The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Journey of The Hero
We are all familiar with the big-screen portrayal of the hero; that rugged, resourceful alpha-male who battles against overwhelming odds and wins the day, but heroes can equally be found in the unlikeliest of characters; even within that of an underachieving high school student.
In the highly successful anime comedy/drama series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the follow-up feature film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, the unlikely hero is both the protagonist and unreliable narrator: Kyon, a freshman student at North High school. Through his colourful recollections we follow the bizarre adventures of a maverick after-school club, The SOS Brigade, in its search for paranormal phenomena. Unique and wildly entertaining, the show quickly established a loyal fan base, but hidden within the apparently simplistic storylines is a deeper vein of literary allusion and an exploration of archetypal images and themes, including that of The Journey of The Hero; as played out through Kyon’s school life.
The concept of archetypes dates back to Plato, who suggested they were ‘ideas’ 1 imprinted onto the soul before birth – what the psychoanalyst Carl Jung would, many centuries later, come to define as the Collective Unconscious 2. Influenced in part by Jung, the mythologist Joseph Campbell identified seventeen stages to the hero’s journey 3, noting that whilst some heroic tales concentrate on just a few of these, others address them in a different order. Nevertheless it is possible to summarise the hero’s journey in three stages or acts:
1. The Call to Adventure: which covers the catalyst that disrupts the future hero’s day-to-day life, his initial refusal or reluctance to heed the call, his training by a Mentor and the tests or trials he must pass.
2. The Quest: which details the hero’s challenges and supernatural aid, his transformative experience and atonement, and the acquisition of his prize.
3. The Return: which deals with the homeward journey of the now enlightened hero, replete with deeper knowledge, experience and new found wisdom.
So, how does Kyon’s school life conform to this heroic road map? Well, when we first meet him he is hardly what would be considered ‘Hero material’. Coming from an average family, this moderately intelligent, but lazy boy developed an early obsession with TV shows about Aliens, Time Travellers and Espers (those with E.S.P. abilities). After he graduated from middle school Kyon eventually concluded such exotic characters couldn’t possibly exist and yet even as he enters his freshman year at North High, he admits “…but a little part of me wishes that they did”. He openly states a desire for a normal school life, but concedes that “…reality is a hard road indeed”, equating his daily uphill walk to North High with Sisyphus 4 pushing the boulder up the mountain!
From these observations we can see that Kyon is a dreamer and he’s prone to hyperbole, while his desire for normalcy sounds suspiciously like he’s trying to convince himself that he’s outgrown his childhood fantasies. He also lacks motivation, believing there’s always tomorrow and homework can be left until the very last moment. However, Fate intervenes when Kyon meets the egotistical whirlwind and unaware Goddess, Haruhi Suzumiya and unwittingly gives her the idea to start her own after-school club. In doing so, Kyon takes his first unconscious step onto the hero’s path.
Haruhi represents two important aspects of Kyon’s journey. Firstly, she is an embodiment of the catalyst that shakes up his world as she, quite literally, drags him out of his comfort zone, and secondly, the disappeared Haruhi represents the prize that Kyon the Hero seeks. As Haruhi The Goddess, she also symbolises the Sun in Kyon’s world (she previously attended East Junior High, i.e. Kyon’s ‘Sun’ rose in the East). In a later manga story another character even describes Haruhi as being “…like the Sun…If you stare at the Sun too long, you’ll hurt your eyes, but if the Sun disappears, we lose the warmth of its light” 5. Therefore, it’s significant that Kyon’s quest for the disappeared Haruhi begins in mid-winter when the Sun is at its weakest, as is Haruhi after temporarily losing her powers. So it can be argued that Kyon’s quest is to symbolically retrieve the Sun (his prize) and return the Goddess to her rightful place in his world.
Similarly The Mentor can appear in a variety of guises, such as the three ‘not-normal’ students recruited into the SOS Brigade by Haruhi. Whilst they hide their true identities from Haruhi, each opens up to Kyon who suddenly finds he’s in the company of those he had previously fantasised about: an alien, a time traveller and an esper. The three are ostensibly there to prevent the young goddess from discovering the truth about herself, but they are also clearly interested in Kyon as much as they are Haruhi. The taciturn female Alien, Yuki Nagato regards him as an “…irregular factor” and “…the key to Haruhi Suzumiya”, the sweet and warm hearted Time Traveller, Mikuru Asahina refers to Kyon as “…chosen…”, a term often applied to the hero, implying predestination, and the cool, self-reliant male Esper, Itsuki Koizumi tells him outright “…the biggest mystery would be you”. In keeping with the Call to Adventure stage, Kyon is initially reluctant to believe the not-normals without proof, even going so far as to consider Nagato delusional, because in his childhood fantasies he had only ever cast himself in a supporting role to the hero, but he’s intelligent enough to realise that his new companions are intent on manoeuvring him into a more proactive role.
