Wednesdays Watching Anime – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2009)

November 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

We’re doing the OP from the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, “Super Driver” by Hirano Aya!

There’s so much at play in this OP, it’s hard to know where to start. Really, it all hangs together so loosely, I could start anywhere. You know what? I will.

There are two things that an OP for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has to push: first, outrageous cosmic hijinks verging on the supernatural, and second, Haruhi’s uniquely strong personality. The former is accomplished rather perfunctorily by running the principal cast through a storm of scientific terms and equations, starting at 0:43 and at 1:12, and entrapping them in a bunch of confusing street signs at 0:53. That’s it. It’s certainly nothing like the OP for the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya,the opening shot of which is a starscape and the climax of which has an extended sequence of characters soaring through a blizzard of sci-fi and fantasy objects. It’s a new season, so the focus is on the show’s emergent strengths, beyond merely its premise.

The foremost of those strengths is the song. Hirano Aya, the voice behind Haruhi Suzumiya, gives an excellent performance with this driving anthem that has just the slightest bit of punk flavoring to taste. Everything about it, even its title “Super Driver,” conveys the indomitable will of Haruhi, forcing everything onward and upward, which the anime itself ultimately presents as its own form of magic. The images in the OP follow suit: Haruhi’s introduced first in almost every scene, leading the pack if not literally dragging the viewpoint character Kyon along with her. At one point, around 0:52, she even explodes out of the screen as a kind of visual stamp on the action.

The rest of the aesthetics? I don’t know. The repeated use of halftone dots, Ben–Day dots, geometric backgrounds, and onomatopoeia to evoke older-style print graphics, perhaps pop art, is lost on me, unless the intent is to evoke Haruhi’s love of pulpy topics like time-travelers, aliens, and ESPers that often appear in comic books and manga. It’s sustained throughout and it’s the dominant motif in the artwork of the OP, but I can’t say why it was chosen, at least not with any confidence. The same goes for the intermittent use of effects that resemble film grain and fading, starting at 0:12 and 1:02. I definitely recall it being a fad from 2007, when digital television and the HD revolution finally had begun to make it feasible for animators to degrade the quality of their anime’s art in ways that would be perceptible to viewers as something other than a bad signal. See, for instance, OP6 for Bleach. Still, the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was released in late spring of 2009, several years after digital HD broadcasts were commonplace in Japan and scarcely a year before the transition to all-digital standards would be complete, so it’s probably not the novelty that’s at work here. Again, I don’t know. There’s simply a conscious choice to adopt older aesthetics from the predecessors to anime and manga, formerly imposed by technical constraints, in order to give texture to the art.

And, you know, that’s a valid choice for them to make. I’m sure Kyoto Animation is grateful for my approval here, they need it so badly, but it still ought to be said. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya often gets criticized for being a show where nothing happens, where it’s all about appearances, and I think that’s technically true but not really a bad thing. The viewpoint character, Kyon, is heavily invested in telling the audience a story in which nothing happens, even when signs abound that that’s not the case, and the pleasure of watching the show often comes from that tension between the low-stakes interactions of the characters and the sublimated drama of their circumstances. Likewise, the OP takes a pop-culture trifle, full of catchy music and attractive art, and uses it to paper over the more intriguing parts of the story — talking cats, abused members of the computer club, rich heiresses with snaggletooths, et cetera.

That obfuscation might not be entirely successful, judging from how often people dismiss the anime anyway, but there’s still something intelligent there, deliberately hidden to add to the overall mystery. When the main character of your show, Haruhi, is so desperately interested in dispelling that mystery herself, it puts you in the trenches alongside her. I have to say, that’s a fun place to be.

Haruhi Suzumiya gives one of her classic expressions in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Haruhi Suzumiya gives one of her classic expressions in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

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