Operation British, Phase Three: The Case Against Haruhi Suzumiya

(The following article will contain spoilers for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. We’re just saving you some time.) Now haters gonna hate, ladies and gentlemen, but the fact remains that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has been one of the…

(The following article will contain spoilers for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. We’re just saving you some time.)

Now haters gonna hate, ladies and gentlemen, but the fact remains that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has been one of the most popular and influential Japan-cartoons of the decade. One of many results is that the show is an effective representation of everything terrible about the medium. Colony Drop Inc. has been remiss in failing to address the many ways in which this role model for the anime industry is proudly insipid, unbearably self-satisfied trash, and we are sorry. We will now resume our duty as haters.


Not even can we argue that Haruhi is poorly made: the production values are consistently outstanding and Kyoto Animation certainly knows how to do the best possible job adapting their source material. It’s just that the material, in this case a light novel series we never intend to read, is such insufferable tripe.

At first glance a simple harem anime, Haruhi promises something more. Unfortunately that something more is a sci-fi metastory that takes a convoluted path all to reaffirm the fact that the story is in fact a simple harem anime. Many fans will deny this fact to the death, citing bit and pieces of said metastory, but that’s all a layer above. It doesn’t have to be thought about, and in the end it turns out not to be that important. What’s up front—what the story is about, what pays the bills—is an ingeniously manufactured harem anime, built specifically to sell as much merchandise as humanly possible.

(We at Colony Drop are also not so reality-impaired as to deny that in this respect Haruhi is an overwhelming success.)

Let’s cut away the frills and the fluff and take a look at what’s actually in front of us in the SOS Brigade club room: a set of rigid, well-worn archetypes built to appeal to as many geeks as possible. The anime harem is a proven, efficient machine that pulls twee love out of the codified-fetish sections of any otaku’s heart. As otaku, however, are only capable of creepy, one-sided financial obsessions, the harem settles for what’s in their wallets.

The core of any decent anime harem is a self-insertion character: you want the audience to identify with one character so strongly that they place themselves in his head, in turn vicariously experiencing all the “onii-chan”s and “I’m not doing this because I like you”s flung his way. Haruhi has two of these characters for your enjoyment, in case you didn’t feel identified-with enough.

Kyon, a young man without a proper name, serves as our narrator and the target of the harem’s affections. Kyon represents a “new”-style harem lead: the ironic harem king. This guy’s not outright repugnant, as the usual Keitaro Urashima “I sure hate being around all these women who want my dick!” blank slate is, but that doesn’t mean he reaches anything approaching tolerable. Sarcastic and exasperated at all times, Kyon effectively distances himself from the typical harem anime goings-on by reminding the viewer repeatedly of how ridiculous his situation is (a la Zack in Saved by the Bell, another notable high school comedy drama). The problem with this approach is that simply pointing out your own tired genre tropes doesn’t exempt you from leaning so hard on them. Case in point, even the transcendentally awful Crystal Triangle has a scene where the hero says “this is really turning into a cliche.” We still weren’t laughing with him.

The other audience-identification character is harem star and moé idol Haruhi herself. Let’s not mince words here: this character is unbearable. She is also literally deified, both by the show and in turn by the fanbase. How does this happen? Simple: she’s an otaku. She can’t communicate with people: if she existed, you wouldn’t be able to make it through five minutes’ conversation with her. She’s an ADD case whose every whim must be entertained right now. She can only express herself to the guy she likes, and only then on the level of a petulant toddler (unfortunately, no abbreviation for “petulant toddler” rings quite the same way “tsundere” does). Otherwise the apparent height of physical and mental perfection, Haruhi’s only worry is the creeping fear that she is in not fact special enough.

And it gets worse from there! I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version of Haruhi’s back story and just tell you that she turns out to be a godlike entity who unconsciously wills everything that she wants into happening, including the appearance of all of her friends. Furthermore, if Haruhi is ever unhappy or confused or in any way psychologically shook up, she might inadvertently destroy the universe. So she’s not just a spoiled brat, she’s a spoiled brat with a divine mandate to get everything she wants all the time. You might ask “what’s to empathize with there?”, and I will point towards the nearest geek convention and tell you that a lot of whiny, self-obsessed teenagers watch Japanese cartoons these days.

