Replace “Quantum Chemistry” with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and that’s pretty much where we’re at, folks. I…I misjudged this one, not gonna lie. I thought “Sure, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a cartoon! I can review cartoons, I do it all the time!”. But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a cartoon show in the same way the Bible is a novel. I didn’t know what it was before, and after many hours of research I still feel like I’m missing pretty vital information. This is a show with no clearly defined genre packed with references to advanced scientific and mathematical concepts. This is the kind of stuff I was coming across when researching these episodes:
Okay, let’s start with the facts. The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya is the animé adaptation of Naguro Tanigawa’s series of light novels featuring the eponymous schoolgirl. Haruhi is really bored with her everyday life and the boring people around her and founds a school club with her friend, Kyon, to find aliens and other supernatural creatures and…just…hang out with them. Oh, and Haruhi is actually an all-powerful reality warper who has to be kept in the dark about her abilities in case she does untold damage to the world around her.
The TV adaptation was first broadcast in 2006 and became one of the biggest hits in the history of animé, achieving worldwide success and becoming an unstoppable cultural behemoth. Apparently. Because, as I hinted before, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING AND NOW I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY. DID I SLIP INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?
But apparently yes, this show was huge. So after the first season was released the show seemed unstoppable. The second season was announced in 2007 and the fandom was whipped into a frothing lathery frenzy. And then…
What followed was one of the most spectacularly misjudged testings of fan loyalty that I have ever heard of. Within a single story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to piss away every last drop of audience goodwill it had accrued over the years. The franchise carried on after this for a while but it was a dead toon walking. No third season has been announced, and the franchise is now effectively dead. The arc in question was called The Endless Eight. So, what did this animé about a Japanese schoolgirl do to honk off its fanbase to the point that they abandoned it en masse? Did it involve tentacles? Surprisingly, it did not.
The Endless Eight is a story that sees Haruhi, Kyon and their friends trapped in a time loop in the last week of summer. The first episode ends with them still in the timeloop. The second episode is the first episode repeated. Because they’re still in the time loop, y’see. And each week, increasingly bewildered and enraged fans would tune in, only to be forced to watch the same episode again and again and again and again and again and again and that is not hyperbole because no lie they did this EIGHT GOD DAMNED TIMES. For real. Eight weeks of the same episode. And here’s the thing, it’s not like they just re-screened the same episode. Each episode was re-animated from scratch, each line of dialogue recorded eight times but the script remained the same with a few changes here and there. Every time.
I…just…that’s brilliant? Is it? No? I…no. It’s stupid, isn’t it? It’s real stupid. But at the same time…the balls that takes, right? But still, no. That’s just…no. But, isn’t it brilliant? But…GAWD. That’s the kind of reckless, devil-may-care creative choice that I can’t help but admire.
So here’s the thing, I know nothing about this franchise. I do not have the time to devote to exploring its mysteries and subtleties and its place in animé history. So I’m just gonna throw myself into this headfirst and review all four hours of the The Endless Eight because, fuck it. You only live once. Or eight times. Whatever.
Episode 1 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
He gets a call from Haruhi who tells him to meet her and the rest of the gang in town, and to bring money, swimming clothes and his bike. Kyon is really all that keen, but because he basically has to keep Haruhi happy like the little kid in that episode of the Twilight Zone so he goes. So I suppose I should introduce all the members of Haruhi’s SOS Brigade (it stands for Spreading Cheer to Our Student Body and Playing Real Fast and Loose with the Established Conventions of Initialisms Brigade). Each member is weird in a different way.
Okay, Mikuru is actually a time traveller from the future but yeah, I need to talk about this first. Kyon has a huge crush on Mikuru. Fair enough. They’re both high school age kids, ain’t nothing wrong with that. But everything about Mikuru, particularly her voice performance, just screams little girl and it is messed up. Every time Kyon starts inner monologuing about how cute she is I half expect Chris Hansen to show up and ask him to take a seat. Everything about how Mikuru is presented just makes my skin crawl.
