Reviewby Carlo Santos,
The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya
All Kyon ever wanted was to lead an ordinary high school life ... but that changed forever when he met Haruhi Suzumiya, an eccentric, charismatic girl obsessed with discovering aliens, time travelers, ESPers, and other strange phenomena. Shockingly enough, these beings exist right under Haruhi's nose, but she is completely unaware of the fact—and she is also unaware that she has the power to alter reality itself. This becomes particularly troubling when she decides that her makeshift school club, the SOS Brigade, will be producing a student film for the school cultural festival. Now it's up to Kyon to keep Haruhi in check as she takes on the role of "super director." What happens when special effects and superpowers start manifesting themselves in real life? The SOS Brigade is about to find out.
How does one possibly write a sequel to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya? The original book was, after all, one of the transformative works in the light novel medium: an unforgettable main character, omnipotent except for one massive flaw; a sarcastic, fourth-wall-breaking narrator; genre fiction elements that poked fun at genre fiction itself; and underlying themes that questioned the very fabric of imagination and reality. How does one re-capture that irreverent freshness, that distinctive blend of mind-bending sci-fi and down-to-earth high school hijinks?
For Nagaru Tanigawa, the answer was simple: do it all over again.
This is one those few times where sticking to formula is actually a good thing. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya follows much of Melancholy's structure: quirky high school days growing increasingly surreal and chaotic, until Kyon hears a long-winded philosophical speech and realizes what needs to be done. This time, though, there's no need for three chapters of character exposition—we already know who Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki are—and so the story is able to jump right into Haruhi's antics. Yet it's Kyon who steals the show in the early chapters, with his sarcastic commentary lending some much-needed flavor to the mundane preparations for a school cultural festival.
These preparations drag themselves out too long, however, and by the time this book hits the fun part—the actual filming of the movie—it's almost at the halfway mark already. This is where the comedic focus shifts from Kyon's sardonic observations to Mikuru's amusing ineptness as an actress, but of course, everyday school comedy quickly takes a back seat once the sci-fi twist kicks in and the movie's special effects start coming to life.
From that point, the rest of the book fulfils the promise of the Haruhi franchise and becomes an imaginative, comical rollercoaster ride to the finish: energy beams, talking cats, John Woo-esque white doves, mid-autumn cherry blossoms. But the true stroke of genius is how the book is able to once again address the question of how we perceive reality without feeling like a repeat of the first. Instead of reading a work of fiction where the main character is threatening to destroy the world, we're reading a work of fiction … about a work of fiction … that threatens to destroy the world. The very thought of it is enough to make one's head spin—if one's head isn't already spinning enough from Koizumi's dissertation in the penultimate chapter, followed by a finale that cleverly puts fact and fiction back in their proper places.
But not everyone follows the Haruhi series for high-concept meta-narrative. Some just want to be entertained, and that's where the characters' distinctive personalities come in—although, after two volumes, some of their shtick is already starting to get old. Mikuru's ever-squealing helplessness just isn't all that endearing, and it doesn't help that Kyon continues to fawn over her for no good reason. The rest of the supporting cast is similarly one-dimensional: Koizumi is still smarmy, Yuki is still silent, and the only real character development is when Kyon finally snaps at Haruhi for pushing Mikuru around. Even Kyon's narration, which is usually entertaining enough in its own right, starts to get gimmicky and repetitive with the constant pop-culture references and forced non-sequitur metaphors.
The fact that such aspects of writing style can even be criticized, however, is a testament to the quality translation that went into this. Imagine that, a Japanese light novel that's actually readable and natural-sounding in English! The dialogue is particularly commendable in the way it brings out the characters' personalities: Kyon's exasperation, Haruhi's bluntness, even the technical conciseness of Yuki's (very occasional) lines. If that's not enough of a treat for fans, this edition also comes with glossy full-color illustrations in the back, and the the hardcover finish is clearly built to last.
So in the end, the world returns to (mostly) normal, Kyon and friends all breathe a sigh of relief, and Haruhi continues on her merry, delusional way, none the wiser. It's basically the way the first book ended—but again, all the imaginative touches and clever twists combine to make this novel stand out on its own. While it may not have the immediate cultural impact of the original, and the sheen of the quirky characters is starting to wear off, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya proves that there's still plenty of crazy ideas rattling around in Nagaru Tanigawa's head just waiting to get out. Clichés and tropes abound, but in ways that make the reader think—not just about the elements of the genre, but about the very nature of storytelling itself. A work of fiction about a work of fiction that threatens to break reality? Well, that's just ridiculous. And fascinating.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Humorous narration, clever plot twists, and another mind-bending finale make this a worthy sequel to the original.
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