Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Haruhi's melancholy now apparently cured, the biggest threat to the world as we know it is her boredom. An idle Haruhi is a dangerous thing, so it's probably for the best that she has the SOS Brigade to keep her busy. The brigade gets a request from a girl to find her missing boyfriend, who just happens to be the poor computer club president that Haruhi railroaded into giving the SOS Brigade his best PC. Naturally this all leads to the brigade going head-to-head with a giant extraterrestrial camel cricket. Later Itsuki invites the entire club to a newly-constructed mansion on a deserted island. Haruhi hears "deserted island" and automatically thinks "super-sleuth." Which spells big trouble for everyone, 'cause how can you have a super-sleuth without a murder?
At the center of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya lies a question asked by everyone from the Wachowski brothers to a small platoon of science fiction writers and nearly every disaffected teenager in America: "What if the world really did revolve around you?" It isn't a question unknown in the anime world; Paranoia Agent and Lain brushed up against the question and other shows have tackled the subject head-on with varying degrees of success (does anyone remember Interlude?). The key to Haruhi's success is to approach the question with intelligence and wrap its musings in a conventional (if originally nonlinear) entertainment that doesn't skimp on humor, style, or characterization. That something can meld paranormal stereotypes, moe, romantic comedy and semi-hard science fiction into one perfectly seamless whole may be a difficult proposition to sell to skeptics, but that's exactly what Haruhi does.
This third volume, however, isn't quite Haruhi at its prime. There's a dearth of brain-tickling sci-fi ponderings this volume, largely attributable to the fact that two thirds of the volume is spent on a murder mystery of a decidedly more Earthly nature. The mystery of Haruhi takes a backseat, and the discussion of observer effects and questions about the nature of reality are more a matter of flavoring than of serious consideration. Still, even when running in place for a bit, the series outpaces most of its competition. Naturally, Haruhi's influence on reality gives the perfect excuse for the contrived mystery setup (ripped straight from any of a hundred fictional mysteries), and that fact is cleverly worked into the mystery itself. Even if the two-part mystery is far too easily solved by a little application of logic (independent of any of the clues) and the sci-fi angle isn't really worked, every episode still provides a virtual smörgåsbord of the other qualities that make the show such a blast to watch. The series' sharp oddball humor continues to prove that a show doesn't have to be stupid or frivolous to be funny; its mildly disorienting approach to story-telling is wielded in amusing ways; the cast continues to grow strongly on one (despite not being terribly deep); and there's even a little romance as Kyon and Haruhi grow a bit closer.
Kyoto Animation forgoes large-scale actions and complicated camera movements in exchange for animating characters that are actually animated. Of course, even though everyone moves in uncharacteristically realistic ways and has a wide array of expressions and motions, Haruhi is special. Haruhi is the show, and the animators know it. She's simply a joy to watch; she never sits still for a moment and her personality fairly bleeds from her face and body language. The animators know exactly when to punctuate her actions with a shift in expression, a blink, or some other incidental but infinitely meaningful detail. Combine that with her sassy, distinctive design and you have an entity that embodies exactly the energy that makes her such an Irresistible Force of nature, believably communicating both her half-insane idiosyncratic personality and her almost pathetic desperation to live a life less ordinary. The rest of the cast features strong designs and fluid animation (with a marked preference for the female members), but are never allowed—quite rightfully—to approach Haruhi in terms of visual appeal (or any other type of appeal for that matter).
With the exception of Kyon, that is. He hasn't as flashy a part, but his snide running commentary is crucial to the series' humor, helped by a lot of mouth-obscuring compositions that allow the director to play off the uncertainty of whether his dialogue is internal or external. Kyon's caustic wit and intelligence also make him something of an anomaly among the sea of personalityless male leads. His importance is such that the slower tempo of his English rendition, and the attendant loss of the original's breathless quality, actually has a noticeable effect on the overall tempo of the show. The extreme fidelity of the dub is actually a bit of a liability in this case, as a wordier, looser adaptation would have preserved the feel of his internal monologue better. Which is, of course, the grand bull-moose of petty nit-picking criticisms. Crispin Freeman does a fine job in the role, as does the rest of the cast with theirs. Those for whom a dub is important will hardly mind, or even notice, the difference and the vast majority of the series' appeal makes the transition to English intact.
Given the quality of the others, saying that the music is the weakest of the series' technical qualities really isn't a very strong criticism. It only means that it supports the visuals, manipulates mood (the score is particularly effective at heightening energy), and is occasionally utilized in unusual ways. That it doesn't cling to the mind like jingle is probably more an advantage than a drawback. Both the opening and the ending are fun songs that are completely overpowered by the visuals.
The almost bewildering array of art galleries, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and other extras continues. This is as comprehensive a collection of extras as anyone could reasonably desire. The "Adventures of the ASOS Brigade" also continue, with three new installments. On top of (attempted) entertainment, they also provide some welcome interviews with the English cast.
This isn't the best volume of Haruhi to date. Which doesn't mean squat in terms of its domination of the other comedies on the market, a fact that speaks volumes for the series' overall quality. It remains pure fun with a healthy respect for its audience's intelligence...not something readily found in any entertainment format.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Excellent pair of leads; funny and thoroughly entertaining with a dash of romance.
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