It’s been a while since I wrote about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but what astonishes me about it is that every time you think about it, you see something you hadn’t noticed going on before. I mean, not even Cowboy Bebop is THAT rich.
But what got me thinking about it again, bizarrely, was Welcome to the NHK. NHK is one of those shows where the protagonist – the character who drives the plot – is a woman, Misaki, while the central character – the character the show focuses on – is a man, Tatsuhiro. You’ve seen that in other places, too, like The Flowers of Evil (Nakamura/Kasuga). It’s like the protagonist is hidden behind the central character.
Now, it’s not like Haruhi Suzumi is hidden behind ANYONE, right? I mean, although, again, the central character is the boy (Kyon), it’s not like nobody knows who the protagonist is, right? Even KYON know that Haruhi’s in charge! Hint: The show is named after her.
What’s REALLY interesting in Melancholy is that Haruhi is the protagonist of a show that doesn’t really have a plot.
Right? Melancholy is basically a slice-of-life show. They are (sort of) high school kids making their way through high school. Well, they aren’t, except for Kyon, since Mikuru is a time traveller, Koizumi is an esper, Yuki is an alien, and Haruhi is a god, but still, that’s where the show goes. Ultimately nothing happens except that time passes. Classic slice-of-life.
That’s the nature of slice-of-life. Because it doesn’t go anywhere, the plot doesn’t need to be driven anywhere. A character can be central – think of Konata from Lucky*Star – but there’s no real protagonist because there’s no NEED for a protagonist.
But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya HAS a protagonist: Haruhi Suzumiya
Now, I think she’s a great character to begin with because of the tropes she violates with a will and a way. For instance, we have gods and we have humans; but how often have you seen a human who doesn’t know they are a god?
And, in a lot of ways she’s gender role-reversed. There are lots of female protagonists, soul women, who are weak physically and mentally but have great personalities; Haruhi is smart and strong, but she’s also a bully and a spoiled brat. She’s an anti-soul woman.
But being the protagonist of a show with no plot is also unique and that’s another of the things that makes Melancholy an interesting show. Haruhi is like a bottle rocket, right? You light her fuse and she’s going to go SOMEWHERE and because she’s the protagonist she’s going to take the show with her.
But you don’t know WHERE she’s going to go. She doesn’t NEED to go in any specific direction because the show isn’t going in any specific direction.
So most of the show ends up in a kind of tension between Haruhi blasting off into space, and the others, especially Koizumi and Yuki Nagato, trying to steer her away from the minefields of the universe/closed space/whatever. Right? You’ve seen that, I’m sure. Haruhi blasts off … I don’t know, how about she decides to enter a baseball tournament, right? Koizumi figures out what’s going on and Yuki uses her powers to adjust the world so that Haruhi doesn’t crash the universe, while Kyon rolls his eyes and Mikuru squeals and bounces her boobies.
That formula runs through most of the narrative arcs of Melancholy, and they all start in the same way: Someone/thing lights Haruhi’s fuse and WOOOSH! There she goes! Where’s she going? Who cares! We have to stop her before she creates a closed space that destroys the world! Koizumi figures it out and Yuki uses her powers to get Haruhi back under control. (At the end of the Endless Eight it’s Kyon that gets her under control, but the structure is the same.)
(In the books there’s some motion in the Kyon/Haruhi romance, but not a lot. The books cover twice as much territory but except for the revelation that Kyon loves Haruhi so much that he would die for her, nothing still happens.)
In physics we were always careful to distinguish between speed, which is an absolute, and velocity, which is directional. Most protagonists supply VELOCITY to a plot; they take the plot in a direction that leads to the denouement. Sure, right? Think of Okabe from Steins;Gate. He has to find a way to save both Mayuri and Kurisu. That’s the direction. Outlaw Star: Gene has to find the galactic ley lines. Ergo Proxy: Vincent has to save humanity. They are taking the plot SOMEWHERE.
But Haruhi isn’t TAKING the plot anywhere; she’s MOVING the plot. She is speed, not velocity. The show goes places because Haruhi says, “Let’s go,” and then everyone else has to holler “NOOO! NOOO!” and drag her back to Earth.
Think about that: She’s a protagonist who is PREVENTED from moving the plot forward. Where else have you seen that?
That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I think it’s literally unique. I’ve seen scenes like that, but not an overarching plot like that that I can recall.
BOOM. They did something that hadn’t been done before. Just another reason to love The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
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.
Aside: Yeah, I missed you last week. I was on the road and just plain forgot. Sorry about that.