Part of the fanfare of the ten year anniversary for the Haruhi series came earlier in the year with the news that Funimation licensed the main series/the spin offs and later the film. As all hype trains run through the station that is “sequel buzz” whenever an endeared franchise gets a big name licensing, Haruhi was no different. Forums filled with hopes for the future of the franchise, critics stepped up with their gripes, and people placed their bets on the way things would play out. The money is obviously in cashing in on the series- after all, there are still several light novels in the main series yet to be explored. As great as it would be to see more, the question really have to be asked: Why hasn’t there been more made by Kyoto Animation all this time? Honestly, having read all of the novels and spin off content, I can say there are some glaring issues that would keep the powerhouse from fording the river.
First, a little housekeeping-the eleven Haruhi Suzumiya light novels were written by Nagaru Tanigawa that had English translations available from 2009 through 2013. I have read the entire series in 2014, and own physicals to books 1-8 and digital formats for the final three. The anime for the series liked to pick and choose stories from the books roughly in the palette of books 1-6. The spin off series, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan has nine volumes (five of which I have read and the other four I am aware of). To review for this article, I skimmed the summaries written online to refresh the more specific details that were confusing in the original read through of the series. There are obvious spoilers to the entire franchise here- not just the anime.
So where do the wheels fall off the wagon and things get so bad that Kyoto Animation wanted to veer away from the slice of life series? There are some bumps in the road, but the play doesn’t really get stopped until the third act. Surely a team that can turn an episode where the only thing that happens is the main character buys a heater and takes a nap in the clubroom into a fan favorite artistic expression piece of anime can handle working well with little to go off of in source material. For most of the series this notion is perfect- several of the chapters in the first half of the light novels are incredibly tough reads for just how dull they are. Removing the wondrous journeys of the titular introduction novel (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) and the legendary film (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya), there are a lot of slow parts that are executed perfectly in the anime, but give underwhelming results in written text. The writing principle “Show, don’t tell” comes to mind- the already well narrated story from the viewpoint character of Kyon gets double downed in the light novels and hamstrings the spark of imagination and excitement the series is so well known for. Enough talent can put the fear over this to rest, but the lack of a sure thing payoff only makes sense for the cold feet.
Speaking of sparks of imagination, there is a real lack of that in the middle chapters of the anthology. Loose ends are followed up on from the earlier novels, and the SOS Brigade takes on a few requests from random people. Sure, these sort of things happened in the first act, but what kept them fresh and exciting was the splendor of fantasy/science fiction and the odd character developments. As the story tells at this particular point, Haruhi and the colorful cast of extraordinary club members are all transitioning into very normal lifestyles and reality defying “closed space” powers of Haruhi have all but ceased. The powerful “alien” being Nagato has a lid on her own abilities due to self-restrictions placed by the events of The Disappearance, and both the time traveler Asahina and ESPer Koizumi appear to have quite a bit of free time on their hands. I call this the “middle act” because a lot of the stories were scooped up in the second season of the show. Ever wonder why there were a few repeat episodes (ie Live Alive)? The simple answer is all of season two was the first halves of books five and six of the series, with Endless Eight taking up all those episodes in comparison to ~130 pages in the novel (points to Rock for correcting me on that before)1. The other halves of the novels we never saw? Garbage. That isn’t even just an opinion, the cast literally emphasises that the chapters are a waste of time, really breaking the fourth wall and beckoning the question “Am I still on board with this?” Without diving into it too much, the story is a rehash of the island murder mystery chapters but even the other characters know the truth this time around (it is framed...again).
1Call this a footnote- I always found it weird that Endless Eight actually wasn’t published until after the events of the movie, as it is the entire catalyst for what Nagato does in The Disappearance.
Personally, the most successful (and probably last) story that the team could comb into a decent experience would be that of The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya. A game changing story in all of the right ways (by no means as powerful as The Disappearance, but as I said earlier, put nothing past the team at Kyoto Animation). My biggest joy with this particular novel is the author Nagaru Tanigawa methodically tells a full story in the novel rather than short stories that might not stick. Almost every go at making single story into a book, the end result is poetic. Time loop closed and relieved, Kyon is really feeling like he has control over life. Randomly, he is thrown into a mystery between three different instructions from two different “future” versions of Asahina and a brand new time traveler/ESPer duo. Unless it is a book though, it is difficult to see it working remotely close to how the first novel transitioned episode to episode.
