Sometimes the line between the real world and TV gets a little too blurred.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked in an interview why I “seem to hate” The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu) so much. The question was based on a panel at this year’s A-Kon where Dr. Marc Hairston and I looked at some interesting new anime directors and titles: Marc included Haruhi since he’s fond of the show, and I mentioned that I’m not. The übergeekery it inspires has already swept through fandom after other shows, and will do so again. It’s mostly harmless, just happy teens in cosplay, smiling and dancing.
Last week, though, a Japanese newspaper report highlighted a growing Haruhi-based problem at Nishinomiya Kita High School. Strangers, both Japanese and foreigners, show up at the school gates with cameras. Many are men in their 30s and 40s, and most are harmless – they just take a few snaps, stroll around the area and leave.
A few are more persistent. They nag school officials to let them inside the premises. When refused they ask to use the bathroom, knowing the request is unlikely to be turned down. Some sneak in without permission.
The school is the alma mater of Nagaru Tanigawa, creator of the original 9-novel Haruhi series. The high school attended by Haruhi and her friends is modelled on his old school, and the manga and anime use many of its settings. The bathrooms in the anime, for example, are almost identical to those of the real school, hence fans’ determination to get in there.
By any ordinary standards, adult determination to access high school premises and use the toilets is unusual. Here in Britain you would probably be arrested on suspicion of predatory paedophilia. Fans of the series have taken hits on the school website over the 10,000-a-month marker, but some want to go further and continue to pester for access.
The website now carries a warning not to trespass on the premises, which is frequently ignored. Last year a huge ‘SOS’ – the name of Haruhi’s club – was scrawled on the sports field. In April this year, a foreign male was caught trying to climb onto the school roof.
The school is taking the disruption and annoyance with remarkably good grace. Administration manager Makio Matsunaga has seen the whole Haruhi series and says that if he were a high school student, he’d get pretty excited about it. (He tactfully refrains from mentioning that many of the uninvited visitors to the campus are a couple of decades older than that.) Prefectural officials, aware of the huge international interest in the series, are even considering special tours for anime fans.
Unfortunately none of this is likely to deter those real-life fans who place their own determination to see inside the real-world setting that inspired their favourite anime ahead of the disruption caused for the school. Students don’t go to Nishinomiya Kita High School to contain the powers of a flawed superbeing, or to play walk-on parts in the fantasies of fans from all over the world. No deus ex machina is likely to offer them superstardom, godhood or a really weird school club as an alternative to mundane reality.
Personal fantasies become even more pleasurable when reality seems to overlap them. I’ve geeked out in ancient places daydreaming about my favourite poets and writers, contemplating possible sites for Camelot and snapping pictures of Juliet’s balcony.
But Verona and Tintagel and Nishinomiya Kita High School are real places, not just theme parks, or anime locations. Real people live there, without benefit of replays or edits. They deserve a bit more respect than being cast as extras in geek daydreams.