Going back to the first (chronological) episode, Haruhi is frustrated at the school not having any exciting clubs. That’s when Kyon speaks up. He tells her people who aren’t satisfied with what they have usually invented things. For example, planes, cars and trains, were created by people who wanted to fly or get to places faster. What they have today wouldn’t exist if people hadn’t used their talents or imaginations to fulfil their desires. His speech unintentionally gives Haruhi the idea to start a club herself. She’s so enthusiastic that she pulls Kyon from his desk and exclaims about it to him – not realising they’re still in the middle of class. I should mention as well this is the first time we’ve seen Haruhi smiling. Before now, she’s always had a bored, pouty expression on her face, as if frustrated at the world. Like with Maud Pie (Friendship is Magic), you know you’ve done something special if you’ve made Haruhi smile.
After class, Haruhi wants Kyon to help her make her club. She’ll find a room and members while he handles the paperwork. The problem is there are rules to starting an extracurricular group. The club must have at least five members, a supervising teacher, a name, a person in charge, and a purpose for the organisation. Haruhi doesn’t even know what her club will be yet. So Kyon can’t explain to the school board how it’ll benefit the student body.
To tell the truth, I’ve never been thrilled about documents or paperwork either. I know filling them out is essential. But it’s a lot of information to take in. Plus, my Autism doesn’t make processing it any easier. I’d much rather have someone else handle these tedious parts, so I can focus on what comes afterwards. Maybe that’s Haruhi’s mindset as well.
Despite her lack of forethought, Haruhi does manage to find a room. It belongs to the literary club, but its senior members have all graduated. The only person left is a freshman named Yuki Nagato. And since she can’t maintain the club herself, it’ll soon be disbanded. Nonetheless, Haruhi lets Yuki stay as part of their club since she only wants a place to read. She doesn’t even mind if she will have to leave eventually.
On a side note, I have to mention Yuki’s demeanour. She’s a quiet and unemotional person. At one point, Kyon asks her about the book she’s reading. But she only shows him the front cover and doesn’t say much about whether she likes it. Actually, she barely responds to anything at all. It got me thinking that maybe she was Autistic, too. After all, her habit of quietly reading was what I did all the time in my later years at secondary school. Unfortunately, though, my assumption was false. Yuki isn’t emotionally detached because she’s on the spectrum. It’s because (unlike Haruhi) she isn’t human. She’s a robot. Specifically, an alien robot who’s been sent to observe Haruhi because a higher intergalactic entity believes she’s the key to human evolution – I told you this series gets complicated.
Another member Haruhi finds is Mikuru Asahina, a timid girl who’s dragged to the clubroom against her will. While “walk[ing] every inch of the main building“, Haruhi sometimes encounters Mikuru. She wants her to join because she’s a cutie, has big breasts and is a total moe. Supposedly, all stories with strange things going on have a moe character; “someone with glasses, or in a maid costume, or anything fetishy.” So basically, she wants Mikuru to be the club’s mascot.
Two things Haruhi said resonated with me here. The first is what she mentions doing at break times. When I was younger, I never had anyone to talk to or play with on the playground; I just preferred my own company. I’d spend my free time wandering around, letting my imagination entertain me. We know Haruhi isn’t usually one to sit and talk to people either. So it makes sense she’d do something similar. The second point is her grounds for recruiting Mikuru. It’s alluded to several times in the series, but Haruhi often views her classmates as objects rather than people. That’s why she’s so unfeeling towards them. She doesn’t care who Mikuru is or what she wants. All that matters is what she looks like and how that conforms to a role Haruhi wants fulfilling. She’s trying to make her club the most ideal it can be, based on her interests.
On another side note, Mikuru seemingly joins because she’s pressured into it. However, there’s a second reason. It’s revealed later on she’s a time-traveller who’s also observing Haruhi. And yes, in case you’re wondering, an esper turns up too; he’s a transfer student named Itsuki Koizumi – Haruhi recruits him because he’s mysterious. Ironically enough, when Haruhi reveals the purpose of her club, which she calls the SOS Brigade, one of its objectives is to find aliens, time-travellers and espers. She never works out that these people are right there in her clubroom.
I’ve now covered the entire first (chronological) episode. I could end off right here. But to fully understand Haruhi’s character, I need to discuss a few more episodes.
First of all, remember what I said about Haruhi being viewed as a model pupil? Well, the keyword in that sentence is “viewed“. Although she’s smart, multi-talented, and does well to represent the Autistic spectrum, she, unfortunately, isn’t a good role model. Why? Because of her personality. You might’ve noticed it already, but Haruhi can be very stubborn at times. She’s the type of person who has to have everything done her way and doesn’t like being told no. If things don’t go according to her plan, something can flare inside her. For Autistic people, like me, sometimes we get overly stressed, angry or depressed. For Haruhi, she can be all of that. Plus, give up on reality and unknowingly use her powers to destroy the world while creating a new one – I’m getting side-tracked again. The point is, once she sets her mind on something, she’ll do anything and everything to make it happen. This attitude not only makes her frustrating at times, but it’s lead to some very unlawful behaviour. A good example is the second (chronological) episode.
Haruhi wants to get a computer for her clubroom, so she goes to the computer club. When the club members protest, she makes it look like their president sexually assaulted Mikuru by taking a forged photograph. She then threatens to show the school board unless they fork over their latest model. She even blackmails them into setting it up while Kyon designs the SOS Brigade’s website. If you think that’s bad, she’s even more of a bully to Mikuru.
