What Kyoukai no Kanata and Meganebu! could learn from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

While their similarities may be few, Meganebu! and Kyoukai no Kanata could really be helped to take a page out of Haruhi‘s book.

2013 12 10 Haruhi, Meganbu, KnK post cover

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi was wildly successful, and for good reason! The way in which Nagaru Tanigawa wrote the series struck a perfect balance in almost everything it did — a balance in the chemistry of the characters, the heaviness of worldbuilding with the power of the narrative, and between the focus of the plot and the all-important characterization. In this way you could say that Meganebu! and Kyoukai no Kanata are very much unbalanced, lacking the internal harmony that made Haruhi such a joy to watch.

Premise is an important aspect in assessing the strength of a story. In this way Haruhi and even Kyoukai no Kanata are able to start out strong and capture the viewer with their bold fantasy hooks; Meganebu! does not have this luxury, it takes “Five teenage boys who are in a ‘glasses club'” and plays it straight. This makes it all the more important for Meganebu! to capitalize on the other tools it has at its disposal. Despite the low budget it takes the art direction to a new level of perfection and provides solid sound design, but really drops the ball when it comes to the characters.

I didn't even touch the hue/sat on this cap.

Meganebu! should have opted to instead focus on providing the best possible cast in order to round out its performance in the narrative aspects of the show, but didn’t. None of the boys feel like carbon copies of each other — no, they all have their own personalities and backgrounds —, but the show uses them all to the same effect, creating a flat and trite atmosphere. Tanigawa uses the contrasting personalities of his cast to keep the atmosphere of the show ever-changing and complex: Haruhi’s energy is balanced out by the contrast of Kyon’s reluctance and Izumi’s level-headedness. Deco Akao on the other hand doesn’t manage to do this. Akira has the same kind of high level energy and crazy ideas as Haruhi, but the rest of the guys — even the ‘stoic’ Yukiya — play into these plans and that energy without a second thought.

It’s not necessarily that everyone even goes along with Akira that makes this show seem so unbalanced, but the complete lack of doubt or resistance among the cast portrays them all as mindless fanatics doomed to failure by their own inability to see past the convictions of Akira. In addition, the fact that this is that happens over and over again in every episode — Akira has an idea, everyone goes to help him, it ends in failure but it’s okay because they have each other — makes the show very predictable and very stale.

I said that the zeal of the club members would not necessarily be a problem because these issues would be alleviated if Meganebu! would bring depth, backstory, and development to its characters, making them into more than just mindless followers. Unfortunately however, that is not the case. Even though I can sense the early intentions of this in the ending of the first episode with the quiet moment between Akira and his brother Hikaru and in the second half of the second episode with the backstory between the relationship between Akira and Yukiya, both of these moments are delivered with a lack of emotional connection between the show and the audience and quickly disappear in all subsequent episodes.

So much missed potential.

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi augments its perfect cast chemistry with the same kind of deepening of our understanding of the characters that Meganebu! altogether lacks. Haruhi may be high energy and oftentimes annoying, but this can be understood as her own excitement at the restoration of the feeling of uniqueness that she lost as she grew older in middle school. Kyon’s toleration of Haruhi’s antics can further be understood then as his own reaction to Haruhi slowly changing his perspective on his own life and importance in the world. The relationship then is not only something balanced and tolerable because of the inherent chemistry in their differences, but also understandable and something we can easily connect to emotionally due to the development and characterization of said relationship.

When it comes down to it, that’s the issue with Meganebu!: I can’t build an emotional connection with the characters. Look over at Kyoukai no Kanata and it has the same issue, but for slightly different reasons.

If Meganebu! has a premise that is too simple, then KnK has a premise that is too complex. “An immortal half-youmu and a Spirit World Warrior have their destinies inexplicably intertwined in a grand story of action, adventure, and drama.” — There’s a lot to digest there, and by jumping right into the thick of things, KnK gives itself no breaks.

Above I said that Haruhi struck a balance between “the heaviness of worldbuilding with the power of the narrative”. What I meant by that is that in the construction of the story of Haruhi, Tanigawa eases the audience into the wacky world of Suzumiya Haruhi and only gradually reveals the mechanics and terminology of the universe the story takes place in as demanded by the progression of the plot. “The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Part I” serves as the real first episode of the show, and in it the audience doesn’t have time travel, ESP, and aliens thrown at us right away (even if those ideas are introduced in this episode, the show does nothing to define them in its own way) — instead we gradually come to learn how these ideas are defined and how they function in the parameters of this fictional world.

A bit jarring, no? This could have actually worked, if all we needed to understand is that is that he’s immortal and that she uses her blood as a weapon.

Kyoukai no Kanata does nothing like this; in the first episode the audience is forced into needing to know what a youmu is, how youmu work, and what purpose youmu serve in the larger picture — the same goes for “Spirit World Warriors”. By making an understanding of these things a requirement, the show forces itself to immediately go into explaining and defining these things for the audience. And since the requirement of building up the world is in place from the get-go, there is very little room for characterization and character development.

Yet even though KnK makes understanding these things almost prerequisite to watching the show, it sure takes its sweet time trying to give the audience a decent understanding of those concepts. A concrete definition of what a youmu is, the etymology of “Spirit World Warrior”, what makes a Spirit World Warrior a Spirit World Warrior — in order to truly understand what is going on on the screen, the audience needs to know the answers to these questions (especially since the entirety of the cast already does). Instead of actually giving any insight however, the show just goes on charging through an introductory plot arc that is supposed to clue-in the viewers as to how the world works (but doesn’t).

The show demands an overwhelming amount of worldbuilding right from the start — so much so that it leaves little room for characters — but doesn’t deliver. So what do we have then: a world we cannot understand populated by characters whose backstories we do not know and little more than cursory one-dimensional character traits. Even when there is an occasional foray into the past of one of our protagonists, it is short lived and poorly executed; the audience is provided with information, but no understanding.

If only this was the core focus of the show.

What Kyoukai no Kanata wants to do is focus on the relationship  between Akihito and Mirai, but because of it needs to explain a bunch of stuff to the audience first the show doesn’t get to do this. The attention of the writing is divided between the characters and the universe in which those characters live — between that which it wants to talk about and that which is needs to talk about.

In spite of their shortcomings, I like both Meganebu! and Kyoukai no Kanata. I think that in the case of the former, it brings something really new and innovative in terms of the direction; and in the case of the latter I find it to be a sort of guilty pleasure: the writing isn’t good, but I’ve formed an emotional connection with the characters anyway.

And The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi isn’t the perfect show. In fact, I have many issues with the implications of some of the actions of the characters as well as with the very sparse use of the storytelling tools that make it great. That said, it gets a lot of things right — it wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t do something right! — and I think that a lot of people could learn a lot from studying the work of Nagaru Tanigawa.

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One response to “What Kyoukai no Kanata and Meganebu! could learn from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

  1. Hmmm, makes me wonder about Star Wars, to an extent – the characters themselves would understand the terminology, but much of the history remained untouched (at least, in terms of the movies; the novels, games and comic books expanded upon it exponentially). With every new entry into the Star Wars universe, we’re introduced to a slew of new characters, the vast majority of which never got so much as a passing mention in the films. It became so layered with its chronology that knowing where to begin can be daunting to those who wish to look beyond the films.

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