Haruhi Suzumiya: masterpiece, piece of junk or simply overrated?


This is the “Question of the Week” for the Hey, Answerman column on Anime News Network. I usually don’t have the time or motivation to submit my own answers to things like this. But…since I’m on vacation now and I was kinda bored today, I decided to give this question a try. I’ve been rather Haruhi-obsessed this past year so I probably could’ve written a lot more than this but I didn’t want to overdo it XD Hopefully Zac will post my response, and if not, at least I used it as a blog post so it wasn’t a total waste ^^a You can check ANN next week to see other answers to the question. Anyway, here’s my (kinda long) answer…


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I mostly think fans who judge the Haruhi Suzumiya series, whether in a positive or negative way, only discuss the anime series. The light novels, which are the original source material, have been read only by hardcore fans. The first anime series only covered about 25% of all that’s happened in the novels so far (and if I may add, a lot of the better stuff still has yet to appear in the anime). Therefore, saying whether the series itself is a masterpiece or junk based on the anime alone is rather insufficient. Since I’ve watched the anime and have also read translations of all nine volumes of the light novels, I will judge the series based on these two mediums together, but mostly the novels since that’s where the majority of the material is.

Personally I think the series (again, the novels more than the anime) is deserving of being called a masterpiece, though maybe the anime is slightly overrated. First of all, one of its best qualities is Nagaru Tanigawa’s unique writing style as he portrays Kyon’s point of view throughout the series. The sometimes sarcastic, sometimes intuitive, and sometimes completely random thoughts, feelings, and metaphors that Kyon comes up with as he describes the situations and characters around him is extremely clever and refreshing. Kyon’s views can shift from humorous to philosophical quite naturally, making him a very appealing and entertaining character to follow. Being “light” novels, the series isn’t extremely deep or difficult to read, but at the same time, since it is literature and Tanigawa is a good writer, it has the unique attribute of being amusing and also being thought-provoking. Throughout the novels, Tanigawa also uses a number of cultural, mathematical, scientific, philosophical, and historical references, again emphasizing that the series can be fun but also demands a level of knowledge from its audience. It may annoy some fans that the episodes are out of order (in the novels and in the original airing of the anime) but this again assumes a certain amount of commitment and intelligent reasoning on the part of the audience to interpret the story. Luckily a lot of the original dialogue is carried over into the anime. This is another good point of the anime; it’s not often that one of the main characters is constantly narrating throughout the episodes, especially not with Kyon’s clever and amusing dialogue.

And of course, the main appeal of all good series comes from the story and characters. I find it difficult to argue that the story/plot of the Haruhi Suzumiya series is not unique. Anyone who knows a general synopsis of the story and background of the characters might have difficulty finding another anime that’s similar. Thus, having such a distinctive plot is another one of the series’ good qualities. The amazing blend of high school, slice-of-life antics together with complex and mysterious science fiction (even more complex and mysterious if you’ve read further in the novels), as well as the series’ intriguing plot (and Kyon’s philosophical and sarcastic ramblings) makes for a very engrossing and unpredictable adventure. And although the series is often humorous, the humor is never annoyingly hyperbolic or “cartoony.” It’s more subtle and character-based rather than derived from out-of-place slapsticks.

As for the characters, as I’ve mentioned before, Kyon can sometimes be sarcastic, sometimes deeply insightful, and sometimes just a normal guy, again making him a very appealing protagonist. Unfortunately the first anime series was too short to give proper character development to Mikuru, Yuki, Itsuki, and even Tsuruya-san. Once again, the novels give much more insight into their inner thoughts and conflicts beyond what they appear to be. And of course, Haruhi is the Goddess of the series because of her wildly unpredictable character and the many sides of her unique, impulsive personality. She’s appealing not so much because she’s really compassionate or sympathetic, but because the things she does and believe are so outrageous, and her view of the world is so unusual, you can’t help but be drawn into her outpouring enthusiasm and self-confidence. There are no boundaries in life as far as she’s concerned, but she also has a “melancholic” and deeper side to her too (again, one needs to read more into the novels in order to see more of her character development). Kyon and Haruhi really are one-of-a-kind protagonists.

