So you watched Suzumiya Haruhi, and maybe you liked it, maybe you hated it. But at least you understood the story being told. Well, yes, and no.
I didn't understand Suzumiya Haruhi at all the first time I watched it. You know how I know this? Because every moment was spent in furious analysis.
Looking at the scores for Suzumiya, the first thing you need to understand is that it works at a very base, Lowest Common Denominator level, which makes it likable. I'm assuming you understood that. In fact, more likely than not, it formed the basis of the opinion for the show.
The sardonic male lead. The vivacious Haruhi. The harem. The SNARK.
Perhaps you're even an animation afficianado, and you appreciated the bold camera angles and the attention to detail in the background and foregrounds. Maybe you understood just how rare it is in Japanese animation for characters in the background to actually be doing something.
Or maybe you're a Japanese nerd culture nut, and you actually got the references like Phoenix Wright, Yamato, Gundam, and god knows what else.
Not that other references are exactly missing. Off the top of my head, Sisyphus and The Butterfly Effect
Or maybe you watched it understanding it as a parody of Japanese anime/manga in general, with every cliche in the book being thrown at you constantly. I mean really, a deserted freaking island?
Maybe you watched it as a study in how to do dialogue. The characters in Suzumiya live and die by their dialogue, and goddamn if there isn't a lot of it. Not only that, but then there's Kyon's narration. Did I say narration? Perhaps at some point you realized the anime never makes it explicit whether he's narrating, thinking, or speaking. In fact, if you're paying attention, the anime leaves out portions of Kyon's actual speech on in favor of his thoughts. You're left to interpret what he actually said. Cleverly enough, at these points, you can't see his mouth.
But wait, why can't you see his mouth? Because it's also a study in how to do first-person. This has several effects, primarily that you have a totally skewed view of the world. Question, for example, how does the student body really view Kyon? Why are all three factions so solidly behind the idea that Kyon is important to Haruhi? How do ANY of the main characters act when Kyon isn't there? Just how bubble-headed does Koizumi appear when you take out his philosophical lectures directed at Kyon? Of course, many animes are also mostly first person perspective, but the difference is that Suzumiya Haruhi is entirely so, and it has to be, because the other characters all have hidden lives above and beyond what is revealed from Kyon's perspective. After all, that's what the entire ninth episode is about.
This is, of course, important, because it's a harem anime. Like it or not, every female of any note has their heart set on Kyon. But they're also all on a mission, of the kind where fate hangs in the balance.
A mission of observance, for the most part. Observer. You'll note how often that word appears. Are you familiar with quantum mechanics? Because that's what the show is about, you know? You know the Lone Island Syndrome episode? On the one hand, it was a cheesy mystery episode. On the other hand, it was a cheesy mystery episode spoof. And on the third hand, the entire thing was revealing the nature of the world of Suzumiya Haruhi. The dead man wasn't actually dead, he was just acting it out. Or was he? From what you know of Suzumiya, her will shapes the world. A plausible scenario is that the second she thought he was dead, then he was dead. But then she was given a scenario where he wasn't, and it was so. But then she discovered he wasn't, and it was so. Most likely, he was not-dead, not-alive for the entire time. For all intents and purposes, he was Schroedinger's Cat for the entire episode until a plausible scenario arose that Suzumiya Haruhi could believe. Which scenario was right? They all were. Of course, we cannot be sure whether all worlds exist simultaneously, or whether each universe is destroyed when the succeeding one takes it's place. Or maybe none of them are, maybe the universe was created one second ago by Suzumiya Haruhi. In short, it was *never* a murder mystery.
Which ties quite nicely into the time-traveling meme. Hopefully you paid attention to Mikuru's explanation on how it's done. The most important thing, is simply that causality does not exist in the Suzumiya Haruhi universe. Time is traveling across a series of slides, after all. This has dramatic implications for the universe. For starters, it allows near endless manipulation by future inhabitants. The question of whether they're altering their own timeline or creating a new one out of whole cloth is largely academic.
But let's move on to the third faction, the Integrated Data whatchamacallit. Quite obviously, they're also God, with essentially limitless data manipulation powers and the existing completely outside of time. Their machinations are alien and incomprehensible to humanity. Which, of course, means they're alien and incomprehensible to Nagato Yuki as well, and Asakura Ryoko, because the second they were incarnated as meat puppets for the data entities back home, they could never really understand. For all their power, they're not even a remote caricature of what a Data Entity is really like. Let me point out that a corollary of their world view is that the entire world can be described in data. The Matrix would have no meaning in their world.
The question that often first strikes is which one of them is right? Like many things in Suzumiya, it's a misdirection. Of course, none of them are right, and all of them are right, because they're all flawed descriptions of a phenomenon none of them understand, Suzumiya Haruhi. Timequake? God? Data creater? All facets of one and the same being.
I wrote a fairly lengthy review for Suzumiya Haruhi, which was quite well received. What I didn't mention is that I had two whole other reviews for it practically written in my mind. I largely focused on the romance story Suzumiya Haruhi tells. A fascinating one it is, since one of the prime reasons for cusinarting the chronological order of the episodes is to hide it as best as possible. But my review is up there for the world to see, so it doesn't bear further discussion.
The first review I never wrote is an analysis of Haruhi as a tragic character. She oozes desperation; years of constant hard effort on her part has amounted to nothing. She has no evidence of the strange going ons whatsoever, and her actions almost resulting in the destruction of the world are tantamount to suicide for a normal teenager. And then, on the verge of realizing all her dreams, she throws it all away for nothing. A kiss. In a dream. A momentary delusion, a moment of insanity, a temporary lapse in judgment. She would never let a stupid biological impulse cause a moment's slipup to derail all her monumental effort. Until she does. Until she does. And afterward, she never learns how that was supposed to be worth it. For a guy who only kissed her because it was what he had to do to save the world. From that moment outward, in all the filler, what you are seeing, is the death of her dreams. The slow conversion to normality, complete and utter surrender. That, right there, is the very moment she stopped believing in Santa Claus. Everything from there on out isn't passion, it isn't belief, it's just play.
It is one of the most tragic moments I have ever witnessed, yet astonishingly, it's played up to be a happy moment. Because the world was saved and Haruhi was led down the path of happiness. Happiness that tastes like Soylent Green.
In other words, this is a second trick the episodes being out of order played on you. A great deal of thought was put into the episode order, but it's not immediately obvious.
The second review I never wrote involves the elephant in plain sight. We know that all three major powers are split into divergent factions. Each of the three paranormal characters has a mystery. Why is Yuki so weird? It is not because she is an alien. How does Asahina become the older version of herself? How powerful is her older self, and just how manipulative is she being? What event makes her seize the reins of power? What precisely is hidden under Koizumi's patently false facade? How much is he lying?
We are given glimpses at best to the workings behind the scenes. Largely meaningless ones. Unless you're watching Suzumiya Haruhi with yet another perspective. Suzumiya Haruhi's entire basic plot is a retelling of the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. The alien and time-traveling elements, and even Suzumiya herself draw very heavily from the saga. You might as well be watching West Side Story without knowing Romeo and Juliet. It can be done easily enough (see Gankutsuo), but you're missing deep swathes of backstory and innuendo.
The metajoke, of course, is that fully appreciating the Hyperion Cantos requires an extensive background in Western thought and writing to appreciate it's constant references and allusions.
Needless to say, the vast majority of fans and readers of the Hyperion Cantos didn't get it. But then again, does it really matter if you're understanding the allusions if you're enjoying the story?