Haruhi Suzumiya was huge in the late 2000s. Its fanbase was so fervent that they put off some potential viewers, while furthermore it's one of those breakout shows that reaches people who don't normally watch anime. However it faded after the second season in 2009 and particularly the "what the hell were they thinking?" Endless Eight arc. It doesn't get talked about much these days, although that might change with this year's spin-off series The Vanishing of Nagato Yuki-chan.
I'd never seen it. I bought the DVDs and now I have, although still queued up are the 2010 movie, the comedy net animations and of course The Vanishing of Nagato Yuki-chan. I even have all eleven volumes (to date) of the original light novel series, although goodness knows when I'll get around to reading them.
- Would I recommend the TV series? Yes, I would, although only on the level of "quite good and often very interesting". The show's central idea is unique, but I'm afraid I also see it as fundamentally anti-drama. All the show's style, originality and ideas can't entirely compensate. It's certainly full of tricks, with the most famous being the 2006 series being broadcast in a non-chronological order that will take an audience several episodes to wrap their heads around. There is no single correct order for watching this show. Options include:
- (a) the light novels' publication order
- (b) broadcast order (2006)
- (c) chronologically ordered 2009 broadcast, with the season two episodes slotted in place
(d) DVD order
- In book order, splitting up anthologies:
- a01. b02+03+05+10+13+14. c01. d02. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (6 episodes)
- a02. b24-28. c07. d11. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya (5 episodes)
- a03. b04. c02. d03. The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya (1 episode)
- a04. b15. c03. d09. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody (1 episode)
- a05. b07. c04. d04. Mysterique Sign (1 episode)
- a06. b06+08. c05. d05. Remote Island Syndrome (2 episodes)
- a07. b29. c12. d12. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (movie)
- a08. b16-23. c06. d10. Endless Eight (8 episodes)
- a09. b11. c10. d07. The Day of Sagittarius (1 episode)
- a11. b12. c09. d08. Live Alive (1 episode)
a12. b01. c08. d01. The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00 (1 episode)
- Original to the anime, but written by the light novels' author:
b09. c11. d06. Someday in the Rain (1 episode)
- Not adapted:
- a10. Snowy Mountain Syndrome
- a13. Love at First Sight
- a14. Where Did the Cat Go?
- a15. The Melancholy of Mikuru Asahina
- a16. The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya
- a17. Editor in Chief, Full Speed Ahead!
- a18. Wandering Shadow
- a19. The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya
a20. The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya
...and if that hurt your head, think how I felt drawing it up.
If you don't know too much about this show, I'd recommend the original broadcast order. I suspect it's more interesting, pummelling you with mysteries and then keeping you in suspense for the answers. It also solves the specific problem that the first novel (Melancholy) has been adapted into a six-part story that sometimes gets a bit boring, but tells you all you need to know about Haruhi's world and has an emotionally worthwhile ending. The 2006 season thus spread that out across all fourteen weeks, interspersed with shorter one-off stories. I think that's clever. That's undoubtedly a huge part of what grabbed people.
That said, though, I think chronological order is underrated too. Take The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00, for instance, which is an amateurish film-within-a-film directed by Haruhi in c07. Original broadcast order puts it first. That's ballsy, which is this show all over. It's attention-grabbing.
However personally I enjoyed it more in its proper place, after I'd seen Kyon, Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki get put through the wringer making it. Kyon's snarky narration is more meaningful. Itsuki getting his lines wrong now has a reason. The Mikuru Beam (!!!) making it into the film is funnier, as are Haruhi's occasional offstage directions to her actors.
Maybe the solution is to watch the series twice? Watching it in broadcast order might make you want to do that anyway.
So, what's it about? I'm going to do something almost impossible when it comes to Haruhi Suzumiya and try to answer that in a spoiler-friendly way. Well, for a while, anyway. I'll give warning of spoilers. I want this review to be safe for anyone who's planning on watching in broadcast order.
(a) Haruhi Suzumiya is a hyperactive, borderline sociopathic schoolgirl who finds the world boring. She wants aliens, time travellers or espers and she wants them now. In the meantime, she's going to bully everyone around her into being stooges in her demented ideas of entertainment.
Oh, and the show's title isn't what I'd been expecting. It sounds arty. It sounds like the kind of thing that's in Hungarian in black-and-white and has a four hour running time. In fact, all that negativity (melancholy, sigh, boredom, etc.) is because Haruhi is moody and grumpy. If she's in a bad mood with the world, bad things happen.
