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 (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.