The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

imageKyon was certain that high school life was going to be boring… but he couldn’t have been more wrong. When his bizarre classmate Haruhi Suzumiya is around, desperate to rustle up evidence of “aliens, time travellers, and espers” and recruit him as inaugural members of her newly-formed Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade (a.k.a. the SOS Brigade), things are anything but boring. Kyon soon learns, however, that Haruhi is not just a crazy girl with delusions of supernatural proportions; she actually is a girl of supernatural proportions, unconsciously able to recreate, alter, or destroy the universe at will. A number of supernatural secret agents have assembled at Kyon’s high school in order to observe and, if necessary, contain her.

Typically, as you would expect with main characters within manga, Haruhi doesn’t bend to the usual norms of society. She’s smart, sporty, attractive and incredibly assertive and strong-willed. It’s clear from early on that she will be the most dominant character by a fair margin. She bulldozes people and problems with tenacity and overwhelms them with her own personality. The other members of the SOS Brigade can’t help but follow her lead because they are a) monitoring her actions and her quest for ‘fun’ or b) it would be too much effort for them to refuse. Having said that, Haruhi’s enthusiasm is infectious, and this is one of the main sources of comedy. When Haruhi Suzumiya gets an exciting plan in her head, it generally means pain for everyone else, leading us to those golden awkward moments that are cringeworthy-yet-hilarious.

imageThe plots and concepts for this one are initially confusing, but I would urge you to stick with it. There are plenty of twists and turns and journeys into lots of supernatural aspects: other beings, their powers, space, time and parallel universes – and Haruhi has the vast and unlimited power to change all of these as she sees fit. If something isn’t going according to her plan, or she wills something to happen, it inevitably will change into something more palatable for her. Luckily for everyone, she doesn’t know that she actually has these abilities. Who’s to say that some members of the SOS Brigade are solely there because Haruhi unconsciously wanted them to be? These plot-related questions are left intentionally without answers and there is an awful lot going on, particularly at the start, that doesn’t really clarify much. It sometimes works against the reader as they feel that they are being kept at arms length. Even when a character attempts to explain the occasional plot twist, I admit that I still sometimes felt that I was barely following the storyline.

For this particular manga, we see events from Kyon’s perspective who, as far as we are aware, is just your average high-school student. I’m not sure how well he fits the ‘narrator’ cap, really. To begin with, he is a dispirited and sarcastic teenager who has a hard time liking Haruhi as she pulls him into her whirlwind of mad-cap activities and relentless and seemingly pointless (according to Kyon) pursuits. It is only through the insights and actions of the other Brigade members that he comes to realise what is really going on and the amount of influence that he actually has over Haruhi’s decisions and impulses. We see him develop throughout the story arcs into someone who embraces, and fights for, the non-stop weirdness that has become his life when we once saw him desperate to do anything to be rid of it.

image

I did sometimes struggle with the clunky, over-literal translations, though. To some, it might seem that the extended narrative with the complex wording is supposed to reflect the strange and supernatural content of this manga. If this element wasn’t so consistently difficult to wade through whilst reading, it could have gotten away with this assumption. In some parts, however, it does become more probable that some extended sentences, which would be natural-sounding in Japanese, are positively mind-bending when translated into English – and these haven’t been re-written at all. It makes what should be great scenes into hard slogs, and it’s a real shame.

imageIt took me more than the normal amount of time to really get to know the members of the Brigade, since they all initially start off as having some very stereotypical introductory traits. Nagato was reserved and bookish, Mikuru was the shy-yet-voluptuous one and all the male counterparts might have just been drawn the same (at times I became generally confused as to whether I was looking at Kyon or Koizumi).

The artwork, by Gaku Tsugano, is sharp and detailed with some great backgrounds. The character designs are done well, which means that anyone can differentiate between the female characters (the male ones, as I’ve just mentioned, not so much). There’s also a couple of instances of fanservice, but it’s not exactly the subversive kind. We see Haruhi in the occasional bunnysuit and Mikuru in… well, a lot of various costumes, but it is intended for cuteness rather than a sexual aspect.

image

The Haruhi franchise is a sprawling and varied one that stretches over light novels, manga, anime and spin-offs. It’s not, perhaps, something to just dip your literary toe into. The difficulties within translation are enough to perhaps put some people off, particularly if they have heard of this title through the large fandom is has generated (which is likely). If you’re interested in getting into the SOS Brigade’s universe, I would recommend it, but would perhaps point the majority towards the anime first, instead.