The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Viewing Journal: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (season 1)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= A-
Story = A-
Video = B+
Audio = B+

On the first day of high school a beautiful girl named Haruhi Suzumiya introduces herself as having "no interest in ordinary humans". She asks for any aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers to join her. Watching her weird behaviour is Kyon who sits in front of Haruhi and is the only person who talks to her. When Kyon comments about Haruhi's joining every club in school and then quitting he unwittingly gives Haruhi an idea to start her own after school club. Thereafter Kyon and several others find themselves dragged, literally, into the Save our world by Overloading it with fun Suzumiya Haruhi's Brigade (the S.O.S. Brigade for short). (Source: ANN)

To be clear, this is a show directed at anime fans. It is intentionally full of all kinds of cliché storylines and characters from moe to tsundere to child detectives and RPG gaming. But it is presented in such a self-aware manner that they act as a parody of themselves by highlighting just how ridiculous such clichés are.

But it is the way that parody is executed within such an original concept that really makes this show rise above other similar anime. As the show eventually reveals, Haruhi's boredom is a dangerous thing because she unknowingly has the power to unconsciously manifest the things that she desires to happen. It's a power that could have cataclysmic consequences if not kept in check, so the members of the SOS Brigade need to keep Haruhi entertained enough to prevent her from destroying and recreating the universe according to her own whim. That story concept could be used to do show kinds of crazy stuff, but for the most part her powers end up manifesting with such subtlety that the characters have a hard time determining what events happen on their own and which are a result of Haruhi's power. And as a result, the show seems more like a regular high school comedy sprinkled with odd occurrences than an all-out magical fantasy. And while I can't say that this make the story more realistic, it does make it seem more grounded and adds a subtle tone of sci-fi mystery to parody which makes it interesting as well as hilarious.

Of course, the other thing that makes this a great show is Haruhi herself. Even without her powers, she is like a force of nature who drags people kicking and screaming into her schemes for achieving self-amusement. Watching the way that she obnoxiously manipulates characters in order to get her way is really what drives the show's character-driven comedy. The other characters also rise above their cliché personalities in order to have genuine and reasonable reactions to the wacky events that Haruhi drags them into. And the unspoken romantic tension between Kyon and Haruhi is another thing that adds a layer of genuineness of the characters.

As far as the art and animation, it ranges from very high quality to above average. The character designs are -- as you might image -- cliché to fit their purpose, but they are also detailed and colorful enough to make them engaging.

The soundtrack for the show is phenomenal. The musical scores during each scene fit perfectly, but what really makes the show are the actual songs that are played during the ending animation (or the full-length version) and during the (chronologically) final episode. Each of which illustrates just how fun this show really is.

One issue that is most controversial issue among fans is what order to watch the show in. When it was originally broadcast in Japan, the episodes were shown out of chronological order. The regular version of the US DVD release only allows you watch the episodes in chronological order, but if you get the special editions you have the added option of watching them in the original broadcast order (subtitled only). I decided to watch them in the original broadcast order and am glad that I did. I think it makes for a better build up and climax due to the order in which the show reveals certain mysteries and the way it develops the characters and their relationships. So I think as long as you are aware that you are watching them out of order, that is the most satisfying way of viewing this show.

So all in all this is a highly entertaining anime that is just plain fun to watch, especially if you are an anime fan. It hooks you with its parody and its genuine and wacky characters and original concept will keep you coming back for more. Recommended for otaku everywhere.

A couple of extra notes... First of all, the last DVD has a scene from what seems to be a similarly themed show called Lucky Star. The scene includes the Haruhi cast and can be seen here. My guess is that fans of Haruhi will end up liking Lucky Star too (though I haven't actually seen it, that's just my guess). I'm not sure of the US release date.

Also, in case you are wondering why I have this review labeled as "season 1", it's because a second season is currently being produced. I'm not sure when it will be aired in Japan though, so stay tuned.

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