Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). Welcome to another instalment of Are They Autistic?: the series where I look at characters from various forms of media and analyse whether I think they’re on the spectrum or not.
Today we’re going to be looking at a character from the anime series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Ha-roo-ey Soo-zoo-me-ya). There were several reasons why I was interested in this series. First of all, it’s referenced numerous times in another anime called Lucky Star; one of the characters sometimes cosplays as Haruhi, and they even share the same voice actress (both in the Japanese and English dub). The second reason is Melancholy has one of the most infamous arcs in all of anime – I’ll talk about that when I get to it. But third, and most importantly, what drew me in was Haruhi herself. On several reviews of the series, it’s theorised that her character may be Autistic. There was evidence supporting these claims, such as her poor social skills and repetitive behaviour. But it got me wondering. Was Haruhi Autistic? Or could her quirks be explained through other means, like with the Bookworm’s in Batman (the 60s series)? It only took me one episode to find my answer.
I should mention now this is a rather complicated series – least of all because the episodes didn’t initially air in chronological order. The first story arc begins simply enough. But then it introduces time travel, aliens and alternate dimensions. Furthermore, there’s a subplot involving Haruhi supposedly having the power to bend reality. I was worried this would make the character harder to analyse – since she might not be a regular human. But luckily, there was a saving grace. It’s made abundantly clear that Haruhi isn’t aware of her godlike powers, which means they don’t influence her mindset or personality. That being said, other aspects do have major ramifications. I don’t want to get too side-tracked by these. So, for now, I won’t talk about anything beyond the first (chronological) episode – unless I need to make a point about something. With that said, let’s indulge in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The first (chronological) episode begins with our main protagonist: Kyon. An average high school boy, he’s never been one to believe in the supernatural: not ghosts, monsters, evil syndicates, nothing like that. He would like to believe in them. But he knows the laws of reality pretty much make them impossible. However, he’s okay with that. He accepts the world for what it is and leads a generally satisfying life. Everything changes on his first day at North High, though.
As everybody makes their classroom introductions, a girl behind Kyon stands up and says something strange. She tells everyone she’s “not interested in ordinary people.” But if any of them are aliens, time-travellers or espers, she wants to see them. That’s all. Everybody, of course, thinks she’s joking around. But Kyon can tell from her expression that she’s dead serious. This is Haruhi Suzumiya.
Over the next few days, Kyon learns more about his new classmate. Apparently, Haruhi was known for doing some “beyond eccentric” things in junior high; she drew mysterious symbols on the school quad, pushed all the desks out into the hallway, and plastered resurrection talismans all over campus. Furthermore, she wasn’t the least bit ashamed to admit she was responsible.
Straightaway, I could see what those online reviews were talking about; it’s not uncommon for Autistic people to act a little eccentric sometimes. I remember doing some outlandish things myself when I was Haruhi’s age. For example, when playing sports, I’d always celebrate scoring by doing a cross-chop near my groin – like I’d seen wrestlers do on TV. I’d also start freestyle rapping at anyone who tried picking on me, just to throw them off. I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing. But that’s because I didn’t consider what it must’ve looked like to others. If they didn’t understand my thought process, then my behaviours would’ve seemed weirdly random. Sometimes you can only judge someone by their actions and not their intentions. What I’m saying is, everybody has their reasons for doing things. It takes more than eccentricity to define someone as Autistic.
On that note, the series does a fine job balancing out Haruhi’s character. It shows us there’s more to her than just these behaviours. For one thing, she’s extremely popular with the boys because they think she’s pretty. She has been on dates before, but her relationships never last long. Additionally, she’s skilled in almost every sport and tends to get good grades in class. Plus, it’s revealed later in the series that she’s a fast learner, plays various instruments and is a talented singer. So Haruhi isn’t ditsy, lazy or even rebellious. In some ways, you could view her as a model pupil. One of Kyon’s friends puts it best: “she’s a super weirdo, but if she’s standing there quietly, you’d never know.“
So far, I wasn’t seeing or hearing anything that confirmed Haruhi was on the spectrum. I just saw a beautiful, talented girl who had some unusual habits and interests. What did sway me, however, was when Kyon described some of her other behaviours.
The first thing he notices is Haruhi has a different hairstyle every day. On Mondays, she wears a hair accessory but doesn’t tie it up. On Tuesdays, she ties it up in one place. On Wednesdays, it’s tied in two areas; on Thursdays, it’s three, and so on. Additionally, the colour of the accessories change as well; Mondays they’re yellow, Tuesdays they’re red, Wednesdays they’re blue, etc.
This habit alone is what convinced me Haruhi was Autistic. I used to do something similar with the socks I wore. Sometimes I’d have black ones with different days of the week printed on them. So I felt obligated to wear them on those days. Even when they didn’t have the days, though, I’d wear pairs based on the colours they had. If they were red, I’d wear them on Mondays. If they had blue, I’d wear them Tuesdays. Yellow was for Wednesday, green was for Thursday, and Friday was whatever colour was leftover. I knew it didn’t matter what socks I wore. But it never felt right wearing red Monday socks on a Friday.
Another strange habit Kyon observes is Haruhi’s lack of decency. For example, when getting changed for PE class, the girls are meant to wait for the boys to leave the room so everyone can dress separately. Haruhi, however, begins stripping off regardless of who’s still in there. In other words, she doesn’t read the room or consider how her actions might make others uncomfortable. As mentioned above, I’ve been guilty of this notion myself.
Haruhi’s third unusual habit is her wavering interests. During the first term of school, she’d signed up for every sports team and extracurricular club that North High had to offer. She excels in every one of them but never remains a member for long. In fact, she changes clubs daily, based on her mood, and never signs up full-time – no matter how much the other members beg her.
