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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Novel Review: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaAuthor: Nagaru Tanigawa
Yen Press
224 Pages (paperback ed.)
Meet Haruhi - a cute, determined girl, starting high school in a city where nothing exciting happens and absolutely no one understands her. Meet Kyon ­­- the sarcastic guy who sits behind Haruhi in homeroom and the only boy Haruhi has ever opened up to. His fate is now tied to hers. Meet the S.O.S. Brigade - an after-school club organized by Haruhi with a mission to seek out the extraordinary. Oh, and their second mission? Keeping Haruhi happy . . . because even though she doesn't know it, Haruhi has the power to destroy the universe. Seriously. (Source: Yen Press)
Find me an otaku who was around for 2006 and doesn't know the name Haruhi Suzumiya. You can't. It is impossible. Her image has become synonomous with popular anime. The 'Hare Hare Yukai' dance was a staple at conventions for years. The red armband with the SOS Brigade characters on it could be found everywhere. And yet - over seven years later, and I'm just now reading the light novel that launched a phenomena and created the fictional juggernaut that is Suzumiya-san.
It's too bad I really, really don't like Haruhi Suzumiya.

The character, that is. Haruhi Suzumiya is a total brat - a conceited, arrogant brat with no hint of shame or self-awareness, who brazenly sexually harasses her classmates and manipulates others to do her will. She threatens the Computer Club with a false rape report and doctored photos to steal a computer for herself. She constantly molests Mikuru and forces herself on the girl for cosplay purposes, leaving Mikuru often crying and in distress afterward.
There is one - and I do mean one moment - during which this facade breaks, and we see the human side of Haruhi. She quickly acts as if this never happened, and readers are left wondering how much of her personality is an act.
Unfortunately, this girl who grabs others' boobs and openly tells people to 'shut up' without a second thought is also the God of this fictional world. God is a douchebag, and her name is Haruhi. She can literally bend the world to her will, as long as she finds everything interesting enough. And a local anomaly by the name of Kyon has her excited to find all the aliens, espers, sliders, and time travelers she can. Good job, Kyon.
"So, Kyon must be a better person that Haruhi, right?" Ahahaha. No. Kyon is terrible. Being inside his head was the worst way to tell this story. He's just as self-conceited as Haruhi is. He does nothing to stop Haruhi from assaulting Mikuru, and after a while just lets it happen - and when Mikuru often turns to him for comfort, Kyon has only dishonest, pervy thoughts about the situation. For a majority of the book, he's more concerned about his own well-being that what everyone is telling him about Suzumiya's true self.
Good thing the story itself is pretty interesting. We have a young woman named Haruhi who is totally unaware that she controls the universe. Haruhi is surrounded by the very people she is looking for - espers, time travelers, and aliens. The world's safety is based on her happiness levels. Keep her amused, and the universe doesn't fall apart. Just don't tell her about it.
The writing itself is good, nothing special. Tanigachi knows how to set a scene and move it forward, and let the characters speak for themselves. His 'fight scene' between Kyon and Asakura is one of the book's peak moments for descriptive prowess. Other such scenes would be when Kyon and Koizumi explore the 'closed space' universe and the climax of the novel, where Kyon must save Haruhi from her own creation.
What's so funny about this novel is that when I was 2/3rds done with it, I was so sure I would not be reading the next book in the series. But the last third of it won me over - at least enough so that I've requested The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya out of sheer curiosity. Perhaps that was the point. It draws readers in with frustration, tires them out with unlikeable characters and outlandish scenarios, and then throws in an eleventh hour act of genuine kindness that makes it seem worthwhile.

Now, if Haruhi Suzumiya as a character never advances beyond her selfish, scowling state of being? Then her second act will be my last with her.