Yeah, I know she’s a loli, Otaku Oceania. The fact that this trope is so common that it has a name doesn’t make it better. IT MAKES IT MUCH MUCH WORSE. If we had a specific word that meant “Somebody who goes around tearing off people’s faces and eating them while they watch” that would be a pretty bad sign for where we are as a society.
Haruhi tells them that it’s August 17 and they only have two more weeks of summer left so they’re going to have the ultimate summer before school starts again. They cycle to the swimming pool and Kyon complains that Haruhi just ordered him to come out without even telling them where they were going. Well yeah, but…she also told you to bring your swimming gear, Kyon. You couldn’t have taken an educated guess? Itsuki is just happy because Haruhi is happy and so won’t destroy the world.
After the pool they go to a diner and make a list of all the things they want to do. Sidebar, the kids all address each other very formally, like Mikuru is always “Miss Asahina” and Haruhi is always “Miss Suzumiya” and it sounds like they’re all having a board meeting. I presume that’s accurate to the setting but it raises a question for me, if you’re not on first name terms with your friends when hanging out at the local diner, who are you on first name terms with? When do you actually use first names?
Everyone seems to be having a good time, but Kyon notices Yuki sitting by herself and staring into the distance. I don’t know why this is supposed to be weird but that’s what she always does but apparently this is weird now. Anyway. After the pool they go to a diner and Haruhi sets out the plan of activities for the next two weeks. After shopping for yakutas (traditional Japanese dresses, obviously) they go to a Bon Festival which as we all know is a Buddhist festival for honouring the dead.
At the Bon festival, Haruhi and Mikuru go and scoop goldfish while Yuki buys a mask. Then they go down to the riverbank and let off some fireworks. Kyon asks Haruhi if she’s done her summer homework and she says of course she has, because that’s the only way to enjoy the summer fully.
The next day they go hunting cicadas, and then stargazing. Then they play baseball. Then they get part time jobs wearing costumes and handing out flyers for a local store for no pay just so Haruhi can stick Mikuru in a frog costume because she thinks it’s cute and Mikuru is her plaything. More fireworks. They go fishing. They go to a graveyard at night. They watch a movie. Beach. Karaoke.
On August 30th they meet back in the diner and Haruhi asks if anyone wanted to do anything else. No one can think of anything so she gives them the day off (pro tip, if a friend is giving you the day off? They are not your friend, they’re your boss) and Kyon goes home.
The next night, he tries to do his homework, but ends up going to sleep before he can finish it. Aaaaand the episode ends.
I know it sounds excruciatingly boring but it’s actually not.
It’s a pleasant enough hang-out episode and, (with the exception of Mikuru) I actually really enjoy all the vocal performances. On its own, it would probably just be remembered as a fine, faintly dull but not unpleasant episode.
Episode 2 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
Something is different this time around (and my God but those words will be precious as we go on) and Kyon instinctively feels that something is off. He has a premonition that Haruhi is going to call and then of course she does. At the swimming pool Kyon gets a feeling of deja vu when he sees Yuki staring into space, and then again at the Bon festival. They go through the cicada hunt and the part time job as before but then, one night, something different happens (oh God sweet relief).
Kyon is woken up in the middle of the night by Mikuru, sobbing in the register of a wounded bat, who tells him that something terrible has happened. Next, Isuki comes on the line and tells Kyon that they have a situation and that he needs to come meet them.
Kyon, Mikuru, Isuki and Yuki meet in a public park and Mikuru tearfully explains that she can’t travel to the future anymore. Itsuki explains that they’re caught in a time loop that’s been repeating over and over and that he’s been having intense feelings of deja vu. He says that he figured it out when he spoke with Mikuru and Kyon angrily interrupts saying “Next time call me when you want to speak with her!”
Kyon assumes that the timeloop was caused by Mikuru because she’s a time traveler (that is profiling, dude) but Itsuki says that it’s Haruhi who’s to blame, and that she must subconsciously want summer to last forever. Also, if you’re a fan of “Itsuki looking like he’s about to take Kyon roughly like a longshoreman” I would definitely recommend Episode 2.
