a.k.a. Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu
On her first day in high school, Suzumiya Haruhi blurts out that the only people she’s interested in are aliens, espers and time travellers. Her apparent weirdness turns off most of her fellow students, except for her class neighbor Kyon. Intrigued with her eccentric attitude and at the same time irritated with her bossy behavior, Kyon starts to follow her around and is promptly dragged along when Haruhi starts her own school club: the S.O.S. Brigade, devoted to discovering aliens, espers and time travellers…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Intriguing setup in all respects; brilliant comedy and parody; topnotch production values
Lows: Lifeless Kyon
It’s not often you find an anime that offers good laughs and good drama at the same time, but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya easily manages to deliver both. Starting a little like a generic screwball harem comedy, this series quickly develops into an engrossing experience that’s a little mystery, a little slice-of-life and lots and lots of… Haruhi. Yes, Haruhi. If the main character even gets to decide the sequence in which the episodes are aired, you know you’re watching something special.
The appeal of this series cannot be properly explained without spoiling the plot, so let’s just say that the entire setup of Haruhi Suzumiya is designed in a wonderfully intricate way. Combining a philosophical approach to understanding the world with the very real, very down-to-earth feelings of a teenager is one of the best ideas for a plot in years. Add to that the pure comedy gold that shines out of almost every episode… including a brilliant Detective Conan parody… and you have entertainment at its best. Even the presentation is great; topnotch animation meets flawless voice acting and action choreography that delivers more than just a few breathtaking moments.
Of course, the one element that really kicks this series from great to brilliant is Suzumiya Haruhi herself with all her wackiness, her energetic personality and her surprisingly deep character. Kyon, however, through whose eyes the entire story is told, remains rather pale and lifeless in comparison to the other people in the story. The first episode makes it look as though he’s meant to be Haruhi’s more realistic, rather sarcastic counterpart, but most of the time he just stands around looking unimpressed as the action takes place. If this was an attempt to allow for easy identification with him, it was a failure.
If you like to be surprised by an anime, then The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is just what you’ve been looking for. Its unique blend of philosophical drama and wacky comedy is one of the most interesting mixtures of the year. The mystery aspects look a little out of place at first, but as soon as you understand what the story is truly about, you’ll be hooked. Just allow Haruhi to take you by the hand and get lost in her world.
Highs: Unique storyline; interesting characters; hilarious situations; nice, balanced use of comedy and drama
Lows: One storyline is not as strong as the rest; first episode can turn potential viewers away
Writing reviews is usually an easy enough task if you are able to discern between your highs and lows, and if you are able to keep some distance between yourself and the subject. Then there is that specific series that manages to shake your core in such a way, that you can’t avoid seeing it in an almost fan-boyish way. This is exactly what I found in this anime: such boundless energy and creativity that I couldn’t avoid being charmed by it.
Kyoto Animation has found the right approach to doing anime: avoid manga-related material and go straight for novels (just like was done with the Full Metal Panic! novel), then take the time to get the animation and voice actors right. It is because of that formula that the producers were able to avoid the pitfalls of either compromising the animation to be faithful to a series of static pictures, or to change large chunks of a good story to make it fit the animated realm. This story was so dead on when compared to the source material, that it almost felt like the author was directing it. You have to give kudos to the level of artistry achieved for a television series; from incredibly imaginative camera angles to very fluid animation to very smooth voice acting, this anime has it all. Even the ending sequence was unique, nicely animated and fun to watch.
If there were anything that will detract from this product, those would be some of the mini-stories. The introduction is just too unconventional for some people to stomach, and there is a two-parter that was a little bit slower and more mundane than usual; but even in those two, we are left with a lot of clues, hints and character development, making them relevant. That is key because there are no breathers or wasted episodes, when in fact the opposite happens: you can get overloaded with information at times. The hilarious monologues that Kyon presents can be too precise and detailed, making it almost a necessity to view this one dubbed in whatever language you are proficient in, otherwise you will need to use the pause button more often than usual to read and understand what is going on.
If you want to have a good laugh, ponder some very interesting topics, be enthralled by a unique group of characters and view some darn good eye candy, this is the series for you. You should not miss it; this anime is out of this world.
p.s. if anyone from Kyoto Animation is reading: we need a second season!
Highs: Dynamic characters; interwoven plot structure; gorgeous visuals
Lows: Lack of a true ending
Throughout most of 2006, there was one name that was on almost every anime fan’s lips: Haruhi, Haruhi, Haruhi. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya took the anime world by storm seemingly overnight and garnered enormous amounts of popularity. Normally, I’m skeptical when it comes to shows with a lot of buzz, but I must say that Haruhi is one of the few shows I know of that manages to live up the hype.
It’s hard to talk about Haruhi Suzumiya without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say that the show pulls off one of the best double-storylines I’ve seen in some time, spending ample attention on both the world as Haruhi knows it and the world according to the rest of the main characters. The focal plot is also sprinkled with short one- to two-episode stories of the character’s lives, giving the anime a nice, slice-of-life feel, and maintaining a fine balance between comedy and drama. Even the storytelling is done in a remarkable way; the episodes are aired out of chronological order, saving the climax of the main plotline for the end. While I originally thought this sequence would confuse me, it’s presented in such a comprehensible way that I never had a problem, and by the end of the show, I was fond of it.
Although, it’s not just storytelling gimmicks that sell the anime. Haruhi Suzumiya is filled with vivid, entertaining characters, the queen of them being the lively Haruhi herself who steals the show with her quirky antics and rich personality. Kyon plays a great role as narrator, sprinkling his commentary with sarcastic barbs that make sure the drama doesn’t stay too deep, while Yuki makes the greatest enigma I’ve seen since Rei Ayanami of Evangelion. Most of this is due to creative characterization, but I have to give credit to Kyoto Animation for making good use of well-angled shots and facial expressions to bring the characters to life.
The only weak point I found in the show was its lack of a firm conclusion. The end of the plot takes place in middle of the show chronologically, and the short-story episodes only offer glimpses into the future of the characters. To put it bluntly, 13 episodes simply isn’t enough to wrap up all of the questions presented. Of course, this may be a moot point, as a second series has been all but officially confirmed. Until then, fans are left to hunt for the original novels the anime was based on to get more of the story.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya offers something in anime that I haven’t seen in quite some time: the blending of a deep, meaningful experience with a lot of fun and silliness. I’d be lying if I said everyone loves it, but if you don’t give this a shot, you’re missing out on something great.