a Columbus or a Polo, leading her committed crew and adored anchor to the desired undiscovered country...
Here in this blog entry I have outlined some incredible strengths for this character, and reasons for why she is tied for No. 2 on my Top 10 Favorite Anime Characters of All-Time list.
Why does she not hold that position alone, though, given this glowing appraisal? Or even come in at No. 1?
Well, while Haruhi has some significant pros over the character that tied her, as well as over my favorite anime character of all-time, she lacks some of their poignancy as clearcut characters with timeless roles.
I classified Haruhi as chaotic evil, but that was partly to fit in all nine moral alignments into my Top 10 list (to be honest), and also since she does in fact cause chaos and evil to others at times; occassionally even intentionally.
However, while Haruhi can play the villain she is not a "full-time" villain that is the best anime villain of all-time, in my opinion. Nor is she a great "full-time" hero or heroine that soars in the skies and conjures up images of the personality of Superman.
Haruhi is perhaps more complex than both, but because of that, she doesn't have quite the same straight-line, goose bumps-raising, impact during moments of intense conflict.
Haruhi merely wants to find the undiscovered country... the man who tied with her for No. 2 wants to conquer it.
Some people aren't looking for anything logical.
They can't be bought, reasoned, or negotiated with.
Some men... just want to watch their enemies burn... ;)
And a villainy as dark and twisted as that, especially in a character that you find yourself sympathizing with, can be a real sight to behold, and its a villainy like that which I will delve into in my next blog entry...
For now, though, I conclude this write-up on Haruhi Suzumiya, one of my three favorite anime characters of all-time, who tied for No. 2 on this Top 10 list.
For her sake, I hope that she finds her undiscovered country, and that its beauty trumps even this...