The Redemption of Haruhi Suzumiya: Why "God Knows" Is Still the Greatest Song Ever
On its 10th anniversary, the anime classic is still the sonic equivalent of a Mikuru Beam.
Twas' 2006, a year where the blasphemous, biblical, and red overcoat renderings of "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" was infinitely quotable, Incubus were still significant, and AFI made a quasi-rap song called "Prelude 12/21" coupled with the beautiful "Miss Murder." But even in their midst, none could compare to a fictional amateur band called ENOZ performing to an auditorium of students in North High School for my favourite series that year. The show, an anime called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the song "God Knows."
Created by Nagaru Tanigawa and Noizi Ito, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a series of books or "light novels" turned anime that follows high school student Kyon. He inadvertently befriends the titular Suzumiya, who unknowingly has the ability to destroy the universe. Consequently, Kyon, along with an alien (Yuki), time traveler (Mikuru) and esper (Itsuki) are tasked with keeping her entertained through the school club SOS Brigade while dealing with supernatural phenomena. Fairly quickly after its debut, the show would become an internet phenomenon with a dedicated global fandom that operated like that of a cult under the moniker of "Haruhism," practitioners of which displayed their love through dedicated Youtube channels and IRL club brigades, to name a few. The craze would even extend to Palestine where an image of Haruhi showed up on a sign during a protest rally in Gaza.
A key element of the show's success was the music, specifically one infamous ending theme song called "Hare Hare Yukai." The single's instant catchiness and J-Pop inspired choreography—performed by the show's animated cast—thrust the show into the meme zeitgeist as fans, parodies, even Cebu prison inmates in the Philippines militantly memorized the moves as it went on to be a mainstay on ORICON's weekly charts. As a fan, however, this was all window dressing to the pure elixir heard in the show's 12th episode "Live Alive" (episode 26 in chronological 2009 broadcast order, it's complicated). In it, Kyon decides to check out the amateur bands playing during the school's cultural festival only to fall asleep and wake up moments later to find Haruhi and Yuki with guitars and part of a band called ENOZ on-stage. As a viewer, Kyon's transition from confusion to quiet awe during their performance was not unlike my own. Nothing could be greater than what I was hearing at that very moment as the harmonies burrowed themselves into my mind and adolescence. Ten years later, no rock, pop-punk song since, nor ever will be able to capture the energy and encapsulate the peak perfection of "God Knows" in my heart.
From the intro's four-count of the hi-hat, a simple cue otherwise, before exploding into a weaving guitar solo, "God Knows" is, instrumentally, pure joy distilled into several minutes. If there was a song that could depict the resurrection of Dionysus or the triumphant origins of the flock of white doves in a John Woo film this would be it. Sung through the animated avatar of Haruhi, the true credit belongs to the vocals of her famed " seiyuu" (voice actor) Aya Hirano along with pinpoint instrumental performances courtesy of Susumu Nishikawa (guitar), Takeshi Taneda (bass), and Yutaka Odawara (drums). Hirano's warm voice flutters from trepidation to a pained cadence as she sings about a seemingly ill-omened love, bookending the choruses with "ima futari ni God Bless."
But the real treat is in its final section where the song builds into its "middle eight" (a number that, coincidentally, has become synonymous with Haruhi for dreadful reasons) paring down the theatrics of the guitars with an extended bass break and then… "DAKARA, WATASHI!" We're forcibly pushed into a modulated-upwards chorus, giving the song a heightened sense of urgency before ending in a sermon-like guitar solo that starts at "best climax you've ever had" and goes into the string equivalent of mashing random letters vdjskvdnsjvs—like I did here–into your keyboard because you've reached the highest echelons of a high-minded, well-intentioned rapture. Equal in its achievement is the animation of studio Kyoto Animation who, through rotoscope capture of the actual band's live performance, gracefully capture the real life band's expressive body language and the fluidity of Nishikawa's playing style as his/(Yuki's) fingers gracefully bound between strings. Altogether, "God Knows" has become the barometer to which I judge all songs. While it'd be untrue to say I wasn't already privy to music from anime— "Bindy" from Cowboy Bebop, "Days" from Eureka Seven (greatest opening of all time, fight me)—none hit me as uniquely as this.
Similar to the success of "Hare Hare", the character single Suzumiya Haruhi no Tsumeawase —coupling "God Knows" along with second ENOZ single "Lost My Music"—would also hit top five on the ORICON charts, going on to sit on the chart for over 100 weeks. Meanwhile, I endured Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" for another week. Still, the best songs are enriched with a past or history, a connection of some sort that gives it an extra layer. What has come before always, in some way or another, informs the present and what's most interesting about "God Knows" is how it's made up of Japanese rock music's past and present; in particular, a punk song called "Linda Linda."
Released a year prior to Haruhi's debut, the film Linda Linda Linda follows the many heartbreaks and triumphs of four teenagers who form a band to play at their high school festival. All of which culminates in the final scene with a performance of the eponymous song "Linda Linda." As many fans have noticed, "God Knows'" memorable animated sequence is almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the movie's final performance scene; from the wide over-the-shoulder shot to where both, overwhelmed by the reception look over in earnest to their bandmates. Plot aside, Linda Linda Linda is filled with musical references from the Ramones to the infamous Nippon Budokan arena, and ultimately the cover of the titular song which belongs to legendary Japanese punk band, The Blue Hearts. Inadvertently, "God Knows" homage to the film created a through-line to one of Japan's and it's through this it gave me it's greatest gift: discovery.
Oft compared to the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, Blue Hearts formed in 1985 and are responsible for hits like "Train-Train" and "Aozora (Blue Sky)" and seminal self-titled debut album would soundtrack the rest of time in high school up to university. Beyond this, the fictional band ENOZ itself is an homage to J-Pop band ZONE who have the very distinct prize of spelling out their own band name through album releases and contributed music to the album Imaginary ENOZ featuring HARUHI . Considering in the original novels the band is unnamed, it's interesting that the KyoAni team thought to devote so much time and energy into making this pivotal scene and fill its seams with such an interesting music backbone. And yet, like its influences, everything that was popular then doesn't always last and that was the case for Haruhi.
T he Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has since waned in popularity, nearly non-existent in comparison to the boom of its debut, ten years ago. The show's signature club costumes are now a rare sighting at conventions and popular site ASOSbrigade.com, used to promote the North American release of the series, has seen its domain turn into one of those money-scamming ads. But not everything was doom and gloom for the series, in fact far from it. The show would mark the beginning of KyoAni dominance as one of Japan's leading animation studios. Going on to follow up with successful series' like Lucky Star as well as K-On! and most recently the excellent Sound Euphonium , the latter two which are grounded in the sphere of music, mostly, and carry on the strong pedigree of "God Knows." Just this year, The Complete Soundtrack of Haruhi Suzumiya, a compilation of all the music from the series was also released to celebrate the show's 10th anniversary. Even so, many have mulled over the show's descent into semi-irrelevance; perhaps it was a just case of the right thing at the right time, perhaps it was the result of stringing fans for an entire eight episodes with the same plot! But likely, like most things it had an expiry date and it finally came, disappearing into a vortex of once-popular trends and forgotten items.
And yet, as some data about the previous world is erased, some of that data remains and endures to become timeless pieces of their era, which is all to say "God Knows" is still the greatest song of all time, and you don't need to change the fabric of the universe in order to understand that fact.