In a fit of what must have been totally silly padding efforts or utter genius, the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has 8 episodes all called Endless Eight. As pointed out on TV Tropes, it’s a weird thing – there are basically 8 nearly identical episodes in plot but serve up different animations, dialogue and so forth. I just found it fascinating, so I’m going to discuss it (also, because I really like Groundhog Day 🙂 ).
The Episodes In Brief
So, for those who don’t know, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has 5 main characters in a little friendly group, lead by Haruhi, hyperactive girl. We’re provided with much evidence she subconsciously changes the world with godlike powers, so in this case, wants to keep doing summer activities – so does, again and again.
The first of the 8 seems to be the initial loop, and is absolutely played straight – simply a set of fun activities which show off some of the groups personality. Pretty fun stuff.
The second then bangs you on the head – it’s the same set of events, with an ever-so-slight amount of deja vu from the non-Haruhi characters. The plot is revealed – it is a loop of 2 weeks (in August, the titular Eight) now gone on for around 15,000 loops.
Now, watching the 3rd to 7th episode, which provide a massive bonk on the head for the solution to break the loop, and also more cases of Deja Vu, slightly different actions, it does make you think about what it is like for the one person observing and remembering it all but always seeing it loop with no one taking enough action to change anything. It certainly made me frustrated because they knew of it and didn’t try very much except provide the same half-hearted suggestions time and time again.
The animation was still interesting – varied clothing, different bits of activity and the deja vu was done well enough. I like the effects used to master the moods, and odd things that were happening, as well as the characters (sometimes varied) interactions. The art director, at least, must have had fun designing a full 8 sets of different things to draw.
The final Endless Eight episode focuses on the actual solving of the problem, after again pretty much having the main part the same. Obviously it was interesting the first few times watching these, but I did get bored by this point…
So, the loops are, I would hope, there to put the emphasis on Yuki, the sole person who can remember the other loops, and how bored she must be (yet unable to do anything about it according to her “don’t interfere” rule – what an allegory for the viewer! If they skip an episode, they might miss some important detail…so must watch them all). This was I guess an interesting attempt at doing it. I certainly felt total empathy by just watching basically one and a half episodes and learning the truth (mainly since I’ve seen Groundhog Day…). The fact that the team all are using their spare time also means Yuki cannot simply get through each loop by doing and learning different things as was with Groundhog Day. I think it could have been done so much better though!
Groundhog Day is the perfect counter-example. It has an advantage – that the person who remembers the previous loops (and knows he can do anything he likes it appears!) is shown in small changes to the daily routine to utterly progress through hundreds of little days in a matter of minutes (going from insane acts, to getting bored and trying to commit suicide, to learning the routines in the day to do things better). Yuki, of course, can’t do much – however, since she does change some things (the mask she chooses for instance) those can always be shown.
A shame then, because the length of each episode is 22 minutes – this adds up to 2:56 of run time (that is without the startup and ending themes). Ouch! That’s longer then Groundhog Day, with much less of the plot progression. A missed opportunity – it would have made a good 3-part-episode perhaps (the normal one, one from Yuki’s perspective or at least showing the thousands of loops and their effects, and the final one), or just one episode (where they figure it out – as it seems the book it is based on did it, and only refer to thousands of loops. The final episode of the 8 would hold up by itself I think). The fact it came down to more episodes then the original series’ opening arc, which delve into a ton of areas rapidly, is slightly sad, since it wasted potential to do more interesting things (even filler episodes where not much will happen would be preferable I think overall).
A comparison of progression like this, again with more Groundhog Day-like actions then Yuki simply watching and waiting, was Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. This took place over multiple arcs, and many episodes, to establish a feeling of repetition (of a kind) and what must have been horror for the one person going through it again and again.
The Game Angle
There is also a good case for parallels to some games – more passive ones at least, and certainly those which have you reloading older saves often (or accidentally). You get a feeling of Deja Vu, especially if you have now Out-of-Character knowledge, feel that it is impossible to get off the tracks in many games – who wouldn’t have attacked the person presented to them as the good guy on sight if you know he’s really the bad guy in disguise? (There are sometimes aversions to this actually – good games provide the clues and allow that particular train to be derailed – the first Baldur’s Gate is good for this! The second not so much with a perfect example of plot-induced-railroading at one point, sadly).
Repetition of early game levels in repetitive games also come to mind. While obviously fun for a fair while, if you can simply beat early levels in a linear game, the repetition of them to get to the higher, unbeaten levels gets progressively more frustrating. I meant to post about it, but Dawn of War II‘s co-op The Last Stand mode does this massively – with early levels falling easily, but adding on many minutes of time before getting to the ones who can actually beat you (of course, the early levels in this case up the multiplier – dying early on ruins your score, as with many ones of this game type). Some game types, such as Left 4 Dead‘s multiplayer versus mode, where two human teams fight (one as zombies, one as humans), the early level boredom is averted massively since the human zombie players make the usually slightly repetitive earlier levels much more exciting, and since you have a much fairer chance at completing each stage (and failing just means moving to the next one) there is not as much Groundhog Day likeness (even more so with randomised zombies and weapons).
Loving The Possibilities, not the Implementation
I’m abusing the images from each episode – a specific line, drawn out, but it is worth noting I do entirely love the concept of looping of time and plot – it can be pulled off so well (I’ve heard Majoras Mask uses it well, and Groundhog Day is beautifully done). It is a shame that while the attention to detail was brilliant throughout, bringing to light every little bit of deja vu through repetition and circumstance, the retreading of actions and lines even though there was a possibility that something could be attempted (such as in Higurashi and Groundhog Day) but isn’t is saddening – which potentially is the point, but much to the aggravation when you’ve seen what should happen as soon as the second episode.
If anyone knows of other Groundhog-day loops that are done well, make sure to tell me. It’s obvious I’m a little bit of a fan of them 🙂