Worth noting too is that Nagato and Asahina (in her adult form) represent Campbell’s Supernatural Aid or Guides during the Quest stage, which will be demonstrated later, with the alien Nagato in particular representing two separate aspects of Kyon’s heroic journey in two different time periods. Those readers already familiar with the tales understand that she can, as an extension of her creator, effectively exist across Space and Time simultaneously.
It’s no coincidence that the SOS Brigade’s club room is the old Literature Club, nor that the sole member of that near defunct club is the bibliophile alien, Yuki Nagato. Her interest in human literature is catholic and it is she who provides the first allusions, which will form the basis for Kyon’s journey. In an early episode Nagato is seen reading Simon Singh’s The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography 6, which features a series of keys as part of its cover design – a clear allusion to the ‘keys’ challenge awaiting Kyon in the forthcoming Quest stage. She loans Kyon a copy of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion 7, a futuristic Canterbury Tales in which intergalactic travellers on a pilgrimage to seek a favour from a powerful entity share their interlocking tales. Kyon too is on a course that will see him seeking a favour from a powerful entity, challenge another and require him to atone for previous errors, whilst his new companions do indeed share some extraordinary stories and insights with him.
So, with his mentors in place, Kyon’s training begins. Koizumi attempts to stimulate his intellect through philosophical discussions and strategy based board games. Asahina uses her sweet girlish charm to evoke Kyon’s noble qualities, whilst Nagato deals succinctly with his technical queries. Meanwhile, Brigade Leader Haruhi constantly harangues Kyon for his shortcomings and treats him like her walking wallet and personal errand boy.
‘Here there be Monsters’ say the legends of old and before Kyon has even had time to accommodate the sudden changes in his life, he experiences his first disconcerting taste of the trials ahead. He barely survives an assassination attempt by a radical faction within the alien’s parent entity. The assassin, Ryouko Asakura, is defeated by Nagato, but as Asakura’s data link dissipates she hints at darker events to come. Koizumi introduces Kyon to Closed Space, a dome like dimension where Haruhi unconsciously vents her frustrations in the form of destructive, translucent blue giants: the Shin-jin. There, Kyon witnesses Koizumi transform into a ball of glowing energy in order to vanquish the giants and so prevent them from threatening the real world. Furthermore, a search for a missing student opens another unearthly dimension where Koizumi and Nagato battle a monstrous data life form. Kyon questions why these disturbing events keep happening around him. “I hate to say it, but it’s your fault” Koizumi says, blaming him for giving Haruhi the idea to create the SOS Brigade, thus awakening the sleeping Goddess. “…if we don’t do something about this, the world doesn’t stand a chance at all”.
Campbell describes the hero’s early experiences as being akin to crossing a threshold into an otherworldly realm, so whilst these trials serve as Kyon’s proof that his paranormal companions are the genuine article, they also mark the beginning of a gradual shift in his mindset, from the passive to the active. So when Kyon awakens one night to find himself inside an eerie new dimension, alongside a resentful Haruhi unconsciously bent on recreating the world, he takes his first proactive step. As the Shin-jin lay waste to North High, Kyon gambles everything on a hunch and kisses her. Although Kyon is superficially attracted to Haruhi, this kiss is actually a ploy to distract her and save the world. Fortunately it works and the nightmare realm dissolves. From his mentors’ point of view, Kyon has endured his toughest trial to date, but our young hero’s life is about to become complicated in ways he could never imagine.
Briefly mentioned earlier is Predestination, a frequently used theme in heroic storytelling, the implication being that the hero is already destined to do what he must do, and on the night of Tanabata (7th July Star Festival) 8 Kyon accompanies Asahina on a trip, three years into the past. There, an adult version of Asahina directs him to help a twelve year old Haruhi create her notorious ‘I am here’ message to aliens, on the East Junior High school grounds. Although he wisely picks the pseudonym ‘John Smith’ when the girl asks his name, from that moment onward their futures are inextricably linked. Similarly, he meets an earlier version of Nagato that same night and unknowingly sews the seed for a tragedy for which he will, one day, have to atone.
