Light novels are basically elevated fanfiction from people who watched decades of anime. They play on a reader’s knowledge of story tropes common to anime and manga. Well written ones were really fresh when they showed up, because they were exceedingly self aware in the writing, in ways that only comedy projects had been (like the ancient Excel Saga). The basic premise of Haruhi is a pretty damn good one.
One of the most unexpected scenes in anime, and it is so good. Definitely my favorite concert scene.
God knows will forever have a special place in my heart because it was one of the first anime scenes I’ve ever watched, and it got me hooked almost instantly. Pretty sure haruhi spawned an entire generation of anime viewers, and I like to think that it inspired many other anime too
Even without opening the video, the song is already playing clearly in my head.
It landed at a perfect nexus between the rise of memetic “light novels” in Japan, the peak of the “moe” trend, and the rise of many animation studios with incredible keyframing. The show was very self-aware in a good way.
So the smallish Kyoto Animation picked up this property from the semi-new “light novel” category that was popular, and titled their show after the 3rd or 4th in the series, Melancholy. They then adapted it, but aired it in a surreal out of order sequence, both to make the narrative have it’s natural crescendo at the end, but also to make sure the animation in the back half had time to be complete (this scene was near the end of the anime). This had a side effect of generating buzz because of how unusual this move was. Shows didn’t usually do this unless they had to pull and episode for violent content or something.
The show had a few things going for it right off the bat. The animation quality, the moe era, the legitmiately good music, and the airing order adding to interest and keeping the natural catharsis off till the end of the run. Add to that a very catchy and fully choreographed ending theme that was a viral sensation, and the show was firing on all cylinders. They remembered most of their for their follow up projects, most of which were very meta, moe, and had catchy music. (The Lucky Star opening is all of these things, and blew up online as well.)
Wanting to show their own chops with Haruhi, Kyoto Animation filled the show with tons of references to other pop culture like Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Saiban) and other media properties. Then they also went totally overboard on certain scenes like this concert scene, and completely blew people away with some ridiculously high quality in the middle of what should have be a very average sequence. Seriously, this is just a school festival that nearly every show ever does. If you watch Sakamichi no Apollon, you can see a really great sequence similar to this, but it doesn’t go down as a highlight of the show for anything other than it’s narrative reasons.
So yea, Haruhi was and is good. It just doesn’t seem exceptional in retrospect because the things it did are fairly common in a few shows now, and the light novel genre has exploded (and will likely implode in the next decade). The aftermath as well is that fans basically demanded the conclusion and the other follow ups, but the author hadn’t written the ending yet. So they did other projects until fans kept demanding.
So then they adapted the infamous “Endless Eight” project, but tried to be super meta and smart about it. It was met with less than stellar reactions online (though the bluray and dvd sales made them money.). For Endless Eight they let their animators do whatever they liked, and fully committed to adapting the SAME sequence of events over 8 separate episodes, all with different animation and voice acting. It was surreal, and agonizing. And in a very meta way, an incredible setup for the movie that they were planning as a follow up. But at that time, no one knew the movie was coming for certain, and it felt like torture to watch without knowing if this was going to have it’s pay off, because the movie is the payoff. The show lost a MOUNTAIN of fans because of this.
Then it got most of them back with a really excellent adaptation of the follow up story as a movie. Disappearance is really good.
And now they animated another spin off of the scenario while they kinda buy time until the are ready to do the final novel (which I think is out now?). If they ever get to it. But since they started, they have their own original animation properties that make them more money, so their incentive to actually go back and do the ending is a bit lacking, so they might never do it.
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