The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 14 – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

This week’s column looks at a series which has seen many incarnations, starting off as a series of novels, then becoming a manga, several anime TV series (first in 2006, then extended in 2009), spin-offs, and a feature film (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya in 2010). It has also produced one of the most popular anime characters. It is arguable that this series fits in the “Magical Girl” genre (see No. 4, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), but with one key difference – the girl does not know she is magical.

The story is narrated by a schoolboy known simply as “Kyon”, a nickname he does not care for but he cannot shake off. One for the first day of attending his new high school he encounters fellow student, a girl, who introduces herself to the class thusly: “Haruhi Suzumiya. From East Middle School. I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travellers, sliders or espers here, come join me. That is all.”

After trying and disliking all the clubs in the school, Kyon suggests Haruhi should form her own club, which she does, modestly calling it the “Save the world by Overloading it fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade”, or “SOS Brigade” for short, and decides to investigate odd events. She soon drags Kyon into it as a member, along with three other students: quiet bookworm Yuki Nagato, timid and buxom Mikuru Asahina, and mysterious, constantly grinning transfer student Itsuki Koizumi.

The quintet gets along swimmingly, but soon the new members unveil something to Kyon. They are all the sort of people Haruhi wants to meet. Yuki is an artificial human made by an all-powerful alien being called the “Data Overmind”; Mikuru is a time traveller from the future; and Itsuki is an esper working for a group simply called “The Agency”. All three of them are keen on keeping a close eye on Haruhi for their own purposes, because it turns out that Haruhi somehow has the power to change reality. She can create or destroy anything and everything. As a result Yuki, Mikuru and Itsuki are constantly trying to prevent Haruhi from getting upset or bored, while also trying to stop her from discovering her powers, because if Haruhi did something too rash, she could end up destroying the universe on a whim. Kyon thus ends up helping the others in trying to pretend that Haruhi is living a perfectly normal life, when it is anything but.

In terms of plus points, the characters are the main attraction. Simply the concept of Haruhi is a good one – a superpowered human, who has no idea she is superpowers, and very destructive ones at that. Kyon is also a rather amusing narrator, always put upon by Haruhi, while lusting of Mikuru and being annoyed by Itsuki’s smirk. Each of the characters has their own little foibles, are three-dimensional, and are funny.

Now it should be pointed out that there are some issues with the series. Firstly, when the series was first transmitted the episodes were not broadcast in chronological order. However, on the DVD releases you do have the option of playing them in either chronological order or broadcast order.

The other issue is one storyline called the “Endless Eight”. Set in the last two weeks of the school summer holiday, the Brigade discover they are trapped in a time loop which Haruhi has unwittingly created and that they cannot break out of until they figure out how to make the holiday end perfectly. Otherwise they go back to the beginning with no memory of what happened before. This was originally just a short story, and was only two chapters long when it was adapted for the manga. But in the anime someone must have thought that the reason why it is called the “Endless Eight” is not because it is an endless eighth month of the year, but because the viewers needed to see the exact same scenario for eight episodes. That is eight episodes of the exact same plot, with almost the exact same dialogue and animation, with the plot coming out incredibly slowly to the point of infuriating. It is therefore advised that you should watch the “Endless Eight” very slowly, or just watch only one or two episodes rather than the whole thing.

Other than some issues with the way it was adapted, the rest of the series is great fun, as are the other incarnations in book form and feature film.

Both series are available in Region 2 DVD. The first series was released by the now defunct Beez Entertainment label. The second series and the film are released by Manga Entertainment.