Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 14th 2010
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
DVD - Second Season
A trio of stories details the further exploits of the SOS Brigade. In “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody,” Kyon finds himself on a time-traveling expedition with Mikuru to a crucial point in the past, where Kyon's actions might prove to have had a profound impact on the present. In “Endless Eight,” the whole SOS Brigade cycles through a smorgasbord of classic summer activities under the direction of Haruhi, from a pool visit to bug-catching to festival-visiting to even working part-time jobs. And then they cycle through a smorgasbord of classic summer activities under the direction of Haruhi, from bug-catching to festival-visiting to even working part-time jobs. And then they cycle through a smorgasbord of classic summer activities under the direction of Haruhi, from bug-catching to festival-visiting to even working part-time jobs. . . only eventually realizing that they seem to be repeating the same two weeks over and over again, likely due to Haruhi's unsatisfied summer agenda. Once the Brigade finally breaks free of that calamity, “The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya” provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina,” revealing that the Brigade's filming and production was every bit as eccentric, prone to improbable mishaps, and potentially reality-altering as everything else they do.
What Bandai Entertainment is calling Season Two is actually the fourteen new episodes mixed in amongst the 2009 chronological re-airing of the original series, with “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody” (episode 1 here) taking place between the original episodes 7 and 8 and the rest taking place between the original episodes 10 and 11 (although episode 00 technically takes place during the new episode 14). Because of that, certain aspects of these new episodes will make much less sense if you have not already seen most or all of the original series, as these stories essentially fill in some gaps of varying importance in the original storytelling rather than further the story or strike out in any new direction. In other words, this is not a good place to jump on the bandwagon.
For those who have already been on the bandwagon, though, these episodes offer plenty more of the mix of weirdness, gimmickry, and manipulation of anime conventions that made the original series so popular. The shortest of the lot, the single-episode “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody,” is also arguably the weakest, though it still has some fun with the time continuum, gives us a chance to have a peek at a younger version of Haruhi, explains a long-cryptic reference Haruhi made in episode 1 of the original series, and also allows for a cameo character from the first season to reprise her appearance. The highlight of the set is unquestionably the five-episode “Sigh” arc, which reveals that the filming of the SOS Brigade's school festival-featured film was far more fraught with peril and conflict than the original series ever suggested. The complications are fun to watch, but nearly as interesting are the squabbles amongst characters that arise, including some fresh insight into the not-always-aligned agendas of the various interests who have representatives around Haruhi and especially the harsh approach Kyon takes with Haruhi when she, in his opinion, finally goes too far. The way Kyon ultimately keeps the filming from changing reality as everyone but Haruhi knows it is amusing for its clever simplicity.
And then there's the eight-episode “Endless Eight” arc, which may be the single most reviled gimmick in the history of anime; fans at the time of its original airing became so irate that Haruhi's seiyuu Aya Hirano even felt a need to publicly apologize for it. The arc begins with a rather ordinary-seeming summer fun/camaraderie episode, repeats the episode with the main cast (minus Haruhi) realizing that they are stuck in an endless time loop of a two week block of summer thanks to Haruhi, and then repeats that six more times until Kyon finally figures out how to break the cycle in the eighth and final pass through the same material. Slogging through those episodes can be a tedious and frustrating experience, though Kyoto Animation tries to entice viewers into staying involved by constantly changing up exact details in each iteration; characters never wear the same clothes twice, scenes are seen from different angles and/or concentrate on different specific parts each time, iterations are given subtle themes (one has a recurring airplane motif, for instance) which may mislead viewers into thinking that they are clues to the solution, and so forth. Ultimately the solution proves to have been right in front of the viewer the whole time, but whether that revelation will evoke exultation or relief will depend on just how irritating viewers find the gimmick to be. After the first three times, judicious use of the fast forward button is strongly recommended.
Technical merits were also a strong point for the original series, but in this aspect the new episodes have lost some of the luster of the originals. The series still looks good, but the refinement of the character designs, the quality control, and the general richness of the coloration are all a notch below KyoAni's best efforts (and sometimes more than that). KyoAni worked on these episodes after animating K-ON! and has been criticized for tweaking the design of Haruhi's face to a style reminiscent of that supreme moefests, a complaint that is not without merit; it's a subtle adjustment, to be sure, but can be seen in some shots. The art team does deserve credit for managing the awesome number of different outfits worn by characters during the “Endless Eight” (there's a reason why anime characters rarely change clothes) and the editing effort is remarkable, but overall KyoAni has done better.
The soundtrack remains as unobtrusive but complementary through these episodes as it did in the originals. New opener “Super Driver” by Aya Hirano, which begins with the first “Endless Eight” episode, is an enthusiastically up-tempo number which features dance-like visuals and may top even the much-beloved original opener. New closer “Tomare!” by the three lead seiyuu is decent enough but cannot hold a candle to “Hare Hare Yukai.”
The entirety of both the Japanese and English vocal casts return to reprise their original roles, with about the same results. Wendee Lee still does a passable job in the nearly impossible task of matching Aya Hirano's career-making role as Haruhi and Michelle Ruff still overdoes the monotone for Yuki, while Stephanie Sheh is still an ideal fit for Mikuru and Crispin Freeman once again proves that no other American voice actor could have done Kyon equal justice; his is the pivotal role for the English dub, and it does not disappoint. Johnny Yong Bosch's Itsuki falls somewhere in the middle, as do the supporting roles. The English script bends enough for the dialog to sound smooth but never strays far.
Bandai Entertainment has spread the 14 episodes across four disks and included a fifth disk, an audio CD, which includes the full-length versions of both the opener and the closer. Each of the regular disks includes a wealth of Extras, with the features being the four “The New Adventures of the ASOS Brigade” episodes split between the third and fourth disks. This time around Cristina Vee, a voice actress who has also made a name for herself singing dubbed versions of Japanese songs (including “Super Driver,” as shown in the first two episodes), plays the part of Haruhi, while new English-speaking actresses have been cast for Yuki and Mikuru. Expected weird shenanigans abound, including the second episode repeating the first episode in reversed perspective a la “Endless Eight.” Also spread across the four disks are eight installments of “behind the scenes” clips detailing the creation of an Aya Hirano music video, eight installments of location scouting videos for background shots of various scenes in the series (apparently most locations in these episodes are based on real-life locations in the Kobe area), assorted promo videos and commercials, clean opener and closer, and an Endless Eight Summer Slide Show preview. The first disk also has a true rarity in recent American anime releases: an Easter Egg on the first disk which seems to pop up automatically if you leave the screen on the second page of the Extras menu for a couple of minutes. The almost episode-length video which comes up has a relevance to the series content which may not be immediately apparent; fast-forwarding through it at medium speed is recommended.
The original 14 episodes were one of those once-in-a-decade convergences of sharp writing, sharp technical merits, and clever gimmickry balanced just right to capture the adoration of fans worldwide. These new episodes do capture some of that power, though the passage of time has left them not quite as fresh and the dubious merits of some of the gimmickry interfere with full enjoyment. Even so, these additional stories still pack plenty enough entertainment value to make this a worthy acquisition for any Haruhi Suzumiya fan.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Aya Hirano as Haruhi, Crispin Freeman as Kyon, still clever in its manipulation of genre conventions.
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