Chrono-logical: The Art of Order

I met a girl named Erika at a club one night. She had curly cherry hair, and wore a pair of leather thigh-high boots that rode her legs in a way that I couldn’t help but notice as we stood next each other as we ordered drinks for each other. It was something that I had told her over breakfast the morning after she had spent the night. I didn’t bother mentioning it when I asked her back to my apartment, but she knew what she was getting into and how she managed to do it.

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. In the most elementary sense, this particular advice given to writers is meant for the purpose of providing structure, teaching them how to keep track of their creations as they are being created, maintaining a sense of pacing and awareness of the important events that further drive the created story. Traditionally, this entails that the story is most easily written and/or presented in chronological order. While this may be true in most cases, there is a point to be made for presenting things out of order.

Those particular stories, such as the one that I used as a prologue to this post (completely fictional by the way; I’m not a fan of thigh-high boots), are placed out of order instead, with a specific goal of controlling the information that is revealed to the audience. This style of storytelling is done to create different effects, whether to maximize the weight of the story at the end of the duration of which it is told, or to frame a broad picture that is presented to the audience via narrative. The possibilities are endless, which makes this technique useful and effective if executed properly.

One recent example of this in anime is the 2012 Summer series, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, also known as Humanity has fallen. The series itself, rife with commentary that admittedly is beyond my own comprehension, is shown out of order. Overall, the critical reaction to this choice seems to be positive, as the ordering frames the main character, Watashi, in an interesting light throughout the series, ending on a highly satisfying emotional climax. Had the episodes aired in chronological order, the gusto would have been lost.

This leads to a problem with anachronology of serial works. When the series runs longer than the creator originally intends, the addition of extra, unplanned content (relative to the rest of the series) often feels out of place; by adding more events chronologically in order, the effect of anachronology unravels and the effect is lessened. This is especially so in adaptations of those works, where only the adaptation is out of order, and the source material is normal. How would one approach the addition of new content to an existing series?

Tokyo MX, amongst other Japanese television stations, seeked to address this issue with the new season of Haruhi Suzumiya by rebroadcasting both seasons together in chronological order, rather than showcasing the new episodes by themselves. This was an interesting decision, considering that the new content did not show up until episode 8, and a barely a month after, Endless Eight aired in its entirety.

Reaction (positive and negative alike) to the new episodes aside, the order in which those episodes were shown nonetheless had an effect on the perception of the new material; as the final month of the broadcast contained only season 1 episodes, the novelty of the second season had long wore off, along with fan expectations that the events of Disappearance would be adapted into the second season.
The emotional pull of the first season, as a result of its anachronistic presentation, was lost in rebroadcast, and by extension, some fan support as well. More consideration should have been put into recreating that same emotional response via anachronism while simultaneously integrating the new content.

Thus, let’s play around with what could have been. Firstly, let’s consider the bitmap order, used for the second annual Endless Summer Haruhi livewatch:

The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina / The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya I
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya I / The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya II
The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya II / The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya
Endless Eight / Endless Eight
Endless Eight / Endless Eight
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya III / The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya III
Remote Island Syndrome I / Mystérique Sign
The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya IV / Remote Island Syndrome II
Someday in the Rain / The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya IV
The Day of Saggitarius / The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya V
Endless Eight / Endless Eight
Endless Eight / Endless Eight
Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody / Live Alive
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya V / The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya VI

With two episodes each day for the final two weeks of Summer 2011, schedule was greatly taken into account, shoving Endless Eight to the weekend, giving the arc’s detractors to go elsewhere on Saturdays and Sundays and the arc’s true fans concentrated chaos at the same time. Particularly interesting episode pairings are Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody and Live Alive on the second last day, as they are arguably the most paramount episodes to their respective seasons. The spirit of the first season’s broadcast is kept by keeping the beginning and ending the same, with Mikuru Asahina 00 in front, and ending with the powerful last two episodes of the original Melancholy arc.

