“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
Haruhi Suzumiya, this bossy, unpredictable and overly energetic schoolgirl who wants nothing to do with normal humans or normal life, decides to celebrate a Christmas party with her insane club, the “Saving the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade.” It will include hot pot dishes, reindeer costumes, and who knows what else. The rest of the club, including our quite ironic/perpetual moaner protagonist Kyon, is not very enthusiastic about it, but as usual, she will get her way… Or will she? On the morning of December 18, Kyon arrives at school and finds that no one else remembers anything about Haruhi or the Brigade.
What comes next is one of the most touching, deep, powerful, and intelligent stories I have never seen, a Christmas tale in the tradition of A Christmas Carol or It´s a Wonderful life, which both recontextualize everything we have seen in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series and brings us beyond. From the beautiful absurdity of the Christmas party, to the revelation of the unsuspected, courageous, loving sacrifice that keeps the heart of this world beating, to the deep thirst the heart cannot deny, to a prayer answered and the powerful hope of a deeper communion, of truth, love and a path forward.
We have talked a lot about Haruhi on Beneath the Tangles. It is a surprisingly deep series, willing to take risks and surprise the viewer. The first episode is in our list of the 15 most shocking first episodes of anime series. You will understand why I feel so close to her if you read the powerful posts about her “melancholy,” that is, her deep longing for meaning and wonder in a world that seems dull, as a form of spiritual dryness, her desire to be someone special, and about how, without some balance, our unsatisfaction and the desire to push our boundaries, which may cause all sorts of cataclysmic events. The infamous Endless Eight arc has been commented in relation to the “yet again” of our sins and Lent, to its differences with the glorious infinity of Heaven, and we have told how Aya Hirano still regards Haruhi as her favorite role. Her personality, let’s say, “difficult”, has given her a special mention in the Ask Sensei: Trick or Treat Edition.
And what about Disappearance? There is this vivid, deep review by Zeroe4, about the feelings of being lost and finding that we have faith we didn’t know of, that can lead us to find out that we weren’t ever alone. You have also Goldy´s “Stepping outside into the cold to see the snow” about trusting God and going out of our comfort zones. And, due to the philosophical content of the show, and the ambiguity of Haruhi, she has been also used to explain everything from Gnosticism to Monergism to Atheism (after all, she says that, to be fair, she would want to celebrate the births of Muhammad, Moses and Buddha when the time comes). But that´s not the way I see this show.
At its heart, I think Haruhi is a story about hope, a hope that doesn’t exclude the trascendent. A few details. Look to the first seconds of the opening of Melancholy´s first opening, “Bouken Desho Desho?,” that is, “It’s an Adventure, Right, Right?” There is music of bells in the background, and Haruhi stares at a shooting star. And then:
“The answer is always in my heart.” Haruhi believes she is a drop in a sea of people, an insignificant person in a meaningless world. This thought drains her hope, and she rebels against in everything she does, but, deep down, she believes it to be in vain. But she is wrong. She is important. Not because she is in any sense God, as the overly courteous, more or less philosophical, self-proclaimed Gnostic and mildly irritating Koizumi suggests (Jay Agan has some great descriptions of these characters). Not only because she has something that cannot be explained, as the analytical, scientific, deadpan bookworm Yuki Nagato claims. And certainly not because she is a saint, as innocent Asahina Mikuru can attest (while this is a very enriching show, I must warn you that some early scenes concerning how Haruhi behaves towards her almost made me drop it, though this is dealt with later on).
No, it is because, as the Magi, Haruhi has seen a star, and will follow it, even if the world gets bleak. It is because she is a warrior, even if comedic, and her hope will be answered, will reach the other side. The loving meaning, the true wonder. And she will inspire others, and be inspired by others. Among them, maybe, there will be (spoilers) a certain guy nicknamed Kyon, who as a child hoped to find what she does, but later on gave up, and got some common sense instead. And that may be called to give and receive that hope to each other, to others, to the world. I think, with Koizumi, that the bond they develop, absurd and meddlesome as it often is, is something truly enviable.
And the way God knows, a a song Haruhi sings as an unassuming act of kindness, portrasy what it is starting to be, and what it could come to be in all its seriousness, in all its fragility. How Kyon´s face changes during that scene really says it all. But you also have the lyrics.
