Dr. Yuan Shu
5 May 2008
The Final Step: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as the Ultimate Postmodernist Anime
Adapted from the series of light novels by TANIGAWA Nagaru, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya [涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱] ran from April 2 to July 2, 2006 on Japanese television, with 14 episodes airing in total. In this paper I shall show that Melancholy is the ultimate postmodernist anime by tracing the lineage of its many twentieth century literary elements and suggesting that it carries those ideas one step further by reducing what we call the "real world" to the level of cyberspace.
That Get Flash to see this video quote. the show is postmodern is clear even from a short summary of its plot. "Kyon" (a nickname; the protagonist's real name is never given) leads the life of a typical high school student until he meets the titular SUZUMIYA Haruhi, a striking yet bizarre classmate who, in her self-introduction to the class, asserts her desire to meet "aliens, people from the future, otherworlders, and espers." "Kyon" is later approached by three people—the first an alien (really a "data life form"), the second a time traveler from the future, and the third an esper (i.e., a user of ESP). The three characters explain to him that the world as he knows it is actually a creation of Haruhi—and that she is unaware of this. "Kyon" and his strange new friends must work to keep Haruhi happy, because if she feels like giving up on the world, then it's armageddon. Thus, the show's title, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, refers to the end of the world.
Of course, Get Flash to see this video quote. Haruhi's world wasn't made from whole cloth: she was apparently born as a normal girl who, when confronted with the sight of a large crowd in a baseball stadium, began to feel insignificant. This DeLilloan imagery made Haruhi wish that the fantastic things she had read about in popular works of science fiction would come true, and they did—without her knowledge. Of course, if "Kyon" told Haruhi the truth about his strange friends, then she would no longer consider aliens, time travelers and espers so fantastic, and they might, therefore, vanish back into thin air. For Haruhi, then, to know her world is a contradiction, and "Kyon"'s friends—whom Haruhi has gathered together as the bizarrely named "SOS Brigade"—must struggle against her boredom with their assumed commonplace identities, afraid both to reveal to its creator that the world is fantastic and to let her think that it is anything but.
Cultural Significance and Popularity
Melancholy was an immediate worldwide hit. In the English-speaking world, it is the fifth most popular anime ever made, according to the popular anime statistics-gathering site MyAnimeList.net (as of 5 May 2008). In Japan, it tied Death Note and Code Geass for "Best TV Anime Series" at the Sixth Annual Tokyo Anime Awards. Star HIRANO Aya ("SUZUMIYA Haruhi"), whose career was launched by Melancholy, also won the Voice Acting Award.
The series's popularity is somewhat surprising given its unconventional plot and presentation. In this paper I hope to shed some light on this situation, showing that Melancholy is actually not as strange as it seems—that it is built on a solid foundation of postmodernist literature. Its application of these themes makes them available for the first time to audiences who partake only in "hot" media (in Marshall McLuhan's sense of the term). I will also show that audiences are most likely drawn in and trapped by the series's representation of reality as fragmented into a series of interrelated, yet contradictory, layers.
The Get Flash to see this video quote. show is obviously influenced by great works of twentieth century fiction. Probably the most significant of these is the legacy of cyberpunk embodied in the character of NAGATO Yuki, Haruhi's wished-for "alien," who introduces herself to "Kyon" as "a humanoid interface for contact with organic life forms created by the Information Integration Thought Entity that governs this galaxy." Her role on earth is to transmit data on Haruhi to said Thought Entity, a being that "exists only as information"—an idea first introduced in William Gibson's Neuromancer and developed into theory by N. Katherine Hayles in How We Became Posthuman.
To this "information entity," humans were incomplete until they evolved "lore" or "wisdom" which is "created, processed, and stored," a clear parallel to Neal Stephenson's view of human history espoused in his classic Snow Crash. Yuki was created as a tool to help the Entity "interface" with humans, who "have no means to relay concepts without language." Thus, in Melancholy, like in Snow Crash, human language is merely our unique way of transmitting useful data (called en in Snow Crash).
