I figure I have to write about this sometime. I don’t want to, but I will.
The second season of “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” rolls to a repetitive, but intriguing start with a series of eight episodes of nearly the same scenes.
For anyone unacquainted with this series, the first season started an anime craze. It’s a simple love story between high school students Kyon and Haruhi Suzumiya. Suzumiya, fascinated with beings from outer space, starts a club known as the S.O.S. Brigade. The mission of the club is to search for psychics, time travelers and aliens. Ironically, the club has attract an odd trio of students: a psychic named Itsuki Koizumi, a time traveler girl named Mikuru Asahina and an invincible alien named Yuki Nagato.
They all stick around to please Haruhi, who happens to be a god. The fate of the entire world rests on Haruhi’s well-being. Kyon’s destiny is to make sure she is always happy, so that the world doesn’t self-destruct.
Season two actually starts fine in episode one with the “Bamboo Rhapsody” story. Mikuru engages in a stellar time travel episode, in which Kyon and Mikuru jump back three years in the past to help Haruhi make some mysterious chalk drawings on the ground. The episode is an intriguing head-trip which leaves Kyon wondering whether he actually inspired Haruhi’s fascination with aliens, psychics and time travelers.
Then the series take a serious downer. Sort of. Episodes 2 through 9 focus on the “Endless Eight” story arc. This is an adaptation of a two-chapter story in the manga, in which all the characters are trapped in an endless summer vacation, which takes place between August 17 and August 30. This is due in part because Haruhi doesn’t want the summer to ever end.
The characters soon discover that time keeps shifting back two weeks from the end of August 30, because something in the time continuum is missing. Mikuru is the only one who knows exactly what is wrong, but she can’t give away anything, because it’s classified information.
This is actually a cool mind-trip, if it only went on for two or so episodes. However, Endless Eight plods on through a draining saga of eight episodes of nearly the same events. This is definitely the story arc that will test the patience of the most devoted anime lovers, who would rather watch something different in every new episode.
One could possibly say that the producers of the series wanted introverted anime addicts to analyze themselves and find some sort of deeper meaning throughout their own lives. However, it’s more likely that this story arc resulted from difficult infighting within the Kyoto Animation studio over the direction of the series. The first season’s director, Yamamoto Yutaka, said he only wanted “Endless Eight” to run for two episodes and apologized to the fans of the series. Then Kyoto Animation fired back with a statement saying that they have disowned Yutaka.
Regardless of whether anyone hates or loves the “Endless Eight,” the entire arc is a horrific experience within itself. The obon festival’s music is an eerie, soft flute tune that looms over the series like a scary dream. Even the voice actors give some shocking variations in their performance, especially in the last episode of the Endless Eight. Asahina is hardly understandable as she bawls her eyes out reciting each line. It’s clear that Asahina, Koizumi and Nagato are emotionally exasperated from the entire experience.
Watchers will be forever divided over whether the story is a representation of the emptiness of the kawaii culture of anime or a total mess caused by company in-fighting. The bigger question is whether it will forever be remembered as a mind-tripping masterpiece or the biggest waste of time in anime history. I’m leaning toward the latter, but only time will tell whether it will be known as an experimental classic, as “Neon Genesis Evangelion” was.
No matter what anyone thinks of it, though, it is certainly a nerve-wracking experience which will test the patience of everyone who watches it if it ever is released in America. And that’s a big “if.”
Image courtesy of randomc.animeblogger.net