I’ve established why I feel the Haruhi Suzumiya novels are brilliant, but the anime is where most of the fan following is. Adding to the series’ appeal, Kyoto Animation gives it gorgeous, high-budget animation. The anime version changes/leaves out very little of what was in the novels and leaves in as much of Kyon’s narration as it can. The good animation together with the literary sense of the dialogue makes the anime a worthy equivalent to the first few novel volumes. I feel the anime is slightly overrated because again, most fans praise it solely based on the anime and may be more or less ignorant of the novels. If more anime episodes are made to follow the novels, then I believe that both mediums would be equally valid to judge the series.

In summary, I think the Haruhi Suzumiya series is a masterpiece because of its amazing blend of humorous, high-school adventures and intricate science fiction elements, together with some philosophical ideals and an enjoyable, not-too-serious point of view. It can be light and comical as well as insightful and complicated and it has an extremely unique, unpredictable story and enjoyable characters. However, at this point, someone who criticizes the series in general after watching just the anime without even glancing at the novels is like someone making critical judgments about the Harry Potter series after only watching the first movie. While the anime can definitely be judged in its own right, until more of it is made, I feel the novels are the best way to see the series’ true potential. Perhaps I am a little biased, but I still feel that my opinions about the Haruhi Suzumiya series hold a bit more merit than those of someone who has only seen the anime version.

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UPDATE 06/27/08: Zac actually posted my response on the Hey Answerman column here. However he only posted the first two paragraphs ~_^ So yeah, my complete response is still right here on this post…but at least I got some recognition =D

8 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. just a duck says:

    *claps* Very nice. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t make Answerman’s column, despite its length.

    As for your article, I agree with you immensily, having read the novels too myself. The anime is an excellent adaptation of the first novel and the little side stories later on but if you’re only an anime-watcher of the series, you know you’re not getting the whole thing since there are LOTS of questions that need to be answered (i.e. what happened 3 years ago, etc). Hopefully the next Haruhi series will do the upcoming arcs justice.

    Now, for the anime (so far) being masterpiece? I wouldn’t say so. But its definitely an engaging, unique, and FUN series that I think any big anime fan (but not the casual kind) should watch. I don’t think Evangelion is the greatest thing since sliced bread but I can understand why it has such a huge following and gets all its praise of people claiming it to be a “masterpiece.”

    Again, nice job. :)

  2. Ez says:

    I thought the MOHS anime was awesome. It shone much more than any other series in 2006., although I never had the opportunity to read the light novels. =D

  3. Setsukyie says:

    Haruhi fan here.

    Good post. In my opinion, the Haruhi series is a masterpiece. Actually, I don’t even know what I like about the series, that reason alone has made it a masterpiece. First of all, I want to praise the unique plot of the series. No other animes that I have come across is the same as Haruhi. Also, the good choice of characters made the series more amazing. I love Haruhi so much that I can’t think of any bad things about it (which is rare). Maybe only one thing, it’s too short…(the anime that is).

    After reading your post, I feel ashamed for not reading the novels even though I’m a huge Haruhi fan. But I feel glad as well because, according to you, the novels are better than the anime, and the anime is awesome. So, something that is better than ‘awesome’ is just godly. But, I don’t enjoy reading any novels, including Haruhi novels. Yes, I fail as a Haruhi fan. So, I’m hoping that KyoAni will animate most, if not, all the novels. I’m looking forward to The Disappearance Of Suzumiya Haruhi that is in production. People say that ‘The Disappearance’ is the best novel in the series. Being the best among the best must mean something, right?

  4. DrmChsr0 says:

    I’m kinda mixed on the issue.

    On one hand, I can see that the show (and the novels, to stretch it a fair bit) does have a fair amount of artistic and literary benefit (as much as the Asian/Japanese/Singaporean mindset allows me to). the novels aren’t too bad, really, and the show can be a fun watch.

    On the other hand…

    Due to all the retarded fan hype, I can see that it suffers from FF7-itis. For all those not in the know, FF7 was touted to be one of the best frickin’ JRPGs of it’s time, and some say for all time. Now FF7 isn’t too bad, really, it does what it does really well. Unfortunately just because it does everything well, that’s where the retarded fan hype comes in. One can only tolerate “OMFGWTFBBQIT FF7 IS THE BEST GAME EVAR!!!!!!!!!!111111111111″ so many times.