The Information Integration Thought Entity is interested in observing Haruhi's ability to "control environmental information to her benefit" — to "affect things by turning will to absolute information." We later learn that Yuki, like Haruhi, can (albeit in a more limited fashion) control "environmental information" such as the composition of matter. This is revealed in spectacular fashion when ASAKURA Ryouko, another "humanoid interface" whose purpose it is to observe Haruhi, suddenly tries to kill "Kyon," apparently hoping to observe the effect of his death on Haruhi's opinion of the world. ("Kyon"'s friends frequently suggest that Haruhi likes him.)
Yuki Get Flash to see this video quote. is caught off guard by Ryouko's sudden attack, but manages nonetheless to subdue the errant "interface" by releasing her "information binding," "killing" her in biological terms. The battle between the information life forms takes place in a classroom, with parts of the various desks and tables used as ammunition. When the battle ends, Yuki states that "correct[ing] this space" takes first priority and quickly restores the classroom to its original, undisturbed state. Haruhi's power is understood by Yuki's patron to function like this—only it is capable of simultaneously affecting a much greater amount of information.
At any rate, this epic battle between Yuki and her out of control backup unit Ryouko represents Melancholy viewers' most violent exposure to the show's habit of treating what we would call reality the same as the cyberspace of the aforementioned cyberpunk and late cyberpunk works. Now, instead of being invited into a virtual world where information rules as in Neuromancer and Snow Crash, we are told in Melancholy that what we would call the "real world" also reduces to simple information, and that by processing that information, we (or, at least, Haruhi and the alien "interfaces") can manipulate the surrounding environment at will. Yuki is a hacker of the real world.
This loss of any distinction between cyberspace and the "real" world finishes off whatever was left of our respect for the old school dichotomy of presence/absence as opposed to the new one of information versus noise (as outlined by N. Katherine Hayles in How We Became Posthuman). In this way, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya takes the next natural step on the path begun by the early postmodernist writers of the 1960s and continued through the cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk ages of the 1980s and 90s. It is also the final step on that path, as the info/noise distinction has now completed the transition from a curiosity to the very nature of reality.
The seminal idea of information-as-virus first put forth by William Burroughs and passed down through Gibson and the other cyberpunk authors plays a prominent role in the episode entitled "Mysterique Sign": it turns out that the SOS emblem on the Brigade's website, lovingly drawn in Adobe Photoshop by Haruhi, included within its data a "trigger" to awaken an "information entity" which came to earth 280 million years ago and has been "hibernating" ever since.
After everyone except Haruhi enters an "enclosed space," a fantastic visual representation of pure information similar to Gibson's cyberspace, and defeats the entity, which looks like a giant camel cricket, Yuki explains that a virus in the form of "an algorithm replicates in the brains of the sign's viewers and creates enclosed spaces." This is no doubt a direct reference to the Snow Crash virus of Neal Stephenson, which replicates in a similar way. Indeed, the unfortunate victim of the virus was the school's Computer Club president, who visited the SOS Brigade's website, saw the corrupted emblem, and became infected. The "camel cricket," then, was a visual representation of the club president's fears.
Yuki Get Flash to see this video quote. estimates that the "entity" responsible for the virus totals "436 petabytes of information", or 436,000,000 gigabytes. On hearing this, "Kyon" protests that Haruhi's SOS Brigade emblem "wasn't even 100 K." However, "Kyon" is oversimplifying: the emblem was merely a trigger, a kind of password, that awakened the much larger "information entity." It is assumed that Haruhi's desire to encounter fantastic creatures caused her to awaken the "entity" through the data she unconsciously put in her brigade logo drawing.