The one consistency with Kyon throughout this stage is his constant bemoaning of his lot. He considers himself to be a “…normal guy…dragged into troublesome situations against his wishes…” and views Haruhi as annoying, unreasonable, an idiot and the cause of all his woes. Of course it could be asked, why doesn’t he just quit the brigade and return to his ordinary life? He won’t because deep down inside, Kyon secretly enjoys the situations the brigade encounters, although he is unwilling to admit that, even to himself, as he is also loathe to admit his attraction to Haruhi may be more than skin deep. This reluctance to be honest with himself is a weakness that he will soon be forced to address, as he will also be forced to accept that not everything is about him. While the role of the Hero is indeed central to the Great Story, the most important lesson every hero learns is that to become Campbell’s Master of Two Worlds (the Adept) he must relinquish his ego to something far greater than himself. This is a lesson no mentor can inculcate into the student. It must be realised from within.
Whilst further trials await Kyon, there is one story in particular worth mentioning for its subtly crafted reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (which in essence states that our perceived reality is an illusion, like shadows flickering on a cave wall) 9. In the episode Remote Island Syndrome Kyon and Haruhi take shelter in a cave during a typhoon and there they expound their theories about a recent murder. Neither theory is wholly correct and it’s only when they leave the cave, i.e. they move into the light of the real world, that Kyon recognises the murder as an illusion. Although the scenario was deliberately engineered by Koizumi’s Esper Organisation to keep Haruhi’s mind occupied with a fake murder mystery to solve, this tale demonstrates Kyon’s growing ability to distinguish between what is real and what is illusory. The hero must be able to see a deception for what it is.
The World turns, seasons change and as the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya get under way, Kyon awakens on a grey, 18th December morning to an altered reality. Ryouko Asakura reappears, sending him into shock, but seeking help is futile. Haruhi and Koizumi are missing. Asahina treats Kyon like an unwelcome stranger, but stranger still, Nagato is now human and appears to have a romantic interest in him. “Just because your eyes are open that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wide awake”, Asakura casually warns Kyon, “You have to accept the reality that’s right in front of you and that’ll help you to understand everything”. So Asakura is clearly aware of the Alteration, but this dark angel offers no further assistance. From here on, Kyon must think for himself and seek aid wherever possible. He has entered The Quest.
There is no short-cut to Enlightenment and ahead of Kyon lie three major challenges: to solve The Riddle of the Altered World, to endure The Transformative Experience and to retrieve The Sun and Goddess. Only by overcoming these challenges and surmounting the fear of death will he eventually identify the architect of the Alteration, understand why it happened and why he, of all people, was destined to undertake this Quest.
Kyon’s challenges begin with an innocent looking bookmark, on which is written an instruction in Nagato’s handwriting: ‘Programme run condition: collect keys. Deadline: two days’. Since the human Nagato has no idea what this message refers to, Kyon correctly deduces that the alien Nagato left it for him before the World was altered. Furthermore, it’s significant that the English translation of Nagato is ‘Gatekeeper’. The alien Nagato guards the gateway or portal through which Kyon must pass on the road to Enlightenment, but first he must earn the right to use that portal. Again referring to Campbell’s model, these keys would appear to represent the talismans or artefacts, either found by the hero during the Quest or gifted to him by a supernatural agency and intended to aid him on his journey.
Campbell further describes an intermediate stage: Woman as Temptress in which the hero will be tempted to stray from or even abandon his path. Although the term ‘Woman’ is a metaphor for earthly pleasures and material temptations, here it is referenced by the human Nagato’s romantic interest in Kyon. He briefly wonders what life would be like if he accepted the Altered world, but following an awkward dinner with Nagato and a sweetly, passive-aggressive Asakura, who now appears to be a cross between a meddlesome Aunt and a friend to Nagato, Asakura warns Kyon to take Nagato seriously, “…or I’ll never forgive you”. Once again Asakura implies she knows more than she’s prepared to admit, so it is possible to view her as a shadow form of the Supernatural Aid, although her harsh lessons follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and are invariably delivered at the point of a sharp knife!
