KyoAni and the Melancholy of My Early Twenties

Somewhere in 2009, me and a few of my close college friends marathoned the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I remembered seeing promotional articles and pictures of the leading lady herself during my stay in China in 2007, but had never gotten around to watching the series until that night.

We’d gotten a hold of the DVDs and knew all about the broadcast order vs. narrative order thing. For the uninitiated, the episodes were broadcast as episode 1, 2, 3, etc., but the story itself was out of order, so to watch the story from start to finish, you actually had to skip around different episodes. This was done intentionally as far as I can remember and it tracked well with the main character’s ability to literally rearrange the world around her.

The DVDs seemed to fix that problem, but I remember explaining the whole thing to my friends. Yet another fun, quirky thing about being an anime fan.

We watched most, if not all of season one that night and heading into summer, Haruhi Suzumiya became my favorite thing. And the best part was sharing the obsession with my two closest friends. Over the next year, we planned what became my first cosplay and I spent an inordinate amount of time learning this dance.

If we were gonna cosplay these characters, that meant really living into them. Plus, this was an era when you couldn’t go to a con without someone playing this song and if I was gonna walk around as Haruhi Suzumiya, I damn well better know my part.

That Otakon was a perfect weekend. Still, as I saw most of the photographs afterward, I made self-depreciating comments because my self esteem was perpetually in the dumps to the point where I had to keep saying it out loud to release some of the pent up negativity.

But pretending to be Haruhi Suzumiya for a weekend–this brash, overly confident character–balanced things out just a little bit. One thing I learned about confidence in the years following is that you fake it ’til you make it. Pretending to be a confident character can eventually help your own mind shift.

Haruhi also became the first anime character I wrote about theologically in a post that appeared on Beneath the Tangles. The link is long gone, but now I might revisit the series and that post as some additional tribute to Kyoto Animation that might mean something to someone else, too.

Speaking of writing, I also have Haruhi to thank for the initial spark of the book I just finished writing. It was 2009 and the very first incarnation of FDAD was entirely discovery-written and based on short story prompts. I had recently read the first Haruhi Suzumiya light novel and for this story, all I knew was that I loved the idea of a normal, contemporary world where one weird thing happens to one bored character who gets access to this whole other existence. That book is still a long way from being out in the world, but should it ever reach that point and gain enough success to be adapted, I’d want Kyoto Animation to do it.

Today, Haruhi is still a problematic fave of mine. Parts of the series absolutely have not aged well and Haruhi’s behavior toward Mikuru in particular is just not okay in any sense. But during my college years, Haruhi was a character who looked like me and had some personality traits that I needed to imitate to begin that long process of no longer hating myself most days.

Lucky Star

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star are like strawberries and chocolate–great on their own, but often enjoyed together. This is largely because KyoAni made both shows and Lucky Star features Aya Hirano as the voice of Konata. Hirano also voiced Haruhi and Lucky Star makes overt Haruhi references, among many others. I always think self-referential in-jokes are hilarious.

So naturally, my love for Haruhi transformed into a love for Lucky Star, which also coincided with my StepMania phase (Dance Dance Revolution for your computer). This meant I spent hours with this 15 minute long jam.

This video is not me doing this step chart, but I played this song at least twice a day for a summer and got quite good at it. At the time, I considered this and the Haruhi dance my only talents and counted that among the weirdness that kept me single.

I remember trying to get a crush at school into Lucky Star. She didn’t even like anime, but gave it a shot anyway ’cause she wanted to hang out I guess. I now have hindsight embarrassment for my past self, especially since that particular situation turned sour (me trying to get people who aren’t into anime into anime is often cringe worthy and something I do my best to avoid).

My first conscious wlw ship was Konata x Kagami. When I watched Lucky Star, I actually saw the potential and the chemistry and it resonated, but I didn’t tell anyone except my best friend (the same one I shared Haruhi with). Other circumstances chased me back into the closet for a few months, but when it was time to consciously recognize that part of myself, Lucky Star was among the many things chipping away at that mental barrier.