Interestingly, the producers of the show chose to represent the "information entity"-caused corruption of the SOS Brigade website visually by displaying the text of the page with an incorrect text encoding. This type of error is most common when viewing non-English websites; if the page's character set is not Unicode, then the text encoding setting on the browser will need to be changed to e.g. Japanese to view a Japanese page correctly. This is normally handled automatically by the browser when it reads the so-called declaration of the text encoding included in the web page's header. Undoubtedly the "information entity"'s corruption of the Brigade webpage included the text encoding declaration, causing the browser to incorrectly display the page with an English text encoding and therefore render the page's Japanese text as meaningless strings of Roman letters. Of course, this highly technically accurate way in which the corruption is displayed visually in the anime could have been mere chance, but I doubt it, given how every other representation of a computer interface in the show is so accurate.
Though it might have seemed far-fetched at the time for a computer security exploit to use a simple image file as its attack vector, less than a year after the original light novel version of Mysterique Sign was published, a critical security flaw was revealed in Microsoft's image viewing code library. This code was present in every copy of the popular desktop operating system Windows XP. By simply viewing a corrupted image file, arbitrary code could be executed on the user's computer. Thus, by the time the anime version of Mysterique Sign aired, the more technologically savvy viewers had already heard of something quite similar and were no doubt amazed at the show's (they believed) excellent awareness of contemporary computer security issues.
Of course, this was not the case: TANIGAWA Nagaru, the light novels' author, had most likely borrowed the concept from Neal Stephenson, whose Snow Crash was first published in 1992—and all of this happened before the Microsoft bug was discovered. So when a viewer of the anime sees in the "Mysterique Sign" episode an exploit made possible by a corrupt image file and assigns the 2004 Microsoft fiasco as the "original" of this tale, he or she is unwittingly paying Tanigawa and Stephenson the ultimate compliment by imagining incorrectly that their fiction mimics reality—when it is really the other way around.
Following Get Flash to see this video quote. Haruhi as part of her SOS Brigade is also compared directly with getting infected by a virus: at one point, "Kyon"'s friend TANIGUCHI begins to notice changes in "Kyon"'s behavior since he became associated with Haruhi and tells him, "Don't get too close. I'll catch the Suzumiya bug" (6).
It is interesting to note that Melancholy's popularity on the Internet also resembles a viral outbreak: most people in the English-speaking world's first old-media exposure to the series came in a 2006 Newsweek article on the proliferation of fan-made tribute videos based on the series being uploaded to YouTube. In fact, so many people on YouTube "caught Haruhi" that the JASRAC (a Japanese pro-copyright organization) sent a formal letter of protest to YouTube's founders later that year. Not all of the videos could be construed as copyright violations, however, as many were simply of "Haruhiists" (as they call themselves) performing scenes from the anime in live action, thereby creating a whole new paradoxical YouTube world of simulacra in which the "real" world mimics fiction (cf. the below section entitled "Contradiction").
Pastiche and Parody
One often notices references to other shows within an anime, but in the case of Melancholy, which totals less than six hours of video, I would put the number of references at over 100. Sometimes there are several on screen together for only a total of a few frames, forcing the viewer to watch the entire production in slow motion to even have a chance at catching them all.
The Get Flash to see this video quote. references are most densely packed in the episodes entitled "Live Alive" and "The Day of Sagittarius." The school's "culture festival" takes place in the former, while the latter consists of an epic online battle between the SOS Brigade and the rival Computer Club. In both cases, the anime's producers chose to add elements that were not present in the original light novel version of the story. Because the dialogue was virtually unchanged, these references are almost entirely visual, constituting Melancholy's transition from a "cold" medium to a "hot" one in Marshall McLuhan's terminology.
