Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Vol. #1 (also w/special edition) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, May 05, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2007



What They Say
I thought that when I entered high school, my days of believing in aliens, time travelers and ESPers were over. That is, until she introduced herself. Claiming to be interested in only aliens, time travelers, and ESPers, Haruhi Suzumiya was the strangest girl I'd met in a long time...

Before I knew what was going on, I'd been dragged into her weird club, and it looks like I'm not the only one who has been drafted into this "SOS Brigade" of hers, because there are three other students here who don't seem to be so ordinary themselves.

Either way, we've all found ourselves caught up in Haruhi's quest to search for all things extraordinary. And what's this I hear about us making a movie...?I thought that when I entered high school, my days of believing in aliens, time travelers and ESPers were over. That is, until she introduced herself. Claiming to be interested in only aliens, time travelers, and ESPers, Haruhi Suzumiya was the strangest girl I'd met in a long time...

Before I knew what was going on, I'd been dragged into her weird club, and it looks like I'm not the only one who has been drafted into this "SOS Brigade" of hers, because there are three other students here who don't seem to be so ordinary themselves.

Either way, we've all found ourselves caught up in Haruhi's quest to search for all things extraordinary. And what's this I hear about us making a movie...?

The special limited edition comes with a custom series artbox, a Haruhi~ism iron-on, a double-sided pencil board, a Haruhi Cosplay Ribbon/Headband, and the Hare Hare Yukai CD Soundtrack.

The Review!


One girl has drawn aliens, time travelers and ESPers to her in a world which may all just be a dream.

Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid with a nice little extra push for the English language adaptation. The Japanese and English stereo mixes are solid pieces encoded at 224 kbps that have a good sense of directionality to action and dialogue. The English 5.1 mix bumps things up to 448 kbps and provides a bit more placement for dialogue and a wider breadth overall for the score. All three tracks work rather well, though those on stereo setups will have a better experience with the non 5.1 mix. We didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either of the stereo mixes.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With animation by Kyoto Animation, the visual side of this show is something that's going to mess with people new to the series. The opening episode is one that is intentionally poor in a lot of ways as it's essentially a student film. Once past that and into the main show itself, the differences are startling, like going from VHS to High Definition. Colors are so incredibly bright and vivid while maintaining a very solid feel that it leaves a strong impression. Backgrounds look fantastic and the fluid animation simply looks stunning. The main problem that I ran into with the release, both at 480p and 1080i upscaled, is during the opening sequence. Some of the scenes in it are just so incredibly busy that there are a few moments where it's a bit fuzzy around the edges of certain movements. It's consistent in each episode which could mean it's a source issue. It was more noticeable on our 70" display but was less pronounced but still visible on the 50" set. There are a few moments where some basic aliasing enters into things during some pans but it's minimal and doesn't detract from the overall presentation.

Packaging:
This series comes in two flavors, a standard disc only release and a deluxe edition. We've only got the deluxe edition so we're just going to look at that. The keepcase artwork for this mirrors the Japanese limited edition artwork which is different from the regular edition. The keepcase for this release has a fun and cute shot of Suzumiya in her school uniform where she's holding her hand over he head with a lemon in her grasp. Set against a white backdrop with the logo along the right side it stands out nicely. The artwork is nicely detailed and has a good sense of depth to it. White background covers have been mostly rare in US releases in comparison to Japanese releases though this seems to be changing a bit. The back cover is done with a red background with a number of SOS circles around that contains either shots from the show, logos or the brief summary of what you could call the premise. It uses a lot of different colors both in the text and in the layout which pushes it's "outrageous" sense of style. The episodes are clearly listed as are the extras. The technical information is a bit minimal and an area where I wish it was a lot more like the Japanese. No listing of a 5.1 track is here nor that it's an anamorphic release. The lack of a clear listing of important technical information that's also a selling point continues to be one of Bandai's weak points. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

The box for this is a real piece of work. Nothing goes to waste here as we get six panels of great looking colorful vibrant artwork. Each of them contains a shot of various cast members doing things with the logo off to one side. Sometimes it's all of them together while others has just a couple of them. Only the bottom portion has anything that's not artwork related as it has the UPC and some basic production information with a couple of logos. Everything else is fully devoted to showcasing the characters and design quality.

This box sits sideways and has a pair of flaps that open up. These are made of the same heavy chipboard as the rest of the box and also appear to contain a couple of very small magnets inside of them to help keep it "locked" and set against the box itself. The interior of the flaps has most full color artwork as well of the characters. Inside the box, the top half has the keepcase DVD and a smaller folded cardboard box. Below that "shelf" is a small drawer that has artwork on either side of it. Both the cardboard box above and the drawer below have a small ribbon that you can use to pull them out with. Inside the drawer is the first CD that's being released for the series over here and room for presumably all of the CDs that are planned. Inside the other box is a great looking pencil board with artwork of the characters on one side while the other has a "theatrical" poster from the series. Also included is a headband that lets you have the same ribbons in your hair as Suzumiya that's large enough to fit around even my noggin. An iron-on with the Haruhi-ism logo is also in there and like the pencil board it can fit inside the keepcase safely.

