Anime Reviews: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Kyoto Animation's debut series, which launched an anime fandom revolution, delivers fresh new ideas and a quirky cast of iconic characters.
Title: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya a.k.a. Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu
Production: Kadokawa Shoten / Kyoto Animation
Series Length: 14 episodes
Air Dates: 4/2/2006 to 7/2/2006
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, brief mild violence)
Summary: Haruhi Suzumiya is a girl of many mysteries, notes Kyon, our narrator and perfectly normal high-school student. On the first day of high school, Haruhi stands up and states to the class that she is not interested in any normal human beings, but she is interested in meeting aliens, time travelers, sliders, espers, and people who may know someone who is the above. She changes her hairstyle everyday, with her hair down on Monday, one tie on Tuesday, two ties on Wednesday, and so on. Haruhi is also very smart and very athletic, but she shows no interest in either her studies or sports. She joins every club the school offers, and quits after a week or so. When Haruhi finally confides to Kyon about how bored she is with the school, Kyon suggests that she start her own club. Which she does. And forces Kyon (and several others) to join. Though entirely displeased about the whole affair, Kyon soon learns that there's more to Haruhi than meets the eye; something that not even she knows...
The Good: Audio and visual candy all around; fun characters; unique premise and story structure
The Bad: Deceptive first episode and anti-chronological episode order may throw viewers off; too much filler; we're really supposed to believe the cast members are only 15 years old?
The Ugly: Attempting to explain chronological order vs. broadcast order
This is one of those series that everyone knows. It's inescapable. When 2006 rolled around and this series became the talk of the town, I was compelled--nay, obligated--to watch it. Ever since then, I've been a fan of the series; maybe not a raving lunatic fan who drew gender-bender art and ate up the fetid, sloshing diarrhea that is Lucky Star because it had references to the show, but a fan nonetheless. This is one of the cases where I'm glad a show gets popular, because it's a pretty damn good show.
To begin with, Kyoto Animation sets a ridiculously high standard with this series--a standard that they always set out to meet with every anime they produce. To put it simply, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an extremely good-looking series, with some of the best animation you'll find in a TV anime (except for the lol-worthy GIF posted above). As for the artwork, there is an incredible amount of detail in every scene and every setting. The independent film that the characters make takes place in a busy shopping district, and you'll not only see each individual person doing something different, but the stores actually look like fully-stocked stores. They could have easily just had all the extras sit still and fill the stores with vague blotches of color, but luckily, KyoAni are better than that.
Our eyes aren't the only organs being treated to delicious candy; our ears also get a healthy dose. The background music is always fun, always appropriate, and always engaging. This series also boasts the (arguably) most famous ending theme ever written and animated. The voice acting is also freakin' phenomenal, in both the Japanese and English versions, though the dubbed versions of "God Knows" and "Lost My Music" don't sound right to me. Eh, details. In the Japanese, you have spectacular performances from big names like Aya Hirano, Tomokazu Sugita, and Yuko Goto. Similarly, the English version has dubbing superstars like Wendee Lee, Michelle Ruff, Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, and (our lord and savior) Crispin Freeman. No matter whether you're a purist who enjoys the Japanese version by default, or you're a fan of dubs because of the lack of subtitles, you can't lose!
And of course, with great voice actors, you've gotta have great characters. While I love all of these characters--Itsuki, Yuki, Mikuru, Taniguchi, Kunikida, Tsuruya, and so on--the main focus of the story is Haruhi and Kyon, so it's fitting that they're the most interesting. Haruhi's fun, not only because she's eccentric, but also because you eventually learn why she's so eccentric, and you can sympathize with her wanting to be someone unique in a world where no such thing exists. Kyon serves as a great foil to Haruhi, with his deadpan attitude and cynical outlook, perfectly content to count himself among the faceless, "normal" masses. And of course, it's Kyon who gets to have all these amazing adventures while Haruhi is stuck living a normal life, and they both change over the course of the series. Character growth in a comedy/satire? Surely you must be joking! Well, no, I'm not joking. And don't call me Shirley.
So far, so good, right? So, why did this series become so popular if it's just an above-average high school comedy with fun characters and a huge budget? First off, there's the supernatural elements to the story. Have I mentioned that Haruhi is God, doesn't realize she's God, and that she warps reality at will while Kyon and the others constantly struggle to keep her happy and/or amused? Well, now you know. Also, did you know that the first episode is technically the 11th? And that the second is the first? The series was broadcasted (intentionally) out of order, to spice up the story just a little bit more, and I find that it works very well. Even though you may ask yourself where you are this time, you'll never truly be lost, because Kyon's narration keeps you up to date. What a helpful guy!
However, that very same trait that makes the show unique is also the very same trait that may alienate some viewers. In particular, the first broadcast episode, wherein we see the independent film our heroes made, will utterly puzzle the hell out of the viewer, and unless they're willing to give the next episode a try, they're gonna walk away. Not good, yo. Another thing that takes away from the series is that, while filler episodes are expected with a plot like Melancholy's, we'd like it if more than half of the series wasn't filler. The baseball episode? Filler. The two-part island mystery? Filler. The LAN episode? Total filler. While these episodes feature some character growth, I would have liked to see more of the mystery of Haruhi unfold, and we'd have to wait 3 more years to get some answers.
Oh, and one last thing, these characters look and sound to be about 17 or 18, but such is not the case. They're first-year high school students. Thus, they are around 15 years old. I thought the reverse was supposed to be true amongst the Japanese...? Anyway, it's a weird thing that some people noticed, and it's worth mentioning.
At the end of the day, there's not much of a reason to skip The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya if you still (somehow) have not seen it. Even though it has its flaws, you can avoid them by watching the series in chronological order (2, 3, 5, 10, 13, 14, 4, 7, 6, 8, 1, 12, 11, 9) and/or cherrypicking which filler episodes you want to watch. However, to me, the only way to enjoy the series is to watch it in its entirety, original broadcast order and all.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Though the intentionally screwy episode order and filler episodes can be distracting, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a vibrant and beautiful anime that delivers pure entertainment all throughout.