This constant barrage of familiar images makes viewers feel as if they were watching a dozen different shows at once. That which is not new, especially on the first viewing, overwhelms them and obscures the underlying story (which, ironically, is quite innovative). Get Flash to see this video quote. This is the "anti-aesthetic" of Frederic Jameson, as described in his "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." The more anime the viewer has seen before, the more overwhelmed he or she will feel on viewing, in particular, "Live Alive"—the references come so fast that there is no way anyone could catch all of them on a single viewing. The main characters' school, at which the "culture festival" takes place, is distinguished only minimally from every other high school ever shown in anime, and the students and citizens participating in the festival there also appear to have come directly out of a plethora of titles dating all the way back to the 1960s. What is new about Melancholy, then, it that it is not new more than any other show ever created.
And it is aware of this. Further recalling Jameson's "pastiche," the visual style of "The Day of Sagittarius" is that of the extremely popular "space opera" genre of anime, complete with massive armadas of otherwise identical-looking warships color-coded for easy dichotomization into "friend" and "foe," crewed by ridiculously-clad aliens and captained by emotionally overdriven caricatures. When the fleets encounter one another, epic battles ensue, and the losers scream out for their honor as they detonate in massive explosions.
Yet this (no doubt very expensive to produce) pastiche lightshow playing over the voice actors' performance exists only for us, the television audience—it is a "better" (by which is meant "more sexy") visual representation of the action in the computer game all the characters are playing than the actual, early 1980s-looking one we see much more briefly throughout the episode. Thus, an entire genre of anime's hallowed visual canon is presented satirically as a superfluous, demand-driven commodity. Going to such flamboyant lengths to tell a story is totally unnecessary, Melancholy suggests, but it is a way of life for the visual media: the message of Melancholy is that the medium is the message, as McLuhan famously wrote.
The contrast between "hot" and "cold" media grates traumatically on viewers at the end of the episode's introductory sequence when the lavish CG visuals and heroic soundtrack accompanying the mock "space opera" suddenly and unexpectedly terminate and they are left to stare at the pixelated graphics and listen to the awful, tinny, computer-generated music of the computer game for an excruciating two seconds before the show's beautiful opening credits sequence rescues them from their whiplash.
An entire doctoral thesis could be written about the anime's first episode alone. Except for the last 50 seconds, the series premiere consists entirely of "The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina," a short film produced by Haruhi and the members of her SOS Brigade (with the help of a few others). Unlike the rest of Melancholy, "The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina" is presented in the old TV 4:3 aspect ratio (the rest of the series is widescreen 16:9), presumably because that was how it was recorded (with cheap consumer cameras) by the SOS Brigade.
In order to understand this "film," one must already understand the many complex relationships between the anime's regular characters (all of whom appear in it). I have outlined some of these in my above introduction to the series. A thorough analysis of this episode reveals that the whole is less than the sum of its parts: introducing each character's limited perspective results in an incredible amount of complexity and permanently destroys any hope of universal truth in the world of Melancholy.
But this complexity is lost on the first-time viewer, who will probably have none of the background knowledge required to understand the episode. Thus, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's first episode is both the best and the worst of any anime, but never simultaneously: in its impenetrability, it fails spectacularly to draw in the viewer, but it rewards him or her a thousandfold on every reviewing (after having watched the rest of the series, of course).
It would not quite be accurate to say that the SOS Brigade members star as themselves in the film, because they display therein their special powers of which Haruhi is unaware: Itsuki is written as an esper with latent psychic power, Yuki is an alien living on earth, and Mikuru is a time traveler from the future. Thus, Haruhi has unwittingly cast an esper, an alien and a time traveler as an esper, an alien and a time traveler, respectively. This "accurate" casting creates a series of one-way mirrors that divide each of the characters' many roles. I have illustrated these in figure 1 below.
|NAGATO Yuki||ASAHINA Mikuru||KOIZUMI Itsuki|
|"Kyon" level||alien||time traveler||esper|
|Haruhi level||bookish student||sex appeal||mysterious transfer student|
|film level||alien||time traveler||esper|
Haruhi's film's cameraman and the anime's narrator, "Kyon," can see all of the characters' guises at once. He is together with their true identities in front of the first mirror, but he can also see (and interact with) their fake identities as well as their film roles through the first and second mirrors, respectively.
