|Fight with the SOS Brigade Against the Forces of Mediocrity!||10 out of 11 users found this review helpful.|
Kyon is an ordinary disinterested and apathetic high school freshman. However, during his first day in high school he discovers that one of his classmates is an eccentric and odd girl named Haruhi Suzumiya. Obsessed with the supernatural, she soon recruits Kyon, or rather forces him, for the new club she creates which she nonsensically names the SOS Brigade. Unbeknownst to Haruhi, her other recruits would turn out to be an alien, a time traveler, and an esper, just the type of beings she’s interested in. Soon, mayhem and hilarity ensues. And in fact, Haruhi herself isn’t exactly an ordinary girl…
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has become one of the most popular anime of all time. It started an internet phenomenon and propelled Kyoto Animation into the pantheon of the anime production houses. Does it live up to its hype? Well yes, and no. It’s a strange, eccentric, funny, and sometimes touching show that seems to be a mix of comedy, sci-fi, mystery, and a fourth genre that doesn’t seem to fit into any previously existing categories. Perhaps we should call it Haruhism? It is deeply philosophical and yet silly in concept, with story telling that reeks of slice-of-life and yet doesn’t quite fit into that mold. In fact, it’s difficult to fit Haruhi Suzumiya into any mold at all since while it seems to fulfill the attributes required for a comedy or sci-fi/mystery series, it doesn’t really fit any of those. Rather it is something else entirely. Perhaps this is the reason why the show can be so enjoyable and yet so incomprehensible at the same time.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot in Haruhi Suzumiya since the way the plot is presented and the story told differs depending on which version is being watched. In the original television airing, the episodes were presented out of order, and hence it developed its own unique form of plot development in which the pieces of the “main storyline” were scattered across the 14 total episodes in a non-linear fashion. Therefore, it became kind of a puzzle for the viewer to take those pieces and reconstruct them into a coherent whole. As the series was released on DVD, the original episode order was used as opposed to the original broadcast order. As a result, the story is more coherent, as the “main storyline” was presented in a linear and more or less comprehensible manner. And yet, the plot is still quite difficult to follow, especially if you’re not one to pay close attention to small details. Basically, the story revolves around an eccentric high school freshman named Haruhi Suzumiya who starts a new club, the nonsensically named SOS brigade. Most of the story occurs with the consistent background narratives of Kyon, Haruhi’s lazy and cynical classmate who happens to be the only one who manages to engage her in meaningful conversation. As he is unwillingly dragged along for the ride, the story is actually told from Kyon’s perspective as his narratives often show his view of the situation as well as showing his personal insight into the story and the characters. Haruhi’s other recruits include Mikuru Asahina, a cute, well-endowed sophomore who also happens to be a time traveler from the future (hint: Moe), Itsuki Koizumi, a male transfer student who is an esper that possess supernatural abilities (hint: Bishounen), and Yuki Nagato, an organic life contact-purpose humanoid interface created by an alien existence called the Data Integration Thought Entity (hint: uh, Glasses?). Of course, none of this is known to Haruhi as the reason why the three of these extraordinary characters are gathered in one place was because Haruhi herself isn’t exactly human, and her influence in the world around her was greater than she could ever imagine. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that there is more to Haruhi than meets the eye.
If you’re already lost or confused, don’t worry, as it would seem that confusion and incredulity was exactly the intention. In fact, we’re almost expected to view these incredible events, and like Kyon, be completely bewildered by, and yet completely accepting of them. This is one of the many eccentricities of Haruhi that are almost impossible to explain with words. Of course, I should probably mention the various comedic situations, including some superbly moe moments involving our favorite cosplayer Mikuru-chan, the short-lived but exciting sci-fi action sequences, and finally the few genuinely touching scenes involving our drama queen Haruhi and her trusty companion Kyon. There is even a pair of episodes that play out like a classic murder mystery. Haruhi Suzumiya is truly a mish-mash of genres: pop-culture-inspired, sci-fi otaku, mystery-romantic comedy . . . but without the romance.
It also helps that the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a very impressive visual experience. Produced by the now highly-acclaimed Kyoto Animation, who is known for other works such as Air and Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid, the animation is bright and colorful, smooth and crisp. The use of CGI in a few places is a little questionable but well-conceived and not overdone. Though the action sequences aren’t entirely commonplace and often short-lived they are beautifully directed and animated with impressive fluidity and fidelity. Then of course there’s the mind-blowing Haruhi dance, the little number that Haruhi and her four SOS Brigade club members engage in during the ending sequence. The voice acting is superb, with Kyon’s voice being especially suited for his character. Newcomer Aya Hirano also proves her talent through her expressive voicing of Haruhi, which by all means is a difficult character to voice. The English dub is also top-notch with big names like Wendee Lee (voicing Haruhi) and Crispin Freeman (voicing Kyon). Johnny Bosch also does a relatively good job voicing Koizumi. While not quite at the level of a de-facto standard like Cowboy Bebop, the English voice cast is better than most and given the difficulty of the material, they do a splendid job. As such, a second viewing with the dub is definitely recommended since it also has the secondary effect of making the show a little easier to understand. The music, while mostly forgettable compared to the rest of the show, is nevertheless well done, especially the opening and ending themes sung by Aya Hirano.
At this point, it’s pretty easy to gather that I wasn’t really all that impressed with any of the specific elements of the show in particular. The puns can be funny sure, but some work really well, and some just fall flat. Even Mikuru’s moe moments, which seem to be a no-brainer success, don’t always work out particularly well—if anything, she’s trying a little too hard. The storyline is confusing, and even when watching it in the proper order, one still isn’t sure what exactly is happening. The techno jargon in particular may get a little annoying for those who aren’t too into the sci-fi aspect of the show. And while we get a fair amount of character development for Kyon and Haruhi, the remaining characters seem a little flat. Moreover, while the mixing of the episodes created a different storytelling experience, it added little to the show other than increased confusion. But alas, the above are just minor kinks when compared to the main problem with the show: it just didn’t resonate with me even though I had wholeheartedly wanted it to. Yes, I laughed at the jokes, yes I chuckled at and felt sorry for Mikuru’s misfortunes, and yes I enjoyed Haruhi’s capricious obsessions. Yet, as hard as I wanted it to, the show just didn’t draw me into it nearly as well as it could have. If there is any gaping problem with Haruhi, that problem is a lack of charm.
Nevertheless, Haruhi is one of those shows in which the whole is definitely not equal to the sum of its parts. Overall, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an impressive accomplishment. It’s entertaining, fun, and sometimes thought-provoking. Not often do we see a show that so obviously caters to the fans and yet still manages to provide an interesting, albeit overly complex storyline. And while it’s missing a certain endearing quality, it certainly has its moments of brilliance—definitely not a show to be missed.Note: a version of this review was previously posted on Animetric.com