- 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.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Looking back on Endless Eight, One Year Later
On the request of Dr. Casey of Anime Suki, I've decided to do a write-up on the one year anniversary of the beginning of the endless recursion of time. Itsuki Koizumi aptly called it an "Endless Summer", and that is what this arc proved to be for many fans of the the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime. While Dr. Casey's request spurred me to give further thought to Endless Eight, it is those thoughts themselves that leave me convinced that Endless Eight is worth revisiting at this time.
For one thing, the impact of Endless Eight on the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya franchise is a bit clearer now than it was almost a year ago.
Domestic (i.e. sold in Japan) Haruhi 2009 DVDs sold markedly worse than Haruhi 2006 DVDs did. While the global recession is unquestionably a factor here, as can be seen in how some prominent anime sequels tended to do worse in 2009 than their originals did in earlier years, I still hold that E8 is part of the reason for this decline in sales. I hold this viewpoint due in part to how Haruhi's anime is a more prominent one than any of the other ones that had relatively unsuccessful sequels in 2009. Hayate the Combat Butler, for example, is popular, but it's not on the level of Melancholy. Melancholy's level of popularity is around the level of that of Bakemonogatari and K-On!, and both of those sold perfectly well in 2009, even in the midst of a global recession. In short, I believe that Kadokawa and Kyoto Animation's choice to do eight episodes of Endless Eight, as opposed to spreading out its allotment of 14 new episodes over more than just three distinct sections of the Haruhi novels, likely cost them a few thousand DVD sales.
That being said, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie somewhat ironically represents a resurgence for the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Instead of making Haruhi's anime disappear out of the collective consciousness of anime fans to a further extent, it caused Haruhi's anime to regain much, if not all, of its lost popularity. At least in Japan. The theatrical release of that movie also makes it a bit clearer why Kadokawa and Kyoto Animation decided to go with eight episodes of Endless Eight.
In its totality (including the re-airing of Haruhi 2006 episodes) the Haruhi 2009 airing was clearly intended to reconfigure the Haruhi anime into a precise chronological order. Unlike the chaotic and scrambled ordering seen in the Haruhi 2006 airing, the Haruhi anime would now aim to present the story of the novels in its actual order of plot events. This reordering effort, combined with how the Disappearance movie was slated for early 2010, meant that the 14 new episodes of Haruhi 2009 could be spread out over only Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, Endless Eight, and Sigh. This was true barring anime original content, anyway.
In a very literal sense, Endless Eight was filler. You could even say that it was akin to a subordinate keeping the boss' command chair warm until the boss returns. Amusingly, Endless Eight was likely intended to simply kill time, rather than making a particular point of time endless.
At some level, I actually appreciate the vision that I now think was behind the choice to air eight episodes of Endless Eight. At the very least, that vision is understandable.
Haruhi 2009 had three principle goals, I believe. Now I hasten to add that this is largely speculation on my part. I obviously have no connections whatsoever to anybody at Kyoto Animation or Kadokawa. But even so, I think that if the Haruhi fan puts himself or herself in the proverbial shoes of the Haruhi anime producers, and tries to figure out why they did Haruhi 2009 the way that they did, that it is possible to arrive at a likely answer to that. And that likely answer includes the following three principle goals:
1. Bring the actual novel source material-based Haruhi anime back into focus, and ensure that anime fans do not move on from it.
The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan, Nyoron Churuya-chan, and even numerous Haruhi references in Lucky Star, all helped to ensure that Haruhi never drifted too far from the minds of your average anime fan. However, all of these were short comedic spoofs. They bore little resemblance to the actual Harui novels. The Haruhi 2009 airing was meant to bring Haruhi fans back into the canon world of Kyon and Haruhi Suzumiya. To refamiliarize them with the core narrative that is the driving force of the Haruhi franchise. This goal is probably a big part of the reason why the episode ordering was reconfigured into chronological order.
With this in mind, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody was an excellent start for the new episodes, as its events are a focal point for the novels. It is in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody that we find out about John Smith, and it's in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody that we see a particular past point in time that recurs in the novels almost as often as a certain two weeks in August recurs in the anime.
2. Promote the Upcoming Disappearance Movie
Without the Haruhi 2009 anime, the Disappearance movie would have been released with there having been four years since actual Haruhi novel material had been adapted into anime form. It may have been a bit more difficult to get people interested in watching a movie for a property that had not aired source material-based content in almost half of a decade. The Haruhi 2009 anime certainly served the purpose of wetting the appetite of Haruhi fans to see more novel-based anime content.
