I meant this post to come much later in the life of this blog, but I was thinking about story last week, and you know how it goes: once you’ve started thinking about something…trying to NOT think about that thing is as hard as trying to not think the word “rhinoceros” for thirty seconds.
Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.
Okay, more about story. I recently finished The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. That was one of those off the wall decisions…A friend recommended Lucky Star, and when I was reading up about Lucky Star they mentioned it overlapped with Melancholy, so on the list it went.
Okay, yeah, I liked it. If I don’t like it, I won’t watch it. (Yeah, I liked Lucky Star, too, as you may have guessed from the image of Konata Izumi in my header.)
Now, before I go on, a reminder about spoilers: I’m going to talk about the end of this series. If you haven’t seen it and you want to be surprised, STOP READING. (I posted my philosophy on spoilers in the Bonus Post. My blog, my rules.)
Okay, so the standard narrative structure: a beginning that introduces the characters and setting, a middle in which there is conflict, and an end in which the conflict is resolved, right?
Narratively, the writers of Melancholy had a problem, and that was that Haruhi Suzumiya was a force of nature in and of herself, unknowingly able to warp the universe around herself until she got what she wanted. This is explicit through the series: Suzumiya wants a group of friends around her, and she wants one of them to be a time traveler and one to be an alien and one to have ESP…and that’s what she gets, a time traveler (Asahine), an alien (Nagato), and an ESPer (Koizumi) although none of them reveals themselves to her. (Plus there’s Kyon, whose presence is unexplained. I’ll have another post about him one of these years.) More obviously, she constantly tells people what to do and they do it, whatever it is. (Shy, modest Asahine always has to wear the most revealing cosplay costumes…poor time traveling girl.)
So, narrative problem: If Suzumiya always gets what she wants, where’s the conflict?
There’s the appearance of conflict, to be sure. Asahine never wants to put on the costume. She cries and wails and folds her arms across her chest (yes, it’s a fan-service-sized chest), but she always ends up dressed for (Suzumiya’s!) success. Kyon always has a few choice comments, and even tells Suzumiya she can’t keep doing all the awful things she does to people, but, as they say, there is none so deaf as she who will not listen, and Suzumiya’s not listening. A couple times Nagato has to save Suzumiya from her own power, her ability to make her ideas real, but Suzumiya never notices, so it just happens. Funny, yeah, but no stress.
So, there’s no real conflict built up in the middle of the series. Now how do you end it? There’s no conflict to resolve…
From what I’ve seen the final episode of Melancholy is generally disliked. The series itself rates somewhere around four and a half stars at Funimation; the final episode gets fewer. As one commenter says, “it is literally the last episode and nothing happens (sic)”
Indeed, Suzumiya…you know, the Haruhi Suzumiya that the series is named after…barely appears in the final episode. She’s made some kind of deal to score a space heater for the school’s club room, tells Kyon to go get it, and then she’s out of it. Since people always do what Suzumiya says, he goes to get the heater. He has a little chat with the shop owner, has a little chat with a friend, gets rained on a little bit, bitches about Suzumiya a little bit, sits down in the club room with Nagato, who is reading quietly. Boom. Fin, as the French say.
The reviewer is right. Nothing happens. How is that an end?
Now, I have no idea whether this was intended, but this is how it reads for me:
The overall story arc begins with them as high school juniors and ends in the next winter. By that time they are seniors, and soon the group will go their various ways, as high school graduates do (and always depending on the will of Suzumiya).
Someday…someday soon, as of the last episode of the series…Suzumiya will be out of Kyon’s life.
There’s no reason to believe he will be unhappy or unsuccessful without her. He should be just fine. There’s doubly no reason to expect they will end up together: the writers made that as plain as they could earlier. (That will come up when Kyon comes up again, sometime later.) But I think what we’re seeing in that last episode is Kyon’s future without her: Calm. Normal.
He’ll always looks back to those wild high school years, to the mad woman whose vortex engulfed them all. He’ll remember not just the frustration of dealing with someone who doesn’t know the meaning of “no,” but also the joys and delights, the festivals and fireworks, the days at the beach and nights hunting cicadas, the alien, the time-traveler, and the ESPer that were all Suzumiya’s idea and Suzumiya’s drive and Suzumiya’s will. As Kyon looks back, he’ll know he’s outgrown those days, but the further they get in his rear view mirror, the more he will miss them.
I think that last episode is a vision of his life without her.
Yeah, that’s a lot to read into an episode where nothing happens, and that might not be what was intended at all. But that’s why I thought this ending worked in a way no other ending could have for such an odd show.
I liked it.
PS There are sequel series and an OVA/film. They were fun, too, but less innovative narratively.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.
8 thoughts on “Funky Funky Finish: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”
Sorry, I had to skip due to spoilers
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Have fun with it. Come back when you’re ready 🙂
Aye aye 😊
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The last episode was probably a setting for the sequel movie… Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
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I can see that. When Kyon and Nagato are sitting there in the club room, there is a sense that something is missing. Narratively, though, I don’t think it’s necessary that there be a sequel. Nice, yes. (I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t say.) But from the standpoint of story structure I think the ending can stand alone.
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Omg you NEED to see it. I’m sure you will come to understand why the film gets such a massive rating as compared to the TV series!
You know, let me add something. My business is the analysis of character and structure and technique and such, the mechanics of story. That’s what I can bring to these discussions that others can’t.
Here’s what I see: If they KNEW they’d be making a sequel series, then that reads, too. One of the key elements of the finale is Suzumiya’s non-presence. If the series stands alone, then it’s Kyon without Suzumiya, as I said. But if they knew the movie was coming when they closed the series, then, yeah…”Where’s Suzumiya?” is the feel. That works. Thanks for pointing it out.
Okay, I went off and did some research. The light novel that Disappearance is based on came out in 2004, two years before the anime, and it’s a story that was left out of the sequence of stories that makes up the anime. Now, I don’t know when the decision to turn Disappearance into an OVA came around, but you know, for me that makes the ending doubly clever, because it works both ways, as the end of the series, and also as a pointer/foreshadowing toward the OVA. Dang, that’s cute. Thanks for pointing it out.