The Power of Two: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

I spend a lot of time talking about character combinations. That’s not an accident. Character shapes conflict and conflict drives story. It’s that simple and that hard.

I started out looking at character trios. First of all, I think they’re more interesting than pairs: a trio has three relationships to look at while a pair has only one. So a trio is a quick way to open several lines of conflict that can drive the tension underlying a series.

Of course, you can do that with just a pair of characters. I mean, look at Spice and Wolf. The relationship between Holo and Lawrence is all there is there, really, that and some pretty music and high quality animation.

I think the strangest relational pair in anime, at least, of those I have seen, is Haruhi and Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and related works.

haruhi-and-kyon.jpg

Haruhi (left) and Kyon. He’s holding her. She’s happy. He’s holding her. He’s unhappy.

Haruhi Suzumiya is interesting in and of herself because she has the god-like power to make her dreams come true BUT she doesn’t know it. She wishes for things and those things happen, but she has no idea that she’s making them happen. That’s kind of wacky …I mean, when was the last time you met a god that didn’t know they were a god?

Kyon, on the other hand, is just a guy. So immediately we have that tension: God v. Man.

There’s also Boy v. Girl, the battle of the sexes: Kyon is a handsome gent with an athletic figure and Haruhi a cutie pie with nice boobies. But that’s so superficial, especially in Hollywood, that it’s not worth noticing. I mean, it’s almost expected. People complain when that combination doesn’t pop up, or when it gets twisted. Look at Harold and Maude. Or Chise and Elias, come to think of it. Classic Beauty and the Beast, right?

What’s interesting in Haruhi/Kyon, though, is the asymmetry of the affection between them. It’s Kyon whose point of view the story is told from, and he make it clear at numerous times that he’s not especially fond of Haruhi. He shows a great deal more interest in Mikuru Asahina, for one thing. (He’s 15 or 16, and she has D-cup boobies, so go figure. Plus he meets the adult Asahina and she’s both HAWT and affectionate toward him.) He shows concern toward Yuki Nagato, even knowing she’s an android and has no feelings to hurt, but he rarely does anything with Haruhi except argue.

But here’s the big question, as always: What is Kyon doing here in the first place?

Seriously. On the first day of class Haruhi announces she’s only interested in interesting people, people who are time travelers or aliens or espers. And so, because she has the subconscious power to change the universe to meet her desires, she meets Asahina, the time traveler, Nagato, the alien, and Koizumi, the esper. She wanted ABC, she got ABC…so how does Kyon fit in? What makes him “interesting”?

It’s obvious. He’s the boyfriend.

The anime makes this as explicit as it can without coming right and saying it. It’s the subtext of the Endless Eight (they got out of that one by subverting the relationship), and it’s overt even earlier on. Around about episode five Haruhi gets fed up with this world entirely and creates a new one, and the only other human present in it is Kyon. Yep, in her mind she’s Eve and he’s Adam, although she’s not consciously aware of it.

Kyon shatters the new world by kissing Haruhi.

This is the point that makes their relationship narratively interesting. Because he tells the story, we know Kyon doesn’t much like Haruhi. She’s a bully, particularly where Asahina is concerned (and Kyon likes/lusts after Asahina, so we get into the territory of “the enemy of my friend is my enemy”). Kyon thwarts Haruhi’s whims to her face and denigrates her in his thoughts. He doesn’t love her. His kiss is totally pragmatic: If he kisses her, it will destroy this new world and send them back to their own world. He knows this. Koizumi told him so.

But Haruhi, deep down inside, loves Kyon, and Kyon kissed her. The new world ends because she doesn’t need it anymore.

This is handled a little more obviously in the books. Needless to say, they don’t hook up there, either, or haven’t yet through the first seven. If, God forbid, Kyon comes to love Haruhi, the franchise will break. It would be like the last season of The Nanny, after Fran and her boss, Mr. Sheffield, got married. Gawd, she turned into a whiney B then! Franchise broken.

But in one of the stories in The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon is asked to read a love note written by his chum Nakagawa to Yuki Nagato, with whom Nakagawa is terribly in love. The note’s so dumb that when he’s done Kyon pitches it out of the club room window where Guess Who finds it and thinks it’s from Kyon to her? You know Haruhi loses her mind, right? She reads this awful mash note and rushes up to the club room to berate Kyon at the top of her lungs, in almost a full page of monolog before Kyon has a chance to explain.

