October 19, 2015

MANGA MONDAYS | Endlessly Hating the Endless Eight

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That’s right, we’re talking Haruhi this week! I recently convinced a friend to watch the anime, and partially because of that and partially because I’m spending the majority of fall break in airports, I’m hoping to finally get a start on the Haruhi light novels that I’ve had sitting around staring at me disapprovingly from the shelf, saying “Read me you fool! Homework can wait! You don’t need good grades, you need brilliant character development and hilarious cynicism.” Of course the books are right, but I’ve never been one to follow good advice so I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Moving on.

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Photo Courtesy of Kyoto Animation

What is the Endless Eight you ask? In 2009, Kyoto Animation produced an adaptation of Nagaru Tanigawa’s light novel, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya (to the hardcore fans out there, yes I am ignoring the original broadcast. As far as I’m concerned, the rebroadcast is the real thing). Like many shows produced by Kyoto Animation, it was extraordinarily successful and has many fans to this day. And with good reason. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. However, it has one horrible fault: episodes 12 through 19 are the same episode repeated eight times, with slight changes on each iteration, the premise being that the characters are caught in a time loop.

The fundamentally ridiculous thing about this fiasco is that KyoAni didn’t just release the same episode for two months. They reanimated the whole thing. In each episode minor details such as clothes and the order of events are changed slightly. Let that sink in for a moment. Making anime is not cheap – some anime barely have the funding to run for the length of the Endless Eight arc. I know that KyoAni is a successful studio, but that’s a bit absurd, no? What in the world would possess a director to do that kind of thing to both their fans and their animators?

The most common argument is that it gives the viewer a sense of how Kyon (the main character) feels about being trapped in the time loop — extremely bored, a bit angry at the one causing it all (no spoilers!) and desperate to escape. It also gives a sense of Nagato’s lonlieness as she counts up all the iterations. Indeed, seeing Nagato’s count jump suddenly upward by the thousands added some harsh perspective to her situation (best girl!).

However, this justifies neither the arc’s length nor it’s absurd repetitiveness. As evidence, I point you to Steins;Gate and Madoka Magica. Both of these shows convey the depression and inner conflict of characters stuck in a time loop, yet they do it in a far more engaging, less repetitive manner. And I would argue that they actually convey the gravity of the situation much more effectively than Haruhi does.

Furthermore, there’s essentially no reward to the viewer. The arc builds up suspense for a dramatic conclusion but culminates in one of the most spectacularly mundane anticlimaxes I’ve ever seen. You just keep trusting this show that you loved to death for the first 11 episodes to give you something out of this snorefest, but you get nothing.

However, I think this is also a testament to how good the show as whole is. If any other anime tried to pull off this kind of shenanigan, it’d be laughed out of the room. Picture yourself watching an episode of School Days eight times in a row. You can’t do it, can you? Yet Haruhi has an extremely devoted fanbase, evidenced by the sheer volume of Hare Hare Yukai dance videos on YouTube. Even though the show essentially wasted eight episodes, almost going out of its way to taunt the viewer, we still love it.

For some more discussion of this topic, I recommend watching the video below.