Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 23rd 2007
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
“The Adventures of Mikuru-chan” is finally in the can, so Kyon decides to enjoy the school cultural festival as much as possible. He is in for a shock, though, when none other than the bunny suit-clad Haruhi steps on stage as a substitute lead vocalist for the all-girl rock band ENOZ during their Rock Club stage performance and blows the crowd away with her surprising singing ability. Later, the heavily put-upon Computer Club challenges the SOS Brigade to duel using a computer tactical space battle game to regain lost face and the computer Haruhi extorted from them months earlier, but what will happen when Yuki actually seems to be enjoying herself? A later lazy winter day finds Kyon going into town to fetch a heater for the club room while Haruhi finagles the helpless Mikuru into more photo ops.
Of the complaints fans of the series have made about MOHS's DVD releases (both in North America and in Japan) being done in chronological rather than the scrambled original broadcast order, the most justifiable one concerns the way the series ends. In the original broadcast the episode “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya VI” actually aired last, offering the series some semblance of a climax and resolution, but “The Melancholy of Suzumiya XIII,” which actually is last chronologically and marks the end of this volume, is just there. It delivers no climax, drama, or weirdness at all beyond some goofiness in dodging displays of fan service, nor does it give any sense of completion. It's just a mundane, lazy, slice-of-life episode with a faint hint of a Kyon/Haruhi relationship development that you might expect to find in the middle of a series, or as the quiet before a storm, rather than at its end. It does make more sense in story context than when originally broadcast, has its moments, and actually is not bad overall, but even those watching the series for the first time are going to get to the end of the last episode and scratch their heads while saying, “okay, where's the rest of it?”
Other than that, the last volume is a smashing success. The “computer duel” episode provides great fun as it rounds out the simmering resentment of the Computer Club and recaptures the playful, enthusiastic spirit that helped make the series so great, but the real gem is the school festival episode, which shows the series at its very best. Those who watch it carefully in the first half might notice important events going on in the backgrounds of several scenes as more ordinary school festival occurrences progress in the foreground, events which set up what is unquestionably the series' best individual scene: Haruhi's on-stage performance with ENOZ. Just watching the reactions of Kyon and the crowd around him can be a blast, but they pale in comparison to the great rock songs “God Knows” and “Lost My Music” and the beautifully meticulous animation of their performances. Kyoto Animation deserves enormous praise for animating the finger movements on the guitar and bass so carefully that the performers actually appear to be playing the notes you hear, and one of the “Making of” Extras suggests that Haruhi's singing was actually animated around seiyuu Aya Hirano's recording, which makes for one of the most accurate lip-synching jobs you'll ever see in an animated singing performance. Kyoto Animation even paid attention to fine details like the beads of sweat rolling off of Haruhi's face as she performs. During the scene and afterwards viewers also get to see a side of Haruhi not previously seen in the series, the side which is a little uncomfortable with actually being appreciated. For everything that the episode does, it is well worth watching multiple times (which may be necessary to catch all the background details), and in both languages.
And that is another thing which makes the episode so remarkable: the caliber of the vocals in the songs. Given that she sings the opener and contributes to singing the closer, everyone knew that Aya Hirano could sing, so the real discovery is that her English counterpart Wendee Lee, who has mostly been holding her own in the role, can actually match her on the songs, too. (Anyone who does not believe this should flip back and forth between the dubs during the performances and compare. Even diehard purists may not notice a difference in quality.) Crispin Freeman still masters the role of Kyon like he was born for it, while other roles will still come down to normal sub-dub preferences for most viewers.
The musical score does not have to rely just on its insert songs to get a high grade this time around, as its space opera themes suitably enhance the “computer duel” episode and more subtle themes evoke appropriate mood elsewhere. The same could also be said of the always-appealing artistry and crisp animation, which occasionally takes some shortcuts but goes all-out on detail in feature scenes. It even uses multilayered animation, such as the scene where Kyon and Itsuki are talking while the crowd goes wild behind them. The visuals so carefully avoid fan service to that it becomes a joke, unless you qualify high school girls in sharp maid outfits or Haruhi back in her bunny suit at fan service.
As with previous volumes, Bandai Entertainment has loaded even the regular release up with Extras. Nearly all of them are in the same vein as those seen in previous volumes: a Neko-Man gallery, “Making of” features which this time focus on the adorably cute Aya Hirano during promo tours and visits to Kyoto Animation, original episode previews, and the last three installments of “The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade,” which include a visit to an authentic Akihabara maid café, brief introductions of all of the principle seiyuu, and a live-action performance of the closer dance by the ASOS Brigade girls. The new entries this time are the full animated version of the closer dance, the introduction for the guests of honor from Anime Expo 2007, and a special Haruhi-themed teaser for Lucky Star, Kyoto Animation's latest effort. The Limited Edition version also includes a Haruhi iron-on, SOS Brigade pillow case, a pencil board, an extra DVD with the subbed-only broadcast-order versions of episodes 11-14, and the Haruhi no Tsumeawase OST CD.
While this volume may not be as thoroughly eccentric as earlier installments and lacks a proper ending for the series, it nonetheless offers great entertainment with a lot of replay value and does advance the hinted-at Haruhi/Kyon romance a bit. MOHS may be over (for now), but its impact and popularity will live on.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Wonderful insert songs, beautifully animated performances.
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