Can you hear the phrase “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”? Her reaction is so far over the top she has to be in denial.

Later on, in The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya, we learn what Haruhi was doing as they were taking Kyon to the hospital after he “fell down the stairs,” or, as we really know, was almost killed by the class rep Asakura. Tough chick Haruhi was crying her eyes out, tears streaming down her face. Suppressing much, babe?

At the end of Intrigues, she gives him Valentine’s chocolates, which we know to be a Japanese thing that indicates certain ambiguous forms of affection. (Actually, she makes him dig them up like a buried treasure, but whatever.) Then she ORDERS him not to see anything in that, those chocolates don’t mean ANYTHING, if he even THINKS they do she will have to PUNISH him.

“Methinks the lady…”

Oh, yeah, she loves him. She can’t come out and say it, she won’t consciously admit it, but she loves Kyon. He’s the boyfriend, the one for her.

And he doesn’t even much like her.

Think about that level of conflict. She has god-like powers, but she can’t get the guy she loves to love her back. Does that drive her epic level of crabbiness? One of the low moments of the anime comes during the shooting of their film, when Haruhi berates Asahina and starts to wallop her with a paper megaphone. Kyon actually puts his hands on Haruhi and pulls her away. Has Haruhi unconsciously guessed that if she’s cruel to Asahina, Kyon will hold her back (or he will just hold her)?

Unrequited love. It takes one character to love, but it takes two for love to be unrequited, and that’s why we need Kyon with Haruhi. To her he’s the boyfriend. To us he’s the unrequiter. (Yeah, I know that’s not a word.)

Now, all this begs the question of why Kyon is here given how he feels about Haruhi. I mean, he’s hot for Asahina, but there’s no indication that his desires will be requited either.

But we see that while Kyon doesn’t much like Haruhi, he likes what she does. In the books it’s clear that for all his complaining he enjoys the group and he enjoys the activities they engage in. He likes Asahina and Nagato as people (even though Nagato is an android) but more importantly he likes being part of the gang. This is explicit in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: he has to choose between a universe where the others as real people who don’t form his social circle, and a universe containing the SOS Brigade.

He chooses the gang. He likes being in the gang, and that’s what keeps him around.

As a pair, though, what we have is a god’s need to be loved and the human who will not provide it. You think that kind of conflict could drive a series? I do. The series is called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and it’s considered a classic by a lot of people. In fact, when you throw in the novels and manga and spin-off series, it’s enough to drive an entire franchise. It’s a lot of fun.

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.

7 thoughts on “The Power of Two: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

  1. Oh, that was a terrific post highlighting some of the many reasons I love Haruhi and Kyon as characters, and the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Thanks so much. Sort of related, but have you heard the opinion of some fans (myself included) that Haruhi is on the Autism Spectrum? That’s why she behaves so badly in highschool. It’s tough for any autistic person to figure out how to be socially appropriate, and to care enough to put the knowledge into action. Though it depends entirely on the person and their place on the spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I hadn’t heard that theory. As a professor I’m not supposed to go there: my university makes it clear that I’m not qualified to make judgements about who is on the spectrum and where, and I don’t want to get into the habit here (because it’s a bad habit for me).

      But has anyone considered that one reason she might behave as she does is that she’s a little spoiled? She may not be aware that that she’s getting what she wants – she doesn’t know Koizumi is an esper – and she’s definitely unaware that it happens because she has the powers that she does, but she DOES get what she wants. I assume it’s not just the gang: wouldn’t her teachers and school administrators end up affected by her powers, too? 🙂

      You know what I just thought of that we could wonder about: What about her parents? Can you imagine being Haruhi Suzumiya’s dad??? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh man that’d be… interesting.

        I don’t ever make judgements about disorders anything like that about real people, but I like doing it for anime characters because they’re not real.

        I do think part of it is that she’s spoiled, and part of it is that she’s just a highschooler, and everybody is a dick and/or bitch in highschool. However, given that she never learns to correct her behavior, it seems more complex, like a disorder.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, if she corrected her behavior, she wouldn’t be Haruhi 🙂 But a simpler answer might be that she’s fiction. Still, an interesting idea.