(There is a fan theory that Kyon is, in fact, the godlike entity who unwittingly willed Haruhi into being. To this, I argue that as they’re both audience substitutes, either possibility is pandering wish fulfillment, so it doesn’t really matter.)

The final irony of the plot is that these revelations change nothing. The original TV broadcast that I watched was aired out of chronological order, leaving the big reveals for the very end, stringing the audience along in hopes that the final secret might have been an interesting one. Ultimately, all it means is that the main heroine is still reverently treated by the viewer and must be kept happy by the protagonist at all costs, just like every other moé heroine ever. It was just never literally stated before that the world would end if she was sad.

The rest of the harem consists of a set of simple fetish objects that hit the bases for a variety of fan demographics: a pretty boy, for the tiniest dash of sexual tension that is all that is necessary to set the heart of the yaoi fangirl ablaze, a chesty airheaded abuse target and Rei Ayanami.

There’s little to say about the other two, so let’s just go for the victim. There are a lot of terrible things about this show, but she’s a strong competitor for the top spot. Mikuru Asahina’s distinguishing features include huge boobs, doe eyes, and the worn-down abuse victim’s perpetual “please don’t hurt me anymore” frightened stare, with an accompanying mousy stammer between embarrassed squeals. The character’s entire purpose in the show is to be sexually abused by Haruhi: this ranges from being subject to fondling at all times to being forced to wear various otaku fetish outfits to, in a particularly classy scene, being used as a prop in a gang-rape blackmail threat. Nobody really seems to mind, least of all Mikuru herself. I’m hardly averse to T&A in my Japtoons, but this is just fucking creepy.

This, combined with Kyon’s above-it-all narration, is one of the things I find particularly intolerable about Haruhi: its smugness, its insistence that it is somehow clever for simply being conscious that it is trotting out the same old shit. Frankly, I have more respect for a softcore skin-fest like Queen’s Blade–a simple piece of borderline pornography that knows what its audience wants and delivers with neither shame nor hesitation–than Haruhi with its smirking and eye rolling as the heroine hilariously molests the one with the big tits for the eighth time this episode and the audience pretends they’re

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  1. Colony Drop, I must congratulate you all because after stumbling upon this blog I was reminded why I was drawn to anime in the first place. A reason that I find very hard to describe, but I think I can safely say that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is the antithesis of it.

    I’m now off to read all of your reviews.

  2. Wow.Congratulations Colony Drop,you have already managed to piss off some fanboys.Like the one at the top.

    It seems that not even supposed God-like entities are safe from an O’Neil-style space habitat crushing down on them.

  3. I hate Haruhi, buncha retarded faggotry and the Hare Hare Yukai is the worst dance number ever.

  4. I was going to respond to this, but I think /a/ and Wild Tengu have set the discourse bar too high for my poor brain.

  5. I’m kind of torn on allowing those brain dead type comments, as while they’re amusing to see idiots get offended but unable to argue for something coherently, it kind of kills any sort of actual discussion.

  6. I think it’s helpful to let a couple through to demonstrate what we’re up against, but I wouldn’t want to let them all through.

    Still, it’s hard to get real discussion going on Haruhi anyway, partially because, well, we have about a dozen permanent readers who tend to agree with us more often than not, and partially because, well, it’s Haruhi. It’s the otaku sensation of this decade, and as such it tends to have a sort of Evangelion effect where its advocates become myopic talking about how great it is and its critics are so flabbergasted by its popularity that they often stumble all over themselves trying to take it down a peg. (Obviously, that last statement doesn’t apply to us and select of our readers, because we’re both perfect and awesome.)

    If we’re going to get any mature, civil discussion about the ultimate merit of Haruhi, it’s probably going to have to be a few years removed…and in at least a few cases, to allow certain of its audience to mature. (And that’s not simply a cheap shot at the /a/ set; nobody’s immune to the enamor of youth, and Haruhi is very much an enamored-youth “holy shit, these guys GET me” kind of show.)

