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Melancholy and Eccentricity

Melancholy(english)_book_coverThe Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Nagaru Tanigawa, Little, Brown, 2009, 208 pages

“With that said, Haruhi reached under Asahina’s uniform and began to grope her.
Hel-lo?
“It’s starting to piss me off. Such a cutie’s sporting bigger ones than me!”
Asahina struggled and kicked, her face bright red, but she couldn’t overcome the difference between their physical builds. Haruhi, getting carried away, began lifting her skirt, which was when I pried the perverted girl off Asahina’s back.
“Are you a moron?”
“But they’re really big! Seriously. Why don’t you touch them?”
Asahina let out a small squeak upon hearing that.” (pg. 39-40) 

And this is when I began to feel like I had crossed the threshold of an indulgent teenage male fantasy that was simply masquerading itself as a book. Many descriptions later of Asahina’s pitiable, brooding looks, helplessness, large breasts, and inability to free herself when Haruhi wrestles her clothes off, and the feeling persisted. Asahina is overcome by the persistent Haruhi, and collapses weakly on the floor. Asahina is forced into a sexy maid outfit and made to pose for photos, her eyes sad and watering with tears, giving her “incomparable charm” (p. 84). What does all this have to do with the story? It’s just one element of a comedic tale about high school shenanigans, time travel, supernatural occurences, and an extracurricular club with some, uh, strange activities. But for me, despite all of the otherworldly happenings, it’s the element that made it the most difficult to suspend my disbelief.

I’ll admit, my views toward this book (an English translation from the Japanese original) have softened since speaking with a friend who is a longtime fan of the Haruhi anime spinoff. He explained that the author intentionally included elements of typical anime and manga (such as the sexualized girls mentioned above) in a ridiculous manner as a way of pointing out just how ridiculous these aspects of anime can be. So, I digress, somewhat. I still felt dissatisfied in reading it.

The thing that irritated me was not the writing but the underlying Japanese attitudes about gender roles, femininity and attractiveness that it highlighted. The expectation of women to be perennially cute and a little bit sad, to be delicate and tiny (but conveniently, also well endowed) is everywhere in Japan. There is a lot of pressure on women in this culture, and while Haruhi doesn’t promote this (and actually attempts to poke fun at it), it definitely reveals it. That the biggest turn-on for this young male is seeing a petite girl rendered helpless, too weak to refuse what is done to her, with sad eyes and an innocent, submissive demeanour, and who literally trembles at his feet tells me that the damsel-in-distress motif is alive and well in Japan.

However, the character of Haruhi Suzumiya is quite interesting. There is a common Japanese proverb that says that the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. Haruhi definitely sticks out. She is such an oddball, and not only by Japanese standards. When introducing herself to her homeroom on the first day of high school, she announces that she has “no interest in ordinary humans”, and that all aliens, espers and otherworldly creatures should join her. She continues to sport hairstyles and attitudes that make her stand out from her peers and refuses to be crushed into what she considers a mundane, mainstream existence. And her character is attractive, too, so I suppose it’s not all weak and submissive women in this novel.

So, give this book a read if you can get past the fragile feminine portrayals, or want your own insight into Japanese gender dynamics. Or if you could stand a few laughs at the eccentric behaviour of Haruhi, a character who not only refuses to be hammered down, but pretty much destroys the hammer.

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