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13 June 2008 @ 12:52 am
Power, Worship, and Love: Haruhi, Kyon, and the SOS Brigade  
I wrote an essay about gender, power, and relationships for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I had too many thoughts, and I wanted to get them out--and if you guys are game--discuss them. The anime plays with power roles fairly creatively and I find the possibilities of the show fascinating. Who loves whom, what form their love takes, and what powers the characters exert over themselves, each other, and the situation at large have all sorts of neat little facets that I just have to talk about. I would love it if you joined me.


Warning: I am not spoiled for the novels, but this discussion IS spoilery for the complete anime.

I'm intrigued by the power/gender dynamics of a potential romantic relationship between Haruhi and Kyon. We get a taste of it in the anime, but not fully because of several factors:

1) Haruhi is unaware of her power/ events around her
2) Kyon and Haruhi do not have an expressed and outright romantic relationship
3) the anime doesn't show the full events of the canon story from the written novels

Not having read the books, I'll try to analyze what the anime series gives us as a separate and complete work in itself, as well as to speculate on what a real "relationship" would look like in terms of power dynamics. This may ramble considerably. Note as well, I will be refering to the episodes in event-chronological order, not the broadcast order.

I fully welcome and appreciate discussion, debate, and a free exchange of ideas. Nevertheless, sexism and gender power roles in fiction and IRL are sensitive issues that viewers/readers take personally, so let us please be respectful in our discourse.


Power, Worship, and Love:
Haruhi, Kyon, and the SOS Brigade


I. Haruhi

Power and control is a signficant theme in MHS, and following closely behind is the theme of information=power. The people with the information aren't always the people with the tangible power, but they are the people with the intangible power.

In one sense Haruhi is the most powerful character of the series. She literally shapes the story and characters around herself. All the minor characters, settings, and even the narrator himself are unable to escape the "pull" of her...let's call it "magic of personality" since the series never truly specifies exactly what Haruhi is. Or magical power, for easier use. In a very real way she controls the universe. She has the global tangible power.


II. SOSB

In another light, the people with the power are the SOS Brigade--for the sake of this conversation SOSB will refer to the four members who AREN'T Haruhi, and that includes Kyon. The SOSB holds the information, or the "truth" that Haruhi is oblivious to, and regularly uses that information to inhibit, manipulate, limit, influence and control Haruhi's mental state and magical powers... sometimes they are successful, sometimes they only manage an attempt. The SOSB, by its existence, suppresses Haruhi. That is, of course, assuming that "goddess" is Haruhi's truest form and her powers are an inseparable part of her being. Which I'm going to assume is the case, at least in the anime.

Having a goddess-like character being oppressed or stripped of her power is not a new concept in fiction. One incident that comes to mind is the demon goddess Illyria in Angel, who literally had her power stripped from her by a circle of weaker/mortal men through, guess what, a gun (classic penetration metaphor.) While nothing that dramatic happens in MHS, the SOSB characters discuss various equally dramatic or violent options of "dealing with" Haruhi's magic of personality (and the threat it presents to the world), which include:

1. doing nothing
2. observing from a distance
3. observing/influencing up close

4. killing her
5. killing the people that influence her
6. exerting control over the people that influence her


All of these either happen or are attempted except #4, though not always in a unified effort by the various parties backing the SOSB.

Now, depending on how meta you get, one explanation for this is that because Haruhi created or activated the aliens, time travelers, and espers and drew them to her as part of her magic of personality, she is in fact in subconscious control over their actions. This could be, from one sense, a self-policing effort. Considering Haruhi is unaware of her power and affects the world on a subconscious level (at least for now), part of her subconscious could be setting up the 3 major opposing forces in order to keep herself from endangering her existence.

I felt like this was worth mentioning, because you can take the meta argument into spirals for this show. But for the sake of ambiguity in anime canon I'm going to assume that while Haruhi "activated" the time travelers, aliens, and esper organizations, she does not explicitly control them. We know free will exists in Haruhi's universe specifically because Kyon believes it does, and Kyon influences Haruhi's views on life, the universe, and everything. If she doesn't control the forces suppressing her, and they are acting out of individual free will, that means that their efforts to control her magical influence and the "closed space" bubble universes she creates are tasks they take on themselves, and are a response to Haruhi's power rather than an agent of it.

Also, I wish to mention that in the issue of gender and control, the SOSB is 2 men and 2 women when Kyon is with them, and when it's the "nonhuman" three it is 2 women and 1 man. Unlike the scene mentioned in Angel, there are not clear lines of gender roles in terms of who does the controlling. The only clear thing is that the empowered character being suppressed (or attempted-suppressed) is female.