One thing I've learned about the anime fandom over the years is that, with precious few exceptions, its focus is almost always on the new and the fresh. Older animes can become quickly forgotten, especially without regular updates. This is even true of popular animes. Fate/Stay Night and Mai HiME were both very popular animes, but I haven't seen either talked about a lot in awhile. They finished airing a few years ago. Some of this is just human nature, of course, but it speaks to the importance of not letting your anime franchise stay out of the public eye for too long, if you hope for that anime franchise to have lasting success.
Also, on a more basic level, the Haruhi 2009 episodes were commercials for both the Haruhi 2009 DVDs, and the Disappearance movie. It gets the brand of Haruhi Suzumiya out there, and is helpful in a basic marketing sense.
3. Humanize the Characters of Haruhi Suzumiya and Yuki Nagato
Make the alien and deity seem more down-to-Earth and easy to relate to, in other words.
This is a somewhat new observation that I've made, upon just recently reflecting on Endless Eight. The part dealing with Yuki Nagato is old news, as E8's staunchest defenders pointed that part out a year ago (i.e. talking about how eight episodes of Endless Eight enabled the audience to more easily identify with Nagato and sympathize with her seemingly endless plight). It's probably true that the Endless Eight portion of the anime was designed, in part, to make fans of this anime series feel a tighter connection to Nagato, and to make us focus less on Nagato's otherworldly deadpan nature and reality altering powers, and more on the personable being laying beneath the often cold exterior. To show that, beneath all the highly technical monotone language and cosmic abilities, Nagato is still a real being with actual emotions that we can relate to. She is more akin to the Silver Surfer of Marvel Comics than to a truly emotionless alien interface. Indeed, it often seemed like she was getting drained or tired from the Endless Eight experience just as we were.
The part dealing with Haruhi Suzumiya is a completely new observation on my part, and I don't think that I've seen it dealt with a lot. After looking at some E8 screenshoots through various online image searches, and after thinking back on the events of E8, it occurs to me that E8 presented the character of Haruhi Suzumiya in a very different light than how Haruhi 2006 tended to do so.
Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2006 was bossy, brash, decidedly theatrical, highly eccentric, occasionally abusive, and even sometimes displaying a streak of megalomaniacal villany...
Notice how sharp, and angular Haruhi's features are. Notice her domineering poses and vaguely conceited mannerisms. The character designs and art style of Haruhi 2006 brings out the esoteric manipulative trickster in Haruhi. She is like the norse God of Mischief Loki. And her focus is ever on finding the alien or supernatural, or on expanding her SOS Brigade.
I've always felt that one of the key strengths of Haruhi's character is that she has an unique and playfully dynamic personality within a "girl next door" character design. This can be a very alluring combination. However, this can also be a double-edged sword.
While I personally like this side of Haruhi's character, I can understand why many dislike or even loath it. Sexually abusing meek girls and engaging in shady extortion scams isn't exactly laudable behavior. Focusing a lot on searches for the alien and supernatural is not particularly easy for the average viewer to relate to either.
Now... keep in mind the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. For this anime movie to have the desired impact on its viewers, it helps if:
1) The viewers miss Haruhi's presence just as Kyon does. They view her disappearance as more of a curse to be lamented over than a blessed relief to be thankful for.
2) The viewers agree with the decision that Kyon ultimately makes in that narrative.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie has been roundly acclaimed, and received very warmly by fans and critics alike. However, a few criticisms are there, and these tend to relate a great deal to simply the decision that Kyon makes in that movie. Simply put, the fans of the anime who like Yuki Nagato a lot and dislike the character of Haruhi Suzumiya, tend to not be entirely pleased with the basic plotline of the movie. It's an issue with the source material itself, really, and it's an issue rooted in character and shipping preferences.
I think that Haruhi 2009, and especially the Endless Eight portion of it, was intended to head off such potential critiques. It was meant to drastically soften the image of Haruhi, while making her easier for the average viewer to relate to. Case in point...
There's a stark contrast between Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2006 and Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2009, isn't there, good reader? Notice how soft and supple Haruhi's features are. Notice her child-like and innocent poses, and her friendly, serene mannerisms. She is now like the latest cast member of K-On!. She is like the actual "girl next door', who just wants to have fun and hang out with her friends. The SOS Brigade feels like a real group of close friends in E8. And consider what Haruhi does for fun in Endless Eight.
Swimming, dressing up in fancy clothes, taking part in local festivals, watching and setting off fireworks, stargazing through a telescope, bug-catching, bowling, taking batting practice, karaoke singing, eating ice cream and eating at restaurants with her friends. This is the very picture of normalcy for a teenage girl. These are commonplace popular recreational activities. It is eminently easy to relate to.
