The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya review
Delve Into Haruhism
Imagine what it would be like to be able to bend the world to your will; where whatever you want to exist does and events unfold as you desire. Now imagine if that power was investing into a single eccentric girl with boundless enthusiasm for the strange but who was blissfully unaware she had such power. It's a nonstop rollar-coaster ride into the bizarre and Kyon's along for the ride, whether he likes it or not. Such is the premise of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a story where the weirdness of the world is all around and it seems the only one unaware of it all is Haruhi herself.
The DVD starts off with an episode that would typically be placed after episode 11 chronologically, showcasing the members of the SOS Brigade making their own movie. Here we get hints at the personalities of each of the brigade's members as well as a peek at a few secondary characters, with the episode leaving a proper view of Haruhi and Kyon until the end. For first time viewers it might be hard to understand the significance of this episode and it will be with hindsight that a lot of things make sense here. However, it does give us an idea of the kinds of crazy antics that can and will happen for the rest of the series and certainly serves as a more unique opening episode. After that the remaining three episodes sit properly in chronological order and we get the events as they appear in order, making following the story a lot easier than the original broadcast order (though Haruhi enthusiasts can obtain the original broadcast order by buying the special editions).
When the main stars of the show Kyon and Haruhi are introduced to us in a more traditional sense in the second episode we easily establish Kyon as the sensible realistic guy and Haruhi as the eccentric crazy girl. Their class introductions showcase this perfectly, as Kyon delivers a normal speech about looking forward to the year ahead, promptly followed by Haruhi declaring she has no interest in normal human beings. Events begin when Kyon attempts talking with Haruhi, not knowing of her infamous antics at her old school.
Haruhi certainly brings lots of energy to the story and it is naturally her that sets up all the crazy events that unfold. It's entertaining to see exactly where her enthusiasm will lead her next as she impulsively moves from one act to the next. Her eccentricity shows up well enough in her behaviour and they have taken great care in building her background, as Kyon and the audience learn from students that used to go the same school as Haruhi just what kinds things she did.
Haruhi by herself is one thing, but the real star of the show is Kyon, who possesses such amazing chemistry with her. Kyon is there to counterbalance her craziness and the entertainment largely comes from seeing his reactions to anything that is happening. Kyon typically narrates in addition to being in the show itself so we get to hear his thoughts on different matters, and delivering it with such snarky humour really sells it.
The rest of the cast provide excellent support. Yuki is the silent bookworm who has clear difficulties in interacting with people in a normal fashion. Mikuru is often the victim of Haruhi's impulsive demands, being designated as the club's mascot. Itsuki portrays a calm carefree demeanour but with clear signs of pursuing his own seemingly benign motives. As the story progresses the backstories to these people gets revealed to the viewer and the reasoning behind their behaviour becomes more meaningful.
The series plays largely to the fun and games of Haruhi's antics and pandering to its fanbase without being too silly with it. The mixture of supernatural themes like aliens, time travellers and espers are woven extremely well into the theme of a high school drama. They aren't who you might first think but as events unfold you see it makes complete sense. In addition to the "done for laughs" side of things is the more serious undertones of the story. Don't get me wrong, TMOHS tends to run with its light-heartedness all the way but it also gives you food for thought as mysterious groups keep watch over Haruhi and by extension the whole SOS Brigade. The delivery works and it compels the viewer to keep up with things.
Visually we're treated to a lovely feast. The designs are excellent and work well to portray each character's unique traits. Yuki for example apparently doesn't wear anything other than her school uniform even outside of school or Itsuki's appearance of "eyes wide shut" that hint at underlying motives. It helps that the uniforms look impressive as do the costumes Haruhi forces upon the helpless Mikuru.
But it's not just the design choices but the attention to detail. Episode 00 is done as an intentionally bad amateur film and this effect translates over well into its presentation. On the cleaner side of things the viewer picks up on some outstanding background scenes for the storyline events, giving a lot of life to scenes that other anime would be tempting to cut corners on all too easily. Of particular note is the dance number played out in the end credits, which is well worth checking out at least once.
The music works nicely to serve as the backdrop to the onscreen drama, subtly enhancing without actively becoming overpowering. The music fits the light hearted theme of the show perfectly and it's hard to imagine a better suited style. For music that is really going to stick in the mind though, look no further than the opening and ending songs. Following a similar theme while injecting the music with a whole lot of energy, these are the kinds of tracks you'd actively want to seek out.
The vocal work in here is outstanding too. Trying to match up to Aya Hirano was always going to be a tough job, but Wendee Lee pulls off a fantastic performance, giving plenty of enthusiasm in delivering Haruhi's role as she needs. Of course, Crispin Freeman's grumbling Kyon is pretty much perfect as well, giving that role the vocal inflection needed to make the chemistry work. In fact, I can't think of a single character whose voice was ill suited or done poorly in either language, making the choice between English and Japanese audio purely a personal preference. Subtitles are available for those that prefer the original audio, which are easy to see and only come with a few oddities that can be easily overlooked.
As for extras? How does "lots of them" sound? The standard edition alone comes packed with things like "The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade" and a set of making of segments, as well as the more traditional ones like the clean opener and closer.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is one of those series that I cannot recommend enough. It takes the normal premise of a high school drama and then changes things up with more than enough flair to hook the viewer and keep them there until the end. So come and get sucked into Haruhism. After all, the world revolves around her.
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