Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.
I don’t know about you, but I need a change of pace. The things which the top three mangas (GITS, Nausicaa and Akira) have in common is that they’re all heavy, earthshaking, violent, bloody, and transformational. They’re all big, bold, and serious, very serious SF. And since I can barely agree with myself on the pecking order for the top three, trying to do a top ten seems like a doomed methodology. So, change of pace.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This is what the publisher says about volume one, with my notes.
Kyon (1) is your ordinary high school freshman (2) who has long given up on his childhood dreams of encountering the fantastic and supernatural… or so he thought. From the very first day of school, his classmate – the beautiful but eccentric Haruhi Suzumiya – makes it very clear that her only desire is to meet aliens, time travelers, and espers! (3) A chance conversation between the two inspires Haruhi to form the SOS Brigade, (4) a school club created for the sole purpose of getting these supernatural beings together. The initial members consist of the mute bookworm Yuki Nagato, (5) the timid but voluptuous Mikuru Asahina, (6) and the polite and ever-smiling Itsuki Koizumi (7). But it isn’t long before Kyon realizes that Haruhi’s “helpless victims” are actually members of secret organizations – both futuristic and alien – keeping watch over Haruhi, as she is the pinnacle of some major calamity on the horizon (8)…
1. A nickname; don’t ask. He’s the straight man, the everyman; he’s us, dumped unceremoniously into the maelstrom that is Haruhi.
2. Japanese High Schools are typically three years, so he and Haruhi are both 16.
3. Haruhi’s class introduction, first day homeroom of her freshman year: “Haruhi Suzumiya from Higashi middle school. If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers here, come join me. That is all.” You could almost say that she’s allergic to the “stifling group-think of Japanese society”. This makes her “eccentric”.
4. “Save the world by Overloading it with fun Huruhi Suzumiya Brigade. Or for short… the SOS Brigade.”
5. Yuki is a small, cute, quiet, shy bookworm. She is a manga cliché. But she’s also not human. What Yuki says about herself: “In the simplest sense… A humanoid interface meant for contact with organic life forms, created by the Data Integration Thought Entity that governs this Milky Way Galaxy… is what I am.”
6. Mikuru is very Moe. Moe is a Japanese slang term for an attraction to characters in video games or anime and manga. She’s cute. And Haruhi says: “Her rack is bigger than mine!!”
Haruhi has to have a lolita character around, just as if she’s recruiting for a manga. Mikuru’s the time traveler. In the course of the series we meet both her 17 year old Junior version and an older 20 something version.
7. Our mysterious transfer student. Since Haruhi considers it to be mysterious to transfer when Koizumi did, that automatically makes him not normal, and therefor interesting. Yeah, you guessed it, he’s our esper. He says: “A power that I can only describe as ESP suddenly burst open within me. At first, I thought I’d lost my mind. But a member from the agency came for me and I was saved.”
8. And the past. Three years ago… something happened…
So, the SOS Brigade is formed. Haruhi, Kyon, Yuki, Mikuru, and Koizumi. Adventures, or should I say, misadventures await!
Hopefully, you can already see some of the clichés, the SF in jokes, and standard manga fare all turned inside out and upside down. It’s delicious. Haruhi wants to meet aliens, time travelers, and espers, and have fun with them. The members of her club are exactly that. And Haruhi has no idea they’re anything other than her schoolmates.
Haruhi hates normalcy and yet her ideas for fun are shockingly normal. Shooting a student movie. A baseball game. A club trip. A list of rather ordinary activities that one has to do over summer break includes a Bon dance, bug hunting, the pool, stargazing, fireworks, a festival. But then, when Haruhi does these seemingly normal things, she does them the Haruhi way, which means capital T Trouble is about to start.
Other than the maelstrom of being a 16 year old Japanese homo sapien girl, why do three very different organizations find Haruhi fascinating? Are they all totally Moe? Hardly. The fact that strange things happen around Haruhi on a semi constant basis has to be kept from her. The policy of the alien, time traveler, and esper communities is to keep a watch over her, but don’t confront or even mention to Haruhi the strangeness that’s going on, which Haruhi is unconsciously doing. That just might destroy the world.
And what is going on? What’s behind this rampart strangeness centered around Haruhi? And this incident three years ago? What about it? Since I don’t have the space to get into it, I won’t. And it’s like explaining a joke. Once you start explaining it, it’s no longer funny. And Haruhi and the brigade are very funny to me.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a top tier bona fide Japanese pop sensation. It’s cross platform with books, manga, anime, and games. (And there’s enough Doujinshi to bankrupt even the most dedicated hentai otaku moe pervert.)
The manga can be found from our good friends at Yen Press. And this is one of the few mangas that I’ll be blogging about which is still in production. Yen Press also produces the English version of The Melancholy Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, which is Haruhi specifically amped up in comedy mode (as if the original wasn’t funny enough). They also have brought us The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan series, which explores in depth one of Haruhi’s more notable misadventures. Yen Press also has the full line of Haruhi Suzumiya novels.
I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that Haruhi-ism will take up a major chunk of my bookshelf real estate. But I think it’s so worth it.
Now, if we only had more people trying to overload the world with fun…