Itsuki says that Haruhi probably has no sense that this is happening, and that it would almost certainly be disastrous if she did. He tells Kyon that everyone’s memory resets with each loop and that the reason they can sense deja vu is because they’re the ones closest to Haruhi, but that there’s someone whose memory isn’t affected at all. Yuki then drops the bombshell; because of her alien nature she has experienced every loop with perfect recall. All 15,498 of them.
That’s right. Episode 2 of Endless Eight takes place almost six hundred years after Episode One. And Yuki remembers all of it.
Episode 2 shows how Endless Eight could have been awesome if the creators had just had a bit of restraint. The scene where the truth about the time loop is revealed is delightfully creepy, and Yuki’s emotionless monotone as she recites the mundane details of the last 15,498 loops to an increasingly freaked out Kyon is really effective. It sets the stage for a great resolution…that won’t arrive for another three hours.
Cycling home Kyon muses on what Yuki has gone through, and what it must feel like to experience the same events over and over and over.
The next night, we’re back in re-runs as they go star gazing again.
When Haruhi falls asleep, Itsuki and Kyon discuss ways to break the time loop and Itsuki suggests that Kyon grab Haruhi from behind and tell her that he loves her because…I actually think he wants to get Kyon killed? I mean, I haven’t watched most of the show but I am getting a distinct vibe that Itsuki is a serial killer who enjoys watching people die. Kyon says that that’s not going to happen and Itsuki suggests that he do it and then clarifies that he was only joking and wistfully says “That’s not a role I can play.”
And so Kyon and the others just wile away the long summer days doing exactly what they did before. Baseball, graveyard, bowling, karaoke. And on August 30th they’re once again back at the diner and Haruhi asks if there’s anything else they want to do. When no one can suggest anything Haruhi goes to leave. Kyon desperately tries to think of something to make her stay but can’t. The episode ends with Kyon leaving his homework unfinished as school’s never going to start anyway.
Episode 3 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
Episode 3 is on my shitlist. Episode 3 can go straight to hell. Episode 3 is a garbage episode and if you like it you’re a garbage person.
Episode 3 is the “Oh shit, they’re really doing this” episode. Episode 3 is where it all comes crashing down. Episode 3 proves the non-existence of time travel, because if someone invented time travel in the future they would have come back and stopped this episode being made and, yes, this makes Episode 3 a kind of Baby Hitler Episode, and no, I don’t think that’s an unfair analogy.
It’s Episode 2. Again.
There is nothing new of consequence. A few re-ordered lines of dialogue, but that’s it.
Fuck Episode 3.
Pool, Bon Festival, Fireworks, Part Time Job, Oh No We’re in a Time Loop Whatever Shall We do? I dunno let’s just play baseball and go to the fucking graveyard and sing in the goddamned karaoke like we’ve done before and not actually devote any effort to trying TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY AND MAYBE BREAK THE TIME LOOP GAWD!
They end up back at the diner and Kyon again fails to suggest ANYTHING that they should do and Haruhi walks out and it all starts over again and I die a little inside.
I want to get off. This was a huge mistake.
Episode 4 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
Episode 4 is a liar and a bad role model for our children. It seems like something might be actually happening, all through the episode even as we go through the stupid swimming pool for jerks and the sucky bon festival and the fireworks display for people too stupid to live just as before, there’s this recurring motif of clouds and planes which seems to be strongly hinting that the key to escaping the time loop is something to do with planes. Like, maybe what Haruhi really wants is a foreign holiday but she’s scared of travelling abroad and that’s what’s keeping her from fully enjoying her summer? That would make sense, wouldn’t it? YEAH. IT WOULD.
Even at the final meeting in the diner, Kyon thinks to himself “There must have been some clue” and the episode has the fucking unmitigated BRASS to show us the plane flying through the clouds.
Because the solution to breaking the time loop has absolutely NOTHING to do with the plane.
Episode 5 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
WHY DON’T THEY KILL HER?
WHY DON’T THEY JUST KILL HER!?
KILL HARUHI SUZUMIYA AND YOU SHALL BE FREE! WE SHALL ALL BE FREE OF THIS LIVING DEATH!
Sorry. Almost lost my cool there for just a second.