Now, let’s go to the order used for 2012’s Endless Summer, which took place within a shorter timespan than 2011:

The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya I, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya II, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya I
Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight
Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight
The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya II, Remote Island Syndrome I
Mystérique Sign, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya III, Remote Island Syndrome Part II
The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya Part III, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya Part IV, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya IV
Someday in the Rain, The Day of Saggitarius, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya V
Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, Live Alive, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya V, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya VI

Much of the same here, except that the shorter duration of the event allowed for more episodes to be packed together on certain days, most notably Endless Weekend. The final day of the 2012 order coincides exactly with the final two days of the 2011 order. Due to the scheduling freedom that shoving all of Endless Eight into a single weekend provided, more liberties were taken to slot the rest of the series in a more logically fluid but still apparently randomized order. The climax of the Sigh arc is allowed to move closer to the end of the list as a result, as well.

If there weren’t any scheduling to take into consideration, that is, a specific is order is advised to someone who’s watching the series for the first time, I would probably suggest the following order, grouped into 4’s like a volume of a DVD:

Disc 1: The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya I, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya II, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya I
Disc 2: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya II, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya III, The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya, Remote Island Syndrome I
Disc 3: Remote Island Syndrome II, Mystérique Sign, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya III, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya IV
Disc 4: Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight
Disc 5: Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight, Endless Eight
Disc 6: Someday in the Rain, The Day of Saggitarius, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya IV, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya V
Disc 7: Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, Live Alive, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya V, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya VI

People who would want to watch the show in spurts of 1, 2, 4, or 7 episodes at a time would be able to achieve a similar emotional response to that of the first season’s broadcast order. Of particular note, people watching in spurts of 7 would probably end up watching all eight episodes of Endless Eight, followed by a wonderful run of Someday in the Rain all the way to Melancholy VI.
As for the Endless Eight experience, it’s delayed as far as possible, such that those who watch the series for the first time will have experienced as much of the Haruhi series as possible, allowing them to have a more open mind when watching the highly controversial arc. Those who stick around are greatly rewarded for doing so.

The order in which a fictional work is experienced greatly affects the experience of the fictional work itself. Sometimes this type of experience is forged by the creator, and in some cases, the audience does so as well. It comes as no surprise that inquisitive minds would naturally seek to piece such presented events back into chronological order to gain further appreciation of the original story.

As for Erika, I randomly met her again at a cafe some two weeks later. Consider it a twist of fate then, that she gave me her number after an evening of interesting conversation of the events prior.

“Don’t sweat the details, sugar.” she said, as she slid her number across the table, scribbled on our bill. “It’s not about how it happened, it’s about how you feel now, knowing that you can call me again anytime.”

She pecked me on the cheek and walked away. She wore those same thigh-high boots that drove me wild the first time.

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4 thoughts on “Chrono-logical: The Art of Order

  1. “I’m not a fan of thigh-high boots”

    BLOCKED, UNSUBSCRIBED, REPORTED TO THE AUTHORITIES

    Good post! I almost get the feeling the anisphere had collectively held off from comparisons between Jintai and Haruhi until you’d had a chance to post about it, haha! The Ordering of Haruhi Suzumiya is something I might have to take into account fairly soon with my Anime Society at university. We should be putting it up for vote to watch in the coming semester, and if it gets chosen I have to consider how we show them. I might go for Bitmap order, but I’ll probably go for chronological if only so Melancholy I is the first episode people see (and thus the one they base their decision on). Or perhaps I’ll just jig Bitmap order around a bit, who knows?

    • Jintai and Haruhi are two very different series who share a few trivial threads, one of them being the non-chronological order in which the anime was shown. Blackholeheart mentioned the concept of singularity in this post.

      Connecting the two, the author there mentioned that the semi-reverse ordering was used to frame the relationship of Watashi’s character within the context of the singularity in the Jintai universe, and how she ended up in her current content position in life, despite the fall of humanity and her depicted loneliness in the final flashback. It’s neat stuff, story-wise, but the deeper subtexts of that show is well beyond my comprehension. Thanks for the comment!