III. Kyon

The three "non-human" members recruit Kyon to this task of emotionally controlling Haruhi. (#6) Kyon participates some of the time, other times he refuses to participate and in fact puts his "trust" in Haruhi to control herself. By the end of the series, notably after episode 6 where Haruhi traps herself and Kyon in a closed reality, Kyon has almost entirely stopped being concerned about Haruhi ending the world, and has settled on the view that "Haruhi is Haruhi" and he should treat her as such. He thinks about the issues a lot, but when other SOSB members attempt to goad him into action he regularly states his belief that it is unnecessary. At some points this almost seems an issue of insecurity, because Kyon denies that he is important enough or valuable enough to influence Haruhi that way--- not surprising considering that in many ways Kyon still does not want to accept this crazy new world or his role in it with relation to Haruhi Suzumiya.

And what is his role, exactly? He dances between oppressing Haruhi & her magic of personality (whether this is for the good of the world or not, and thus whether it is justified or not, I won't judge, but it is oppression, wise or not) and trying to treat her like an ordinary, if eccentric, classmate and fellow human being. However, in one very real way he exerts a type of control over Haruhi---because he knows the truth of her identity, and she doesn't, there is a lie of omission inherent in their relationship. Whether he wants to or not, Kyon does believe that Haruhi has power (thanks to episode 6), and his awareness of that plus his awareness of the job of the SOSB makes him complicit in the conspiracy even in the cases where he refuses to actively manipulate her.

One way to look at the SOSB and Kyon with relation to Haruhi is in the sense of religious worshipers to a deity. While the SOSB seeks to limit or control Haruhi's power (or what "they" judge to be the nagative aspects of her power), there is also something fundamentally subservient in the way Haruhi and the SOSB interact. Not only does Haruhi gather them up, make them into her followers within the club, and order them around, but with the club she creates a metaphor for her own church. The SOSB are her clergy, her worshippers, and Kyon is her head priest. He has the most intimate relationship with her, but he also influences and directs the other SOSB members. While they use him to influence Haruhi, he uses them as well, and often chooses the direction and method by which the other three are allowed to influence Haruhi. When he forbids them from using magic or psychic powers or "cheating" during match games, he is using the power and status they gave him within the group to influence them.

We are constantly told that Haruhi "chose" Kyon, and I think in the sense of power dynamics that is very literally true, considering that she often comes on much stronger in her attention to him than he wishes or appreciates. Nevertheless, it was Kyon who initiated weeks worth of verbal communication with Haruhi before she "chose" him to lead her metaphorical church. Kyon was the initiator, though it's also worth noting that he is not the first person to attempt to know her, and Haruhi "chose" him from an apparently long list of potential suitors/worshippers/friends/controllers.


IV. Potential Romance Factor:

If Haruhi and Kyon ever began a "real" romantic relationship (and by that I mean dating at the least, having sexual relations or marriage at the most), how would his role and her role change or be influenced by this?

It could be a more "intense" extension of their current relationship:

Kyon is the "high priest" who literally worships and loves his goddess. He serves her by "keeping her happy" and is her source of interaction with her other followers (SOSB). If Haruhi was aware of her magic of personality then this would be a subservient relationship in the most real sense, because both parties would be aware of their power and status within the relationship. Haruhi would dominate completely. Physically and emotionally and philosophically and existentially Haruhi would be the dominant person in the relationship. Whether or not Kyon would be satisfied with this (I doubt it, based on his continued insistence of treating her like an equal) we can't say for sure, but he has in the past demonstrated some resistance to being overtly controlled or manipulated by the SOSB's other members and by Haruhi herself.

If Haruhi continued to be unaware of her potential or powers, then this means that Kyon is acting as both her servant/lover (her Endymion, in a way), and as her keeper and controller. If they were in an intimate relationship his range of influence over Haruhi would jump dramatically from what it currently is in the anime. Because of the lie of omission inherent in this concept, one could see this as emotional manipulation. Whether Kyon realizes he's doing it or not, matters as well. Whether he would believe himself to be only reacting to Haruhi's acting and thus still the lesser in power is...confusing. It depends a lot on POV, then, as to whether or not following after Haruhi and reacting to her actions means either he or she is in control of the relationship. There's a huge potential for passive-aggressive manipulation, and we've seen Kyo do this in the anime before, either against Haruhi or against the SOSB when they try to manipulate himself or Haruhi. Kyon's typical behavior is to let himself be controlled totally and completely, up to a certain point where his personal feelings become a factor or where his personal conviction outweighs his normal desire to be passive. One of the things Kyon has a great deal of conviction about is the idea that Haruhi can learn to control herself, and that the SOSB can sometimes be making her worse by placating her.