Now then, the real reason we’re here.
Ambition not only works in fiction, it is an essential element to properly execute it. Too much of anything is bad, however, and ambition is so exception. Starting in book nine, a giant story arc unfolds that redefines the series (and ultimately the opinion I personally had on the franchise as a whole). The story arc is either loved or hated by the folks I’ve spoken to and read reviews by, and it divides the fan base in more ways than one. If the dull stories littered in the middle act were enough to keep Kyoto Animation from a third season, there is no way this one wouldn’t terrify them prospectively. When The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan aired as an anime, a lot people bashed the conclusion of the series. The usual excuses might apply in manga-to-anime adaptations (creative differences, source material not completed etc), but here there is no sanctuary. One character is introduced right where the canon of the spin-off anime stops following the manga, and it also happens to be the territory Kyoto Animation denies the existence of more than Russell Westbrook denies he hates Kevin Durant. Call her the other love interest in Nagato Yuki-chan or just downright the other powerful being in Haruhi- however you slice it, Sasaki is a problem.
Oh yes, Sasaki! Kyon’s long lost childhood friend who goes to the same academy Haruhi went to in the changed universe of The Disappearance. How wonderful it must be to add a new friend into the fray for the antics of the SOS Brigad- Until you actually find out she has godlike powers just like Suzumiya and has an entire cast of a time traveler, ESPer, and alien with her too. As unbelievably cliché of a move as it is, their introduction only spells doom for all forms of logic in the series. There was always a sense that even though Haruhi’s will crushed reality, logic made its way back into things once Kyon rationalized solutions to the issues at hand. Thanks to yet another team of reality defying high schoolers and the random girl by the name of Yasumi Watahashi being introduced all at once, things get incredibly crowded in the story.
Just when it couldn’t get any more difficult to follow, things in the narrative break off without reason. Here, world lines simply split off into two separate ones inexplicably in book 9- α and β. Imagine watching Steins;Gate and never having the time travel explained to you. As if Okabe just changes wordlines and it is just expected you are okay with it. Now take that kind of confusion and sprinkle it across three entire books. That’s three books- the entire first season of Haruhi essentially. Thirteen episodes with no explanation or time to put any investment into what is happening in a particular world line. To wrap the story with even more foil characters, the serial killer alien student council president Asakura shows up again, trying to kill who knows who (not even Kyon this time, surprisingly).
In what feels like a fever dream of a conclusion of two honestly horrendous stories, Kyon is thrown into the future where he sees a college Haruhi with a future him (I guess the author’s way to say “lol I decide who is canon in this ship”) for what feels like forty seconds before teleporting into the present literally in Haruhi’s bed. Haruhi, not reacting like any woman should when a dude randomly is in their bed that wasn’t when she slept, calmly changes in front of him and they go do who even cares at this point.
Oh by the way.
That girl? Yasumi Watahashi? Also Haruhi. Her name is literally an anagram for Haruhi Suzumiya in Japanese or something. But not actually Haruhi. It is like- her subconscious. Like Brad Pitt. Or Ed Harris.
The last few books are awful to follow, and they are painfully huge in scope. There is no way anyone would want to try to even touch a story like that, let alone adapt a large scale anime about it. There is far too much going on, and it abandons everything loveable about the franchise in the process of trying to outthink the room. So as soon as Sasaki and co. turn up, that usually is a good sign that the team needs to pack it up and stop making whatever it is they are working on. There has to be a giant poster of Sasaki up on Kyoto Animation’s development board room, reminding them of why they can’t explore the series any further than that point. Money talks more than logic though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw things play out in the near future.
By all means, I hope it works, I really do! But do you really want a repeat of what ended up happening to the likes of Pyscho-Pass or (in a live action example) Dexter?
Like Haruhi? Disagree with my rambling? Let me know what you think! While you’re at it, check out these other articles written this month for Haruhi Month! Thanks for stopping by!