It should be evident that miss Asahina is extremely sensitive. She’s easily reduced to tears and can’t speak up for herself. Despite that, though, Haruhi puts her through all kinds of traumatising experiences. For example, she has her wear many embarrassing outfits; a maid costume, a cheerleading uniform, a bunny girl suit, etc. Haruhi sometimes wears these clothes herself. But she’s insistent on Mikuru dressing this way – even if it means forcibly stripping her! To make matters worse, she takes humiliating pictures of Mikuru and considers posting them online to get her website more views. Oh, and did I mention there’s also an episode where Haruhi drugs her?!
It’s times like these when the series is lucky to have Kyon around. Haruhi doesn’t always listen to him. But he’s able to talk her out of more serious situations. Itsuki believes it’s because they share a bond neither of them cares to admit. I, personally, think there’s some truth to that. Keep in mind, Kyon was the first person Haruhi felt confident speaking to at North High. She might not show it so well (given her Autism), but she does appreciate his company. It’s why she at least considers listening to his suggestions. Kyon also helps with improving her attitude. Although Haruhi never drops her bossy persona entirely, she does gradually start treating others better. One episode highlighting this takes place during the school’s cultural festival.
While handing out fliers, Haruhi notices two girls arguing with the festival operations committee. Their band can’t perform because two of their members had to pull out with tonsillitis and injury. Worse still, this was going to be their last performance together. Since Haruhi has experience being part of the school’s rock club for a while, she offers to fill in as lead singer and guitarist. Amazingly, despite having only an hour to prepare, she gives a near-perfect performance, which leaves everybody stunned – including Kyon. What I love most about this moment, though, is Haruhi isn’t her narcissistic self. She makes it clear she’s only filling in and asks the audience to buy copies of the original songs with the actual music and vocals. She wants to make sure the right people get the recognition. It’s a selfless act on her part, but the episode delves further into her character.
Later on, the band members come to thank Haruhi for saving their festival memories. However, she feels awkward talking to them. So she insists that Kyon stands with her. I like this detail because it shows she still has social problems and needs somebody she trusts to help her. Kyon also realises Haruhi isn’t used to being appreciated by others.
Later still, it’s revealed Haruhi hated her near-perfect performance because they had to simplify the songs. If she’d had one more day of practice, she feels she could’ve nailed it. So it seems Haruhi is a perfectionist, too – something I know all too well when it comes to writing.
At this point, I’ve covered nearly everything the series has to offer about Haruhi. However, there is one more aspect that defines her having Autism. It’s not one specific episode but a whole collection of them. It’s now time I talk about this anime’s most infamous story arc: The Endless Eight.
Beginning with season two’s second episode: the SOS Brigade is shown enjoying their last two weeks of summer vacation. They go to a public swimming pool, see some fireworks, play a few sports, and do all sorts of fun things together. However, something is off in the next episode. The characters are shown doing the same things again. All that’s different are some minor dialogue changes and one additional scene. Then the next episode is the same. And then the next, and the next, and the next. It turns out this is Haruhi’s doing. She has a subconscious desire for summer never to end. As such, she’s unknowingly used her powers to create an infinite time loop. Kyon and the others can’t escape it, and everyone has their memories reset each time. Also, this problem isn’t resolved in just a few episodes. It takes place over eight of them. Do you know what that means? People had to watch practically the same episode for eight consecutive weeks!
As you can imagine, no one was happy with this stunt. In fact, the studio had to make a public apology for it. That being said, I think the arc is a brilliant reflection of having Autism. Let me explain.
We all know changes in life can be difficult. It would be so much easier to enjoy only the finer things it offers. Inevitably, though, we have to work our way through some challenging new experiences. These experiences are especially tough on people with Autism. We’re so used to routines and doing things a certain way that it’s how we make sense of the world. If that familiarity suddenly goes away, it can be scary and distressing. Haruhi doesn’t know if she can face another school term. So she keeps willing her summer to continue. It’s moments like this when she once again needs the help of her Brigade.
Do you know how Kyon ends the time loop? He suggests everyone does their summer homework together. I’m not kidding. He realises Haruhi has never had this experience before. She’s so intelligent she usually finishes it quickly and alone. It’s a chance for her to bond with the SOS Brigade and create a unique summer memory. Haruhi acts like she’s sour about it, but she’s secretly grateful. And after sitting in on the study group, she’s finally satisfied with her summer vacation and has the strength to move on.
So yes, The Endless Eight is a tedious arc. I, honestly, think its message could’ve been delivered in just three or four episodes. However, with everything it emphasises, I have to admire its repetitive nature. Besides, compared to how many times I read and review my writing – there’s no comparison.
With that said, I’m glad to say we’ve finished my analogy. I’m sorry this ended up being longer than expected. It’s the first time I’ve reviewed the main character of a series. In case it’s not obvious, I do believe Haruhi is Autistic. She might not have learning difficulties or frequent social anxieties, but the similarities between her and myself are uncanny. The repetitive behaviour, the eccentricity, the occasional stubbornness, it’s all here. I will admit she’s not the most likeable character ever. Especially when she’s a whiny brat, acts like a bully or does something illegal. But I can’t say she’s hateable – just misguided. As I said, I’ve made many of the same social mistakes she has. Plus, she does have redeeming qualities and tries to be a better person. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this instalment of Are They Autistic? If you have any ideas for characters you’d like to see reviewed in this series, please let me know in the comments below. Until next time, stay tuned.
Image courtesy of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Anime Review | Nefarious Reviews