Has Haruhi Aged Well?
I still remember when Haruhi was the best thing since sliced bread. I only got into the series when the Disappearance movie came out, but people were still excited about Haruhi in those days. In Japan, Haruhi goods were displayed all over the place.
Things have changed a lot since then, though. Last year, the Nagato spinoff aired on TV and no one really gave a damn. I didn’t even watch it, personally. Also, a quick Google search doesn’t show too many English-speaking fans even remembering the anime’s tenth anniversary, especially compared to the Japanese fandom. So I’m wondering what English-speaking fans think of the series these days. Would fans of today’s light novels enjoy the charms of Haruhi? I wonder about these things…
Haruhi Suzumiya was never my favourite series, but I thought it was funny and clever at the time. While I still haven’t gotten around to rewatching the TV series, I did still appreciate the merit in the Disappearance movie when I rewatched it in 2014. This time, I decided to read the first volume of the light novel as a refresher course.
And… well… how do I put it? While it was definitely written better than your average power fantasy light novel, it did still feel somewhat tedious and dull to read in parts. The sexual harassment scenes were bad, but they were also bad in 2006 (or 2003, which was when the novel was published), so that’s a moot point.
The rest of the story was more or less exactly how I remembered it from all those years ago. Kyon’s observations usually made me chuckle, Haruhi’s behaviour ranges from quirky to detestable, and Koizumi rambles a whole lot. It wasn’t a page turner, but I had fun revisiting these old familiar friends.
Other than that, I don’t really have a lot to say about the novel. I will say that I really enjoyed Chris Pai’s translation of the first volume. I can tell that he made quite a few sensible changes from the Japanese text in order to make the writing flow in English. For example, “I hope you’ll show me the ropes” is a really good translation for yoroshiku onegaishimasu and I wonder why more translators have not thought of using it. In context, it makes loads more sense than the generic “please take care of me”. The other positive of the English translation is that it captures Kyon’s snark perfectly, and since this is the main draw of the light novels, it’s quite a blessing indeed.
That said, bits of purple prose still come through at times. Here’s a whopper from page 6:
I found a girl with long, straight black hair decorated with a flashy hair band adorning her perfectly proportioned face as she stared back at the gawking students with unusually large, black, determined eyes adorned with long, fringed eyelashes, her soft pink lips tightly pursed.
Yes, it’s a run-on sentence in the Japanese as well, but sentence clauses are organised differently in Japanese, so it’s not as clunky to read. The prose is still purple, so I won’t blame the translator too much for this one:
I suppose I would have translated this as: “It was a girl. Her proud and haughty face, adorned with long black hair and an Alice band, never flinched even as her classmates stared at her. Wide and steely black eyes accompanied her perfectly sculpted features. Her unusually long eyelashes created a partition across her face, and she pursed her pale pink lips tightly.”
Still not the best, as you can see.
Perhaps it was little things like the above excerpt that prevented the series from catching on with literary critics and mainstream book reviewers at the time. As I recall, the first volume of the English light novel did the rounds with publications like Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, but it never picked up any momentum outside the anime-loving crowd. Haruhi was probably the best chance light novels have had so far at breaking into the mainstream book market, but it failed then just as it fails now.
On retrospect, I don’t think that Haruhi aged poorly, but its appeal was always too narrow and specific for it to transcend its otaku roots. And because anime fans these days have such short memories, I wonder if even today’s otaku appreciate the good things about Haruhi. Haruhi might be less on-the-nose when it comes to its self-aware humour compared to modern light novel adaptations (this season’s Re: Zero readily springs to mind), but it still comments on genre tropes that are as common today as they were ten years ago.
Overall, I’d say that my opinions from 2014 still apply:
To me, the sci-fi angle was never what Haruhi was really about. This is a story about a girl who wishes she could have been extraordinary and a boy who wishes for the same. It’s about as honest and empathetic a take on the teenage “chuunibyou” complex as you can get – and this franchise predated the chuunibyou fad several years!
So to those who are tempted to think that Haruhi is outdated now with nothing new to offer to an anime fan these days: I’d say you’re wrong. Haruhi is still relevant and the story it tells is still resonant. As long as we as human beings continue to value that which we do not have over that which we do have, I think Kyon’s character journey will strike a chord.
So yes, I liked the novel overall, even if it’s one of those cases where the anime elevated the source material.
What do you guys think of Haruhi after ten years?