Unsettled by this truly confusing domestic scene, Kyon eventually finds his motivation to continue his quest in the simple, honest realisation that, despite their frequent squabbles, he genuinely misses Haruhi. It’s a singular moment of truth from a boy who has always hidden his feelings behind witty banter and sarcasm and, as such, it marks a growth in Kyon’s development, both as the Hero and an individual. Perhaps the Gods of Mythology witnessed this frank admission, for on the afternoon of the final day, he receives a small reward.
A chance remark by a previously absent classmate reveals that Haruhi attends a prestigious academy and, like Orpheus descending into the Underworld 10 in search of his beloved Eurydice, a determined Kyon descends from North High to seek Haruhi. Continuing this literary allusion – whilst he waits outside the Academy gates, symbolically marking the border between the Overworld and the Underworld, Kyon agonizes over which god, prophet or poet he should pray to, “Christ? Buddha? Mohammed? Zoroaster?…Lovecraft?”. Darkly comical as this is, a parallel can be drawn between Orpheus (a poet, prophet and musician) playing divine music to charm Hades and Persephone into releasing Eurydice, and Kyon’s desperate prayer to find Haruhi. Both are heartfelt pleas, both are successful, but equally so, both characters will lose those they seek; Orpheus by his own error and Kyon by necessity.
In keeping with the Underworld analogy, when Haruhi appears, with Koizumi in tow, she is as quiet and subdued as the dull tones of her academy uniform. Unfortunately though, this Haruhi doesn’t recognise Kyon and in desperation he calls on her Tanabata memories, using his John Smith alias to prove his identity. A connection is made and yet Haruhi also recalls a second John Smith who, as she was walking home, called out to her from the shadows: “Take care of the John Smith who will shake up the World”. Kyon wonders who the imposter could be.
Finding Haruhi is but one small part of the puzzle and even gathering everyone together in the brigade’s old clubroom doesn’t solve the greater riddle. These students may look and even act somewhat like Kyon’s friends, but the hero must, by necessity, free himself from all illusion and his impetus to move forwards comes from an unexpected source. An old computer mysteriously boots up, displaying a message for Kyon: “YUKI. N> When this message appears, it means that you, me, Suzumiya Haruhi, Asahina Mikuru, and Koizumi Itsuki are all present…That is the key. You have found the answer…”. With Nagato’s keys collected, Kyon has earned the right to access the portal. He is offered a chance to repair the Space-Time continuum. To do so he must press the ‘Enter’ key and activate an Emergency Escape programme. “Ready?”, asks Nagato’s cryptic message.
Of all his mentors, the one Kyon trusts without hesitation is Nagato. However, aid from a supernatural agency doesn’t always gift the hero what he expects, but what he needs. Consequently, pressing the Enter key doesn’t return Kyon to his world, but to the three years ago night of Tanabata. So why this date in particular and what relevance does it have to Kyon’s quest? Firstly, Kyon is predestined to become the second John Smith and so set the younger Haruhi her own quest (to seek and “Take care of … John Smith…”), thus ensuring his ‘Sun’ will rise, and secondly, he is being tasked to prevent a potentially hazardous Causal Loop (a self perpetuating event) that, if permitted to occur, will lead to the altered world coming into existence.
Awaiting Kyon is his guide, the adult Asahina. Kyon is convinced that Haruhi is the creator of the Alteration, but Asahina merely hints at another responsible party, adding that the future can only be reset by Kyon, with Nagato’s help. Accordingly, they arrive at the imposing edifice of the alien’s apartment block, symbolically entering Campbell’s Realm of the Goddess. Kyon must now seek a boon from this ‘Great Goddess’ Nagato, which he does by explaining the involvement of her future self. Nagato, in turn, attempts to synchronise across time with her variant only to have her request for information refused. The scales having fallen from her eyes, she realises who is responsible for the Alteration and transforms her glasses into a small needle gun, informing Kyon that it contains a restoration programme. “Who do I use this on?…Who’s the one responsible for this time plane alteration?” he asks. Nagato’s reply shocks him, for it is the last person he would ever have suspected.
Further boons are given. Asahina receives the Space-Time coordinates of their target and Nagato bestows both Kyon and Asahina with protective shielding against the changes they will encounter upon returning to the present. Whilst Asahina prepares to initiate the time jump, Kyon reflects on Nagato’s unsettling revelation. Now a little wiser and having learned to see his alien mentor in a new light, he begins to comprehend that she too is an evolving being in her own right, just as flawed and just as complicated as he is.
