Japanese Title: Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu
Related: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (sequel – included in review)
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (spin-off)
Similar: Angel Beats!
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Comedy Mystery Romance Science Fiction Slice of Life (varies between arcs)
Length: 14 episodes (season 1 – 2006), 14 episodes (season 2 – 2009), 2 hr. 42 min. movie
- Great variety of stories.
- Funny moments.
- Natural acting.
- Mary-Sue protagonist with no consequences.
- With no development, it gets repetitive.
- Groundhog Day Summer arc is terrible.
- Unnecessarily convoluted storytelling at times.
- Dated and poorly aged.
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Note: Seasons 1 & 2 have the same name with different years attached (2006 & 2009), but on rerelease were combined into a single 28-episode show.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t an anime emulating The Matrix, Sherlock Holmes, Groundhog Day, and more.
As the title implies, it centres on a girl called Haruhi Suzumiya, whose centre of the universe is herself. Everything and everyone is about her. To combat her boredom, she forces classmates to join her club, the Suzumiya Haruhi’s S.O.S. Brigade. She wants a varied collection of characters for the club – the moe one, the quiet, the energetic, the transfer student, etc. Principally, she recruits the dulcet Kyon, perspective character and sarcastic narrator of the series, who enjoys observing her odd behaviour in school.
She changes hairstyle and club every day to stave off boredom. People talk about her like a live piece of entertainment to humorous results. She’s easy to ask out for a date if you like her, but there’s the catch that she’s a wacko and will want someone new next time. Her dream date is a supernatural being “because that way, life’s more interesting.” Coincidentally, an alien, a time traveller, and an esper soon join the club, all focused on her.
Melancholy is a medley of genres, trying something new each arc to fluctuating results. The first arc is The Matrix (Haruhi is Neo), then the second turns Holmesian, followed by an extended arc of Groundhog Day, and so on. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an arc done in a single movie. The themes range from losing yourself in dreams to being careful what you wish for and the consequences of lethargy.
The storytelling is a bit disjointed, especially in the Matrix arc. You have to bear a few episodes each arc before the story bothers explaining where it’s going. The setups play coy with the story’s purpose and waste our time until it gets to the point. While it makes sense after the explanation, it doesn’t excuse the convoluted structure. The cores and resolutions manage to stay solid in the face of these poor setups.
None of the above applies to the third arc, “Endless Eight.” Using a Groundhog Day concept, the characters repeat the same block of time (two weeks) during the summer holidays, where only one character knows of the repetition. Now, I love Groundhog Day, but this was terrible. It repeats the same scenes for – I kid you not – eight episodes. No, it doesn’t tackle them from different angles, it doesn’t put a spin on each version, nor does it share new information each time. Genuinely, it’s the same thing every episode except the cameras change positions. There’s a little difference in the second episode, when the loop becomes clear, and a little in episode eight to resolve the arc. And get this, the resolution sucks. Arse! On second thought, skip it – ‘tis a silly arc.
The other problem is Haruhi. As mentioned earlier, she does whatever she wants and everything in this world does revolve around her. That in itself isn’t a problem. How it’s handled, how other characters react to her is a problem. Every obstacle to these characters stems from her petulance. She’s a bitch – sure, funny at times, but a horrible person nonetheless. She treats the moe girl like a slave, going so far as to impose sexual assault on her several times. And no one does anything about it. Where’s the punch line to these jokes?
Kyon, with his polar opposite personality, should have been a foil to Haruhi’s antics, maybe slapped her a few times against her selfish nature. Alas, he does whatever she wants. He almost punches some sense in her, but the forgettable other guy in the group stops him and defends her. It would have been much funnier if even a single character stood in opposition to her. Because everything goes her way, we see the joke or drama coming.
People will tell you Melancholy is a deep anime with complex messages – it isn’t. Only one who has seen or read little would have their minds blown by these basic (though still fun) takes on iconic plot types. See/read The Matrix, Sherlock, Poirot, Groundhog Day, and other inspirators for depth.
If you are coming to this a decade after release, like me, then you will have already seen everything that was considered fresh in Melancholy a hundred times in the medium – and done better. Haruhi hasn’t aged well. As such, you need to go into the historical anime mindset. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does execute the elements well enough, overall.
Art – Medium
The art is a tad generic with many static shots and erratic camera work. Haruhi’s face is so generic she is almost unrecognisable with a different hairstyle. Still, the art is clean and sharp.
Sound – High
Both voice tracks are equally good. Crispin Freeman as Kyon sounds like Alucard gone sarcastic in high school.
Story – Medium
A high school club led by a self-centred girl partake in a variety of extraordinary adventures involving aliens, time travel, and murder. Quality fluctuates between arcs – the earlier ones better than the latter – and the characters could do with developing spines.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has importance in anime for popularising several tropes, but aged poorly in the face of contemporaries. If interested, the first arc of six episodes is a good indicator of the whole series.
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