Reviewby Luke Carroll,
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
I thought that when I entered high school, my days of believing in aliens, time travelers and ESPers were over. That was, until she introduced herself. Claiming to be interested in only aliens, time travelers, and ESPers, Haruhi Suzumiya was the strangest girl I'd met in a long time...
Before I knew what was going on, I'd been dragged into her weird club, and it looks like I'm not the only one who has been drafted into this "SOS Brigade" of hers, because there are three other students here who don't seem to be so ordinary themselves.
Either way, we've all found ourselves caught up in Haruhi's quest to search for all things extraordinary. And what's this I hear about us making a movie...?
It is not often that an anime comes along and manages to capture the hearts of fans all over the world, but arguably that is what The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has achieved. You do not have to look hard to find the dozens of dance videos or fansites scattered all over the internet to realize the show's popularity and fanbase. Its eccentric nature and bold characters helped it become nothing short of a massive hit in Japan last year, something in which Australia's own Madman Entertainment are hoping will occur here.
Those new to the series may be a little confused as Episode 00 is far from the normal opening episode you would expect from your standard anime. Instead of an introduction to the lead characters and the beginning of a plot, we are presented with what can only be described as a very amateurish video featuring many of the main cast. This episode long video which we later find out is for the school's film festival is full of forced lines, out of frame shots and terrible inconsistencies. You can however see that the animation staff must have had a ball in making it look like the worst C grade film ever demised, with the character reactions afterwards cementing the overall feeling. Thankfully the episode contains nothing important to the story, so it can be skipped until a later time if you would rather get the story rolling straight away.
Episode 01 kicks off with us meeting Kyon, an everyday student starting his first day of High School who, sets up the plot by describing how he recently gave up the belief in other beings such as Ghosts, Aliens and Espers. Fate however is definitely one mysterious being as we soon find out that the student sitting behind him is none other than Haruhi Suzumiya, a girl only interested in those who are not human. As the episode plays out, we begin to learn more about Haruhi and her odd habits. As time pases, Kyon and Haruhi slowly begin to have more general conversations, and it is during one of these that Haruhi gets the idea to create her own club based on finding the supernatural, dragging Kyon in against his will to do the paperwork. After acquiring a room and a new club member, Haruhi declares that the club shall be called the SOS Brigade. Over the course of the following episodes we meet new members to the club and begin to learn about the rest of the cast, who Haruhi also drags in against their will. Unbeknown to Haruhi, these new members are the other beings she has been seeking and they in turn are watching her, in secret.
The charm of this series so far seems to come from Haruhi's eccentric attitude and actions. Rather than being insane or hyperactive, Haruhi oozes in boldness and over the top confidence. As odd as some of her ideas are, such as dressing in bunny outfits at the school gates or blackmailing the computer club, there is always a meaning behind it. She's not crazy at all, rather she just views the world slightly more skewed than others. Stuck in the middle of all her actions is Kyon, who happens to also narrate the episodes. He does well in opposing Haruhi's personality with disbelief and acts very much as the down to earth character that is required to bring out the humour in many of Haruhi's actions. Although we do not learn too much about the other cast members we are introduced to during this volume, they all have their own personality quirks that will no doubt play out into more interesting moments down the track.
Disregarding Episode 00 which is intentionally made to look sub-par, the animation for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is wonderful to look at. Produced by Kyoto Animation, best known for their high quality work with Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu, everything about Haruhi Suzumiya has a clean crisp look to it. Presented in 16:9 widescreen, the colours for the backgrounds and cast are as vibrant as you could expect from such a good feeling title. The characters are well defined from the scenery and they move quite fluently throughout the episodes. Each cast member is drawn uniquely to bring out their qualities and the right balance between cute and sexiness for the female cast members are done very well. There seems to be almost an invisible coat of shine though that gives the show an edge over the many recent anime series that have come out in terms of animation. It really is great to watch.
The soundtrack itself is fairly run of the mill, doing the job of subtly enhancing the comical scenes rather than trying to come to the forefront. The intro and outro songs have a somewhat Jpop tone to them and they sound quite good. The outro especially though has some interest as it plays with a long animation of the characters dancing, which you will no doubt find many fans attempting to emulate (it's called Hahurism - Ed). Also of interest is the fact that the three main female saiyuu sing these songs, which nicely blends in well with the overall tone of the series.
For such a high profile series, it is not that odd that we also get presented with a such a high profile dub cast as well. Associated with countless male leads, Crispin Freeman takes the reign as Kyon, and does a surprisingly good job portraying his almost sarcastic attitude at times. It would not surprise many though that Wendy Lee has been given the role to bring Haruhi Suzumiya to life. Although her voice is quite different from that of the Japanese seiyuu Aya Hirano, it does eventually grow on you as the episodes continue. The supporting cast does a better than average attempt at trying to portray a school class and students, but it ultimately does not sound too different from many other anime that attempt this setting. The English dub also features a lot of minor adjustments to the Japanese translation that tries to sound casual and as such be a better fit for the personalities portrayed by the English Cast. Thankfully the general meaning is still brought across in most cases, but it is quite clear to see with the subtitles on.
Unfortunately our editorial copy of this release did not include any extras.
For those who are new to the series like myself, this first volume will probably not seal the deal to purchase the rest of the series. It is quite evident that there is a lot of potential for many comical instances and some more plot development further down the track. In comparison to many recent anime titles that have come out, The Melancholy of Suzumiya is definitely one of the better releases to hit our shelves. With its good humour and beautiful art, I have no doubt that the SOS Brigade will come, see, and conquer many of our hearts and minds.
- Luke Carroll
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Vibrant animation, Humourous at times, A lot of potential is shown.
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