Asahina delivers them into the pre-dawn hours of the 18th December. They watch a small, female student walk slowly up the hill to North High, where she stops and, equally slowly, raises her arm, making a simple waving gesture with her hand. A light wind stirs the trees and clouds ripple across the sky, then all is quiet again. Almost as if the World has just sighed to itself, the Alteration is complete. Kyon approaches the student. She looks confused, as if having just awoken from a long sleep and unsure of her surroundings. The human Nagato has just been born.
So what reason and motivation would Nagato have for altering the world and what is the relevance of that hand gesture?
Campbell refers to the Apotheosis, a moment of revelation for the hero in which greater understanding is achieved. In Kyon’s journey this is depicted by a surreal cutaway sequence, representing the crux of the matter and reflecting his new perspective on Nagato and himself.
In the Spartan interior of her apartment, the Tanabata Nagato explains that accumulating errors within her programming will give rise to a bug that will eventually trigger her actions, but since she cannot identify the cause, she will be unable to counteract it. The Alteration is therefore inevitable. A now more insightful Kyon identifies the cause. Nagato was not created to experience human emotions, but having grown weary from repeatedly concealing paranormal phenomena from Haruhi, tolerating her erratic behaviour and protecting Kyon had lead Nagato to develop her own emotional responses. Unaccustomed to what humans take for granted, unable even to physically express the feelings that overwhelmed her; the effect had been that much stronger on her.
Kyon realises that he had unintentionally marginalised Nagato, relying far too much on her special abilities to deal with troublesome situations. He had failed to give her the same attention he accorded Haruhi, hence the underlying meaning of Nagato’s hand gesture, for just like the middle school Haruhi’s message to aliens, it represents a simple wish to be noticed, not for what Nagato is, but for who she is: ‘I am here’.
If blame is to be attached to anyone then it must be Kyon. As part of his quest, he had been seeking to identify the Architect of the Alteration. That person, he now understands, is himself, for it was his constant complaints about Haruhi that had motivated Nagato to give the boy she cared for the ordinary life he always said he wanted and she wished for, but her allegiance to Kyon meant that she would defer to his final judgement. The Altered World or The Real World? Which is best? She left the choice to Kyon, but herein lies the problem, for Kyon has already made his decision, even though he’s still loathe to admit his deeper reason for doing so.
A frequently used device in heroic storytelling is the hero being confronted by an alternate version of himself. This might be a stronger or darker version of the hero, one from whom he cannot run or hide and who knows his innermost thoughts. For Kyon this is represented by a ‘Mirror’ Kyon 11 who brings him to account, directly challenging him on his duplicity. “The great Nagato went out of her way to create a stable world for you, but you rejected it. Why?” demands Mirror Kyon.
In Kyon’s empty classroom, a clear metaphor for the tough lesson ahead, Mirror Kyon places his foot upon Kyon’s head and drives it down against his desk, forcing him to address the core issue he’s been avoiding so far – the truth behind his choice. “Don’t I find being with Haruhi, and being dragged into Haruhi’s troubles fun? Answer me!”. Pushed to his breaking point, Kyon finally snaps, “Of course it was fun! Don’t ask me…something so obvious!”. He can no longer hide from the truth in his heart – that it’s not only his world he wants back, he misses all the crazy excitement and danger that Haruhi represents; in fact he relishes every second of it. Life without his Haruhi is unthinkable. This long overdue epiphany empowers Kyon to raise his head, overcome his mirror self and move forward into the light.
Now that Kyon has exorcised his inner demons, The Riddle of the Altered World appears solved, but alas for him, his soul searching apotheosis is late in coming. Awaiting Kyon is Campbell’s Abyss, in which the hero must face his ultimate transformative experience. He will symbolically die then rise again.
Perhaps the most well known example of this is the Crucifixion of the Christian messiah, Jesus and, as we will see, Kyon’s fall and rise employs similar archetypal imagery and symbolism.
Before the gates of North High, Kyon tries to persuade Nagato to return herself and his world to normal, but this Nagato is an innocent and oblivious to what has just occurred. It takes Kyon’s guide, Asahina to remind him of this fact. With no other option left, Kyon raises the needle gun and targets a terrified Nagato, but in a moment of pure Aristotelian peripeteia, Asakura suddenly appears and, sideswiping Asahina, drives a large hunting knife deep into Kyon’s back. “I can’t allow you to hurt Nagato”. A second thrust of the knife sends Kyon sprawling. From Asakura’s warped perspective, this self-appointed Nemesis of Kyon’s is delivering her own brand of divine retribution, punishing Kyon for threatening Nagato and failing to take the girl’s interest in him seriously. The dying hero can only conclude that this apparently psychotic alien must be an aberrant side-effect of Nagato’s creation and as she looms over him, gleefully preparing to terminate his life, Kyon can do nothing to stop her.
