Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 11th 2007
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Cute, multitalented Haruhi Suzimiya subconsciously has the power of a deity and the SOS Brigade she has formed secretly includes the time traveler, alien, and esper she sought out, who are there to keep tabs on her – so much for an ordinary high school experience for Kyon, the lone mundane member. Worse, it seems that Haruhi getting bored can have bad consequences for reality, and so could revealing any of the truth to her, so Kyon must figure out what all these cryptic references to fairy tales mean and why Haruhi wants him around when a worst-case scenario arises. It also seems that the SOS Brigades members are not the only extraordinary individuals at the school, and one definitely does not have Kyon's best interests in mind. Later on, the SOS Brigade finds itself in a baseball tournament when Haruhi signs them up on a whim.
For those who have not seen MoHS in fansubs, ardent fans have much lamented the switch to chronological ordering of the episodes on the DVD releases compared to the scrambled order of the original TV broadcast. That difference starts making its full impact here. The great advantage to having episodes 4-7 (remember, the first episode was episode 0) in this order is that the story makes a heck of a lot more sense this way, especially with episode 7 (“The Boredom of Haruhi Suzimiya”, aka the baseball episode) coming after the episodes which actually explain the whole business about closed spaces, the strange giants, what Koizumi's power is, and why it's so important to monitor Haruhi's mood. Some who saw the series in fansubs argue that easily making sense comes at the cost of the novelty of the out-of-order approach, but unlike the similarly-disordered Boogiepop Phantom the original scrambled order felt more like a gimmick than an actual integral part of the storytelling, so no big loss. Those who are going to get hung up on that can just start buying the Limited Edition versions from this point out, as the extra disc included in them provides a subtitled-only version of the series in the original broadcast order – an option not even available on the Japanese DVDs.
The one true negative so far to releasing the episodes in chronological order is that episode 6, which was the final broadcast episode, gives every indication of being a series closer despite the series being only halfway done. Will the remaining seven episodes feel only like denouement once the moment has passed? If the way episode 7 plays out is any indication, the potential impact of this negative is being overestimated. The series still has as much fun eccentricity going on as ever, and the story does still continue past what is seen in episode 6.
If you leave all the order-changing baggage aside, what you have left is an enormously fun series which remains a complete otakufest while not quite taking the traditional path. As the second volume proves once again, channeling the viewpoint through Kyon instead of through the title character or a neutral perspective is a brilliant move and one of many factors which separates the series from lesser efforts of its type. Never excitable and yet still fully a red-blooded teenage male, his sardonic running commentary makes him one of the year's best male characters. In these four episodes the romantic potential between him and Haruhi becomes more heavily implied, but unlike so many other teen-focused series, it's never more than implied; Kyon never admits that the reason he keeps hanging around Haruhi despite all the hassles she gives him is because he may be attracted to her, and one has to read Haruhi's utterly unadmitted interest in Kyon from her actions rather than watch her fantasize about him. On Haruhi's part, her moodiness and frustration over the inability to recognize and identify all the weirdness surrounding her makes the title of the series more clear.
But the two main characters aren't the only reason to watch. The personalities of the key supporting cast members also become more distinct, Yuki finally gets to make extensive use of her (essentially magical) data manipulation abilities, and we finally get to see how Koizumi's powers work, too. The threat to Kyon comes up suddenly and out of the blue but makes senses within a certain twisted frame of thinking, and its consequences aren't ignored. Plenty enough weirdness goes on to keep the content from ever getting boring, and in a deeper sense the series can hold a great appeal for those who share Haruhi's viewpoint that the ordinary world isn't interesting enough. A few doses of action, spilled blood, misinterpreted scenes, details in background scenes (especially in episode 4) and minor fan services don't hurt, but like everything else the series does, it doesn't handle any of these normally. Also watch for the occasional eccentricity in the credits, too.
The artistry also continues to excel, with some occasional nice CG effects, good background art, and pleasing character designs which offer some fan service without being too blatant about it, all using a distinctive color scheme that is a bit more earthy and subdued than the normal bright displays. Character facial expressions are a particular delight to watch, especially in the way they illustrate the many moods of Haruhi or the blasé attitude of Kyon. The highlight comes in episode 4 in a scene where Haruhi merely glares at Kyon while he chews her out for her rash use of pictures of Mikuru. That is an expression you almost never see on girls in anime, and though brief it is also priceless, both for how it looks and the meaning it carries. The quality of the animation also shines through in both ordinary scenes and the action sequences, especially in the dance sequences in the closer.
The soundtrack, while not a stand-out individually, continues to do a great job of subtly enhancing each scene and setting the mood. The opener only gets used on episodes 5 and 7, and the closer is absent on episode 6, but both sound good when present.
Hard-core fans consider the performance of seiyuu Aya Hirano as Haruhi to be a legendary effort, and indeed it is hard to imagine the role being done any better in Japanese. That makes some big shoes for Wendee Lee to fill, but she isn't one of the most experienced of all anime-related English voice actors for nothing, and once one gets used to her voice in the role the caliber of her performance can be appreciated. Ms. Lee has often given her best efforts when voicing petulant characters, and while her performance here may not be the equal of the original, it's good enough. Crispin Freeman, who has proven in the past to be very good with sardonic characters, nails the key role of Kyon, even getting the right inflection in scenes where Kyon lets his mind wander in more naughty directions, and Stephanie Sheh gives an admirable effort in emulating the original performance for Mikuru. Other performances are acceptable. The English script does not stray too much from the subtitles, although it sometimes makes colorful adaptations; for instance, at one point an exclamation of “Huge!” becomes “Super-Size me!”
As with its first volume, the regular edition of volume 2 loads up on Extras. Clean opener and closer and the original episode previews from the TV broadcast constitute the more ordinary extras, with others including two more “Making Of” featurettes, one focusing on a photo shoot involving the three lead female seiyuu and the other focusing on Aya Hirano recording a song that comes up later in the series. A pair of brief “Nekoman Galleries” only make sense if you watch the “Making Of” featurettes first, and of course the on-DVD highlights are the next four installments of the live-action “Adventures of the ASOS Brigade” promo bits, which are stupid, campy fun, especially the one involving Crispin Freeman's recording session. (That he can do that with a straight face is either a sign of his caliber as an actor or a sign of multiple takes.) As always, the credits on those are worth reading. The Special Limited Edition box set gets you the aforementioned second DVD, which contains the first five broadcast-order episodes in subtitled-only form. Also included are the audio CD single for the opener, a double-sided picture plate, a good-sized iron-on Haruhi emblem, and an Ultra Director armband that is an exact replica of the one Haruhi has been seen wearing in the intro and Episode 0.
Whether a newcomer to the title or an established fan fulfilling obligations to purchase the DVDs for the fansubs you've watched, the second volume offers a lot of entertainment value in both its episodes and Extras. It may be a fan-focused series, but it elevates itself above most others of its type through good storytelling, superior technical merits, and by avoiding descending into the most puerile levels of fan-pandering.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Great characters and storytelling, lots of fun content.
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