Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 2 Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, September 24, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adding more stories to the first, the world of Haruhi is expanded, Groundhog Day style.

What They Say
Haruhi continues her search for exciting ways to keep her world from being boring. Unfortunately, for Kyon and the rest of the SOS Brigade, they are forced to go along for the ride. On the night of the Tanabata Star Festival, Kyon is transported back in time by Mikuru Asahina to what may be the source of what led Haruhi to search for aliens, time travelers and espers. In the last two weeks of summer vacation, Haruhi leads the brigade on a dizzying list of summer time activities that leads the brigade into experiencing what they think is dejavu but they're actually re-living the same two weeks of summer over and over again. It's up to Kyon to figure out what's missing to get them out of this endless loop. As fall rolls around, everyone prepares for the school arts festival, but Haruhi isn't content with their class's survey project. She, instead, hatches her own plan for the SOS Brigade to film and screen their own movie. Step behind the camera to see what went on to create the cinematic 'masterpiece' that is The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00.

The Review!

Audio:
This release has a decent pair of audio tracks as there is the English and Japanese stereo tracks encoded at 192kbps. The show is pretty heavily based around dialogue and normal slice of life stuff so it's not a show that really goes all that strongly in any particular direction. There are some good moments throughout when it comes to placement and directionality across the forward soundstage as there are several characters on screen at a time and a good back and forth, but that's generally aqbout the extent of the work out overall. Because of that, it's definitely a plus that dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
 
Video:
Originally airing in 2009 mixed in with a rebroadcast of the original episodes, this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The fourteen episodes are spread across four discs in a 4/4/3/3 format which should give them plenty of space. Unfortunately, while the bitrates are certainly high at times, the show has a very poor look during many occasions. The most obvious from the first episode is a scene with Mikuru and Kyon sitting together on a bench in the park in the night and the backgrounds are blocking heavily. There are a lot of scenes like this throughout and they all do this to different levels. Gradients are a problem as well as when they're visible, they show off a lot of blocking and noise in them as well. Looking at the encoding overall, it's pretty disappointing for a show that's just a year old and is of such high profile.
 
Packaging:
This set comes in an oversized clear keepcase with hinges inside of it to hold the discs. The hinge system is pretty weak and cheap, causing the discs to not latch properly and the whole thing just feels shoddy with how it opens and the ease of getting discs in and out. When it comes to the artwork, the front cover has a decent shot of Haruhi looking all positive set against a colorful star filled background with the logo along the bottom. I'm still disliking that they're calling this a second season when it's just an expanded first season. The front cover looks good and certainly highlights the lead character well. The back cover is very busy with a ton of text. Far too much text in fact. Done at a slight angle, they do make the push at the top that this takes place in the middle of the original series at least. There are three different colored blocks of text in the middle that goes over the shows concept for each of the arcs and then it spends the time listing all the episodes by number and title. Which is exceedingly pointless considering there are only really three titles that have multiple parts. The shots from the show are small but decent and there's a good listing of the discs features, what extras there are and the CD contents as well. The remainder is given over to the production credits and the technical grid which covers all the details well with no inaccuracies. There's no artwork on the reverse side here nor are there any inserts. The whole package is just put together in an odd way that in several areas doesn't make much sense.
 
Menu:
The menus for the release are nicely done with character headshots through the large center strip of the main screen where they're all done in different colors. With a bit of upbeat music and colors that pop with the headshots, it's an appealing looking cover that stands out nicely. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward with a nice little H to the corner of the selector so you know where we are. Episode selection has its own submenu and everything is quick and easy to navigate. The only frustration is the extras submenu which has a couple of screens for them since there's a fair amount, but it should all be on on menu with somewhat smaller text. Or laid out so all the similar pieces are together instead of spread out across each of the discs. The first two discs read our players' language presets while the last two did not, defaulting to English with sign/song subtitles.
 
Extras:
Similar to the previous set when it comes to the extras, there's a whole lot here and a lot of it is pretty much fluff that I have to admit I have almost no interest in. A lot of behind the scenes material is here with the location scouting material and the music video. Clean opening and closings, promos spots and commercials along with more ASOS Brigade material. It's all fun stuff dealing with the voice actors but it's rather weak in general unless you're invested in the voice actors, which I admit I'm not. There's a decent amount of material here though for those that are.
 
Also included is a CD, following through with the number of CDs we got with the previous release, which contains the opening and closing songs.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya came out back in 2006 and we got the release here afterwards, I found myself enjoying the show a lot and the quirkiness of it as well as the very appealing Kyoto Animation for the series. The character of Haruhi is one that has a lot of appeal, but it was the supposed supporting cast which became far more interesting as we had our psychic, our alien and our time traveler all working with a seemingly normal guy to keep Haruhi placated so she didn't inadvertently end up destroying the entire universe. When talk of Haruhi returning to the air, a lot of people suspected a second season. With the way the show ran both a chronological order and broadcast order, a second season following that wasn't out of the question.
 