The Aristotelian literary device referenced above is invariably employed to shock the reader or viewer, creating a crisis point at which all seems lost. The Hero’s death is inevitable and yet this catastrophe will be overturned by what J.R.R. Tolkien termed the Eucatastrophe: a sudden twist of events in the protagonist’s favour. In Kyon’s case that upturn in his fortune is represented by Nagato’s small hand that suddenly blocks Asakura’s descending blade, but which Nagato?
As familiar faces fill Kyon’s blurred vision, Asakura is dragged away. The adult Asahina apologizes profusely for her foreknowledge of this event, while her teenage self weeps over his fallen body, causing a confused Kyon to think he’s hallucinating, and a young male voice tells him, “Sorry,…I had a good reason to hold back. Don’t worry…it hurt for me, too. We’ll deal with it from here on. You just sleep”. Kyon surrenders himself to the darkness and the last word on his lips before passing out is “Na…ga…to”.
Awakening in a hospital bed, bathed in the late afternoon Sun, Kyon returns to the land of the living, learning from Koizumi that he’s been in a coma for three days. However, Koizumi states that Kyon was pushed downstairs at school by an unknown assailant, indicating that memories may have been altered yet again, although Kyon is only aware of his journey, but wisely keeps that information to himself as his body is surprisingly undamaged. Next to his bed, cocooned in a sleeping bag, is his Goddess, Haruhi. “She’s never left your side”, Koizumi tells him. Our hero, having at last attained his Prize, regards her fondly, even stroking her hair gently as she sleeps. With his Haruhi back in the world, Kyon’s Quest stage is complete. He is visited by friends and family, but the one who doesn’t appear is Nagato. Kyon understands why. She is waiting to speak to him alone.
So, let’s compare the Crucifixion of Jesus with Kyon’s transformative experience. Jesus was crucified on a hill outside the city walls. Kyon was stabbed with a hunting knife (Cruciform) on the hill outside the gates of North High. Jesus died then resurrected three days later. Kyon symbolically died (fell into a coma) then resurrected (awoke) three days later. Jesus ascended into Heaven in a blaze of glory and rejoined his father, the Christian God. Kyon was bathed in sunlight (a blaze of glory) and rejoined his Goddess, Haruhi.
Furthermore, Jesus was said to have died at the ninth hour. Kyon was stabbed on the 18th (1+8=9) at 04.23 hours (0+4+2+3 = 9). Adding the two 9s together: 9+9=18 and 18 once again gives us 1+8=9. The relevance of the Number 9 to heroic storytelling is that it represents energy, heroic activity, the fighter and the expression of courage, with its negative connotation representing strife, foolhardiness, accidents and violence. All of these elements can be found within Kyon’s journey 12.
So, there are definite similarities in the two heroes’ transformative experiences, but there are also obvious differences. Jesus retained the Stigmata whereas Kyon was miraculously healed and was spared the Spear (Asakura’s intended terminal strike) that ended Jesus’ mortal life. Nevertheless, Kyon is not being deliberately equated with Jesus, but rather both accounts share a common theme – that of the atonement of a sacrificial hero; one who will rise again in accordance with the Solar cycle.
Now let’s take a brief look at the dichotomy of Nagato and Ryouko Asakura. The human Nagato is innocence personified, Asakura is occult knowledge. Nagato is the light to Asakura’s dark, but Asakura is not necessarily evil. Whilst she represents the final confrontation, often given form in a mighty Dragon, an Ogre or similar in classic heroic tales (‘Ryouko’ has been translated by some fans as ‘Dragon’), here she also represents the terrible face of Campbell’s ‘Father’ figure; the God or Superego. According to Campbell the hero must endure his crisis and in doing so comes to understand that the Mother and Father figures reflect each other, in essence they are the same, like two sides of a coin. The alien Nagato is the Mother Creator of the Altered world and in a later story Asakura describes their relationship as being “…like opposite sides of a mirror” 13 Therefore, Asakura’s role in Kyon’s symbolic death is a vital one, perhaps even predestined, hence the earlier reference to her as a Dark Angel, for as is the case in the later stories, apparently angelic characters can appear unhelpful, unforgiving or act harshly, depending on what is required of them.