    It’s explicit that certain anime characters have various mental difficulties. The girls from School-Live! are pretty clearly (and appropriately) suffering from PTSD. And Misaki from Welcome to the NHK is symptomatic. As to Haruhi, I think she’s like that because it’s her world and the rest of us just get to visit 🙂

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    1. 1st. I found your Blog today after finishing the Anime (still haven’t seen the Disappearance). So I’m just glad I’m not the only older Anime watcher in the world. 2nd. I enjoyed the breakdown. 3rd. I would say Haruhi doesn’t really fit the symptomatology of being on the spectrum but may have ADHD with the emphasis on the Hyperactivity and impulsivity. She could fit the diagnostic criteria according to the DSM-5, just based upon what is seen in the cartoon. She could also just be a teenage girl. 4th, I’m wondering if Haruhi’s love is completely unrequited? We see Kyon waffle back and forth in his relationship. He is also a teenage boy, so I always get the feeling that we are only getting an incomplete picture of Kyon’s thoughts. You can see that he appreciates being in the group, but there’s still more to the reason he shows up, and I feel like he just doesn’t want to acknowledge his feelings for Haruhi. Great breakdown of the series, lots of great points in your blog post.

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      1. 4. Nah, I think he really doesn’t like her. I remind you that at one point he was ready to punch her right in the face 🙂 And in the Endless Eight he knows all he has to do is go give her a hug and a kiss, and he won’t, not even to end the whole mess and save the whole gang. Kyon wants Mikuru…look at how jealous he gets of Koizumi during the shooting of their movie.

        At least that’s how it reads to me. The cool thing about media is once they are out there we each watch them with our own eyes and project our own interpretations on them. I think that’s one of the reasons Melancholy is so much fun…everyone has to figure out what exactly is going on!

        I liked Disappearance, and hope you do, too. Welcome to the community.

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  3. Hmmm old post but hey here goes lol.
    This issue with the manga, novel anime ….whichever …..is the premise is well…bland. Its basic structure is a spoiled bratty bossy high school teenage girl somehow has God like reality warping powers and is somehow totally oblivious to any of it in any kind of way. The 4 cohorts of her brigade all know but can never tell her about anything and lets her have her way just so she doesnt warp the real world. The esper who seems to estimate conclusions to most the situations lets it all persists and rests majority of the problems to Kyon to solve it. While Asahina is from the future all the events have to play out without her intervening in much while taking abuse Her. Exploiting asahina boobs and prettiness to every pervy advantage. Yuki being a literal android devoid of emotion knows just about everything going on and has powers that seem to rival Haruhi. But she can only observe and anything to change the courses of the issues she will be reprimanded.

    The issue with the entire plot point is….there isnt really one but just keeping haruhi happy and only Kyon can deviate those godlike situations she gets them to a different course. All the weight is on his shoulders. To keep her from being bored. Its a…..corny plot with interesting cohorts. The ” romance ” aspect is barely there but…its buried in too much overshadowing. Kyon being the normal guy….has 3 way ships he could go but cant. He cannot have a real relationship with Yuki being she is a super powered alien humanoid with data reality warping powers devoid of any real human emotion and any display of it already has shown to have consequences. Haruhi who yet another god like powered being entire persona is devoided of wanting real human connections and her idea of anything romantic doesnt exist. The only thrill she gets is having fun and being in charge of it and wanting unordinary things to happen. Her emotions are also tied to here powers which is not good at all.

    Asahina is a totally different case but she is wrapped in an enigma. Its a mystery in its own space. A time traveling young version of herself who does have actual feelings for Kyon but cannot act upon them cause some classified things will happen, She also cant give out any information about what happens them so its classified information. She does warn him not to get too close to her but its not directly implied why. The reason is because certain things will change the future if certain things are let allowed to happen …plus haruhi knows kyon is attracted to her highly and has feelings for her. Even the older version of Asahina lets him know subtle style the same thing. So in order to keep that future in check ….kyon has to go with it and so does younger asahina even tho neither knows what actually happens. Only older Asahina does. Which honestly points Asahina is who he settles with in her timeline while Haruhi and Kyon are friends in college years. So when comes ti love interest….real love interest…its Asahina. Kyon is a sort of balancer of Haruhi and her powers. Its not a love interest as much as its a comradery he shares cause he is used to her ways and its his role to be her conscious of sorts. As much as her exploits and bossiness and ways irks him to no end but deepdown he likes the comradery of the group and its not boring.

    In all its a ok story but too much left to be wanted and not as much fleshed out.

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