The Endless Eight and the Brilliance of Nagato Yuki's Character
Welcome one and all, to the new year of 2017. I have decided not to share my personal resolutions for the year, but I can wholeheartedly say that I am more dedicated than ever. What I'm trying to say is that I feel like I owe all you wonderful visitors a lot, lot more. I've made goals before, overextended on them, failed them, and come back time and time again. Well this year, I'm being more realistic, but I want to produce more content for you to actively experience. I'm starting that up right now with a new thought post I have wanted to do for a long time about the Endless Eight arc from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (2009). Spoilers will ensue, as a quick warning.
Even to this day, Haruhi is a juggernaut in the anime industry. Like it or not, you've almost definitely heard about this series and something interesting from it. After over a decade of witnessing discussions between fans about the series as a whole, I've noticed that most of us are appreciative of the big in-your-face moments like the action scenes and Haruhi's comedic endeavours, but not enough of us are graciously praising the brilliant subtleties within the series. The simplest things with character relations and expressions are foundational builds for something later down the storyline.
But I know what you're thinking. "Endless Eight is the exception, it offers close to nothing in terms of development." At its very base viewpoint, that opinion is easy to latch onto. Endless Eight is an 8 episode arc where the same two weeks of summer events are played out, with every episode ending with Kyon accepting his fate of being stuck in this paradoxical time loop. The uproar to 8 weeks of similar content was, and still is, quite prevalent. But I hope you'll hear me out when I throw out my opinion about the Endless Eight arc, as I think it's probably the best part of the anime portion of the Haruhi series.
Endless Eight in my eyes is not a cheap method for padding out a season by repeating the same content to fill 8 episodes. Endless Eight in fact, is psychologically passing you details about character personalities, deepening the relevance they have to the story itself. We'll go into a few examples of that later on, but no other character receives this tender treatment like Nagato Yuki does. For those of you who haven't seen the series yet, Nagato is a frighteningly intelligent entity from the Data Overmind, a collection of data-collecting beings of unknown scale that have acquired so much data past human comprehension, they've been able to achieve control of the time-space continuum. In this world of time travellers, espers and aliens, it's heavily established that Nagato is amongst the strongest group monitoring the ultimate lifeform of them all, Haruhi.
The portrayal of Nagato Yuki's character is absolute brilliance in my eyes. While the characters around her see her as a silent and emotionless girl whose only trait is to sit inside the literary clubroom and read, her near absolute lack of visual emotion is a very potent emotion in itself. Her job from the Data Overmind is to simply observe and collect data on Haruhi, and no matter what happens, she cannot deviate from this task. Such remains the case even during the time loop of the Endless Eight, in which Nagato repeats a 2 week summer over 15,000 times. 15,532 times, in fact! Basically, this equates to 217,448 days, about 7,148 months or about 595 years.
Endless Eight plays with this unfathomable length into its own presentation. Throughout its 8 episode runtime, we don't see a straight stretch of 8 weeks within the master loop. We also don't witness 8 weeks of everything being exactly the same. The clothes the characters wear are changed. The angles the show uses to block and present elements are altered. There's even a few little nods to character traits, like how Kyon responds to learning about the time loop with utter shock in one episode, then retaliates with a more comedic "hey now" response in another. But I also issue a warning with this knowledge; the Endless Eight arc is an experience, not something you should watch with the intent of "finding the differences". That's not the important part of it.
I sternly believe the magic of this arc comes from the initial frustration (and everyone had the right to be frustrated, I'm not denying that), followed by a catharsis once the entire series closed out, which includes the Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoshitsu movie. Imagine being in Nagato's shoes, not only being fully sentient to the 595 years of repeats, but being the only one to be able to perceive this. Every loop, she confronts her SOS Brigade members to inform them of the occurrence, but the power to escape the loop is not in her hands. How frustrating would that be? We rose pitchforks and torches at Kyoto Animation for showing us 8 loops (condensed as well), but Nagato witnessed over 15,000 of them and sat quietly. If you think Nagato keeps going through these loops with no concern, then ask yourself this question: "why does she choose new swimsuits, casual clothes and mask accessories every episode? If she doesn't care about the loops, wouldn't it be more like a program to keep the same ones?"
So yes, it's no wonder why the Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoshitsu film ties into the main story so well. While bits and pieces of the other anime episodes tie in (particularly "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody"), nothing radiates the potency that the Endless Eight episodes did. An aberration from Nagato's emotionless self should not have been possible to us, as the series very gently and occasionally flashes hints of Nagato's humanity, but in the movie, an aberration does occur. I felt so much more empathy for Nagato's composed proposition for a world without aliens, espers and time travellers because of that "cursed" Endless Eight arc. Without it, I probably would have thought: "Hmm, Nagato just seems to be a manufactured entity that was programmed to (or slowly grew into) enjoying books and computers on occasion." However, with the beautifully subtle bits of info from Nagato's expressions (I know, she does portray them if you're paying attention!) tied to the impact and scale of the Endless Eight, I had such a strengthened connection to how Nagato probably felt throughout the entire series. I think it's an incredible example of psychological development.
I hope this opens up more of the Endless Eight spiting to a different viewpoint. For those of you who are jumping into the Haruhi series for the first time, maybe taking a few of these notes to heart will give you a better experience than what most of us felt the first time those 8 weeks aired. Whenever that rage builds inside, just remember one thing: you don't have to watch it for 595 years and have everyone hate you for it.