Because Haruhi is not aware of the other Brigade members' true identities, she is locked behind that first mirror and is only able to see their fake identities and the film roles she assigned them. Indeed, together with "Kyon," she is the creator of both the second mirror and the characters who inhabit the reality behind it (the world of her film).
And surely those characters Haruhi created for her film are no less real to us, the audience, than Haruhi is—especially after only having completed the anime's first episode, in which only the film characters are of any consequence. They are behind the second mirror, unable to interact with either of their creators: neither Haruhi behind the first mirror nor "Kyon" in front of it is known to them.
Yet, Get Flash to see this video quote. it must be said, the production values on Haruhi's film were not very high. Events are sometimes accidentally shown out of order, and there are several blatant production mistakes noted by "Kyon," who, through his ever-sarcastic narration, tries to help the bewildered first-time viewer through the train wreck that is "The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina." At one point, Tsuruya-san, a non-Brigade member enlisted for an additional on-screen role, breaks character and bursts out laughing at poor Mikuru, who was doing her best to deliver her ridiculous lines. In another scene, Haruhi is seen to momentarily step on screen, yelling at the actors through her director's megaphone. Thus, the world that "Ultra Director" Haruhi worked so hard to create on film is often disturbed by intrusions from a "higher plane of existence."
Tsuruya-san and Haruhi represent the majority of people in the Melancholy universe—they are unaware of the existence of aliens, time travelers and espers and, in this way, most closely resemble us. We inevitably begin to question the nature of reality after having been given such a fractured and dysfunctional picture of it in Melancholy. As I have illustrated, realities (in the plural) in the show are understood as a series of "viewing rooms" in which films are playing; some of the characters in these rooms may also be acting in the films, and those roles may involve viewing films.
And there is nothing to stop these "embedded" films from bearing strong resemblances to films "higher" on the "reality hierarchy." Indeed, in the opening sequence of Haruhi's film, the actors are credited with the same names as those of the characters they play in the film (or is it the other way around?). The character of NAGATO Yuki, for example, is played by NAGATO Yuki.
In the original Japanese version of the show, though, things are not quite so simple: of the three primary writing systems available, the actors' names are written using a combination of kanji and hiragana, while the characters' first names are written entirely in katakana. The latter is in no way established film convention, so we should pay close attention to it. (I have collected these various spellings into figure 2 below; Japanese fonts are required to display the Japanese characters I have used.)
|Actor name (kanji/hiragana)||長門 有希||朝比奈 みくる||古泉 一樹|
|Character name (katakana)||長門 ユキ||朝比奈 ミクル||古泉 イツキ|
|Romanization||NAGATO Yuki||ASAHINA Mikuru||KOIZUMI Itsuki|
In Japanese writing, the katakana are most often used instead of kanji or hiragana where italics might be appropriate in the Roman writing system. For example, katakana are most often used to write foreign words. While the kanji (symbolic characters borrowed from China) can be written out phonetically using hiragana, they are almost never written using katakana, even though both phonetic systems are equally capable of doing this job. This convention is held partially because foreign words are no longer given kanji no matter how long they have been in use in Japanese. Thus, the kanji and hiragana of the actors' names are distanced from the katakana of their characters' names; though the two are pronounced identically, they signify something quite different when written in this way.
I argue that the substitution of katakana in the actors' names for the kanji and hiragana normally used to write them was done on purpose in order to cleave the two constructed realities apart in a visual way: while we see and hear Yuki, we are told by this writing that she is not Yuki but Yuki (written using katakana), who is someone else—merely a character Yuki is playing in this film.
