6 October 2007
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. 14 episodes. There's not a whole lot more I can say about it in summary - it is difficult to categorise this show into any one genre. It contains some subtle elements of parody, but it is also a romance story, a slice of life, and a sci-fi fantasy action series. Perhaps the best way to put it is that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is every anime you've ever seen rolled into one, twisted into a donut and then sprinkled with AWESOME.
The first episode will likely leave most people wondering what the hell is going on. It's TERRIBLE, but that's exactly the point. It's basically the home-made movie of the adventures of Mikuru Asahina that the Brigade make later in the series, and while you're not aware of it on the first watch, it actually really sets the stage for the entire show. Everything about it was really very impressive and convincing, from the embarrassing home-made special effects, to the shaky focus and camera work, to the deliberately poor acting, stilted choreography and mispronunciations. They even include snapping ambience and microphone hiss - it takes real skill to make something that deliberately bad. The attention to detail was astounding. Quite purposeful B-grade, or maybe even C-grade, movie fun.
The story is told from the view of Kyon, whose mental running commentary and narration is as dry as it is amusing. It rather helps that Tomokazu Sugita (who also plays Gintoki from Gintama and Mayama from Honey and Clover) really delivered a fabulous performance. I do believe he may be one of my new favourite voice actors. Actually, all of the performances from the voice actors were unusually impressive. Can't speak for the dub, of course, and will consider it heresy if anyone dares ask. Either way, that particular style of voice over is a story-telling technique that isn't often seen, and even more rarely used effectively, but it's hard to imagine The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya without it.
The story-telling style is good, but what about the story itself? I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest. It really was a very original premise, even though it initially seemed like a very standard anime. And the characters were just fantastic. It was a small but diverse cast, and even though you wind up knowing next to nothing about most of the characters within the series (for example, by the end of it you don't even know Kyon's last name, nor the name of his sister, and very little about the history and backgrounds of most of the characters), you do know their personalities quite well indeed. Actually, if I may digress, I found the manner in which The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fed information to the viewer to be a nice change. It's given to you mostly in clues and brief asides in conversation. It was a rather nice change from the usual approach of assuming that the audience is stupid and must be spoon-fed everything in a long explanation or flashback. And there's a certain appeal in not knowing everything, too. It reminds me a little bit of how much cooler Boba Fett was before you saw what was behind the helmet.
Visually, the entire show is very crisp and colourful, but the real spectacle is the animation. It is really very amazing for this series. The amount of gestural animation that is included is surprising, and the effort spent on really mundane movements adds unexpected shine to ordinary shots. The most notable of the animated achievements is, of course, the much-vaunted 'Haruhi' dance in the end credits that spread like wildfire across the internet. If you haven't seen it, it can be found here. You shall be hypnotized.
The thing that really makes the series stand out, however, is the editing. Within the episodes themselves it is punchy and interesting, employing a variety of styles. More telling, however, is the completely spastic order the story is told in. Cutting back and forward in time in a story is a pretty common practice, but this series takes it to a whole new level, to the point where you're tempted to sift through the clues to try watching the series again in the order of the actual timeline, though admittedly it wouldn't be nearly so satisfying a final episode nor quite as epic. The cinematography also was really inspired. Some of the shots they chose were truly unexpected, but highly effective, and any anime that includes any use of a fish-eye lens gets immediate props.
Ultimately, the entire 14-episode series just seemed to be a real labour of love. I dare say that everyone who worked on it likely worked themselves half to death, as the attention to detail and the number of hidden elements within is mind-boggling. I'm still finding new details on my third rewatch! You OWE it to this production team you've never met to at least give the series a chance. And despite it's slightly eclectic nature, this will probably soon become one of those animes that everybody has seen, much like Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion, so if you consider yourself a (respectable) anime fan this is one boat that you won't want to miss. And heck, why would you? It's only fourteen episodes. It takes longer to watch the original Star Wars films.
Overall score: 985,777 / 1,000,000