In some summer during this whole blur of a period, I spent a few days with my guitar and figured out a medley of Haruhi and Lucky Star songs. It’s nothing special, but I still have it and it shows how much energy I invested into these shows.

K-ON

K-ON was the cute story my best friend and I needed when lots of things in her life went to shit and my mental health reached the point of negatively affecting other people. Four high school girls in a rock band? I’d had the same exact experience in high school (except there were three of us and it ended badly enough to land me in therapy) and I played guitar, so of course I’d love this show.

My best friend did, too, so K-ON became our next cosplay. It was the first one where I made or altered most of the costume. Doing so taught me how to sew a button and hem a skirt.

We tried roping in our friends to get a full cosplay group, but in the end, just the two of us actually cosplayed–me as Azusa and my best friend as Ristu. It was our last con together before college ended and I already had enough anxiety about graduating. I remember sitting on my bed, still in cosplay, after we’d come back to our dorm from the last day of the con with this impending sense of doom and endings looming over me. I could barely deal with it. I’d just started figuring myself out yet I was mere months away from graduating and leaving all the friends I’d made.

On the other hand, my friend had some intense crises she dealt with and since we were roommates, I saw and was there for a lot of it. So K-ON, among other things, was just this nice show about best friends making music and eating cake that we could retreat into.

Now, in 2019

Though it’s been years since I’ve watched these shows in their entirety, I still have the K-ON poster my friend and I bought together. I still have the Azusa plushy, two of the Haruhi light novels, my DVD collections, and my entire Haruhi cosplay. But most regularly, I revisit the music of these anime. I have a number of K-ON and Haruhi songs on the massive playlist I’ve curated for martial arts training. Many of those songs also appear on my other workout playlists.

In light of this awful, devastating attack on Kyoto Animation, I’m both revisiting these series that meant something at a certain time in my life and also catching up on KyoAni’s more recent works.

But here are some more remnants of being in my late teens/early 20s and loving KyoAni’s work.

Cosplay from 2010 and 2011

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Flip phone energy
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Besties

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My actual guitar that I used to play actual K-ON riffs

Merch

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Three gifts from a friend. These are on display at my day job desk. The potpourri bag is one of many ornaments I got in China.
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The K-ON poster my friend and I bought together. This hung in our room during our senior year.
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The merch that’s made it through a few purges. I got that magazine while I was in China in 2007.

Inside the Magazine

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These outfits are so cool and I had a pipe dream of cosplaying this.

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Side note: I also got really into Code Geass for a minute
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KyoAni also did a few Full Metal Panic series
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Close-up of the cover
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No actual Haruhi songs on the CD, but it still has some cool jams

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I guess I’ll end with this: Kyoto Animation’s work has left a huge mark on me, one that I failed to fully remember until now because I am so very much past the places I was in emotionally and personally when these shows came into my life. In general, once I’m through with whatever hard thing I’m dealing with mentally, it’s difficult for me to remember, articulate, or re-experience those feelings. So it’s not that I blocked these KyoAni shows out of memory. It’s just that I didn’t have much occasion to revisit these memories until now.

These days, I’m a very casual anime fan. That’s part of the reason why I’m not familiar with KyoAni’s newer work and am now remedying that in the hopes that some of the ad revenue in one way or another gets to them.

Several KyoAni works are available on streaming services if that’s a way that you would like to show support. K-ON, and Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions are on Hulu. A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden are on Netflix. You can find a few others to buy on Amazon Prime. There’s also the GoFundMe, which as of this writing includes information for a bank account Kyoto Animation set up to receive direct donation.

There’s really nothing else I can say. This is sad. It sucks. I wish people would deal with their problems in healthy ways instead of committing mass murder. I know KyoAni will rebuild and continue to make amazing work. The overwhelming outpouring of support and the constantly rising donation fund pool show the global scale of the studio’s impact.

These weird shows will forever have a special place in my heart.

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