Originally Uploaded December 25th, 2014 There are some shows that you may watch in passing, but aren’t particularly engaged by, and there are others that you may follow to some degree, but then there are the shows that suck you in from start to finish. Where the world and characters feel so coherent and real that you find yourself completely and helplessly immersed. Shows that when they come to their conclusion, make you feel like something is suddenly missing. This is one of those shows.
Hello everyone, Kor here, and today I am reviewing the Melancholy and Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Based on the insanely popular series of light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, It’s spawned many spinoffs, but most notably received an anime with two seasons and a movie, of which I’ll be talking about today. Please keep in mind that I have watched this series twice, both times in the Chronological order, so my review will be based upon that. There really is no series that can quite compare to the feeling of wonderment that this one conveys to me. I mean I’m not the type who binge watches things too often, but with Haruhi it’s near impossible not to. Sci-Fi/Supernatural Slice of Life is rarely done well, yet here it’s perfectly accomplished. The mysterious aspect to the story for once has a pretty major effect on the progression, and the plot has a sense of depth to it. Heck, I could sing praises for how well it succeeds in making an engaging experience all day, but I won’t because that would probably take really long to upload. Now, before I get sidetracked, let’s cover what I consider to be the defining factor in Slice of Lives, the characters.
The cast is actually feels kind of small, sporting 5 mains, though really it’s focused on only two of them in particular, and then there is a near nonexistent cast of supporting characters, many of whom only make one or two passing appearances. For the entirety of show, we follow Kyon, a completely normal high schooler who happens to befriend Haruhi, a girl who unknowingly posses godlike powers, but from whom he and his abnormal club members must hide her ability. Kyon is the perfect character to have at the forefront. He’s far off from the typical dull self-insert character, and is incredibly relatable. His snide remarks are the source of a lot of the show’s humor, and Kyon’s dialogue in general is phenomenally written. He feels like a real guy, and his reactions and inner monologue are largely responsible for this.
Kyon bears a great dynamic with our show’s namesake, Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s hard to say whether love-to-hate or hate-to-love would be the accurate term here, though I’d say both are somewhat applicable. Haruhi is a spoiled, self-important, jealous, and bossy, character, and yet somehow, I loved her. Sure, she has her bad moments, but she has her good ones as well. Her imperfections gave her depth, and made you want to watch her grow and progress. Next up is the ever robotic Yuki Nagato, an artificial life form created by the Data Integration Thought Entity for interaction with humans. She, unlike most of her counterparts, is introverted and rarely shows any display of emotion or care. Yuki might seem like a disinteresting, dull character, but oh is she so much more. From the perspective of someone having finished it a second time, there are so many subtle nods and touches that very gradually develop her character, all of it building up to her brilliant role in the Disappearance film.
Now we have the ever mysterious esper Itsuki Koizumi. Despite being present often, he actually rarely ends up actually doing or saying much, due to the very nature of his character and the many requirements needed for the use of his powers. His sole purpose seems to be to put Kyon on edge, as well as providing the occasional confusing explanation to what’s going on around us. There’s not too much depth to him, though that is kind of the point. I can’t hate him too much either, though, as he’s responsible for some really funny lines and one of my favorite moments in the entirety of the show.
Last, and in my ever-so-humble opinion, most definitely least, we have the quite well endowed and helpless time traveler, Mikuru Asahina. I really couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in her whatsoever. She was even more useless than Koizumi, and her “Classified Information” was annoying as ever. She never stands up for herself, she never develops, and she never really shows any display of having real character depth. There is a particular event that takes place later on that shows she does eventually change, but this was simply told to the audience, we never actually see any of her development take place.
The characters aside, the story holds up pretty well on it’s own as I mentioned earlier. It throws enough curveballs to never get dull or routine. The Melancholy arc is well-paced and satisfying, and the standalone episodes are very enjoyable and oftentimes quite funny. One of my favorites out of those being Live Alive. What I particularly love about the series is how if you pay close attention, there are a lot of subtle character hints littered throughout. However, there are two in the second season that are quite controversial. The infamous Endless 8, and to a lesser degree, the Sigh arc. I’ll talk about them both briefly. Endless 8. Ah, endless 8. A curious bystander might ask what exactly is this “endless 8”? To put in the simplest possible terms, it is an arc in which, due to a time loop, the same day is repeated thousands of times, wherein we see 8 of these repeats. The undiscerning eyes would think each episode exactly the same, and while the story and dialogue generally remains unchanged, all the lines are rerecorded, and it’s all been reanimated, with different shots and small changes. Some are bored by this arc, and others downright hate it, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t mind it all that much, and I think this is partially due to a couple factors. Firstly, I legitimately really enjoy the Endless 8 episode itself. I find it incredibly relaxing and calming, so watching it several times didn’t hurt me too much. Secondly, I was not one of the unlucky few who had to suffer through watching this on a week to week basis for two entire months, so I can’t really understand the rage that others have gone through. And Thirdly, I really respect them for doing this. Do I think it should’ve been shorter? Most certainly. I’d say that 5 episodes at max would have been more than sufficient for it’s goal. I also think the ending, while in character, was ridiculously anti-climactic, and the misleading “hints” were pointless. When I rewatched the series, I watched just the first and last episode and found it to be a signifigantly more enjoyable experience. That said, enjoyable or no, I do believe that it is important to have watched endless 8 in it in it’s entirety without skipping any episodes at least once. How you feel about it will vary from person to person, but it’s a unique experience that you’ll likely never see or experience anything similar to again, and of which you really should formulate your own opinion on. I particularly like it, and many agree with me on this point in that there are a lot of subtleties to it, and the experience of watching Endless 8 in itself plays into making The Disappearance film all the more powerful.