    It’s the same with Haruhi.Only this time, they’ve mutated retarded fan hype into a frickin’ religion. That’s a lot worse than screaming that it is the best show ever. One one one.

  5. I have my own issues with the novels. I remember when first reading it I thought they were superior to the anime in the case of the first novels. Then I read the second one and I was like “Okay this is pretty neat, it’s more mature, more detailed and a fun short story collection”, then I read some of the other ones all in chronological order and I started to notice that the character development was approaching non-existent and I frowned a little. Then I read the 4th novel and though things were back on track, lot of insight into the characters, the whole myster of the disappearance of Haruhi.

    Then I read the the last part of the story where it descends into utter incoherency and pulls one of the most deus ex machina endings I’ve seen in ages. And no I’m not talking Code Geass submarine launching upgrade parts Deus Ex Machina, I’m talking literal out of nowhere, what the heck just happened, oh and now everythings fine just accept it type stuff. And right at the climax too. To add insult to injury they basically hit the reset button on everything that had happened to move the characters along in that chapter, making it ultimately nothing more then a distraction for the readers. That’s about the point I realized that the author will darn well drag out his novel series as long as he wants to, hitting the reset button any time he think there’s been too much progress that he might actually have to end the series. And then that’s when Haruhi just became a wacky antics/fun distraction type series for me. It never was a masterpiece for me, but reading the novels clinched what it would become defined as for me.

    To me there is no plot in Haruhi. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. I can’t even call it SOL because it has too many science fiction and fantasy elements to really be anything close to normal life, which is supposed to be something the franchise doesn’t want to be like anyway. Haruhi is not a plot driven series, but a character driven one through and through. It relies on it’s main character (Kyon) to convey what is happening, and it also relies on it’s characters actions to provide the stimuli. Unfortunately I do not find the characters particularly deep and thus am required to fall back on their outrageous personalities and actions to make the franchise for me. That is what Haruhi is to me, watching the characters engaging in wacky antics and letting the time go by.

  6. Kyoizumi says:

    I love this series! Here’s my response to this.

    Personally I think the original light novels are better than its adaptions. I thought that after reading the first light novel (after the anime of course). But I also like the anime and that will always have a special place in my heart because that’s what got me into the series in the first place.

    In my opinion, most the episodes were kept pretty close to the original in 2006 (season 1). But in 2009 (season 2) things started to differ A LOT more, especially with that Endless Eight thing. So what I mean by saying that the light novels I’m not exaggerating. I MEAN IT.

  7. Milly says:

    Hey, I had a question. It’s not really related with the topic, but what are those napkin thingies••• er whatever those are on Haruhi’s umbrella?? They’re soo cute^^

  8. NekoNekoNeko says:

    Haruhi is a masterpiece. Heck, I think it’s underrated! If you actually pay attention to the small details in the background and dialogue you can tell it’s one of the best. There’s something in the series that’s missing in almost every other anime, even the most popular like Death Note of whatever.

    What I noticed (I’m talking about the anime) were the scenes like Nagato fighting Asakura. Also Haruhi and Kyon in the closed space, and Nagato explaining to Kyon what she is were two pretty epic scenes. I can’t imagine any other anime that could pull these scenes off without looking totally stupid and whimsical. I mean, seriously, humanoids from outer space and alternate dimensions? And it still finds a way to make it seem real, and to inspire you.

    I guess the good animation quality and artwork also make the anime more real. One of the ways I can tell a first rate anime from a second rate one is how the character’s faces show emotion. Do they raise their eyebrows and gasp, or do they turn into monochromatic chibis with pathetic circle-eyes? TMOHS did not resort to deforming their art style to show emotion, unlike Ouran High School Host Club, and pretty much 60% of all anime.

    Yuki’s Character development is brilliant.

    Mikuru’s character is a bit questionable, and I’ve never liked her much, but I guess she’s okay.

    Kyon’s dialogue is absolutely brilliant, though he is a bit heartless in the movie.

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