Episode 5 is no Episode 1, and if it ever compared itself to Episode 2 I would smack it in the mouth and tell it to know it’s damn place. But it does have one new scene that wasn’t in any of the previous episodes so that puts it ahead of those degenerate scoundrels 3 and 4 (damn their eyes). There is actually a tiny little scene in the graveyard where Kyon asks Yuki why she didn’t, y’know, SAY ANYTHING about the time loop to the others before they discovered it themselves. She tells him that her function is only to observe.
Look, I know it doesn’t sound like much but two and a half hours in it’s like manna in the frickin’ desert.
Episode 6 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
I’ve begun to repeat dialogue without realising it. Also, the characters have started talking to me.
Other than that, it’s the same GODDAMNED episode.
Episode 7 begins with Kyon teaming up with a wise-cracking manatee to solve his mother’s murder.
It’s the same episode. Nothing changes.
Episode 8 begins with Kyon sitting on his coach one morning watching baseball on TV.
This is it. We made it. The final episode.
But, more importantly, I have achieved inner enlightenment. I now see that all time is an eternal loop and I am one with it. I am here, I am there, I am yesterday, I am now, I am tomorrow. Time has no hold on me. I have become an immortal. I have become a god.
Okay so, sing along one last time: Swimming pool, Bon Festival, Fireworks, cicada catching, part time jobs, “Oh what’s to be done with this dreadful time loop?” meeting, stargazing, baseball, yadda yadda yadda.
And then, finally, we’re back at the diner. Haruhi asks if anyone has any ideas for anything else they can do and no one does. Haruhi makes to leave and OH GOD NO STOP HER YOU IDIOTS NOT AGAIN.
But this time Kyon finally realises that he has to say SOMETHING and blurts out that he still hasn’t started his homework. The rest of the Brigade realise that with all that they’ve been doing none of them have done their homework either. Kyon tells them all to come over to his house and Haruhi demands to come along too, even though she’s already finished hers. This is the summer experience that Haruhi has been missing and she is finally satisfied, ending the time loop.
Yup. The kids save the universe. By doing their homework.
Did I mention this was made in Japan?
As I’ve already mentioned, Endless Eight touched off a firestorm in the Haruhi fandom that may well have been the deciding factor in killing the show off for good. The producers justified the decision by saying that they wanted the viewer to experience the frustration and helplessness of Yuki as she had to endure every iteration of the time loop. Fair enough, but it raises a simple question: Why?
See, the world is full of art that is difficult or downright unpleasant to watch; Schindler’s List, 12 Years a Slave, The Passion of the Christ. But making the audience endure that can have an enlightening effect, helping them better understand the suffering the subjects of those films endured. But why force an audience to suffer through something that no human being has ever experienced or ever will (he said, tempting fate like a brazen hussy). What can possibly be gained by making an audience experience what it’s like to be trapped in a closed time loop? The only reason for the creators to do this is: Because they could.
They had the clout, and they felt invincible, and they thought they could subject their audience to anything and they’d still come back for more. It was sheer artistic hubris, and they paid dearly for it. That said, if its goal was to induce frustration, boredom and anger in its audience, Endless Eight must be considered an unqualified artistic success. Unfortunately, they created a situation where the only way for Endless Eight to succeed artistically was to fail as entertainment.
Despite this, I’ve not been turned off completely from Haruhi. I’ve seen this show at it’s worst and it was still good enough to compel me to try it at its best. If you decide to tackle Endless Eight yourself I recommend watching 1, 2 and 8. Alternately, watch all eight simultaneously while dropping acid and become a Star Child.
My scoring system came, it saw, it took one look at Endless Eight and it ran away screaming. If I was to score this using my usual method ranking animation, leads, villain, supporting characters and music it would be a decent but not exceptional 59%. That would put it on the same level as An American Tail and Ducktales The Movie, and while neither of those movies is perfect, they both have the virtue of wrapping up their business in less time than a Wagnerian Opera. The problem with the Endless Eight is something quite separate from its animation, characters and score which are all fine. It’s the basic idea at the heart of it that’s so wrong-headed. So rather than trying to crowbar it in to my usual scoring system, I’ll just recommend that you only seek it out if you’re curious or need a sleep aid.
NEXT UPDATE: 12 October 2017