Thursday, March 7, 2013

Classic Review: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Season One)

NOTE: Please keep in mind that this review is old, so while some editting has been done to make it read a little more timelessly, a lot of it is obviously dated. As such, where some things may be noted as 'spoilers', they probably no longer are.

In a world of so many long-running series (Shonen Jump adaptations and otherwise), it's very rare for a shorter show to make a long-lasting impression on the anime world. There are a few examples obviously, like Fooly Cooly and the original Tenchi Muyo! OVAs (though this one defaults a little bit due to having longer-running spin-off titles), but essentially most, no matter how big the fan base, just don't seem to have lasting power over the years when compared to the 'big boys' of Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto.

That's where Haruhi Suzumiya comes in. Few fan-bases for a show are so rabid and so powerful than this one, so much so that you'll hear about this little gem just as much as you will Naruto. It's that big.

Also known to just about everyone is that Haruhi Suzumiya started off not as a manga like most anime adaptations, but as a light novel, written by Nagaru Tanigawa with illustrations by Noizi Ito. There's a total of nine books so far, with a tenth due out this year or the next.

Like with most huge titles though, I'm late into it. After hearing about it from just about all of my friends and reading about it online, I finally picked up the first book about a year or so ago, and I really enjoyed it. Only recently was I able to get a copy of the first 'season' as released here by Bandai however, which is what I'm reviewing now.

TMHS, as it's abbreviated, is the story of Kyon as he enters his high school years, with a cynical mind-set. As a kid, he apparently found the normal world boring, and was much more inclined to read or watch stories involving secret organizations, alien conspiracies, and people with super-powers than he was to enjoy the real world. Growing up though, he's realized that none of that stuff is possible in the real world, and is ready to slog his way through the mundane journey that is life - much like the rest of us.

That's where things take a turn for the 'worse' for our hero. In the seat just behind him in homeroom, sits a girl who is about to change his entire world - Haruhi Suzumiya. Hyper, demanding, self-centered, and incredibly eccentric, she stuns Kyon and the rest of her opening statement that if there are any time travelers, aliens, or ESPers (think psychics), they should come to her. That's where the entire story begins, as an off-hand comment made by Kyon soon after causes her to make the S.O.S. Brigade (Saving the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade), bringing in three other people who are soon revealed to be more than they seem. Yuki Nagato, a quiet girl who loves to read, who is also an alien (of sorts); Mikuru Asahina, a timid, well-endowed beauty, who is also a time traveler from the future; and Itsuki Koizumi, a mysterious and seemingly always smiling boy, who is also an ESPer.

And thus, as they say, chaos and hilarity ensues. From saving the world from the 'Godly' side-effects of Haruhi's temper, to playing baseball, to ocean cruises, to even normal things like a school festival, and all the way back, Haruhi is one surreal experience of a show. It's that surreal feeling that makes this show so good I think. I mean, let's face it - the entire concept, maybe not exactly like this, has sort-of been done before. The idea itself is nothing revolutionary. Any other author could have come up with this and it would have been an okay story, but at an episode count of 14 (speaking only of the first 'season' of course, as that's all I've seen), it would have been quickly forgotten in the realm of other, newer titles. No, what saves Haruhi from falling to the way-side is incredibly good writing as well as some of the most interesting characters ever seen in this kind of a story.

Speaking of the characters, this is definitely a character-driven story, so let's talk about the individual members of the S.O.S. Brigade a bit. Starting with Haruhi herself, I have mixed feelings on her. At first, I (much like my girlfriend) absolutely hated the character. She's bossy, downright female-dog like more often than not, and she pretty much shows no concern for her friends who are forced to put up with her in the hopes that the end of the world doesn't reign down upon them. As the series goes on, she does become a lot more bearable, as she does learn to care a bit more about her friends, and her eccentricity becomes more funny than annoying. In the end though, she is definitely my least-favorite character in the series.

Moving onto Kyon, there's not a whole heck of a lot to say. He's the real main character of the story, as everything is told directly from his narrative, so you're supposed to like him a little bit. Still, I find his cynicism a bit much at times, given that he's now living exactly the things he once wished for. Would it kill him to crack a smile sometimes?

Yuki Nagato is another one that I'm not really sure how to feel about. A friend of mine is a huge fan of her, but to me she's kind of just there in the background. She's a lot like Mori from Ouran to me, a 'couch' of a character - they don't say a whole heck of a lot, but the show just wouldn't be right without them. Truth be told, Yuki does have one of the most badass moments in the show though, when she bare-handily takes down one of her own kind after Kyon's life, but in the end I just can't say I like her or dislike her really.

Now Mikuru...ahh...there's my favorite character. In fact, I'll admit it right now - I have a huge fan-boy crush on the character. I mean, look at her!

Can you blame me? Didn't think so.

She's absolutely adorable, full of cute charms, and I'm sure a lot of people hate her on principle as pretty much a human incarnation of all that is 'moe', but you know what? If it's done well, I think moe can be an endearing trait. Chalk me in with Haruhi and Konata in that regard!

The final member of the brigade, Itsuki, I think almost would have made a better lead than Kyon, personality wise. He's a lot more my speed for a lead character, cracking little jokes from time to time, generally happy, and he seems to be an all-around nice guy. Well, with the exception of annoying Kyon for fun anyway. When I think about it now, it wouldn't work with him as the lead since Kyon's anti-Haruhi nature is needed to make her character bearable at all, whereas Itsuki thinks she's a God and also finds all those annoying traits of hers 'charming'.

The animation won't disappoint either. I'm not lying when I say this is one of the most beautifully animated TV anime I've ever seen. Maybe it was because of the popularity of the novels, maybe it was due to how short the original episode count was, or perhaps a mixture of both - either way, this show is absolutely gorgeous.

So, in closing, Haruhi Suzumiya is one hell of an anime ride, unlike any other. Is it a must-see title? I wouldn't go so far as to put it up there with some others I consider must-see (like the first Fullmetal Alchemist, Air, and Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart), but it's certainly a show that I think everyone should at least check into. It's definitely one that you have to see to believe. So with that in mind, I bring this review to a close. It was a long one, but hey, it's been a while.

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