    But make no mistake, we don’t just want to hear from /a/ on this subject. If you have something civil to say regarding Haruhi — hell, if you want to DEFEND noble Haruhi from our knavish slander — we would like to hear it, at whatever length you deem appropriate.

    It’s sad that our trolling gets more attention than our positive posts (really, I mostly see the trolling as a means to attract the curious to the stuff we DO like), but that’s basically the state of anime blogging. Criticism is limited mostly to trolling for attention (admittedly, we try to do a bit of that with British, but it’s not our only game), and anything positive to be said for a show or film is misconstrued as blind adulation or favoritism. At the risk of sounding like the grumpy, unhip old-man-at-heart that I am, it’s very difficult to get people’s attention with civil, straightfaced discussion in a scene where you’re more or less shoehorned into being a mindless (but mostly harmless) sheep — the Naruto/squealing yaoi congoer set — or a sarcastic, spiteful wolf — which sort of used to be the /a/ set, but there’s so much seepage from Gaia and the like now that the character of the board is no longer really the thoughtful-cynical set so much as it is the thoughtful-cynical set’s obnoxious little brothers. The middle ground is exasperatingly hard to find if you’re not already hip, and with the pronounced (physical and/or mental) youth of anime fans in general, it may well take a few years before one is mature enough to really step back from one’s particular anime sub-clique and start thinking critically about their relationship with Japanese rape cartoons.

    I think we should take a few minutes to get up and stretch before we continue this.

  7. I think the complaints you levy against it are all accurate (although I disagree with the classification as a harem show), but I actually enjoy the show because I can see behind the curtain, the actual curtain. I get what they are doing and why but that doesn’t do anything but make it more amusing for me. I almost want to liken it to enjoying something like GaoGaiGar with complete awareness that it is a shameless toy seller.

  8. This is the best article ive read in awhile. with the aforementioned argument, we might come to the conclusion that in a way, haruhi is this generations eva, in that people are trying to hard to make it out to be something that its not. i really wish people would take japtoons for what they are, entertainment, instead of the messiah.and guys, keep on hatin.

  9. For a Colony Drop regular (never comments though, because I still haven’t yet watched most things you discussed), I still do like Haruhi. Perhaps because it’s very self-aware at itself, or perhaps more because I wasn’t as jaded as you guys are when I first watched it.

    But still, the praise of it in the anime community itself is beyond reasoning, to say. I could say that this is a backlash to that, like Evangelion (which I still like).

    Now, if you do an article like this for Kanon/Clannad/K-ON I would most likely wholeheartedly agree (I’m still ambivalent towards Lucky Star, but it’s still miles better than similar things like Pani Poni Dash).

  10. >Sean
    So far I’m heartily disappointed at the relative lack of mouth breathing moe fans on here. Do you think your past harsh treatment of them has frightened them off?

    In any case though, I’ll keep my longer, more self-indulgent points to my own blog.

    “Haruhi is very much an enamored-youth ‘holy shit, these guys GET me’ kind of show”

    Spot on with the generational thing, but in more ways than just the fact that it appeals to anime fans. The anime references could be replaced with a different set of signs and signifiers and the show wouldn’t be substantially different (although perhaps it would annoy different people).

  11. I think Kyoto Animation have to take some of the blame. It’d be perfectly possible to take the same material and actually give what implied satire there is in there some edge. I even think they got some of the way there with the “first” episode’s student film.

    Compare it to Shinichi Watanabe’s similar projects where he embraces and satrises anime standards at the same time, and Haruhi is shown to be utterly toothless. It’s a security blanket rather than a kick in the balls.

  12. > dotdash
    That’s entirely possible. There is this, which I hesitate to post just because we shouldn’t encourage them. But it does show a particular clique of anime bloggers throwing some incoherent criticism at the piece, don’t expect them to write in complete sentences though. Or to have actually read the piece.

  13. I liked the comment on the second of those anitations pages by the guy who was confused about your focus on what he calls “middlebrow” anime. I think that’s one of those situations where you’ve got to say, “If you needs to ask, then you’s never gonna know.”

    In related news, the great music journalist Steven Wells died yesterday.

