Notice: This review covers both seasons, and the movie, and the spin-off series.
Whoever tries to ask around why Haruhi was such a huge phenomenon in the anime community to the point it was treated as a religion, he will encounter a mountain of different opinions, usually contradicting ones, and lots of deep analysis concerning psychology and existentialism. As usual, most of whatever is said is overthinking nonsense, so I will now reveal the truth about what this show is really about.
First and foremost, Haruhi is a school comedy about cute girls doing cute things. It wasn’t the first show doing that, but it was one of the first ones that took advantage of the fidelity offered by the brand new storing technology of Blu Ray. Earlier moe shows were nowhere near its attention to animation, directing, and music composition, because they couldn’t be. As a production, it didn’t simply have a big budget; it was also given a tremendous amount of attention. Compared to everything else around that time, it was moe overdose. The dancing skit in the end credits, the music concert scene, and the constant praising references it was getting in Lucky Star, mesmerized countless of people who, in the typical fashion of casuals, considered the anime the best series of all times, because the colors were prettier than anything else they had seen in their lives. And if that somehow reminds you of Attack on Titan, it’s because the exact same thing happened again with that show.
I too found the animation gorgeous when I first watched it but I didn’t feel anything about that because I freaking hate moe. By today’s standards all that fidelity doesn’t even mean much anymore, since Blu Rays are commonplace and most of everything that comes out looks awesome. And that is why liking something for the pretty colors makes you a tasteless pleb.
Of course looking nice is far from enough to excuse why so many people liked the show. If it was just typical cute girls, doing typical cute things, in a typical school, it would get old very fast and it wouldn’t be so popular for all these years. In fact, the show wasn’t popular during its first half because most of the audience thought it was one of the same stuff they had already seen in Azumanga Daio or Kanon. It was during the second half when people found out there were crazy stuff going on in it. The loved the supernatural elements it had; espers, and time travelers, and aliens, and gods, and reality warping, and lots of other cool ideas. And to top all that, they were thrown in a school setting, which is the laziest idea to use, but also the most successful one because everybody can relate to something they were part of for at least a dozen years of their lives.
I too liked them as ideas but I was never made to love the show because of them, since they were nothing more than gimmicks. They weren’t semi-independent side stories taking place at the same time, they were figments of someone’s imagination, thrown there just for flavoring the moe. The done to death school setting wasn’t helping me give two shits about whatever is going on, and by now it’s obvious how moe has taken over the industry and sapped dry its creativity, since all they are doing is throwing in cute girls and random ideas that go nowhere.
At least the show attempts to excuse all these random supernatural ideas as a result of boredom. Haruhi made all that happen because she was fed up with her normal life. Which is something that resonated with a lot of young people. Boredom is a huge first world problem, and if you are a person who feels his life has no color, a show with crazy stuff, and dancing and singing, becomes a major attraction. You will sympathize with how the heroine feels, and cheer for her quest to fill life with excitement. No wonder they considered this show to be amazing.
Unfortunately this illusion breaks very easily, once you realize that in her quest to have fun, Haruhi is manipulating people for her amusement. As much as they try to tell us the world is her creation, and she can do anything she likes with it, it eventually comes down to treating people as nothing but toys. This essentially makes her a bitch who cares only about herself. She is like a spoiled kid who thinks it is the center of the universe and everything happens for its amusement. And since that happens to be exactly what a huge portion of anime fans are like, it is something they considered to be positive instead of negative because it became empowerment fantasy.
The show does its best to distract the audience from realizing what a bitch Haruhi really is, by having a non-linear plot in the first season. The events were told in a scrambled manner, thus making it feel like the whole thing was a mystery that needed to be solved by the viewer. Everybody was so obsessed with finding hints or how everything was foreshadowed ten episodes ago, to the point they completely overlooked the simple fact that they were cheering for an awful person who was playing with peoples’ very existence for her amusement. This was one of the biggest revelations the second season offered when it told the same events in chronological order. Since by then the mystery was solved, rewatching the events in a linear fashion just couldn’t hide the truth anymore.
Another trick the show used, which was still new at that time and felt very innovating because of that, was to have the whole thing being told in first person narration, from someone who is not Haruhi. Despite her being the iconic character of the anime, the protagonist is actually Kyon, a male teenager who is narrating most of everything through internal monologues. It’s so easy to excuse anything that happens this way since they are simply thoughts. Nobody can question them because nobody is hearing them in-series. Kyon becomes a foil for the viewer, saying anything he likes and feeling supreme and mighty for acting like a teenager who thinks he can explain everything without knowing much. He is also not far away from a harem lead for being surrounded by cute girls with superpowers, who like him even when there is nothing special about him. He even gets to solve the conflict of the whole series by essentially kissing Haruhi, further making it feel like she is a typical datesim girl who needs a man to fix her psychological issues with his D. Just like Haruhi, Kyon is also a very sympathetic character, because he is someone all males wished they were.
A positive side of the show is how it motivated many people to become part of something. Whether it was cosplaying, music bands, dancing, travelling to the places the show was based on, or even becoming complete idiots who treat Haruhi as the one true god, it can’t be denied that this show drove away the boredom from the lives of thousands of anime fans, and led to the creation of numerous social groups that brought together thousands of people with similar tastes.
On the negative side, the show helped to spread the plague of moeshit, where people are watching anime for escapism and really cancerous themes. Its success was one of the reasons light novel adaptations became commonplace and keep bombarding us with good ideas that are treated in completely lazy ways and are eventually nothing but harems that promote incest and immoral messages.
The legacy of the franchise itself is also full of bumps, making it a shadow of what it used to be. The infamous Endless Eight arc, where it repeats the exact same events for eight episodes in a row, is seen as a very lazy excuse to prolong the series. The sex scandal with the voice actress of Haruhi also tarnished the image of the show because otakus lose interest if they don’t think their favorite waifu is still virgin. The author not writing any more novels for several years is also seen as him having no idea of how to end a story such as this, further proving how the plot was random ideas with no planning. The movie sequel felt great only because Haruhi was absent to the most part. And the recent spin-off comedy is nothing but low effort milking of a dying fandom.
So as you see, there is nothing actually thought-provoking in this show; it is style over substance like pretty much everything Kyoani makes. Despite the seemingly complex themes, the characters remain pretty archetypical in behavior. They are defined by a generic school uniform, and some minor accessory like yellow ribbons in their hair. It uses smokes and mirrors to make it seem like it is far more than a typical school comedy with cute girls and random cool ideas, and then lets the audience to be fooled into thinking these illusions are art or depth, when in reality they are elaborate trolling.
I know how many will say that the purpose of any fictional story is to immerse the audience into its imaginary world, but there is a line which separates creative brainstorming from sickening autism, and Haruhi crosses that line way too many times. It is so heavy on empowerment fantasy that it doesn’t simply excite those who are bored, it also makes them do really stupid things in their real lives. Down to it, this show is a pretentious moe comedy that fools people with pretty colors, and superficial ideas.
Urusei Yatsura 2nd movie (Beautiful Dreamer)