What do Itsuki Koizumi, Mikuru Asahina, St. Justin Martyr and St. Thomas Aquinas all have in common? Well, not much! Yet, there’s the fact that they have all been part of my collection of articles on the Haruhi franchise and the Thomist tradition. With the groundwork laid by these illustrious figures, now it’s time to let the show’s most necessary piece speak.
“OK. Asking someone how long they believed in Santa Claus is so stupid you can’t even consider it a topic for idle conversation. But if you still want to know how long I believed in some old fat guy who wears a funky red suit, I can tell you this, I never believed in him ever.”
There’s no story without a storyteller or a beginning, and this is how the story of Haruhi begins. The speaker is a guy whose name is not even Kyon (though it stuck), walking to class in a colorless world while monologuing endlessly like a film noir protagonist.
“I guess I always knew those things were bogus. All I ever wanted was for an alien, time traveler, ghost, monster, esper, evil syndicate, or the hero that fought them to just appear and say, ‘Hey’… Unfortunately, reality is a hard road indeed.”
He’s not wrong, and this sad news is delivered with a remarkably satisfied tone. The path is especially rough, too, when one refuses to acknowledge what he truly needs.
So, why is this everyday landscape animated in desaturated tones until a certain oddball called Haruhi Suzumiya enters the picture, saying the most egregious things? Why is the world instantly filled with color? Well, for now, I’ll let you guess. Let’s take a look at how it all unfolds.
Kyon is a normal guy and tries to talk Haruhi out of her strange habits, advising her to find love with a nice guy, walk the city and enjoy a normal existence. Then he is dragged into her Brigade, where he is critical (internally and externally) of everything they do, finding Haruhi’s antics ridiculous, and remaining skeptical concerning the supernatural events. He only stays because of a vague concern for her and for the safety of the world.
When she tells him about her melancholy, he says nothing but “I see”. It has nothing to do with him. When Koizumi, Asahina and Nagato tell him about their nature and Haruhi’s power, he’s just frustrated. You see, he may be much happier if he was able to follow his own advice, and pursue a normal relationship with any nice girl that was not Haruhi. He doesn’t need any of this. He’d rather be free.
So one day, he quite logically decides that he has had enough. He says goodbye and never looks back. But this is not our story. Because, deep down, not a word of the two paragraphs above is true.
Yuki Nagato, inexperienced as she is, may come to believe Kyon’s rants. Meanwhile, Mikuru Asahina is too busy with her own crazy ride to even think about it. Not so with Kyon’s male friends. Loud Taniguchi, being a pretty normal high-schooler, knows that Kyon is not—a normal high-schooler, that is. Calm and polite Kunikida observes that Kyon has “a history of liking strange girls”. And Koizumi, being Koizumi, has a whole theory about it. Stay tuned.
The Theory of the Invisible Bond
At a certain point in a certain baseball game (mild spoilers ahead), Kyon is angry at Haruhi’s frustration and capriciousness. He says he doesn’t care if they win or lose. Koizumi smiles as he always does, and tells him that there is an “invisible bond of trust” between Kyon and Haruhi. Haruhi has faith in Kyon, and trusts him to lead them to victory, and that’s why he was randomly chosen as the fourth batter.
As much as Kyon grumbles or evades the question, time and time again, Koizumi returns to this implicit responsibility. He’s Haruhi’s champion, giving her the impulse she needs in the fight to find meaning. But does it cut both ways? Koizumi thinks so. “You have faith in Suzumiya-san”, he notes at one point, as they watch the ocean together. And, unlike his theories on Haruhi, Asahina and… himself, I think this one is spot on.
Perhaps Kyon and Haruhi are walking, step by step, towards each other as a couple. But that’s not all that’s happening here. Not quite. They are also together in the quest of saving their world by overloading it with meaning. They are signs of hope for each other. And they need each other to move. Koizumi notes that Asahina, Nagato, or he himself could be replaced at some point. Not Kyon, though.
And what does Kyon say to this? “I don’t care”. “I never believed in that”. “This is crazy”. “This is boring”. But despite that, there’s a silent conversation between Haruhi and Kyon. With her crazy, inconsiderate behavior, she nevertheless fights for hope, hiding her insecurities, her melancholy and her “normal” self. At the same time, Kyon, with his “normal” self, his abruptness and his irony, hides his melancholy and his hope.
And they see each other. That’s how it all began.
For both of them, the seeming meaninglessness of the Universe and life is a pressing, existential question. But Kyon has a harder time admitting this to himself and others, and a greater ability to get distracted by mundane things and tell himself (and us) a self-satisfying narrative.
After hearing about Haruhi’s melancholy and responding only with an indifferent “I see”, he tells us he silently hated himself for this. There’s an abandonment, a freely created crack in the ground, a quiet betrayal here. Of course he would. Kyon may end up rejecting his calling, just as Haruhi may lose all hope and become an unlikable monster, or destroy the world.
That is the tragedy at the heart of the Haruhi franchise.
But perhaps it is not impossible to avoid this destiny and cross the abyss. Which brings us to Tanabata, a Japanese festivity where two stars, Vega and Altair, meet each other, and people, especially couples, make a wish while looking at them.
The Hope of a Tanabata Bridge
The festival of Tanabata is based on an old folk tale. The version Haruhi references goes as follows: Orihime, “Weaving Princess”, is the daughter of the Tentei, “Sky King”. By the bank of the “Heavenly River”, the Milky Way, she weaves beautiful, colorful, unique clothing that Tentei greatly appreciates. But one day, she starts feeling melancholy, as deep loneliness settles on her. Worried, Tentei resorts to a secret plan.
And so, he arranges for her to meet Hikoboshi, “Cowman”, also called Kengyū, a shepherd working on the other side of the Milky Way. They fall madly in love and get married, but as they do, they stop taking care of their missions. The clothes are left unmade and the cows run free, disrupting the Heavens and bothering the other gods. Thus, the lovers are punished by Tentei, who makes the Heavenly River between them impossible to cross.
That is, except for the seventh day of the seventh month, Tanabata. The rain may impede their union, and the obstacles may be difficult to overcome. But when they are together in the sky, in their happiness, Hikoboshi and Orihime may grant the wishes of the mortals. Haruhi, at least, sends them her wish. With some additions of her own, to adjust the interstellar speed of the wish’s journey to relativity theory. Smart girl.
I’ve read some theories that speculate about the possibility of Kyon being the source of Haruhi’s power, consciously or unconsciously, but I don’t think that’s right. Instead, Kyon is supposed to be Hikoboshi, the shepherd who reaches the Weaving Princess, the normal guy affecting the ultimate outcome, “the John Smith that will shake up the world”.
But in this story, and in the story of Adam and Eve also referred to by Koizumi to explain the situation of Kyon and Haruhi (an explanation he almost gets punched for), there are three characters, not two. There’s Tentei. The two characters who are united by their deep longing and inadequacy, need something else too.
And when the invisible bond seems to be broken, when everything disappears, when all hope seems lost, Kyon will intuit (or remember) this, and ask for help. But the context won’t be Tanabata. No, he’ll be back to that which Santa Claus symbolizes: Christmas. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What do Haruhi and Kyon need? What do we understand by needing, by necessity?
Non-Being, the Necessary, and the Needy
You cannot have a story without a storyteller, or a movie without a camera. Cinematic storytelling can take many, many forms (as those who have watched The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina know), but in all of them, the essential role—and the one most often overlooked—is played by the one behind the camera. The plot may be wild and disconnected, the acting may be terrible, and the director may be crazy, but the movie will still exist because of the camera.
That’s because the specific plot, actors or directors are contingent; that is, they may potentially be or not be there. The camera, on the other hand, is necessary. It has a different, incompatible property: that of always being there, regardless of other elements. Where there is a movie, there’s always a camera.
Now, the movie as a whole is itself “contingent”. And we know this because it begins and (luckily for Kyon and the Brigade) it ends. One world-shaking, sunny day, the filming began. The moment light and sound started being recorded, Haruhi’s movie started existing. And where there is either a beginning or an end, there is an existential limitation, namely, the potency of non-being.
That’s also why everything that has an end also has a beginning. Being limited, it plays out until the non-being, the frontier, manifests. In Haruhi’s movie, actors, plot and direction can only go as far as the recording of the camera runs. Then, their limited nature is made manifest.
When we say that Kyon and Haruhi need each other, we are speaking by way of analogy, because they are able to exist without one another, for a time at least. The analogy is useful, though, because their dissatisfaction is also a negative reality that shows us that they are limited, and wish to complement each other.
So, can a purely contingent world exist? Well, if everything was contingent and mixed with non-being, considered as a whole, then existence as a whole would be limited. Consequently, it would have had an absolute beginning, with nothing before, that is, beyond the frontier. Not a vacuum. Not a void. Nada, as in the number of red gun-wielding armadillos portrayed in the picture below. And nothing can come from nothing.
Cyclical or linear time may be philosophically possible, but unlimited contingency is self-contradictory. Nor does an unlimited chain of limited beings solve the problem, since the chain as a whole would be contingent anyway. And so, we need a constant: the camera (or cameraman?) of reality’s movie. The Necessary Being. And so you have St. Thomas Aquinas’ Third Way (formulated here).
Some Kyonesque Objections
Okay, but hold on a second, let’s not rush into things. After all, it wouldn’t make any sense to jump to conclusions in an article devoted to Kyon, would it?!
So, why in the world would we jump from here to the existence of God? Well, with the Necessary Being, being or existing is part of its essence. So its essence and existence are one. And thus, it is Pure Act, and a Personal Being as well, if we follow the same path we did in the First Way.
To fight against the Third Way, you need to strike sooner. David McGraw lists some of the objections here. For example, you may object that Aquinas’ formulation seems to incur the Birthday Fallacy. Everyone on the planet has “a” birthday, but not “one” birthday, as it doesn’t follow that said birthday is the same day for everyone. Likewise, even if every being has “a” beginning, that’s not proof of “one” common beginning.
But the thing is, any aggregate of contingent elements is itself contingent. The Third Way does not prove that everything has a common temporal beginning. It does prove, though, that for contingent beings to be real, something necessarily exists by itself beside them—in the way that a camera is necessary for a movie.
Some may argue, in the spirit of Kyon’s “The Universe is the Universe”, that the Universe is beyond reason. It just exists, as a brute fact. But if that is so, then why limit such a useful answer only to the question addressed by the Third Way? Why does it rain? It just does. Who ate my pudding? It just disappeared. Why is Haruhi wearing a Santa costume? She just is! If we don’t accept such explanations in these cases, then explaining the Universe in which they happen in such a way doesn’t make sense either.
What about a more modest Necessary Being, like the Universe itself, for example, or mass, or energy? No luck there either. The Universe includes contingent realities, with a principle of non-being. We know mass and energy to be ordered realities that we meet in a variety of differently ordered structures.
Mass and energy do not comprise those immaterial principles of order, which explain the fact that they are knowable and able to be abstracted, recognized, expressed and applied, even if the matter is not the same.
So there’s a Necessary Being out there, a third character in our story of Adams and Eves, Orihimes and Hikoboshis. A Personal Being who exists and who will always exist, without beginning and without end, because the potential for non-being is just not in Him. Someone we need to sustain us, to find unchanging meaning, to help us when we reach our frontier. A Tentei, a Sky King, in our personal Tanabatas.
Trying to conquer reality by yourself brings contradiction and despair, while losing yourself in it means only deep thirst and lies. To go beyond the brokenness and the frontiers of this world, we need something more.
I invite you to consider, in this light, Haruhi‘s first opening, which shows her reaching out to the stars—a point of contact with the Tanabata story; consider also the climax of Disappearance, and the full lyrics of God Knows (you can find the translation here), sung by Haruhi (remember!) as an act of selflessness— perhaps the first we have seen. Things are changing. And there is hope.
“I thirst”. Those are words of Christ on the Cross. But, when He died, water and blood came out of His side. Christmas, when we celebrate His birth, is a season of gifts. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” says Jesus about himself to the woman at the well.
Haruhi and Kyon, too, are thirsty—as are we. And so we seek one another, and that’s good. But it’s not enough. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
So hey, Kyon. Perhaps one day, too, you’ll be able to answer the heart of Haruhi’s thirst, and your own, and tell her that there’s an invisible bond. That there’s a plan for saving the world, and a team, and a Cosmos, and a bridge. And also that there’s faith. Not in Santa Claus, perhaps. But in the one who, like Tentei, brought you two together.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can be streamed at Funimation.