Jumping a little bit: one interesting thing in this series is how power is used as a gift, and is passed willingly from party to party. The non-human members of the SOSB give Kyon power over Haruhi through information and logistical support. What power they have, the three of them willing share in the form of information and tools. They manipulate him into helping their cause, but once he's "in" they let him make the determination of how they proceed in most cases.

While Haruhi is mostly the dominant partner in her relationship with Kyon in the anime, she goes out of her way to deliberately give Kyon power and influence. She seeks out his opinions and company, and by bringing him into the enclosed space she essentially gives him her full trust and an equal place in her ideal world. When Kyon tells her he likes the old world, and when he kisses her, she defers to his POV and the world reverts to the old one, or something very close to the old one. He expresses to her that the world is worth saving no matter how "boring", and she acquiesces to that opinion. By bringing him into her enclosed universe, she gives him the power to convince her of what her choice should be.

So how would a believable relationship between them work? Can Kyon really claim to trust Haruhi if he keeps this massive secret from her? And without that trust, is the relationship unequal? And if he *does* tell her, and she accepts and controls her powers consciously, then how can that relationship not also be unequal?



Well, there you have it. A lot of questions, not hardly any answers. I've hit most of the major points I wanted to talk about, and it's 12:30 am right now so I'm exhausted. I didn't intend to write this much, but now that I sat down thinking, it all came out. It's been a while since I wrote a fandom essay.

* I did not discuss the sexism issues surrounding Mikuru's character because that was a whole entirely different (and no little bit rancid) pie. I primarily wanted to talk about Haruhi/Kyon so Mikuru's regular abuse doesn't get a mention this time around. I also skipped other instances of positive or negative use of gender roles and power in the anime with different characters, choosing to focus solely on the the key triangle between Haruhi, Kyon, and the SOSB.

WARNING: Please keep your comments free of specific book spoilers. If the book substantially changes the content of the anime, that is interesting, but I don't want to know yet. Rather, if you need to, look at the anime as a completed and separate work, analysed for itself rather than in comparison to the books.
 
 
 
amytiger: stripesamytiger on June 13th, 2008 08:55 am (UTC)
Wow, that's really insightful- I'd certainly never thought about it in that way before. I may have to go watch it again. :)
esbeedb on June 13th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Very intriguing essay. The power struggles within the Brigade really are fascinatingly complex. You have these three different groups, all with their own respective ideas on the exact nature of Haruhi, all battling for influence on Kyon. Yet at the same time, Kyon's really the key, and such a powerful force in himself that if he says Haruhi's an equal than by all rights she is one. One of my favorite episodes for looking at this is "Day of Sagittarus". It's one of the first full episodes where we can see the Brigade (most notably Yuki, but all of them really) just let go and have fun. They band together as one, rather than the Goddess, the high priest, and the clergy (to take your metaphor). You almost wonder if it would have happened if Kyon were not who he was, since Koizumi was quick to point out the potential dangers and probably would have continued on that assumption if Kyon hadn't ignored it. I definitely hope the series continues on this trend.
Rashka the Demon (wolf in the cave): Bite me. -Tophrashaka on June 14th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
That was one of my favorite episodes as well. It was really entertaining in general, and we see Kyon break out of his shell somewhat to openly lead the other SOS members. Plus it was fun to watch them all enjoying themselves.

You almost wonder if it would have happened if Kyon were not who he was, since Koizumi was quick to point out the potential dangers and probably would have continued on that assumption if Kyon hadn't ignored it.

It's kind of fun to speculate about how the situation would be different if Kyon were not the mild, level-headed person he is. It's almost like the other SOS members are tentatively okay with leaving it his decision because he isn't the type to take risks or jump in foolishly. If he wasn't who he is, they might not be content to leave it to him.
artistshipperartistshipper on June 13th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
Sometimes a snake is just a snake. I think you've over-analyzed the gender dynamics a little. Haruhi is female because when a girl does what she does, it's funny. (If a guy did it people would more likely interpret it a sexual harassment.) It's a comedic double standard to be sure, but I really think you've read more into the gender issue than is meant.

As for the inequality of the relationship, I do agree that Kyon does have some measure of power over her because he is more fully informed, but he's NOT doing it to have power over her, he's doing it because he fears the potential repercussions of her knowing. Kyon himself seems to be upset by the notion that by having influence over Haruhi, he's important/powerful, and resists admitting this to Itsuki. If we see a real romance develop between these two, Kyon will have to come clean at some point, as much because of his own ethical inclinations as because of the situation.
Rashka the Demon (wolf in the cave): Bright Imperious Line - Zuko/Katararashaka on June 14th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Haruhi is female because when a girl does what she does, it's funny. (If a guy did it people would more likely interpret it a sexual harassment.) It's a comedic double standard to be sure, but I really think you've read more into the gender issue than is meant.