The substitution of katakana for partially symbolic writing also makes the character versions of the actors' names appear more degenerate or childlike, which is quite appropriate when this paradigm is considered platonically (the actors are necessarily more "real" than the characters they play). Yet, again, from our perspective, these "actors" are merely animated characters, rendering the application of platonic ideals somewhat ridiculous. We must realize that neither of the Yukis is real, even though one is clearly more real than the other—an unresolvable contradiction.
This analysis becomes particularly productive when we apply it to the characters of Haruhi and "Kyon," who always write their names using katakana. As I have already explained in detail, of all the main characters, Haruhi is the most "reality-poor" or information-deficient. Thus, in a way, she is closer to the film characters she created than to her friends she cast them as. "Kyon," on the other hand, is the character's nickname, making the use of katakana somewhat more expected. Yet, as I noted earlier, the character is never given a real name. Because the story is told from his point of view, the original author may have purposefully given "Kyon" no real name in order to invite the reader to cast his- or herself as "Kyon"; it is certainly more likely for one to be given a new nickname than to be given a new real name. Yet I cannot ignore how this use of katakana groups Haruhi and "Kyon" together, even though they stand separate in the show's "reality hierarchy," with "Kyon" in front of the first mirror and Haruhi behind it. Perhaps "Kyon," as the narrator, is meant to be the character we play when we read or watch Melancholy.
I have already explained how, for example, Yuki, an alien, plays an alien in Haruhi's film. But is her character in the film a simulacrum? I believe the answer is: yes and no—simultaneously.
If we take "Kyon"'s perspective, then it looks like Haruhi has unknowingly copied most of Yuki's "most real" (that is, the "Kyon"-level reality) traits for the film character also named Yuki (she is an alien who can use special powers, etc.); film Yuki is based on a "real" person "Kyon" can see and is, therefore, not a simulacrum. She is playing herself.
But if we take Haruhi's perspective, then the film alien Yuki is a total fabrication, a kind of pop culture sign never seen in the "real world" (as of this writing, humans have not yet discovered alien life in the universe, and this is assumed to have carried over in Melancholy into Haruhi's "level" of reality, which, as I already noted, is the closest to ours).
Thus, from Haruhi's perspective, the alien Yuki of the film is a simulacrum, yet simultaneously, from "Kyon"'s, she is not. The supreme irony of the entire series is that it was Haruhi who was responsible not only for creating the awful film, but for bringing Yuki, Itsuki and Mikuru together in the SOS Brigade to enable its production in the first place. That Haruhi is unaware she has attracted the attention of aliens and time travelers and has given some humans powers of ESP blocks resolution of this "Schrödinger's simulacrum" problem, especially in the case of Itsuki, the esper, because without Haruhi's power, neither of the levels at which he is an esper (the "Kyon" and film levels) would exist (this assumes that she would not have met him had he not been an esper already, something that is drawn into question in the fourth installment of the light novel series, which has not yet been animated). He is thus "stuck" halfway between being a simulacrum and not being one, a logically impossible state. Only taking one character's perspective—and Melancholy gives us a choice of several—can resolve the paradox, and then only temporarily, because to take only one perspective presupposes a limited view of the world.
Further, we are told that if Haruhi were to learn of the existence of espers, then their powers would disappear, because she would no longer desire for there to be espers in the world. This is why we cannot resolve the paradox by helping Haruhi up to "Kyon"'s level of knowledge. The very existence of "Kyon"'s level depends on Haruhi not knowing what lies there; "Kyon" and his strange friends can be said to inhabit Haruhi's imagination, a place to which Haruhi herself is, by definition, denied access.
Explained in this way, Melancholy is somewhat easier to understand, but no less innovative in its portrayal of reality (or, at least, the reality we most closely identify with) as subject to the whims of one adolescent's emotions.
Episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya were originally aired out of chronological order—yet the order in which they were aired was carefully chosen. I have included figure 3 below, which lists the episodes in their original airing order and in their chronological order.
