The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (season 1)
I remember watching this anime years ago in my college anime club. However, I never managed to see all the episodes, and I didn't remember all that much about the series aside from the basic plot and what I could pick up from mentions on random articles on TV Tropes. However, remembering I had liked it, I decided to check it out again, to see if it was still as fun as I remembered. I was blown away by what I discovered.
This show is much deeper than I remembered. Oh, sure, it's nowhere near Evangelion, Paranoia Agent, or even Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. But it is significantly more than the silly slice-of-life comedy with the interesting concept I had remembered from when I had seen it previously. The characters are complicated and interesting, and there are several very satisfying emotional climaxes (particularly in the episodes "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Part VII" and "Live Alive") that I felt were masterful in their storytelling.
The story revolves around Kyon, a skeptical and snarky high school student who becomes fascinated by the bizarre but beautiful girl (the title character) who sits behind him in class. Haruhi apparently thinks no more of boys than she does of sacks of potatoes, but will never turn down a request for a date from a boy (although she always dumps the boy, often within minutes). Haruhi is also only interested in supernatural entities, such as aliens, time travelers, and espers. A casual conversation between Kyon and Haruhi ends with our hero being dragooned into a club to attract just such individuals, named the SOS Brigade.
The club soon attracts three other students: the nearly silent Yuki Nagato, who spends most of her time reading (in fact she basically joined the club because Haruhi took over the room she was reading in), the adorably uncertain Mikuru Asahina (whom Haruhi essentially kidnapped), and the unnervingly easy going Koizumi Itsuki (recruited because he was a "mysterious transfer student). As Kyon gets to know the odd group, it becomes clear that Haruhi is not a normal teenaged girl (a fact even she apparently doesn't know) and that the other three are very much not who they seem. It seems that Haruhi is unknowingly essentially the center of the universe, and she can alter reality with her will, if she so chooses to.
The plot regarding the dangers of Haruhi getting bored or disappointed with the world takes up the first 6 chronological episodes of the anime. The rest of the episodes are filler, which often deal with the SOS Brigade encountering a typical anime plot (for instance, a beach episode and a murder mystery).
I mentioned before that the characters are complex. This is especially true of Kyon and Haruhi, who after all have to carry the show with their chemistry. Kyon especially is fascinating, a sardonic skeptic forced increasingly to deal with the blatantly supernatural. His horrified fascination with Haruhi, coupled with Haruhi's blatant disregard of anything that could oppose her wishes, are really the center of the show, with Kyon having to rein in (or at least snark at) Haruhi's insanity. Haruhi, on the other hand, is not just a bossy tsundere. Her existential angst, subtle caring for her fellow brigade members, and her surprisingly self-effacing personality (when the mood strikes her) make her a magnet for both Kyon's and the viewer's attentions. The other three are not so complex, an their characters do conform to cliches (Yuki doesn't talk, Mikuru is always uncertain, and Itsuki is irritatingly calm) but if you watch the show it becomes clear that they may very well be hiding more complex personalities under a veneer of stadard character types.
As for the voice actors, this time around I watched the English language track ad fell in love with the voice of Kyon, Crispin Freeman. Freeman is really able to capture Kyon's sarcasm, bafflement, horror, and fascination and make each of them clear with every line as he mixes them all together. Wendee Lee as Haruhi is also very good, able to exert quite a lot of energy in order to keep up with the boundless enthusiasm of her anime counterpart.
All in all, a fantastic and fantastically fun series. I had enough fun that I am looking forward to one day seeing season 2 (even the infamous 8 episode arc which repeats the same episode). If you're an anime fan, definitely check this out
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