Nagaru Tanigawa’s 2004 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the fourth volume in his Haruhi Suzumiya series.
Together with the other members of the SOS Club — alien emissary Yuki Nagato, time traveler Mikuru Asahina, and ESPer Itsuki Koizumi — Kyon assists the determined Haruhi in her quest to find aliens, time travelers, and ESPers. And by assists, I mean “at any cost, prevents Haruhi from discovering her own true nature.” Just as Haruhi is oblivious to the fact her SOS is almost entirely staffed by the very exotic beings she yearns to find, so too is she unaware of her own nigh-godlike powers or her destructive potential. It is the job of the SOS Club to keep her unaware.
Keeping the “irritating sociopathic Genki Girl” (as TV Tropes puts it) too busy to truly see the world around isn’t safe and it’s often unpleasant … but at least it is never boring. Escape from the SOS Club appears to be impossible, so Kyon may as well resign himself to his fate.
And then one day Kyon discovers the world has been transformed.
It starts with an ongoing flu epidemic, something of which Kyon has absolutely no memory. Then Kyon discovers that history itself seems to have changed: his former compatriots have no memory of him and Haruhi herself is nowhere to be seen. When he does track her down, she is still eccentric, but seemingly powerless. The world of adventure and terror that was life in the SOS Club has been replaced by one that is … conventional and rather boring1.
A bit of detective work allows Kyon to work out when history was changed. It’s not much harder to work out who has to be responsible for the alteration; there are just two people he knows with reality-warping powers and Haruhi definitely isn’t the culprit. The difficult question comes when Kyon is offered the chance to change the world back: which of the two possible versions of the world does he truly want to live in? More to the point, which version of his friends does he prefer? Choosing one means the other cannot exist.
Originally Haruhi was looking for Espers, Time Travelers, Aliens, and people from alternate dimensions. I think this little excursion means that Kyon counts as a “slider,” which means Haruhi has completed her set. If only she knew.
This essay is weirdly resonant with Sunday’s Frankenstein review: the problems that arise in this novel come down to needlessly cruel choices by the Data Overmind that created Yuki as an emissary to humans. The Overmind couldn’t be bothered to equip Yuki with functioning emotions — or any resistance to developing them. Although Ryoko (the other interface created by the Overmind) could not be said to be entirely error free in her functioning, Ryoko is much more expressive. Yuki’s deficits must be a deliberate choice.
The Haruhi series as a whole is comedy. This installment wasn’t as funny as the others I’ve read. It is indeed fun to watch Kyon flail his way through time loops or see Ryoko try to fillet Kyon again — some day stabbing Kyon will be the right answer to her problems, I am sure! It is also a refreshing change for the Big Problem not to be Haruhi’s fault. But I couldn’t wholeheartedly enjoy this instalment because Yuki is so miserable. Judging by her alternate self, she can’t even imagine a life that isn’t incredibly spartan and repressed.
1: The one non-boring thing in this world is the reappearance of cheerfully homicidal Ryoko Asakura, who was last seen trying to kill Kyon FOR SCIENCE! She was eventually disintegrated by Yuki, in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya instalment. At least this incarnation of Ryoko does not appear to be quite as stabby as the original. Not at first.