  14. Seriously, I do not know where to begin. I am so grateful that this post strives to clear the stifling haze that is killing the industry. Thank you

  15. You mean Haruhi isn’t moefied Heinlein’s All You Zombies?

    Gundam isn’t about making a statement about war and is more about selling grossly overpriced SPRUES of plass-tick? (And Merch, duh. Bandai.)

    All harem animus are merchwagons?

    Macross Frontier is merchbastard piece of shit animu that just so happens to actually be a better POS than Gundam?

    Eroge adaptations SUCK BALLS?

    Colony Drop is A++ Troll would love to be trolled by again?

    At least we don’t have to worry about merchbastardizing Overman King Gainer. Tomino made sure to make it as acid-trippy as possible for capitalists to stay the fuck away from it.

  16. Also, more tripe from lower than Anonymous scumbag hack of a blogger Owen aka saturnine? Dude, Anon trolls much better, and they probably are about the same level as he is.

  17. I’d leave a comment in protest but I’d just be playing into your hands.

  18. Also

    >>(I’m still ambivalent towards Lucky Star, but it’s still miles better than similar things like Pani Poni Dash).

    You are a faggot. A true oldschool fan should love Pani Poni Dash! since… fuck… every episode references something from the 60s, 70s, 80s multiple times. Hell, the last three episodes are a full on parody of Saraba Uchuu Senkan Yamato. If you can’t realize that, then you are a faggot and should die. Seriously.

  19. >wah

    Regarding your comment, I’ll just say that I’m not a ‘true oldschool fan’ by your standards. I enjoyed reading and listening to the rantings of an oldschool fan, but I cannot consider myself a true oldschool fan. I watch anime that I like, no matter it’s old or new.

    That means, if enjoying Pani Poni Dash is the proof of a true oldschool anime fan, then I am not one and I don’t want to be one. Simple as that.

  20. THANK YOU. God, sometimes I feel like the only person who hates Haruhi with a passion. And then I read this! You made my night.

  21. Hmmm….everyone is entitled to their informed opinions, especially when it comes to anime and especially when it comes to Haruhi.

    Obviously you saw it and did not like it. But you didn’t deserve crap like the first response. That nonsense was…ah hell, it was bullshit.

    Now, I’ve seen Haruhi and well…I liked it. It isn’t the greatest thing ever, and it’s nowhere near the love I have for classics like MACROSS, GUNDAM, and DIRTY PAIR, but I didn’t think it was the end of civilization.

    If there was one thing that I didn’t like about the show, it was Haruhi herself…as a character, she had an attitude that would, in all fairness, piss off a lot of people. She was no shrinking violet, though.

    So why is the show popular? Who knows? I don’t believe that everyone who watches the show and likes it is brain-dead, and I also do not think that those who dislike the show are a-holes. It is better that we all DID watch the show instead of pulling the bullshit pre-cog nonsense of “I haven’t watched the show, but I know it sucks!!”

    Put it this way–we all watched the show and had different reactions to it, ranging from positive to negative. That’s all.

  22. Agreed.

    I tried to watch one episode, I couldnt freaking stand it.

    I didnt even make it to Meeting Haruhi.

    But from what ive seen from AMV’s or just videos I happen to stumble across, she appears to be a rude, selfish brat.

    I mean who the hell makes their own club just so she can force its members to do what she wants without any care of how they may feel(Because it appears this Kyon character doesn’t like her very much)

  23. I dunno, I kind of liked Haruhi, and I usually hate moé stuff. There is an entire slew of episodes (such as the baseball one) that operate as pure comedy episodes, and I found them pretty damn funny.

    However, you make a very good point about the show bathing in anime clichés and then making fun of them as if the writers were somehow clever, and that’s something I would mention to my friends who tried to tell me that Haruhi was the end-all-be-all anime. Yes, the way it pokes fun at clichés is funny, but it’s so steeped in those clichés already that the jokes lose any sort of satirical bite that they might have had.

    And when it comes down to it, I think the fanbase is the biggest problem that the show has. So many people think that Haruhi is the best show of the decade, so it sours the opinions of critics like the Colony Drop crowd. It’s a fun show with a weak sci-fi plot, a little bit of romantic drama, and some funny slice-of-life comedy episodes. To claim that it is anything more than that is foolishness.