Fan opinions thus vary violently on Haruhi. Is she funny or intolerable? Does she have a well-hidden heart of gold, or is she just a cruel, selfish monster who inexplicably gets a free pass from everyone? (Answer: both, but it's harder to see her character development in 2006 broadcast order.) She's the show's engine, obviously. Almost everything she says and does is outrageous. Her sexual harassment of Mikuru could reasonably be called molestation and she could only be argued to get away with it because: (a) she's not male, (b) she has no modesty and thinks nothing of wearing those outfits herself, and (c) it's not even close to being in the Top Ten Outrageous Things Done By Haruhi.
(b) Kyon is the nearest thing she has to a best friend, i.e. she bullies him and he thinks she's an abomination without common sense or decency. He doesn't even like her. Nonetheless before long everyone's realised that she doesn't like it when Kyon seems to be getting too friendly with another girl, even though Haruhi's incapable of opening up emotionally and any hypothetical feelings Kyon might have for Haruhi must be buried deep under his laziness, hostility and self-preservation.
He's also the sarcastic narrator. He splits the fanbase too, although not as much as Haruhi.
(c, d, e) Mikuru has big boobs and is Haruhi's hapless victim. (Haruhi has a theoretical understanding of the concept of sex appeal and thinks Mikuru should provide it.) In contrast, Yuki and Itsuki are deadpan, but in different ways. Yuki says so little that in one episode she doesn't speak at all and her voice actress goes uncredited. Itsuki, on the other hand, smiles a lot and agrees with everything anyone says. If he's shocked and horrified, you might detect a micro-flinch. He works hard on being super-agreeable, but other characters have been known to call him creepy.
Spoilers are coming.
If you're going to watch this show, stop reading now. You'll have a better (if more confusing) viewing experience. It's your last chance. Go on, bugger off.
Spoilers start here.
The twist in the premise is that all those things Haruhi's looking for are real. Aliens, time travellers and espers? There's one of each of those among her friends. The reason for this is that Haruhi is a reality warper of unknown and possibly unlimited abilities. She just doesn't know it. She thinks she's an ordinary schoolgirl. One of Itsuki's theories is that she's God and this might even be the most likely of the available hypotheses. Have meta-humans gathered around her because she needed watching, or because she unconsciously rewrote the universe to be more to her liking?
She might even have destroyed and recreated the universe at the end of one story arc. The other characters aren't sure.
In one sense, this is awesome. You're best friends with Cthulhu and you can't let him realise there's anything odd about him. I love this idea. However it does tend to lead to undramatic stories. The regulars are so powerful that it's hard to find a genuine threat that could slow them down. Stories are liable to be fake-outs and/or never really taken seriously by us from the beginning. (My favourite episode is Boredom, which subverts that by being about nothing more important than baseball and is very funny.)
Haruhi is a non-stop threat to everything, obviously, but with her the resolution almost by definition has to be anticlimactic. Even when her latest whims and moods are endangering the universe, the story's resolution is going to be just Something That Keeps Haruhi Happy.
I'm oversimplifying, of course. There's a lot you can do in this framework. The show has a ton of imagination. However, fundamentally, what I'm saying is true.
I want to review all the stories individually. I won't, but you could easily do that. They've got that much variety and unpredictability in them. I'll settle for pointing out that I thought Remote Island felt a little hollow and that Sigh (where they make a movie) was the most successful multi-part story. However some discussion of Endless Eight is mandatory. It's the story arc that broke the franchise. Fans abandoned the show. It's a time loop arc, in which Haruhi keeps sending the universe through the same two-week period. Again and again. And again. Even the regulars' memories get reset, so they don't know what's going on and have to realise afresh each time. There is a way in which they could have got someone to fill them in at the start of each loop so that they could play it like Groundhog Day, but no one ever asks. It's basically the same episode repeated on a loop, but with different clothes each time.
Personally I liked it. I can't imagine rewatching it, but it's hypnotic. You're watching for the tiny things, for any sign that our heroes might notice something new in a familiar scene. You're looking for subliminal subtleties. You're looking for Haruhi's regret. You feel the repetitions in a way you wouldn't get from just being told about them. Also, no one ever mentions it, but towards the end it looked to me as if time itself was breaking down and the space-time fabric was in danger of collapse.
I think I missed a lot by knowing too much about this show in advance, but I still enjoyed it. The storytelling is fearless to a fault. The music is an asset and often punches up scenes. I like the Haruhi-Kyon relationship, with its tiny, occasional hints of something more. I love the premise, which when mulling episodes over afterwards can even make them more enjoyable in hindsight than they were at the time. It's a juicy show to think about. It's loopy, sometimes mind-bending SF that's been compared with absurdist comedies like Monty Python.
I just think it's a bit scattershot. It takes its concept in all kinds of offbeat directions, not all equally successful. I'd be first in the queue to watch more of it, though.