And then there is the Sigh arc. Haruhi and the group are going to make a movie, and it starts off as a typically fun and energetic arc, but gradually degrades into chaos. There is some very important character conflict that IO think had to take place for development, and while this makes for some of my favorite moments in the show during the falling action, I feel the buildup and events that caused it in the first place could have been handled much better. Events that in any other episode would’ve been played off as “funny” were handled dramatically, and the climax felt really odd and out of place. I do think the sigh arc was necessary, but it was still very flawed. All of this builds up to the brilliant Disappearance film. It’s really quite the experience, especially since it clocks in at over two and a half hours, but I’d say it’s for good reason. It takes up a more methodical and slower pace than that of the show, but also gives an even bigger sense of depth and realism. While I would say that particularly for one rewatching it, in the first two hours or so, but moreso in the first hour, there are quite a few moments where it feels like the story has slowed down or come to a halt, and other moments of second-hand-shame that made me hide my face and pull myself out of the immersion. The second time around there’s no sense of mystery any longer to keep you fully engaged for those first two acts, so if you’re watching it the first time around I’d say to really cherish that. However, those final forty minutes, much like Clannad’s final episodes, are what makes the film. Forty minutes of brilliance, that the movie and the series have been building up to. The dialogue is phenomenal, the visuals stunning, the music perfect, everything blending together to create some of the most unforgettable moments in all of media. There is a reason everyone says Endless 8 is worth it, just for the movie. I say the buildup was slow, but I think that the buildup is largely part of the reason that the final arc is so intense.
With the story out of the way, let’s discuss the animation for the series. It’s done by Kyoto Animation, who I’ve come to love for their personalized and fluid character animation, and that’s certainly prevalent here. They really make Haruhi’s bubbly personality come to life, and they use a lot of interesting shot framing and perspective. Be it for more comedic purposes, like with Some Day in the Rain, or for a more subtle touch, like not showing Kyon’s reaction to Koizumi’s question in Endless 8. With season one and two, there is a fairly clear boost in the animation quality, which is pretty logical due to their being a three year break between the airing of the them. The differences aren’t major, but mainly consist of some more detailed animation and much better shading. The differences with the film however, are pretty noticeable, though that should be obvious. The Disappearance was a theatrical film, and as such has a much higher level of quality. In the original series, there were moments of pure excellence, where the animation was smooth and near-flawless, such as the famous Live Alive sequence, and the disappearance is loaded with those, particularly during the climax, which is almost entirely that. It’s even more detailed and crisp, and the use of lighting is spectacular, and overall it really helps to convey the atmosphere. My only issue I found is that while it didn’t stand out to me on my first watching session, now I noticed there is some use of CG in both the film and the show. Though it does look somewhat dated, oddly enough it somehow ‘works’ and I never found it too out of place.
The sound as well contributes more than I’d expect to my enjoyment. The series has some very over-the-top themes, which is actually pretty fitting for Haruhi, and while I think that they could be a little too in-your-face at times, they were incredibly memorable, and I found myself humming some of the tunes on occasion, much to my surprise. There’s a broad range of instruments used, which serves to distinguish each song on it’s own, and within the songs themselves they make use of a variety of different styles. A groovy trumpet, methodical piano, comedic drums, dramatic strings, and countless more, there’s quite a bit of depth here, and it makes me very reminiscent of the Hey Arnold soundtrack, which was similarly jazzy and broad in range. And of course you can’t ignore the fantastic vocal songs, the OPs and EDs, as well as ‘God Knows’. All of them are fantastic, but my personal favorite is the very first Opening, as it really encapsulates the aforementioned feeling of wonderment I love so much about Haruhi. The soundtrack to The Disappearance takes this already fantastic standard and goes above and beyond it. An even broader, more engrossing orchestral score that covers so many emotions fantastically, along with expanded and improved versions the themes we already loved so much in the show. I won’t dwell on this too long, as I’ve already talked about it previously, but If I had the opportunity to see any one score live in an orchestra, this one would certainly be up there.
On the other side of the audio, how about the dub and sub of the series? Well both are pretty darn good. Crispin Freeman did a fantastic job on Kyon, which is important considering how that’s where most of the dialogue is coming from. He expressed a really nice range of emotions and honestly is on par and perhaps even better than the original voice actor, Sugita Tomozaku. Wendee Lee did a good job as Haruhi, though you could definitely see that she improved as the show went on, and initially her speech was a little stilted, particularly during the first arc, but that issue was fazed out pretty quickly. However, I don’t think she can really compare to Aya Hirano’s fantastic role. I really can’t judge it much as I don’t speak Japanese, but I’m pretty sure about this. I did really love Johnny Yong Bosch’s interpretation of Koizumi, and I didn’t have any particular problems with the fittingly robotic voice for Nagato. One voice I really disliked in particular was the dubbed voice for Mikuru. It sounded like she was trying to talk an octave to high for her range and ended up whispering her lines, and it just made a character I already found annoying even more so. Overall I would say the sub is better, but the dub is still good enough that if you like watching things dubbed it’s certainly worth a watch, even if only for Crispin Freeman. Haruhi is a franchise that’s become insanely big, and for good reason. It’s a roller coaster ride of craziness, and is one you certainly won’t forget any time soon. Unique and engaging, for all it’s flaws it’s still a fantastic adventure and one I wouldn’t recommend anyone miss out on. I give The Melancholy and Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya the conglomerate score of a 9/10. My recommendation: A Must Watch.