Listening to: Itsumo no fuukei – Satoru Kosaki (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya OST)
Spoilers follow for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Comedic works represent a relatively miniscule portion of my media consumption, a fact that my younger brothers were quick to pick up on this past summer. When I mentioned that I’d just finished watching another anime, the conversation between us went something like this:
“Was it sad?”
“…why would you think it was sad?”
“Because you watched it.”
Considering that the anime I’d watched most recently were Attack on Titan, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Code Geass, and Cowboy Bebop–each one of them containing scenes ranging from the mildly melancholy to the soul-crushingly depressing–I realized that they had a point.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, despite its name, is a much more cheerful show than anything else I’ve watched recently. It’s chock-full of hilarious antics, over-the-top characters, and preposterous situations, all backed up by a narrator who is clearly exasperated about being forced to participate in them (and a soundtrack that makes me dance in my seat).
The basic plot is fairly simple. Kyon, an ordinary high school student, unwittingly gives his classmate Haruhi the idea to create a club known as the SOS Brigade, whose purpose is “to find aliens, time travelers, and espers, and hang out with them!” In addition to Kyon, Haruhi recruits three other members for the Brigade: quiet and emotionless Yuki Nagato, cute but easily intimidated Mikuru Asahina, and perpetually smiling transfer student Itsuki Koizumi. By the third episode it is revealed (not particularly surprisingly) that the three other brigade members are an alien, a time traveler, and an esper, respectively. All three inform (and warn) Kyon that, unconsciously, Haruhi is able to alter reality with her wishes. The remainder of the plots in the series deal with various situations, ranging from solving mysteries to preparing for school events.
tl;dr version: A club composed mostly of supernatural beings must ensure their classmate doesn’t discover that she’s God.
That brings us to today’s topic. After watching an epic video-game duel between the SOS Brigade and Computer Club–rendered in an imaginative style reminiscent of some scenes in Calvin and Hobbes–the last thing I had expected was for the next arc of episodes to keep me on the edge of my seat with tension and no small amount of horror.
“Endless Eight” (エンドレスエイト, Endoresu Eito) is an arc that encompasses the brigade’s summer break. The first episode is fairly innocuous as far as Suzumiya goes, and involves the usual plotline of Haruhi dragging her friends/minions into as many entertaining situations as she can: trips to the public pool, batting cages, and a festival; a “test of courage,” fireworks display, and bug-catching contest; and multiple meals at their favorite cafe (reluctantly funded by Kyon). All in all, I enjoyed the episode as a fairly standard example of the series.
I didn’t move on to the next episode until the following day. At first I was confused, then slightly disconcerted, as the events of the previous episode re-played almost exactly. At one point I skipped ahead in the episode to make sure that I wasn’t just watching the same episode over again, only to find that the details were subtly different: different swimsuits during their trips to the public pool, different drinks at the cafe, and a sense of underlying unease in the narration. Kyon’s vague remembrance of having seen all of this before was reinforced by my definite remembrance of having seen all of this before. Matters come to a head that night, when the four other Brigade members meet and realize that they have, indeed, seen all of this before. Yuki, the only member who remembers what has happened, reports that they have repeated the last two weeks of summer, from August 17th until 31st, almost 15,500 times (595 years). For me, that was the moment of true horror.
From my perspective, “true horror” isn’t something that makes you jump or scream. It’s cerebral in nature: something that sticks to the back of your mind and gnaws at it until you feel like you can’t take it anymore. It’s the long moments of inaction in Alien before the monster appears, the gaping voids of nothing that leave you teetering at the edge of your chair. It’s the rising tension in Slender as you walk through the park with nothing but the narrow beam of your flashlight and the sound of your own footsteps for company, knowing that somewhere out in the darkness, a monster is lurking.
It’s also, as Caster pointed out in Fate/Zero, “the moment where hope turns to despair.” Over and over again, as they reach the final days of the time loop with no idea how to break free, the Brigade tries to figure out what they can do, and over and over again the answer they come up with is “nothing.” The aura of fatalism that hangs over all of them on August 31st is tangible, especially knowing that as soon as midnight on August 31st arrived, they’ll forget everything that happened over the last two weeks. Kyon, who in the first episode of the arc had scrambled to get his homework done before the end of the summer, repeatedly gives up on doing it at all. The fact that the episodes’ titles are all exactly the same (only differing in the arrangement of the katakana on the screen) gives it an even more disconcerting, surreal feeling.
Eventually, of course, the Brigade members manage to break free of the time loop, but the episodes have had a major impact on me nonetheless. As I sit here writing this post, I can’t help but wondering if, somewhere across the world, a bored girl is dreaming for the 15,000th time of the two endless weeks between August 17th and 31st. Call me paranoid, but with the homework I have for tomorrow I can see the appeal.
In any case, I’d better sign off. If tomorrow does come, as it is inclined to do in the real world, it would be quite unfortunate if I left work undone.