“I run past you with a thirsty heart. / Sorry, I couldn’t do anything- / you won’t even let us /
share our pain with each other. // In order to live purely / I face your back and leave without turning back. / on the lonely rail // I’ll follow you. / No matter where you are in the darkness of this bitter world / you will shine, / and exceed the limits of the future. / To prevent your spirit from being broken because of your weakness / you converge with my way. / Now, God bless us…”
“I send my now passionate feelings- / they melt reality, then just hover there suspended. / There’s no reason for me wanting to see you. / I pour my feelings into you, lovin’ you // Let’s at least imagine only beautiful dreams, / as we chase after them / for your lonely heart // Stop it, lying isn’t like you. / Look into my eyes and let’s speak of what will be. / I’m prepared- / even for a bleak future. / Become strong and you might even be able to change fate, you know. / Though I want my wish to be granted, / God knows everything…”
“You’re here, and I’m here- / all the others have disappeared. / By sketching the beauty of our fleeting dream, / we’re just tracing our scars // So, I’ll follow you. / No matter where you are in the darkness of this bitter world / you will shine, / and exceed the limits of the future. / To prevent your spirit from being broken because of your weakness / you converge with my way. / Now, God bless us…”
Yes, the darkness of this bitter world, the danger that the future will be bleak and our spirit will be broken are so great, side by side with that powerful hope. The people who are hurt. The opportunities lost. The lies we tell ourselves and others. The egoism, the superficiality, the things that are taken for granted. The abysses, the mad giants, the nothingness that may engulf the entire world, the coldness in our hearts: Sin, which is the lack of the love that should be there. Disappearance is a film about that: About Kyon and Haruhi, and about how her absence, that Kyon has claimed to want, sets him in the way to risk everything, to take every chance, to behave like a madman, and lastly to pray with all his heart, not even sure to what God is he praying to, that he receives back what he once had and so disdained. To pray for a Christmas miracle.
And the miracle will come in the most unexpected, moving form. Because, for a romantic comedy, it is something courageous and hopeful to acknowledge that there are losers, too. After a reinforced spoilers warning, I will speak about the twist of Disappearance, that is, about the cold rage and the fragile love growing in the heart of Yuki Nagato, which is the secret key to “Someday in the Rain,” the puzzling final episode of Melancholy. She, the silent observer, the bass to Haruhi´s guitar in God Knows, the main victim of the Endless Eight, is the protagonist. She, the person who is tired of watching in silence, indignant about Haruhi´s main sin, her cold indifference towards those who don´t interest her, and Kyon´s main sin, his deep insincerity, will force them to confront them. The person whose feelings for Kyon, which are as strong as those of Haruhi, can never be meet with acceptance.
She, who will become human, weak and vulnerable, risk everything she has and change the whole world for someone, but will be rejected. She, the one who will be shot by the one she loves, afraid and in confusion, even if she is willing to risk her life for him, even so. The one who cannot truly express how she feels. The one who, at a great personal cost, turns the world of Kyon and Haruhi from one of capricious coincidence to one of loving, conscious choice. Yuki, the unseen, my favorite character of the show.
How could it be otherwise? Little does Kyon know, when he does his best to confort Yuki, to save her from the punishment, when he puts his coat over her shoulders, when he expresses compassion towards her, that he is piercing her heart in doing so, but I see it. Little does he know that it was her coat which was put over his sleeping figure. When he says “Yuki,” she raises her head: Is this her miracle? Is he calling for her first name? But no, that couldn’t be, and he is referring to the falling snow.
A love so courageous, so bold, surely deserves to triumph, even if it cannot on this Earth. It is this sacrifice which brings the Christmas miracle of Disappearance, which makes the world we know to be real again. And it costs everything. But, if Kyon and Haruhi become what they are called to be, it will be because of Yuki Nagato. And one day, just like Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki will see her own star, will be called by her name, will be offered a loving hand, and will look with eyes of joy. Because every tear will be wiped away. Because I’m certain that the Lord of this Universe, and of all Universes, is a Hero, His love both strong and delicate, His gaze full of compassion and hope, and what nobody else sees, He will see.
Christmas, as Disappearance tells us, is a season of wonder and miracles. Even among those who don´t know if they are praying to Zoroaster or to Lovecraft, its powerful light can be often felt. It is a season of contrasts and absurdity, of food and laughs, but I think we should not disdain to embrace it also with all its plastic, its lights, its family gatherings and its KFC, and be children again. It is a time of deep joy, brought to us at the cost of the sacrifice of Christ, the Unseen Love in whom we are setting our vision, who made Himself human and vulnerable to withstand rejection and murder. But it is real, humble, simple, grateful joy, because this love was full of hope, and was triumphant.
It is a season to remind what we have forgotten, to start valuing what we took for granted, to repent and begin again. It is a season to look to the poor, the discarded, the unseen, and do for them what we can in the name of Jesus, who is present in them, so that nobody is left aside. It is a season to rest after the long journey of Advent, and to prepare for what will come after that (ahem, Season 3, hopefully). It is a season of hope, the D-Day, the Operation Overlord of the battle against our despair and our cold darkness. It is a season of gifts, to give and receive, and the season in which we received the greatest gift of all, full of danger and wonder, and it was a Child.
Christ came for each of us, to save us, because each of us is special to Him. The unthinkable suddenly invaded our everyday world: The virgin bore a son, and He was Emmanuel. God is with us, and with God, all things are possible. Hope has been vindicated. May our answer to Christmas always be in our hearts. Tonight, Advent ends. Now, God bless us, and let we celebrate.
Merry Christmas, everyone.