What they did instead was surprisingly different and refreshing in its own way, though its execution left a whole lot to be desired. With the original airing telling the story it did, the fourteen new episodes created ended up being mixed into the original material to fill in some of the blanks with more things going on in the Haruhi-verse while what we saw before played out. There's a lot of room to play with so there's definitely a lot to like with this idea of slipping in a few side stories to the larger narrative. The opening episode of this set does just that as Mikuru ends up bringing Kyon back in time a few years to when Haruhi was a bit younger and Kyon has his first meeting with her, as well as meeting the older Mikuru who explains a bit of what's going. Time travel is fun in general so having one that sets up events for the future by making it in the past lets you play with that whole conundrum nicely. And a younger Haruhi is poitively cute to watch.
 
Where the show runs into its biggest problem with this additional set of episodes is the eight episode story arc called the Endless Eight. It's an intriguing story arc to be certain if you're really into direction, visuals and execution, but it can be really difficult otherwise. The core concept is that during the last two weeks of summer vacation, Haruhi has decided that she wants to spend that time doing everything fun that you're supposed to during a summer vacation. And naturally she's wrapping everyone else in her plans and going whole hog with festivals, movies, bowling, karaoke and so much more. Kyon does feel pressured by a lot of it but he's gotten used to Haruhi's ways in the time since meeting her.
 
What the catch to all of this is that at the end of each episode, the show reboots back to the beginning and goes through the motions again as everyone is caught in this loop of Haruhi's creation. She's trying to experience everything that summer has to offer and is repeating this over and over and over. While this might be fun for an episode or two, it runs for eight episodes as Kyon slowly starts experiencing deja vu and realizes everything is off. There are little differences to be had in how it plays out, but the bulk of the dialogue is the same in them with Kyon starting to put the deja vu bits together more clearly in his head with the internal monologue.
 
What allows it to work a lot of the time is that, if you enjoy the way things are put together, the eight episodes showcase the different ways you can essentially take the same material and animate it in very different ways. Some of the episodes use a different visual design to it with the way the lighting works, colors and so forth, but they all change up the events a bit. When Yuki reveals that they've gone through this loop for over fifteen thousand times, it makes sense that we'd see a few different permutations in how events play out. But it's frustrating to watch in general, even if you like spotting the differences and the various approaches to telling the same story. Watching it weekly must have been infuriating and watching it with all eight episodes in a row is very mind numbing, even with all the good material that is there.
 
Thankfully, the show does move to some interesting material for the final five episodes as it takes us back to the beginning in a sense, at least in a broadcast order mindset, as we see the story of what went into the film that the SOS Brigade made. While we saw some pieces of it before, and the broadcast version of the original run started with the film itself, this new look at it goes into the details of the shoot, how Haruhi acquired everything and the threat everything faced while it was made. This arc brings out the way that the world changes, sometimes subtly, as Haruhi makes her movie. With it being about the things she wants to find in the world, they end up becoming real in a way. Her push to make Mikuru the heroine who can shoot lasers out of her eyes actually causes that to happen. It puts a lot more danger into the whole experience and it makes you watch the movie again in a different light understanding what kind of challenges that Kyon and the others face. There's even a good little bit of intrigue about how the three sides that are watching Haruhi are playing off of each other, sowing some distrust in front of Kyon and making him more cautious about who to really trust.
 
While there's a few years difference between the original run and these new episodes that fill in the gaps a bit, the quality is pretty similar overall. The character designs feel solidly consistent and nobody knew is really introduced here which is helpful since it doesn't change the continuity. The visual design for the backgrounds feels a bit richer though, it has the sense of more vibrancy and colors that pop and come alive more. This is particularly true with the sunsets and similar scenes, but also through many of the backgrounds involving nature. Kyoto Animation has some good works overall but their background designs and the way they make the worlds the characters inhabit feel so alive is shown beautifully here.
 
In Summary:
While the show is billed as a second season, something that sets up unrealistic expectations, having fourteen episodes that play out in the middle of what came before is definitely welcome. Revisiting the world of Haruhi and the quirks of it all, especially watching Kyon go through all the things he has to in order to make sure Haruhi doesn't actually end the world. As much fun as it is to revisit these characters after a couple of years though, it's not an easy visit because of the length of the Endless Eight segment of the show. While I found it compelling, it was twice as long as it should have been to tell what was in the end such a simple and obvious resolution from almost the start. Haruhi can be pretty divisive but I still find a lot of charm in the show overall and am glad to spend the time revisiting it, I just wish the actual production of the discs turned out better and that the packaging got a bit more care.
 
 
Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Location Scouting Videos, Behind the Scenes of Aya Hirano's Music Video, Endless Eight Prologue, Special Event Video, Promo Videos, Commercials, Adventures of the ASOS Brigade Episodes

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: C
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 64.98
Running time: 350
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya