Spiritual Dryness and Haruhi’s Melancholy
noun, plural -chol·ies, adjective
1. a gloomy state of mind, esp. when habitual or prolonged; depression.
2. sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness.
4. affected with, characterized by, or showing melancholy; mournful; depressed: a melancholy mood.
5. causing melancholy or sadness; saddening: a melancholy occasion.
6. soberly thoughtful; pensive.
Suzumiya Haruhi is one of the most recognizable characters in anime today and the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya solidified her popularity. Sure, on the surface she’s just a strong-headed tsundere with a knack for bending everyone around her to her will, but on a deeper level her melancholy peaks through and displays itself as the root of her eccentricity. Her dissatisfaction with reality and her perception of it as bland is what drives her to ferociously seek phenomena greater than herself that her own logic cannot contain (aliens, time travelers, and espers. As we all know from her famous introduction line, she won’t accept anything less). However, the irony of this entire set up is that extraordinary phenomena occur around her simply because she wants them to exist, but she can’t see them despite the fact that they’re right in front of her in the form of Nagato Yuki (alien), Asahina Mikuru (time traveler), and Koizumi Itsuki (esper). So, Haruhi fervently seeks what she can’t see before her, believing such things exist while grappling with her underlying sense of insignificance and refusal to accept her life is average.
In Haruhi’s character, we have a reflection of one aspect of Christian spirituality that is often overlooked or treated as a problem that’s easily solved: spiritual dryness. We get into a state of dissatisfaction with the mundaneness of our lives, so we adamantly desire proof of greater things at work in the world. All people feel this at some point, but in a specifically Christian context, we seek a sense of God-given purpose or some kind of infallible sign that we’re an important part in the story of the universe. Of course, just as Haruhi can’t see the extraordinary phenomena right in front of her, so we can’t see the work of God in front of us and we become increasingly burdened by a sense of monotony while desiring a place in something greater than ourselves.
-Suzumiya Haruhi (episode 10)
After learning that the class representative suddenly transferred to a school in Canada, Haruhi quickly regains her usual energy and drags Kyon off to investigate. It’s a desperate attempt to find proof that something greater exists in the world. This desperation gives her enough optimism to keep searching even though she hasn’t seen or been involved in any strange situations at this point. The two of them go to the apartment complex where the class representative lived, but her investigation leads nowhere. Afterward, they’re walking by a railroad and Haruhi pauses to explain herself to Kyon.
“Have you ever realized how small your existence is on the Earth?” she says and then launches into an experience she had in 6th grade when her parents took her to a baseball game. She was overwhelmed and surprised by the amount of people there, thinking that the entire population of Japan was there. When she asked her father how many people were there, he told her 50,000. “Walking to the station after game, people overflowed. I was really shocked to see it. . .it was actually only a small fraction of Japan as a whole. . .I learned in social studies that the population’s about a hundred million. I divided that by 50,000. It was only 1/2000. . .I was shocked again. I was only one person among the mob at the stadium. . .Till then, I thought that I was a somewhat special person.”
This was the catalyst. Haruhi goes on to explain how she realized that school, even though it was fun, wasn’t any different from any other school in Japan. “It suddenly felt like the entire world around my started to fade into gray. Brushing my teeth and sleeping. Waking up and eating breakfast. It was everywhere. Everyone did it every day. Thinking that, everything became boring.” From there, she thinks about how some people still lead very interesting and exciting lives. She used to consider herself one of those people until the baseball game. Her conclusion is this:
Fun things won’t come your way if you wait. I thought I would change myself in junior high. . .I think I’ve done so, but in the end nothing happened. Before I knew it, I was already in high school. I thought something would change.
Haruhi got sick of waiting, so she proactively decided to change her circumstances and seek something great. However, the deeper, logical part of her–the melancholy part, if you will, is the one thing that prevents her from seeing that the very things she wishes so desperately to exist do exist right in front of her. It’s that sense of doubt and insignificance. What’s occurring on a visual level in this scene is that we see a young Haruhi shown alone against a black background, walking in the opposite direction of a throng of people, or sitting on a swing by herself. This further emphasizes her lost state and serves to quickly immerse the viewer into her sensitive backstory.
When seeing still isn’t believing
In the last episode of season 1, the world is basically about to end and Haruhi finally has physical proof of strange phenomena. She’s trapped in closed space with Kyon because she’s unconsciously making ready to recreate the world. She doesn’t want things to return to the boring world where the things she’s seeing at this moment don’t exist. Kyon’s job is to convince her that the real world actually is interesting. He also tells her that it pretty much does revolve around her and that she can control how it ends up. She goes along with it, and now she can finally say that she’s seen proof of extraordinary things, but she still isn’t satisfied. The next day, she acts like her usual self. She’s blinded/shielded from the existence of what she’s seeking even though she’s the cause and has had first-hand experience. In truth, both Haruhi and Kyon return from that incident as though it were a dream. It happened, but it feels like a haze and the impact quickly fades away. Soon, Haruhi is back to looking for strange people and circumstances as though she never experienced one.
This is why Haruhi is akin to a spiritually dry Christian. How many times has God done simply amazing things in our lives that couldn’t be attributed to anything else but Him? How many times have we been shown that we’re a part of something greater than ourselves when we have true community with other people or when impossible circumstances line up to create an amazing blessing? And yet, how many times do we still fruitlessly seek what’s right in front of us without seeing it? As spiritually dry Christians, we yearn for some indication of a special purpose of significance to our lives. We want to know that we’re not just another seat in the baseball stadium. We can run around randomly and aimlessly for what we want to find, but even if it’s there we won’t be able to see it. This is Haruhi’s melancholy and also our own melancholy. All we have as Christians is the knowledge that God creates everything with a purpose, including human beings. The problem comes with our limited ability to see and understand those things. That’s where faith comes in. The other side of Haruhi’s melancholy is that she does believe in what she’s seeking and she seeks it passionately (although her methods are strange at times). In a similar sense, we seek God’s presence. We yearn for affirmation of His work in and around us, or for some sign that He cares about us. Haruhi’s frustration is obvious. Disbelief and her own logic prevent her from really letting go. Christians have this struggle too. God gave human beings logic and reason, but because of our own limited perceptions it can prevent us from seeing the reality that is also God-given.
In Suzumiya Haruhi, we have a reflection of a specific state Christians can fall into. It’s not a simple place to be and it’s not a simple place to get out of. It would be too easy to say that Haruhi is instead an example of a non-Christian who is on the verge of coming to belief. I don’t think that’s the case because, like I said before, she already has belief. She just struggles with allowing it to help her see what’s right in front of her. Surely, this is something every human experiences, Christian or not.
Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Ramage. Please visit her blog, Caught Up in the Rush, to read her many reviews, including recent ones on School Rumble and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Many thanks for Taylor for the contribution!