For example, as I discussed in the previous section, showing a pilot episode mostly containing Haruhi's homemade movie without any overt explanation of what this was must have been a strategic decision by the producers (in the original light novel version of the story, events are not so jumbled). After watching the first episode, we, the uninitiated audience, have no idea what we have just seen, but we will come not only to understand things better after seeing the rest of the series, but also to appreciate how vital that additional context is in piecing together meaning.
"Kyon"'s three friends' "true" identities as an alien, a time traveler and an esper are first introduced to us inside Haruhi's film, which is appropriate, given Haruhi's reality-making powers revealed later in the series. Yet, as I discussed earlier, this revelation fundamentally changes how we view the series, because the level at which the three "real" character identities are later revealed appears "more real" to us than the world of the first episode. This is accomplished inside the mind of an audience member when he or she realizes that everything in the first episode was actually produced by the characters featured in the later episodes. Some viewers take longer than others to put everything together.
In Get Flash to see this video quote. addition to applying additional layers of meaning to previous episodes, the nonchronological airing order also capitalizes on the human mind's tendency to ignore as noise what it cannot make sense of using the information presently available to it. For example, in the airing order fourth episode, which is actually the seventh episode in chronological order, Haruhi helps Mikuru put up her hair, and is briefly seen to consider giving her a ponytail, glance at "Kyon", then reject that hairstyle. The entire sequence takes less than ten seconds, and is very likely to be ignored and forgotten until the audience sees the explanation in the final episode in airing order (which is actually the previous episode in chronological order): Haruhi now knows that "Kyon" has a ponytail moe (fetish), and will not, therefore, give a ponytail to a rival for his affection. Thus, when viewing the series again for the first time, we become aware that we have ignored potentially important plot elements and become locked in an endless loop of rewatching, hoping some ultimate truth will suddenly appear out of the noise. Get Flash to see this video quote. This hope is probably in vain, though, because, as I discussed previously, the world of Melancholy is fundamentally self-contradicting.
A cursory first glance at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has revealed some of its prominent 20th century influences—and how it builds on those ideas to make something truly unique and innovative. Moving from Burroughs' virus as Hayles' information to Jameson's pastiche and McLuhan's medium over message, Melancholy eventually helps its human audience realize that they are creating multiple mutually exclusive, yet similar realities by processing the nonlinear information contained in the series.
Like any good postmodernist work, though, the anime ends without having signified anything. Its many fans will watch it again and again, but they will never achieve total understanding. We can construct only incomplete meaning by analyzing the show from each main character's perspective in turn.
The success of Melancholy has ensured that postmodernism is here to stay in Japanese animation. Yet we mustn't forget where it all began as we enjoy this literature of a newer variety.
DeLillo, Don. Mao II. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Jameson, Frederic. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. New York: New Press, 2002.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: ACE, 1984.
Gyssler, Garrett. "Top Anime." MyAnimeList.net. 5 May 2008 <http://myanimelist.net/topanime.php?type=bypopularity>.
"JASRAC Asks YouTube to Improve Anti-Piracy Measures." Anime News Network 12 December 2006. 5 May 2008 <http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2006-12-12/jasrac-asks-youtube-to-improve-anti-piracy-measures>.
Kashiwagi, Akiko. "Japan Too, YouTube?" Newsweek International 4 September 2006. 5 May 2008 <http://www.newsweek.com/id/45502>.
Leyden, John. "JPEG exploit toolkit spotted online." The Register. 2004. 5 May 2008 <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/09/24/jpeg_exploit_toolkit>.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1994.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. By Nagaru Tanigawa. Dir. Shoko Ikeda. Perf. Tomokazu Sugita, Aya Hirano, Yuko Goto, Daisuke Ono, Minori Chihara. 2006. DVD. Kadokawa, 2007.
"Results of 6th Annual Tokyo Anime Awards Announced." Anime News Network 19 March 2007. 5 May 2008 <http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2007-03-19/results-anime-awards>.
Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam, 2003.