The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Is the story about a girl who can change the world just by wishing. It has appeared in a wide range of media in a wide range of countries. So far, I have read the first three MHS light novels (the only ones out in English), watched both seasons anime, and scanned a couple of the manga. It’s a fun concept, somewhat flawed in the execution. I’d recommend it, but I’d also recommend that you not watch it in the order in which it is presented.

Introduction
Three years before the start of the series, Haruhi Suzumiya (then in middle school) realized her small personal world was not all there was, that her city was bigger, Japan was far bigger, and the world was infinitely bigger than she thought. She immediately became depressed. As Douglas Adams once said, “in a universe as big as this one, the last thing you need is a sense of perspective”. Suzumiya also, unkowingly, at that point, developed the power to change the world to be more like what she wants it to be. The key word is, ‘unknowingly’. The series tracks what happens when she gets to high school. The main POV character is a high school classmate of Suzumiya’s, nicknamed “Kyon” (we never learn his real name). Kyon, by the way, is the Japanese name for a small barking deer, which is why he keeps complaining about people using it.

The Story
Fast forward three years from this backstory, and Kyon (sorry) and Suzumiya are in the same freshman class in high school. In the class introduction she says she’s not interested in normal people, just espers, time travelers and aliens. She dragoons Kyon into helping her start a new club, the SOS Brigade, with the mission of seeking out such people. She equally imperiously recruits three other students, more or less at random — Yuki Nagato, Mikuru Asahina, and Itsuki Koizumi — as members. They turn out to be, unbeknownst to her, an alien, a time traveller, and an esper, respectively. Only Kyon is normal. The rest of the series is devoted to these four working to keep HS happy, because whenever she gets bored there’s a good chance the universe will end.

Rather than go into great detail on the episode scheduling, let me refer you to the Wikipedia entry on the 2009 version of the series, with a table showing the full chronology. This is the order they were intended to be viewed in, and I’m not sure why the original releases were so garbled. Were I to do it again (and I will, next summer), I’d watch the two seasons in this order.

Having done that, here’s some commentary.
1. Don’t watch Season 1 DVD Episode 1 (what they call Episode 00) until after you have watched Season 2 DVD Episodes 10-14 (or at least Season 1 DVD Episodes 2-7). It won’t mean anything to you, you will miss half the jokes, and you’ll spend your time saying “who are these people?”
2. Season 1 DVD Episodes 2-7 (AKA “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Parts 1-6”) follow the initial novel, and are complete in themselves. Watch these and you can walk away, whistling.
3. Season 1 DVD Episodes 8-11 are mostly independent “now what’s her problem this week” affairs, that carry the series along in a workmanlike but uninspiring fashion. I did like the baseball game in episode 8.
4. Season 2 DVD Episodes 10-14 are about the SOS Brigade making a movie for their high school’s cultural festival. The story closely follows that from the second novel, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya. What makes this set interesting is the way Suzumiya’s fantasies play out in the real world, for example, when her stage directions cause Mikuru’s eye to emit laser beams. After you watch these, and not before, you can go back to Season 1 DVD Episode 1 (what they call Episode 00) and watch the movie itself, then skip to Season 1 Episode 12 to see how the rest of the festival goes.
5. Finally, let’s talk about the Season 2 DVD Episodes 1-9, the infamous “Endless Eight”. In this set, Suzumiya has unconciously decided she never wants summer vacation to end, so the world falls into a closed loop, repeating the 17 August – 31 August time stream, seemingly forever. At midnight on the 31st, the whole world resets to the 17th and everything starts over, with no-one but the SOS brigade any the wiser. Before Kyon finds a way to bring closure to the vacation and let them break out of the loop, they have repeated their actions 15,532 times.

The trouble is, the way the writers presented this is to repeat the same program eight times, and by the time they’re done you get the feeling it’s more like 15, 538. It’s not quite a literal repeat, however. Each of the eight episodes changes the scene framing, sequencing, and the costuming. The dialog remains almost identical, and by the fourth episode of the set, you find yourself lip synching along with the characters. In some places this is funny — consider Mikuru’s censored description of what she tried in the way of time travel “…and then I [classified information], but the [classified information]…”, but in others it is just boring.

I suspect the approach will have had a better impact as part of a weekly television series. If it’s been a week since you’ve seen an episode you are less likely to remember the details, and it may take longer for you to figure out what is happening, just like the characters.

Overall, I liked the series, although I never thought it deserved the level of cult admiration the first season engendered — even the dance the characters do in the special credits-free ending on the last DVD has itself become a YouTube phenomenon. There’s room for a lot more stories (there are ten light novels out so far, after all), but the endless eight may have cause the series to jump the shark a couple of years before it needed to.

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