First published in 2003 as Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu, Nagaru Tanigawa’s popular light novel was translated from the original Japanese to English by Chris Pai and published under the title The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Little, Brown’s Yen Press in 2009.
By the time we first meet him, pessimistic high school student and narrator “Kyon” (whose real name is never revealed) has resigned himself to the fact that he lives a mundane life in a mundane world and that wonders like aliens, time travel, and ESP powers are matters of pure imagination, nonsense that will never have anything to do with the gray, dull life he will no doubt live.
And then by chance, he is seated directly in front of Haruhi Suzumiya, disgruntled schoolgirl, noted eccentric, and, quite possibly, living god.
Haruhu was infamous at her last school for her rejection of social norms and her self-centered pursuit of something more than the life to which Kyon has unhappily submitted. It doesn’t take long for her to become just as infamous at her new middle school. Determined to find what she wants, she searches relentlessly and with absolutely no regard for other people’s feelings.
And what is it for which she searches for so relentlessly? you ask. She considerately makes that clear in her self-introduction to her new class:
I’m Haruhi Suzumiya, from East Junior High. First off, I’m not interested in ordinary people. But, if any of you are aliens, time-travelers, sliders , or espers here, come see me. That is all!
Kyon is not an alien, a time-traveler, a slider, or an esper, but he is the sort of fool who makes the mistake of engaging the aloof Haruhi in conversation. Worse yet, he is the fool who gives Haruhi an inspiration. How can she search for aliens, time-travelers, sliders, or espers? Form a club to look for them! (Or rather, appropriate the resources of an existing club.)
Having commandeered the room assigned to the literary club (which she renames “the SOS brigade ”) Haruhi sets about drafting members. One of whom is Kyon. You might think that she picks him because he suggested the idea in the first place; you might think that she thought he was volunteering for membership. That would imply that other people’s preferences ever cross her radar, which I can assure you, having read this far in the series, is by no means the case. Kyon is only the second person bullied into joining the club: Yuki Nagato, a virtually mute bookworm, is chosen because, as the sole remaining member of the Literary Club, Yuki happened to be in the room when Haruhi commandeered it. The next victim is the unfortunate senior, Mikuru Asahina, on whom Haruhi fixates because she believes all clubs need a member who has a “Lolita face [and] big breasts.” Finally, she drags in Itsuki Koizumi because he is a mid-term transfer, which is as close to weird and mysterious as she is likely to find at this particular school.
Alas for poor Haruhi, despite her determination and complete lack of inhibition where pursuing her goals is concerned, every attempt she makes to find the weird, strange, or wondrous fails. At least, as far as she can tell.
As Kyon discovers in a series of private conversations, Haruhi has managed to assemble a remarkable assortment of students. Nearly voiceless Yuki is an artificial being created by the extraterrestrial Data Overmind. Mikuru comes from a distant future. Itsuki is an ESPer. It turns out that it’s no coincidence that all of them are in Haruhi’s orbit. While each of them has their own explanation of what exactly Haruhi might be, they all agree that she is a being of great power, someone who has to be closely monitored, and kept distracted and amused, lest she unleash that power in destructive ways.
Someone who has to be kept ignorant of the true state of the world because nobody can predict what she would do if she actually knew what she was….
Many authors would make the central figure of their series at least a little likable but Tanigawa goes a completely different route; Haruhi is a classic example of narcissistic personality disorder, unable or unwilling to grasp that other people have wants and desires. Other people exist to be toys for her amusement or tools she can use to achieve goals that matter to her. There is absolutely no indication that she is conscious on them on any deeper level. This would be pretty bad on its own … but Haruhi has the ability to rewrite reality according to her subconscious whims.
Poor Mikuru  is the most frequent or at least most obvious victim of Haruhi’s whims. This is casually revealed to the other members of the club as Haruhi treats Mikuru as her personal dress-up doll. Mikuru is forced to appear in public in revealing clothing. She also becomes a pawn in Haruhi’s convoluted scheme to force the computer club to hand over a computer. Haruhi threatens to release scandalous (misleading and staged) photos of the computer club’s president and Mikuru. Mikuru’s loud protests and obvious emotional trauma have no effect on Haruhi’s behavior at all. The only mitigating factor is that as a time traveler, Mikuru may have known what she was getting herself into before she was sent back. Unfortunately, the text doesn’t suggest that she volunteered for the job, only that she was sent.
Kyon feels badly about how Mikuru is treated but not so much that he does anything about it. Nor does he refrain from keeping a folder of pictures of Mikuru in various revealing costumes. Kyon is basically kind of a dick. I cannot help but notice that while the conceit of the series is that Haruhi is a god, Kyon’s the one whose wish to live in a world with aliens and other wonders is the one that actually comes true.
The comedy in this book comes from watching the other members of the club struggle to deal with the completely unreasonable Haruhi, aware that if she ever gets bored enough (or frustrated by her odd inability to force a pairing with Kyon in the afternoon club rambles), she might discard the current world and replace it with a new one.
Haruhi is a pretty terrible person in this book but, having read later books, I know that part of the on-going plot involves her slow, reluctant realization that other people are real, not just objects to be used at her whim. She does get better; she even asks other people what they prefer! And I assume that given enough time and installments, she may even begin to listen to the answers.
1: Dimensional travelers.
2: For “Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade.” Acronyms are not one of her strengths. To compensate, I think she’s able to pronounce bolding.
3: Yuki gets her own “poor Yuki” moment in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, when we get a look at her conception of what life as a real girl might look like.