    Oh yes, Mikuru is by far the worst character. I hated nearly every moment that she was on screen. The whole it’s-not-so-bad-because-a-girl-is-molesting-her attitude was also pretty uncomfortable if you ask me.

    Anyway, it’s nice to hear a voice in the crowd that’s willing to take Haruhi down a peg or two. I’ve always felt that it got way more hype than it deserved.

  24. I think it is a good thing for otaku to be reminded on “their turf” that if their moé was brought out into the sun from its disgusting little pools found on the Internet, it would immediately be torn to pieces. Heck, your review is even tamer then what is the usual backlash to bad media that end up in the public’s eye. Example: GTA

    Still, I never want to see the word “respect” related to “Queen’s Blade” ever again for the rest of my life.

  25. Great summary of why Haruhi is unlikely to outlast its fandom’s teenage years. Unfortunately, nowadays these extend to the mid-20s, and in a few cases as far beyond that as individual access to income/parental support allows. So we may all see Haruhi cosplayers at conventions for a few years yet.

    Bob Coffee & Ben make a valid point: it’s not about US, us oldies who remember when Tomino had a full head of hair. It’s about getting money out of high school kids, who spend most of their lives getting kicked by life as far as they can see. Other people’s rules, other people’s ideas, complete powerlessness, no money, can’t get laid, can’t even dictate your own schedule… a fantasy of omnipotence would probably have worked for most of us back then. Luckily, we lived in simpler times.

    Haruhi isn’t bad, she’s just drawn and written that way. She’s no worse than Miley Cyrus. Both are blank, featureless pieces of celluloid on which a slice of a generation is projecting its desires and dreams. Their makers certainly aren’t stupid.

    Maybe we dreamed bigger at that age. The space age hadn’t died and the world was less cynical. Or maybe we just _think_ we dreamed bigger…

  26. Helen: I understand where you’re coming from, but I absolutely refuse to sympathize with anybody who makes themselves feel better by indulging in horrible things, fictional or not. And the creators of Haruhi, otaku selling whatever perversions they enjoy to a brand of likeminded loosers who love to buy, to have the same smarts as Disney, a company that tests every little thing.

    Superficial nitpicking: “I’m just drawn that way” meant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit that Mrs. Rabbit was written as a good girl, even if she didn’t look it. That moé little piece of trash is a monster.

  27. I see what you mean, Didi, but we are, and create, our own monsters. Haruhi and Miley and Disney are expressions of the world we made. We won’t wipe them out of existence unless we fix the world – while people need their security blankets they will go to any lengths to keep them, however horrible others think them.

  28. “they will go to any lengths to keep them, however horrible others think them.”

    That’s right. I just think it is for the best, for mental and social reasons, not to let anybody pretend it’s okay to have unhealthy security blankets.

    Also, I meant for the second sentence from my previous comment to end with an Illipsis. My apologies if it didn’t make any sense. :p

  29. Helen: I’m not sure if what I was trying to say came out very clearly. Here’s what I meant:

    A person only can make his or her own choices about whether to mature, but should always be aware better options are available. Thankfully, some people do.

    About the nature of media created to satisfy human desires. Some are mainly good for social relation, (fads); some are particularly unhealthy for encouraging anti-social behavior (shades of otaku culture). All are bad news without moderation.

    Hope I don’t sound preachy. And thank you for responding. 🙂

  30. Not at all. I like dialogue, it’s one of the best ways to learn. Although of course, one of the great pleasures of visiting Colony Drop is the quality of rant one finds here. These guys give good rant.

  31. Helen: Yeah! There isn’t enough “good rant” on the Internet, and especially not with a good sense of humor. From my experience, typical Internet blind rage = really bad write-ups that are exhausting and boring to read.

  32. its been years since haruhi became the phenomenon that it is and i still haven’t watched any of it despite copies of it rotting on my hard drive from the time a friend of mine gave ’em to me with the assurance that this was the series that was so revolutionary it will change anime as we knew it.

    maybe it did… which is funny since the only stuff i’m watching lately are fist of the north star and votoms.

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