Last week I mentioned that anime was one of my favorite mediums because the story is never over just because the show ends. One of the most popular anime in existence, according to My Anime List is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, is a prime example of this phenomenon.
For starters, the anime is based on not a manga, but a light novel (think young adult novel) this time. The light novel series did also get a manga adaptation, as well, however. This is what I was talking about when I said the story never ends. You liked the anime? Great, go read the light novels. Enjoyed that, too? Here are the manga. Oh, and a couple movie adaptations!
But Melancholy also serves as an example of the kinds of things Japanese media is willing to try that you probably wouldn’t see in American media. The original 28-episode anime was not aired in chronological order, for example. The anime features an ensemble cast and one of them has god-like powers but doesn’t realize it. She is constantly, obliviously changing the universe to suit her whims while the rest of the cast struggles to both live their lives and to keep her happy so she doesn’t accidentally destroy the universe in a bout of depression. The ordering of the episodes is meant to help increase the audience’s perception of her abilities. At the end of every episode in the original Japanese version two characters would talk about which episode was coming next, Haruhi would name the next episode according to the chronological order while the male lead, Kyon, would name them according to original air order.
If you need any proof that things would not be done this way in the US, look no further than the dubbed versions of the series. The episodes don’t include anything describing what the next episode will be like and they’re always shown in chronological order with no mention that there ever was another order the show could be watched in. This is just the beginning of the wacky shenanigans that the anime has gotten up to, however.
The series also includes EIGHT episodes that are almost identical as the entire group gets trapped in a time loop. That’s 29% of the series. And they’re all shown in a row, regardless of which order you choose to watch the show in. Can you imagine an American show doing something like that? Under normal airing circumstances that would be 2 months of showing basically the same episode with only a small hint of when the torture might end. The series also received a sequel movie which was nearly 3 hours long, the second longest anime movie created at that point. That wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary for American media; cartoon shows in the states have gotten movie sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations many times even if they are often half that long. However, the movie features an alternate universe and the anime spun that off into an additional 16-episode series where one of the primary cast members acted completely differently, became the female lead instead of Haruhi, saw two of the primary cast members – including Haruhi herself – reduced to far diminished roles, and two other minor characters from the original anime were promoted to ensemble members. The entire genre was changed from a supernatural slice-of-life to just a simple slice-of-life anime. While we’re on the topic slice-of-life is a genre which, in and of itself, would be unlikely to be duplicated in American media, to begin with. They usually don’t have too much drama and they aren’t even always funny.
But probably the weirdest thing to come out of the intellectual property, however, is an anime movie called The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan. The -chan suffix can mean a couple different things, but here it indicates an idea of being more diminutive or cuter. The animation style is changed to something chibi-like which is Japanese for “little” and is used to describe animation where the characters are far smaller in proportion than normal, usually with adorable giant heads. According to synopses I’ve read, all the characters have their quirks blown even further out of proportion to what you’re likely to see in reality. A complete overhaul in character and art-style? How often do you think you might see something like that in American media? And this isn’t a reboot, it’s just a continuation of the series.
Now, this isn’t to say that Japanese media is automatically better than American media. Trust me when I say there are plenty of things American media is far more willing to work with than Japanese – LGBT representation, for one. They are just different. And, of course, it doesn’t matter if you’re creating something unique if that unique thing isn’t also good. And The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is definitely good. The characters are all quirky but only rarely overdo it. The biggest flaws in the series are probably Mikuru Asahina’s English voice actress – I get so tired of breathy, helpless voice acting – and the fact that Haruhi doesn’t pull back from her insanity quite often enough for it to make sense why the other characters would want to be friends with her outside of their need to fulfill their study and protection missions.
The quality of the story is so high that even the eight repeated episodes were a joy to watch. Just enough subtle details were changed every time to highlight the sameness of everything else and give the audience a reason to keep watching. The final resolution to that story arc was clever enough to pay it off, as well. The 3-hour movie and subsequent spin-off series are equally enjoyable, even though they’re quite different from the original series.
So if you’re looking for something a little bit different from mainstream American media that takes different kinds of story-telling risks in order to tell more unique stories, you should try some anime. And if you’re going to try some anime, you can do a lot worse than The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. But if it’s your first time watching it, I definitely recommend watching it in the Kyon Order (called Anime Release Order in that spreadsheet) first. Might as well get the full experience and milk that story for all it’s worth.