A few months ago I saw an animated GIF on some website. It was a terrified-looking girl in a bunny outfit shooting an AK-47. Clearly it was from some hokey cartoon, and I dismissed it out of hand.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is one of those titles that goes a long way towards validating the often-insipid world of anime blogging and the overwhelmingly-crass world of imageboards like 4chan and iichan. Were it not for sites Blog 好き and the blogs that it chronicles (Anime なの didn’t exist at the time), I would have never given this series a real chance.
Based upon a book, not a comic-book or video-game, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had a lot of potential depth to draw upon from its inception. Add to this some competent voice talent, an excellent production company, and a budget to give them all time to get the job done right, and you get a truly top-shelf series.
There were some aspects to this series that raised an eyebrow from time to time, and gave some viewers pause. A few of these points turned it into a love-it-or-hate-it experience, and some folks have taken the opportunity to declare it “overrated.” Of special note:
- Does the world really need yet another cartoon about the wacky antics of a Japanese schoolgirl? I mean really, isn’t that market saturated by now? Apparently not; the consumer appetite for that sub-premise appears insatiable.
- The episodes are not in direct chronological order; the 14th and final episode, for example, takes place months before the first episode. All told, I felt this re-ordering was justified.
- The break-up of episodes interrupts some cliffhanger endings; the 4th episode, for example, ends with a murder but the 5th episode skips right back to the daily-school-life plotline. I can see why this would aggravate some folks.
- Lots of anime fandom in-jokes, perhaps too many. After the first few episodes, I wasn’t sure if this was actually a good story or just an opportunity for the production studio to play to as many clichés and crazy fanboy fetishes as humanly-possible. The gratuitous and clearly-unnecessary inclusion of bunny-girl, maid, nurse, and waitress costumes, the stereotypical quiet girl, the occasional addition of some girl taking her clothes off, and so forth started to grind on me by episode 6.
Most other criticisms of the mechanics of this series I consider to be largely groundless.
The blog coverage
The appearance of this show amongst a rather wide variety of anime blogs (the なの / the 好き) was of broad and sometimes deep. The Anime Blog Stock Exchange currently shows it in the number one position, leading its closest competitor by a healthy margin. Unfortunately, it seems that most coverage of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has centered around the fanboy-pandering aspects of the show, lauding or lamenting the most recent episode’s choice of fanservice method. A few posts have shown the full gamut of coverage-quality, including a breakdown of the instruments used in episode 12’s rock & roll performance (excellent) alongside a play-by-play critique of the cleavage shots and such (sad) here.
On the positive side
- As I mentioned above, the production quality is excellent; Kyoto Animation pulled no punches here.
- The character designs are appealing and reflective of the underlying characters
- Aside from school uniforms (which must remain the same from day to day by their nature), the characters in this series actually change their clothes. Many series skimp on this little detail in an effort to reduce production costs (recycle those cells, edit one scene into another without re-drawing everything, et cetera).
- Hey wow, these character blink.
- Hey wow, passers-by in the background aren’t just part of the matte painting; they move too.
- The pop-philosophy is handled with some delicacy, and we aren’t bludgeoned over the head with it unduly. As with Ergo Proxy, there are issues of the nature of reality in relationship to the individual observer, but in this series people don’t get quite so hung up on it.
- The story actually treats the viewer like somebody with at least half a brain in his head.
- The protagonist (Kyon) isn’t some totally-worthless doormat like in so many recent high-school-life shows. He’s got some doormat to him when compared to the steamroller that is Haruhi, but he’s got some fight to him.
- Easy as it is to pigeon-hole these characters (Kyon is cynical, Haruhi is bullheaded, Mikuru is timid, Yuki is detached, Itsuki is amiable), there are glimmers of depth in the presentation of each of them. This is done tastefully, unlike the heavy-handed efforts in Star Trek to paint Mr. Spock as having emotions, for example.
- Excellent ending sequence, complete with a silly dance.
- It has a good ending. Very few series have an ending that I find to be satisfactory. This applies to novels, movies, cartoons, live-action series, you name it. It’s hard to write a good ending, and the way the chronology was tampered with helped bring everything together properly, totally nullifying the “skipping around sucks” argument in my judgment.
How it holds up
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has some ups and downs, some ebbs and flows, and while I always recognized the excellent production value that went into crafting the show, there were times when I held some serious doubts that continuing to watch it would be worthwhile. The characters were appealing enough to keep me coming back for more, long enough to get hooked by the almost-subtle plot hiding behind all the over-the-top silliness of some of their antics. Upon further reflection, I realize that my doubts were largely in reaction to how superlatively-awesome the first couple of episodes seemed; how could they possibly keep it up? Where could they possibly be taking this story? A dip in my satisfaction with the show was inevitable as it shifted from “grab audience attention” mode to “get on with the story” mode.
If you only watch two anime series that came out this spring, make one of the Haruhi Suzumiya no Yuutsu. It will likely stand out as the best series of the year, all told. A+