One of the aims of this blog was for me to write at length about things dear to my heart. And review TV shows. Which I have been doing with a few currently airing ones, as you may have noticed from my fortnightly Walking Dead catchups and my thoughts on the latest RWBY episodes. But while reviews generate the most interest immediately after an episode is fresh and new, I find that better reviews are generated from entertainment you’re more familiar with. By which I mean if you find my reviews a bit less insightful than they could be, this will probably be slightly better. Because it’s on my first ever anime series, and one of my favourites to this day, The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya. And I’m doing it now because I’m rewatching the show for the first time in two years (and following along with r/anime on it, posting a bit timidly as I’m far more comfortable typing into the ether). I’m just going to do as many episodes as I feel fit comfortably into my review style. Should only be direct spoilers for the episodes listed but I’m going to talk a bit about how it fits into the overall story so I wouldn’t read if you’re just watching this for the first time and want a completely blind experience.
First off, I had a huge dilemma upon starting to watch this and it’s the natural one – sub or dub? I had actually never watched Haruhi in sub before so I was keen to try it but just hearing Crispin Freeman’s opening line: ‘Asking somebody how long they’ve believed in Santa Claus is so stupid’ that I couldn’t resist giving that another go. I had chosen to watch Nagato Yuki-san in dub because I was too familiar with the dub actors for the franchise last year and I thought it’d be the same this year. However, I started comparing scenes from sub to dub as I was watching and started to get a flavour for the Japanese voice cast. In particular (and I’d known this ever since watching the first few episodes of Nagato Yuki-san in sub), Aya Hirano as Haruhi fits so perfectly as I’ve become more familiar and like other hyperactive Japanese VAs like Taiga/Minorin in Toradora or Yuki from Angel Beats. This is not that I don’t hear Wendee Lee fitting her as well, but as I began to watch more and more sub and now I’m basically just doing the entirety of this rewatch in sub. I may go for Disappearance in dub though, not certain on that yet.
That first episode is a classic – it wasn’t the first thing I saw of Haruhi, I saw the Adventures of Mikuru Asahina first, but it remains a good point to enter the series on, and one that will explain to you a lot more what the series is about, kind of. What I saw first in Adventures really confused me and I wanted to know more, I think with starting the series with Melancholy you do lose some of that, but the rest of the order (chronological rather than season 1 broadcast) makes a lot more sense as opposed to being needlessly confusing. And on that point that episode 1 explains to you what the series will be about – it doesn’t really. Haruhi is presented as a weird girl sure, but nothing out of the ordinary happens to her or anyone else in episode 1, all her eccentricities are laid bare by either her actions or exposition from Taniguchi. And she creates the SOS brigade by dragging in two girls who happened to be in the right place at the right time. It could do more to indicate what sort of a crazy show this is going to be, it has the OP and the clues that since Haruhi is so obsessed with finding aliens but ultimately, it needs to get the viewer to watch episode 2 and it’s largely doing that on the quality of Kyon’s sarcastic narration – which is top-class in either sub or dub. If they get past that, then they should be hooked.
Second episode is where things start to reveal themselves, and I love the way they do this. In the second half of the episode that is. What goes on first is a certain computer club scene. Specifically where Haruhi uses extreme blackmail on the school’s computer club so that the SOS brigade can steal a computer for use in future plots. As someone who’s built his own computer, hearing the geeks pitifully plead for Haruhi not to take the computer cut pretty deep. Haruhi comes across abnormally awfully here and it’s quite controversial I’d say… Sexual harassment is a pretty serious thing to be putting on a high schooler through blackmail and Haruhi cares not one bit about the desires of Mikuru or the computer geeks, just herself. She’s always self-centred but this is slightly beyond the pale even for her. It’s not a good look for the title character just in the second episode. There’s an argument that it’s part of the whirlwind experience that is Haruhi’s character, who I normally see as adorably audacious rather than an outright menace. I want to be generous to the scene, because it’s an enjoyable scene and it has significance to the plot, I just have a couple of reservations about her treatment of others here, which just goes a bit too far compared to how she normally acts, later on in Melancholy and in the following episodes she starts to show a shade more respect to non-SOS humans, maybe that’s because of the effect of her spending more time with… what she assumes… are humans that she likes. Maybe. The interesting part (after those bunny costumes make their first appearance) is when Yuki approaches Kyon, asking him back to her apartment and reveals herself as the Data Integration Thought Entity, or just a robot alien who’s interested in Haruhi Suzumiya.
That continues over to the next episode with Yuki doing what I now recognise as a style that got popularised later on by Monogatari to explain through exposition that Haruhi is God and her party is interested in keeping her sweet so that she does not unwittingly remake the world in a way that would be bad for her. And then, on an outing on OFFICIAL SOS BUSINESS to find aliens, time travellers and espers, Mikuru reveals herself as the second of those and says pretty much the same thing as Yuki. The interactions between the characters begin to really show themselves at this stage as Koizumi joins the brigade and the real 5 is formed. Particularly nice here is Haruhi’s reaction and frustration to not being paired up with Kyon again and again, indicating the first hint that I’d noticed that she actually had a thing for him. And then at the end, Koizumi continues the theme and tells Kyon about his branch, the espers. The theory that it was Haruhi that brought everyone into existence is bandied about and it’s certainly one that makes the show interesting but at this point no one has really shown any real proof of their abilities.
That would change by episode 4 though (and if you haven’t seen that and you’ve somehow read down this far then BACK OUT RIGHT NOW), as Kyon is forced to have a showdown with the awesome yet deadly Ryoko Asakura, one of my favourite characters in the franchise because of her sweet smile and her uncanny way of presenting herself. This is easily the best episode so far – suddenly, from the relative safety of the first three episodes, danger suddenly presents itself with one line, the dolce, unheralded line of ‘so I’m going to kill you and see how Miss Suzumiya reacts’. That’s heart-stopping, and it was the first time I really really took full notice of what I was watching and fell in love with the show. This show was utterly incredible from that moment on, from Nagato and Asakura dueling it out with each other over Kyon’s life and eventually, sadly, Asakura is taken away from us for the remainder of the series. I really wanted her back and this was a key part of my enjoyment of Nagato Yuki-chan, that I got to see and hear more of her sweetly saying everything, and in fact, I was so suspicious and tense around her then, even if that show is basically a ‘what if the Haruhi universe had no supernatural elements’ show. But Asakura really made for an effective, unexpected and affable villain, even though she was under Yuki and couldn’t really have gone any further as a villain realistically, of course Yuki would turn her off after she so blatantly countermanded the mission statement of what not only the Data Entity, but the other powers involved were trying to achieve. I think that Asakura had made a fatal error, if she had succeeded in killing Kyon, I think Haruhi would have remade the world instead – she’s only inches away from doing it at other times and that was just when Kyon wasn’t returning her affections. Maybe that new world would have had Asakura as a senior part of the Entity. Maybe it wouldn’t have. Ryoko miscalculated. In more ways that just underestimating Yuki’s abilities.
The remainder of the episode is spent finding out that time travel works too. Because older Mikuru shows up and (lewdly) shows Kyon that she has a mole on her breast, as identification. This will of course be of great humiliation to the younger Miss Asahina when Kyon asks her about it. And he can only answer with ‘classified information’. I kind of wish he did. Part 4 of Melancholy is definitely the best yet and where this show really starts getting amazing, but for more of that, I’ll catch up at another day.