Kyon has now entered The Return stage of his journey and, having had time to reflect on the events of the past few days, he knows the male voice telling him to sleep was his own, indicating that he will revisit the night of the Alteration, with the teenage Asahina and Nagato, to ensure the world is reset and the Goddess restored to her rightful place. Furthermore he understands why the adult Asahina couldn’t prevent his near fatal stabbing, even if she wanted to, for just like his two visits to the three years ago night of Tanabata, this event too was predestined. The hero will always be the servant of Fate and Fortune and by accepting this fact, Kyon has surrendered his ego to something far greater than himself. This last time jump will be his final challenge and although its conclusion is foregone, it will be a step taken willingly and in full knowledge of its purpose – to complete his mission, fulfil his obligations and complete his atonement.
Alone once more, Kyon awaits the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place and when she appears, Nagato openly admits her culpability. Our newly enlightened hero, in turn, offers her a deep and sincere apology for his previous errors. The Architect of the Alteration and its Creator arrive at a new understanding, from which a deeper friendship will grow, so when Nagato discloses that her creator is debating her continued existence, Kyon immediately jumps to her defence, exploding in righteous indignation and declaring that if Nagato disappears “We will get you back, even if we have to recreate the universe from scratch. Tell that to your boss”. Kyon is directly challenging Nagato’s parent entity, but he knows he’s on solid ground. He still holds his John Smith trump card, with which he could easily awaken his Goddess’ awesome potential and the irony is that although Kyon is the only normal member of the SOS Brigade, he now understands that he is actually the power behind Haruhi’s throne, for as Nagato once told him, “You and Haruhi Suzumiya hold all potential within your grasp”.
Kyon has become Campbell’s Master of Two Worlds, at once confident and competent in both spheres. His lethargy and sarcasm of old have been replaced by a clear determination to “…stand alongside the other elites of the SOS Brigade as a protector of the world”, for our young hero has learned not to regret his past, but to accept that his journey was necessary for his rebirth in the realisation of his true self.
This is where the anime stories end for, as the many dedicated fans of the series know only too well, sadly there will be no third season for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Kyon’s return to the night of the Alteration can be found in a later manga story The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – Another Day 14, but for now we must leave Kyon the Hero to his future adventures with his eccentric, unaware Goddess and the ‘not-normal’ members of the SOS Brigade.
In closing, it’s comforting to know that for as long as writers, poets and prophets continue to create wonderful tales about the heroic deeds of great Men and Women, Campbell’s Monomyth (a term he borrowed from James Joyce) will remain an integral part of our joint storytelling heritage; and who knows, maybe one day when Kyon is an old man he may decide to tell his own heroic story, perhaps to his grandchildren, although knowing Kyon there will probably be a few imaginative embellishments along the way.
- Plato. Ideas. The Republic, Book III. See: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/ Also see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Forms ↩
- Carl Jung. The Structure and Dynamics of The Psyche. (1960). Pantheon Books. ↩
- Joseph Campbell. The Hero of a Thousand Faces. (1949). Princeton: Princeton University Press. ↩
- Sisyphus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus ↩
- Quote from the character, Sasaki. Manga. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Vol.20: The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya. Part 15. (2013). Kadokawa Shoten. ↩
- Simon Singh. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. (1999). Doubleday. ↩
- Dan Simmons. Hyperion (1989). Doubleday. ↩
- Tanabata. The tale of Orihime and Hikoboshi. http://www.japan-suite.com/blog/2014/7/6/tanabata-story-of-two-star-crossed-lovers ↩
- Plato. The Republic, Book VII. (360. B.C.E.) The Allegory of The Cave. https://web.stanford.edu/class/ihum40/cave.pdf ↩
- Orpheus and Eurydice. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpheus_and_Eurydice ↩
- The Term Mirror Kyon is borrowed (with permission) from Kai Anderson, the creator of: Visual Storytelling- Breaking Down The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya. This can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfz_Gg1k1Wc ↩
- Number symbolism within The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is addressed in a detailed analysis (in preparation), which covers the complete Haruhi saga. ↩
- Quote from the character, Ryouko Asakura. Manga. The Melancholy of Hariuhi Suzumiya Vol.18: The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya. Part 2. (2013). Kadokawa Shoten. ↩
- Manga. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – Another Day. (2013). Kadokawa Shoten ↩
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