To be honest, I'm about 100% certain that the writers meant nothing at all when it comes to gender politics--very, very few anime series have ambitions in that regard. :) I can think of less than five off the top of my head that appear to give any consideration to the subject at all. But I like to analyze media and popular fiction, so analyzing the character and plot dynamics of a story, especially in the sense of what those dynamics say about the culture at large (or about the medium of television or literature) is fun for me. Whether they intended a message or not is worth discussing, and I agree with you in that sense. But that doesn't mean the result they produce isn't worth discussing.

As for the inequality of the relationship, I do agree that Kyon does have some measure of power over her because he is more fully informed, but he's NOT doing it to have power over her, he's doing it because he fears the potential repercussions of her knowing. Kyon himself seems to be upset by the notion that by having influence over Haruhi, he's important/powerful, and resists admitting this to Itsuki. If we see a real romance develop between these two, Kyon will have to come clean at some point, as much because of his own ethical inclinations as because of the situation.

I agree with you completely. It's very clear that Kyon is uncomfortable with the situation the other SOS members force him into with regards to Haruhi, which is why he straddles the line so much. I also agree that Kyon is inherently ethical and decent, and probably would feel morally bound to be honest eventually.
Nenena: Haruhi - To the Haruhimobile!nenena on June 14th, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
but I really think you've read more into the gender issue than is meant.

It's when writers and artists don't mean to be commenting on gender that the real interesting stuff comes bubbling to the surface. ;)

That's how gender dynamics work. They're generally things that we don't think about, and ideas and beliefs that we take for granted.

Haruhi is female because when a girl does what she does, it's funny. (If a guy did it people would more likely interpret it a sexual harassment.) It's a comedic double standard to be sure.

It's a real-life double-standard, too, and it sucks. From someone who has been the target of sexual harassment from fellow girls: no it is not fucking funny.

(*wipes up*)
Rashka the Demon (wolf in the cave): Bright Imperious Line - Zuko/Katararashaka on June 14th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC)
It's when writers and artists don't mean to be commenting on gender that the real interesting stuff comes bubbling to the surface. ;)

Yes. A much more eloquent way of putting it than my rambling answer.
Nenenanenena on June 14th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
Great essay. This is a really an entire dimension of the series that I didn't even think about; granted, whenever I've previously tried to wrap my brain around the gender dynamics in Haruhi, I keep getting distracted by Mikuru's treatment. Rancid pie indeed.
Rashka the Demon (wolf in the cave): Origin of Loverashaka on June 14th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
I really wanted to talk about it because of the two-sided way the show approaches a powerful character-- in some ways it limits and oppresses her, in other ways it stands back and says "she'll do what she does and we'll abide because we can't do anything else". This is a more even-handed approach than I've seen some shows give, and it's surprisingly open-minded given the potential danger Haruhi presents. It'd be much easier to say "remove the threat" than this tentative "we'll wait and see" approach they use half the time.

I keep getting distracted by Mikuru's treatment. Rancid pie indeed.

I don't even want to talk about that most of the time, because it's so obviously a parody of a popular anime exploitation convention. The problem with parodying conventional themes that are offensive is that even in parody they're still offensive. And it's not even a particularly intelligent or creative approach to the idea-- it's just the same ol' same ol' but taken to an extreme. It would have been more clever to have the person being harassed look nothing like Mikuru's "type", so then the joke would be "why are they all harassing THIS person?" and thus shed light on the absurdity and cruelty of this kind of "humor". But this is anime we're talking about, and while there can be sophisticated humor, anything funny based on sex is usually always...base.
laurie_bunter: shocklaurie_bunter on April 8th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
Hi. I found your essay by surfing though LJ. I'm new to the fandom and the series, but I enjoyed it so much I already read all the novels.

You have a great essay here and I am going to add it to my memories, it's very insightful. You have hit upon one of the things that got me thinking about Kyon's relationship with Haruhi, and the intense denial in his POV throughout the anime. I was thinking that his denial is due to his current inability to be completely truthful to her regarding everything that is happening; it's a twist that when he finally tells her, she thinks he's making it up and goes so far to turn it into a film.

Since it's been several months since you first post this, have you read the novels yet? Have your views changed regarding the power dynamics? There are lots of stuff I'd like to ask as a fellow fan, but they're all so spoilerish...