  2. While agreed that the viewer may have had a better time of it if the decision had resulted in airing the initial Haruhi rebroadcast out of order, I think that one also has to consider the viewer climate at that time as well as an additional emotional narrative.

    Here me out. I’m about to defend something I never thought I would defend. ^ ^

    Each of these non-chronological orders, be it bitmap order, 2012 order, or your suggested order, appear to follow the narrative of Kyon’s development above all. Yes, it was bandied around that 2012 order was “Nagato Order;” however, it only served to highlight Nagato within the context of Kyon. The center of attention through it all is still Kyon (regardless of who the viewer is shipping him with) and I daresay that the result of this more than likely highlights his choice in Disappearance beautifully, as you all watched that the day after the 2012 order, listed above, had finished.

    By airing them in chronological order the results were somewhat disastrous, but still to great effect. Arguably, the viewer, to a far lesser extent, is experiencing the repetitive nature of Endless Eight that only one other character has the chance to experience. Broadening this a bit further, one can also compare that character’s experiences to the general viewer’s experience of watching, observing, and waiting for any piece of news on a new Haruhi season (yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but please bear with me). Then the re-airing happens, curiosity is piqued, but viewers won’t allow themselves to become excited until…

    …Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody happens.

    And it’s fantastic, and lovely, and all of the things that the viewers wanted Haruhi to be. So they continue to wait, with baited breath, for the other episodes to surface. Their anticipation is now heightened, they have been waiting for so long, they tune in dutifully, ears pricked, eyes glued until…

    …Endless Eight happens.

    Along with a large amount of rage and push-back from the viewing audience. They are angry, annoyed, upset, burn various purchased things in effigy, and vow never to watch Haruhi again. The Sigh arc ends on somewhat of a lukewarm note and people are generally done with Haruhi until…

    …Disappearance happens.

    Now, this is hardly to take away from Disappearance’s competence as a movie of it’s own merit; however, the reception of the movie as a whole cannot be considered without one thinking back to the effect that Endless Eight had on the viewing audience. Furthermore, it could also be suggested that airing the rebroadcast in chronological order only served to strengthen the emotional narrative of one particular character: Yuki Nagato, the ever-observer, never-participant. In all other orders, the viewer may fancy Yuki, or ship her with various characters, and find her to be “best girl.” In chronological order, the viewer empathizes with her. It’s subtle, but a vastly differing narrative than one achieved by all other orders.

    I talk too much. I am so sorry.

    • To be honest, I never really thought about orders as particularly “belonging” to a character, at least, as far as the season 2 additions go. Interestingly enough, within the context of the first season only, the chronological order was Haruhi’s order, and the non-linear broadcast was Kyon’s, as indicated by the episode previews in the original broadcast.

      That being said, the entire concept of shipping based on episode order is oddly fascinating, but shipping as a concept alone is a wild animal in itself; just the tiniest intricacies can be magnified with the strongest goggles, and all of a sudden a debate potentially breaks out comparing not only characters against each other in competition for the true pairing, but beyond that, parties within the same camp can even compare the different reasons why a ship would sail.

      And that brings me to your proposal that Chronological order frames the Yuki ship most adequately compared to the 2012 order. As someone who heavily ships Yui, I can see both theories being adequately supported. However, it must be pointed out that I didn’t actually arrange the 2012 order with Yuki in mind.

      It just so happened that all of the awesome Yuki episodes are towards the end, but really, when the Yuki goggles are on, aren’t they all Yuki episodes anyway? That’s how I feel, really. Goggles by themselves are an interesting way of framing relationships, as expected of the frames on those very goggles.

      Shipping aside, I agree with the notion that adding more episodes added to this particular series universe (that is, not considering the other webseries) increases the association of the chronological order with Yuki’s perspective. If we put this in terms of a limit of a function, as the number of episodes approaches infinity, the focal character becomes Yuki, and not Kyon or Haruhi.

      Thanks for the lovely comment.

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