Review - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Series/Movie)

This will be a collecting point for my past anime reviews and future reviews. Please note that there will be the inevitable time references in these as they have been lifted from my old LiveJournal (I'll keep the existing ones there for now)

Review - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Series/Movie)

Postby mistie710 » Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:47 am

Every so often, I'll come across an anime that is tricky to pin down. Such a tale is this one, which could be mistaken for the run-of-the-mill high school drama except that Haruhi isn't really a typical high school girl at all! She shows up on her first day and promptly introduces herself, states that she is only interested in espers, time travellers and aliens, then settles down to a life of chaos which includes joining, and subsequently leaving, every club the school has to offer in a search for something to keep her occupied. She wants fun, yet the school can't supply it!

The guy sitting in front of her, through whom the story is told, is known mostly as Kyon and it is as a result of a conversation with him that Haruhi suddenly decides that if the school can't supply a club that is fun, then she will need to set a club up of her own! Despite an audacious attempt to gather new members to the SOS Brigade by dressing herself and new club member Asahina in bunny-girl outfits (yeah, nobody thunk of using sex to sell anything before!) the only members were herself, Kyon, Asahina (who turns out to be a time traveller but refuses to let Haruhi know about it), Nagato (an alien conscience posing as a silent bookworm who refuses to reveal herself to Haruhi) and Koizumi (a rather mysterious esper who also refuses to let Haruhi know about himself).

The story is rather haphazardly put together, or so it would seem as the story pitches about. One of the most common questions I've heard about the series is "What order should I watch it in?" I can't answer you directly, although hints do occur in the next episode previews. The art isn't anything out of the ordinary, and the story is... look, just be prepared for a story about a time travelling bunny-girl, a silent bookworm with a sideline in what appears to be magic, a wildly grinning esper who appears to know more than he lets on and a boy with a headache THIS BIG, all led by a wildly manic girl who seems to have the power to do untold damage to the world if she isn't kept occupied. The location? Probably immaterial!

No, I can't pin this one down. Maybe that's why I like it!

Update

The series continued to expand after I wrote the original review, including one standalone story, a second series, an omake series or two (reviewed elsewhere) and, most recently, a movie. I'll come to the standalone story in a minute as it relates to the movie, but the second series was split into two sections. The first eight episodes were known as "Endless Eight" and were quite a slog to watch. Indeed I have referred to it elsewhere as Kyo-Ani's bonehead play as what it is, to put it bluntly, is eight almost identical episodes. The story is about a couple of weeks during the summer holidays where the members of the brigade do various things but, just as they get to the end, they get sent back to do it all again. We get this for eight consecutive episodes, the only changes being very slight as Kyon begins to suspect that all is not well but, as he cannot carry the memory through to the next iteration, the only clue is Nagato and she only answers if you actually ask something. You can see where the flaw lies there. Although some fans liked this idea and got off on spotting the slight variations from week to week, quite a number were up in arms about it. Suffice to say that you will need to have quite a bit of patience watching Endless Eight. The remainder of the series is based around the filming of the School Festival movie that the SOS folk did, including the introduction of Shamisen, a clever trick with pigeons and the fabled "Mikuru Beam" in all its destructive glory! Overall I wasn't as impressed with the second series as I was with the first, though it still has its moments.

The standalone story comes just before the second series and tells of the Tanabata when a young Haruhi sneaks into her school playground to do a little doodling. Actually, she doesn't do the doodling herself; she gets some help from a passing "stranger". Kyon, in the meantime, has to resolve his own time travelling dilemma and get Asahina and himself back to their normal place in time and space. This brings us to the movie, but the episode fits well into the gap between the first and second series.

The movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, starts a little over a week before Christmas when the the SOS Brigade meets up in the clubroom and, as ever, Haruhi launches into one of her schemes, this time being about a Christmas party. She even buys up bits and pieces and introduces Asahina to her new costume, a rather short cut Santa outfit (no, no beard and no stuffing, just incredibly cute!) Kyon isn't exactly impressed but he takes it all as normal with the usual gripes and moans. Imagine the shock he gets, therefore, when he wakes up on December 18 to find that nobody at the school has ever heard of Haruhi Suzumiya, Asahina and Tsuruya have never heard of Kyon, Koizumi is missing too and Nagato is a rather shy member of the literature club in whose room there is no trace of the SOS Brigade. Not only that but Asakura, the girl who once tried to do naughty things with a knife to Kyon, has returned to the school as if she had never been away. Kyon has to first make sense of what has happened, then he has to try to find a way back to wherever he was before and the only clue he has comes from a chance encounter with a bookmark.

It's a very long film. Well made, but long and rambling, the end being a bit ragged with Kyon blathering on about his future, saving the world and sampling Haruhi's Christmas Hotpot. Don't expect lots of laughs, because there aren't that many as Kyon encounters the alternate versions of all the people he knew and attempts to stay sane. This is probably going to be one for the hardened fans because it certainly won't appeal to the passing trade, no matter how much the Brigade is hyped. My feeling is that the original series jumped the shark at Endless Eight and recovered very little after that, though it isn't actually a bad film when all is said and done. You will probably like it if you like the more cerebral type of anime, Serial Experiments Lain springs to mind for example, but the underlying humour of the first series is missing here so if you don't keep your brain in gear, you will probably find this a bit of a slog to get through.

To sum up the whole experience, Haruhi promised much when she first grabbed Kyon and dragged him off to the literature clubroom all those episodes ago but as the series progressed, it seems that the people behind it have struggled to maintain the balance of mystery, drama and good humour and have opted for the psychobabble option which ruined other series in the past including Key the Metal Idol and, dare I say it, Neon Genesis Evangelion. As Kyon settles down to his study of goddess cuisine, I can't help thinking that the attempts at humour at the very end of the movie were a belated attempt to restore the formula that served so well in those first episodes. As I said before, I like it, but I don't feel that I can honestly recommend this to a wider audience.
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