What I've wrote above may surprise some people as I've long been a critic of the artstyle and character design changes that Haruhi 2009 brought to the fore. I've also long been a fervent supporter of the artstyle and character designs of Haruhi 2006, which I loved then and still do love. However, I think I see what Kyoto Animation was aiming for with these changes now. It was not just Haruhi's appearance that was "K-Onified", but it was also her overall presentation. Haruhi was to become less Loki and more Yui, in appearance and personality alike. I'd hate for that to happen on a permanent basis, but as an one-time attempt to fully flesh out Haruhi's character and make her more likable to more viewers of the anime, perhaps it was worth it.
After all, a strong argument can be made that Endless Eight is Haruhi at her best, or at least nearest the point of a normal energetic friendly teenage girl. However, one episode of Endless Eight would easily be forgotten, and not leave much impression. Eight episodes of Endless Eight, however, can start to leave a profound impression. It can really change how people view the various members of the SOS Brigade.
In the case of Haruhi and Yuki, I believe that E8 was intended to humanize both. It was intended to increase the popularity and relatability of both characters. This is, again, to help ensure that the Disappearance movie would be well-recevied. The audience will now understand why Yuki did what she did in that movie a bit better. They may also feel sorry for her, which adds to the emotional poignancy of the movie. More of the audience will now also hopefully understand why Kyon wants so badly to reunite with Haruhi, and why he works so diligently to regain the SOS Brigade that he knows. Perhaps more of the audience will share in Kyon's desire to see Haruhi return.
So... did Endless Eight succeed in achieving these three goals? By and large, I would say that yes, yes it did. It's efforts with Haruhi was undermined somewhat by the Sigh section, which arguably features Haruhi at her worst. However, Haruhi in the anime adaptation of Sigh is portrayed in a bit of a better light than how she was in the novel source material, I would argue. This further supports my view that Endless Eight was intended, in part, to soften the image of Haruhi Suzumiya in the minds of anime fans.
Because Endless Eight succeeded in its goals, I now look back on it with less resentment than I felt when it was originally airing. Of course, a lot of my harsh critiques of Endless Eight that I made at the time were made without knowing when it would end, and when Disappearance would follow it up. A real fear existed that Endless Eight might take up all but one of the 14 new episodes of Haruhi during 2009, and also that Kyoto Animation might be actively avoiding adapting Disappearance. If those fears had been realized, than the anime's handling of E8 would have been absolutely disastrous for this anime franchise.
However, we did get to enjoy five episodes of Sigh, and we did get a Disappearance anime movie less than 12 months after Haruhi 2009 aired. And that negates a lot of the criticisms that were made of E8 while it was actually airing.
That being said, I still believe that E8 would have been better off if there had been more variation between the various time loops shown in the anime. Parts 1, 2, and 8 of Endless Eight were all fine, but Kyoto Animation should have spiced things up a bit more for Parts 3 through 7. Adding in a neat unexpected wrinkle for each of those middle parts. That is still how you do a Groundhog Day narrative right, in my opinion.
However, most if not all of the Endless Eight episodes were finely crafted with solid animation. Each showed evidence of a lot of hard work being poured into it by the animation staff. Neither episode was bad in and of itself. It was simply a case of repetitiveness leading to the whole being less than the sum of the parts. That was what I felt, anyway.
E8 was certainly a memorable event, and one that lended itself to many fanworks, including ones that I enjoyed making. As an inspiration for comedic fanworks, and humorous scathing reviews, Endless Eight was excellent. ;) And given that offerings of the anime world over the last 12 calender months have been pretty slim pickings for me, I can honestly say that I found most of E8 more enjoyable than a lot of the other animes that I did watch over the past 12 months.
My one remaining worry, though, is that E8 may yet turn off North American audiences. We will see how the North American release of the Haruhi 2009 season box set does. That box set does have a relatively inexpensive price point, and hence it may sell Ok.
In any event, the Disappearance movie provides a good launching pad for future Haruhi anime offerings, which I hope we will not have to wait long for.
In conclusion, E8 was very much hated, but I can say that it's aged better than similarly loathed sequels/prequels like the Batman and Robin movie, and Star Wars Episode 1. Those movies continue to live on in infamy for the Batman and Star Wars fanbases, but I think that E8 will be remembered by the Haruhi fanbase as just a silly little bump on the road, comparable to the stereotypical "low point" for bands or singers that tend to come up on VH1 Behind the Music specials. Maybe it's good for a long-running anime franchise like Haruhi to have a low point, as it fits nicely into an overarching anthology story like those Behind the Music specials. Comebacks are always great to have, and you can't have a great combeback without a memorable low point.
I'm just glad that this particular lowpoint wasn't truly endless. ;)
And, thankfully, it looks like while Kyoto Animation might have lost Haruhi's "lightning in the bottle" phenomena with the three year layoff, controversial art style changes, and eight episodes of E8, it has managed to do like Kyon and recapture a real spark in its hand thanks to Disappearance...