Written by Richard Brown
With a sequel in the works, and a number of spin-offs during the rounds on youtube, I felt a review of this was in order. Then I remembered there already was one. So, in a website first, I present the first “Second Opinion” review, read on to see my findings.
The Basic Plot
It’s the start of a new school year, and everybody giving introductions. Haruhi Suzumiya, a girl known for her eccentricity, declares that she wishes for any aliens, time travellers and espers to report to her. Kyon, the boy sitting in front of her, queries this, and ends up being the only person in the school to have regular conversations with her. An offhand comment by him inspires Haruhi to go on a manic quest, to form the S.O.S Brigade, to find these aliens, time travellers and espers. Kyon is dragged, along for the ride, often literally.
The Centre of the Universe
I’ve always held that characters make a series, and this is especially true if a piece of fiction is named for a single character. This anime has easily jumped this hurdle, as not only is the titular Haruhi well developed, the wider cast is too. Haruhi attracts a lot of buzzwords; sociopath, tsundere, bipolar, and genki girl, but not of them really stick. That’s a good thing, as her unpredictable behaviour makes her very memorable, and is the animes driving force. However, while she is the dramatic lynchpin of the series, Haruhi is not the lead character, Kyon, despite hardly appearing in the intro and the merchandise, is. Essentially an everyman, he narrates the series with consistent intelligence, perpetual sarcasm and the occasional dirty thought. His take on events is probably the defining characteristic of the series, because he acts as the voice of reason, and its not always clear if he’s operating an internal monologue or actually speaking out loud. One way in which they are very similar though is a certain, shall we say, awareness, of the nature of fiction. Kyon has at the start of the series, written off things like mysterious conspiracies and anime heroes. Haruhi is however actively seeking such things out, and is in fact, building the S.O.S Brigade to invoke anime clichés. She “acquires” Yuki Nagato to fulfil the need for a silent character, Itsuki Koisumi as a mysterious transfer student, and Mikuru Asahina as a designated moe-moe. Fortunately, these characters are just a well rounded as the main two, and play a big part in the animes storyline.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a multi-layered affair. Primarily, it’s a character driven comedy, but its also science fiction story with a habit of demolishing clichés. For example, this series can sometimes feel like a harem anime, thanks to the gender ratio. Then you realise that the focus is resolutely on the useless guy of the cast, but everyone is more interested in keeping the lead girl happy, not him. Then the reason why anybody would want to keep a nutjob like Haruhi entertained hits you in the face. The series refuses to stick to a particular format, bouncing around as much as Haruhi herself. With all this going on, this anime tends to reward repeat viewings. The creative staff even did something odd to encourage it, and this has caused me some difficulty in writing this review, as what constitutes a spoiler in this series is variable.
The animes main gimmick was it’s mixed up episode order, something that has been largely removed for the DVD releases. The original broadcast order makes for a unique viewing experience, which is up there with Cowboy Bebop in my mind. Sadly, when viewed in the chronological order, the sole flaw of the anime starts to appear. I’m hesitant to discuss this in detail, due to the potential to spoil the plot, but long-story-short, the bulk of it is focused in the first six episodes, after which the series goes into “slice of life” territory, with no real ending. This sort of thing seems to happen when ongoing light novel series and incomplete mangas are adapted for the sceen(look at Full Metal Panic), and I’m inclined to say that the production staff made the right decision in scheduling the episodes the way they did, as it means the series goes out with a bang. As cheap ploys go, it was a good one, and supposedly true to the spirit of the source material, but I suspect you may have some small sense of disappointment about this situation when you watch it yourself. However, the chronologically later episodes should not be dismissed as filler. Day-to-day life is rarely boring in the S.O.S Brigade, and the production values are consistently good.
Putting aside the excellent story, the anime offers good laughs, both complex and crude. Something which it is infamous for is Haruhi’s treatment of Mikaru, as she attempts exploit Mikaru’s sex appeal at EVERY possible opportunity, usually by forcing her into a fetish outfit. This doesn’t sound especially funny on paper, more like fan service crossing over to sexual assault, but timing and voice acting makes this hilarious; I couldn’t help but laugh. A lot of the humour takes refuge in audacity, due to Haruhi’s manic behaviour, but there’s also Kyon’s narration, as the comments he makes often reflect what the viewer is thinking. There’s a good variety of situations too, with a murder mystery two-parter, a number of episodes involving the school festival, and an LAN game with an insane amount of imagination. And finally, there is the unforgettable ending sequence, which almost overshadows the anime itself. It is very difficult not to enjoy this series.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is very entertaining and very well executed anime, which largely lives up to the hype. Clever, funny and quite unique, there is much to recommend. It is however short, and incomplete, and if you don’t like the characters, you will be wondering what the fuss is about.