I was personally never into clubs myself. But I understand Haruhi’s experience. I took part in gym, football, and karate classes but never had any real passion for them. As for wavering interests, that’s something I know all too well. When you have Autism, it’s hard staying focused on one thing – even if it’s something you enjoy. Your mind inevitably wanders to other things that might be more exciting at the time. For example, while writing this piece, I’m thinking of better ways to spend my free time. I do love writing and try to finish by set deadlines. But sometimes, my heart and mind aren’t into it. Maybe that’s what Haruhi goes through. Perhaps she changes clubs daily because she wants to get fresh excitement out of every day without being tied to one thing. Patience is a virtue, but commitment can feel daunting.
By this point, the episode hadn’t even lasted 10mins. And I was already convinced that Haruhi had Autism. Even so, the series continues solidifying the fact. Not just through Haruhi’s actions, but the main protagonist’s too.
One morning, Kyon notices Haruhi has her hair tied in two places (meaning it’s a Wednesday). When he asks if she does this to “ward off alien invaders or something“, Haruhi isn’t offended by the question. Instead, she opens up about why she changes it. She has this theory that “each day of the week has its own image with a specific colour that only goes with that day.” Hence why she wears yellow hair accessories on Monday, red ones on Tuesday, and so on. Kyon also works out that she ties her hair based on the number she thinks represents that day: Monday being 0, Tuesday being 1, etc. However, he finds it odd that she counts from 0 instead of 1.
What’s important to note is how Kyon approaches talking with Haruhi. Initially, he tried speaking to her during the first week of school. But when he asked if she was serious about aliens and such, she could tell he thought she was weird. So she rudely brushed him off. In this case, though, Kyon shows genuine interest in her mindset and wants to know why she does the things she does. Haruhi realises that, so she feels more comfortable talking to him. The reason I bring this up is it demonstrates the proper way of interacting with Autistic people.
When you have Autism, you tend to have very specific interests. So it can be challenging taking part in conversations. Especially if the subject isn’t something that you’re familiar with. People may try to include you in discussions – which they should – but sometimes that can make matters worse. You feel like you’re being put on the spot. Plus, if you don’t have a good enough response, you might look unsociable, which will make the situation more awkward.
On the other hand, it’s the same if you try starting a conversation. Of course, you can only talk passionately about the things you love. But because they’re so specific, not many people will understand them. If that’s the case, you’ll end up being a conversation of one. That’s why most Autistic people wait for others to include them in discussions. Not because they can’t speak up. But because it’s hard finding the right opening.
Kyon takes all the proper steps with Haruhi. Over several weeks, he’s carefully observed her and picked up on most of her interests. Since she’s not sure if anyone shares these interests, Kyon makes the first move: he brings up aliens in his question to show he’s approachable. It gives Haruhi a chance to express herself, knowing Kyon won’t judge her too heavily. True, her communication skills aren’t the best – she doesn’t even look at Kyon most of the time she’s talking. But it’s still a step in the right direction. If repeated regularly, this strategy can help someone like Haruhi speak with confidence to someone like Kyon. He can then gradually encourage her to talk about subjects outside of her comfort zone. It’s a slow but sure way of improving her social skills.
Kyon’s interactions seem to have immediate effects on Haruhi – if a little drastic. The day after commenting on her hair, she’s suddenly cut it shorter and doesn’t follow her styling patterns anymore. Kyon thinks it’s because she’s feeling self-conscious about him noticing. Despite that, though, she quickly begins a new “ritual“. Every day, before homeroom, she talks to him at their desks. Through these conversations, Kyon learns more about her. Haruhi admits to dumping every guy she’s ever dated because they took themselves too seriously. Plus, none of them was an alien, time-traveller or esper. It’s similar to the clubs she’s attended. There were a few she took an interest in, like those based around mysteries and the supernatural. However, they were all major letdowns. The members were just “mystery novel otakus” or “occult freaks” who were nowhere near professional level. Kyon doesn’t approve of everything Haruhi says, but he decides to agree with her. It’s best to stay in her good graces if he wants to keep her talking.
Kyon’s efforts don’t go unnoticed by his classmates. According to them, he’s the only one who can get Haruhi to talk for so long. With everyone else, she usually stays quiet and doesn’t answer questions. They’re glad he’s helping her open up a bit. Although, it’s not all smooth sailing.
As time goes by, it becomes apparent that Haruhi only has one goal in life: to lead an interesting existence. Nothing else matters to her, as long as she can stand out from ordinary people. The fifth (chronological) episode explains why.
Haruhi recounts a day when she found out her life was insignificant. Back in the sixth grade, she went to a baseball game with her family. What astounded her was how many people were packed into the stadium: it was around 50,000. Later on, she worked out it was only a tiny fraction of the people in Japan. And an even smaller fraction of the world’s population. She was just one little person in that enormous crowd, which, itself, was nothing but a tiny spec. Following that day, Haruhi’s life became grey and depressing. She’d always believed she’d had an extraordinary life. But knowing how many people there were in the world, she realised that wasn’t true. There were billions of people who lived the same kind of life she did every day. There was nothing special about her at all. After that, everything became boring. Activities with her friends and family no longer had significance. She was just – another person. That’s why she became obsessed with living an extraordinary life. She wants to be that one person in a million who is interesting. She can’t stand and wait for change. She has to make it happen herself. It’s the only way she’ll be satisfied with her existence.
It goes without saying, but this moment was a series highlight for me. Everything Haruhi says is understandable. However, it also reveals a deeper meaning to her eccentricity; she acts this way to be fulfilled. With that in mind, it’s no surprise what she sets out to do in the series.
Image courtesy of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Anime Review | Nefarious Reviews