Menu:
The anamorphic menus for this release are cut and just like the show wonderfully colorful. Design as a few squares across the screen, animation plays in the background hwile a few of the squares are filtered in different colors. One of them has a heavily used shot of Haruhi looking up while sticking her tongue out and an overly long box has the logo, but the rest show aspects of various scenes to good effect with a bit of upbeat instrumental music. Individual episode access is in one square while you can also do direct scene access elsewhere. Trailers are placed at the top level though there are a couple of odd choices in there. Access times are nice and fast and the disc did not read our player presets. It defaulted to English 5.1 with sign/song subtitles instead.

Extras:
The extras for this release are really spread out which is slightly deceptive. The commercials for example are spread out with individual access instead of being in one selection but chaptered. This is also done with the individual episode previews. Clean versions of the opening and closing are here for the first episode but not the episodes thereafter. Two making-of clips from the Japanese release are here as well which cover some fun pieces about what went into the series production. The first one runs about fifteen minutes while the second one runs just under ten minutes.

There are a couple of original extras here as well in the form of the ASOS Brigade videos. The first three show up here as they were seen on the web though with greater quality and DVD subtitles. These kinds of "homemade" extras can go a couple of ways but these are just a lot of fun and have helped to build excitement for the series. Something that shows a bit of creativity and effort certainly goes a long way. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it features a couple of very attractive women in school uniforms or maid outfits. I was also glad that they were fully subtitled even when speaking English so it's accessible to the hard of hearing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
One of the closest examples of near-viral anime, the Melancholy of Suzumiya premiered in early 2006 only to completely sweep Japan. It didn't stop there of course and gained a number of very vocal fans worldwide and even providing for a very amusing occurrence in the middle of a protest in the Middle East. With a long running campaign from just before its domestic acqusisition/distribution that was also tweaked continually afterwards, the show has certainly been a labor of love by those behind it.

While people familiar with the show will have their own take on how it's being presented here, new people are going to be coming into it from a very different perspective. With the build-up behind it the show is going to be one that will have a hard time at first but will quickly win over a lot of people. The problem comes in how the show decides to introduce itself and even that requires a bit of background. When aired in Japan, the broadcast order is different from the home video order. While both can be watched and the story understood there are differences in what people will consider proper. Generally speaking, what people are first introduced to tends to be considered "the best" so take that into consideration. Where the problem is a bit more pronounced is that "episode 00" is set towards the end of the series.

This episode is essentially a student film with narration with the characters playing all sorts of weird roles. The exception is that Suzumiya herself is barely in the episode as it focuses on Mikuru as the lead character of the film. As a student film and as a showcase of how a student film looks, it's a brilliant piece of work in how accurately it portrays it. The acting is bad, the costumes ridiculous, the editing atrocious and the narration is hilarious. While the series and this episode is done in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, it's pillarboxed with the content itself and has a very grainy and uneven look to it. Some scenes have the lighting get really bad and there are other little quirks of amateur hand camera work. As an introduction to what's really a lavish looking series it can totally throw off expectations " if you have any.

Where it does manage to shine, beyond turning me into a raving Mikuru fanatic, is when the show shifts to "reality" in terms of animation. Going from the student film to the bright vivid colors and full aspect ratio truly stuns you. Kyoto Animation has long been held as one of the best companies out there and their work on this series cements that even further. Even if the story falters horribly I know that I'm in for a real visual treat. Everything about the real world in this is so bold and colorful without being garish that it's hard to believe at times. Considering I had feared how some shows would look on a larger set, this one proves that it can be done at a stunning level.

Within the "reality" of the show, we're given the perspective of Kyon, a first year student at a new school. The first day of the semester is like most others and he sees people he knows and lots that he doesn't from various regional middle schools. Fate has dealt him a cruel blow though by having a beautiful young woman named Haruhi Suzumiya sitting behind him. While everyone from the middle school she came from knows about her, everyone else is unsure what to make of her when she announces in her introduction that she's only interested in aliens, time travelers or ESPers. Basically, everyone else can go to hell. Her personality is so focused that she goes through all the clubs for no more than a day at a time to find something interesting. She's even dated heavily though nobody lasted more than a week at most and some less than five minutes.

Kyon is routinely ignored as well but when he catches on to a quirk about her and her hair, it becomes a trigger that has her dealing with him more and more. Before he realizes it she's roped him into her plan that will help her find the mysteries and more that she seeks in her life. Since no club would give her the satisfaction she wanted, she decides to create her own club which becomes known as the SOS Brigade. Kyon is brought into it simply to handle the paperwork and other grunt work. Events move quickly from there as Haruhi "acquires" a room that's no longer in use along with another freshman named Yuki who just reads books. She also nabs a second year student named Mikuru who is busty and cute while being incredibly shy and tiny-voiced. All that's left for the fifth member is for her to find a mysterious transfer student and she's golden.

There is a good deal of comedy along the way as the group is formed, from Haruhi forcing Mikuru into a bunny girl outfit to give away flyers to the way she acquires a computer for the club. There's also some investigation into finding a mystery that they can investigate but this really just puts things into a different perspective. Larger events are very much at work here as three people begin to explain why they're watching Haruhi and hint obliquely at an event three years prior that could shape the future of the universe. Or it could all just be a dream which just puts you into really unsure footing of how to interpret the series. As it progresses though it really begins to suck you in with trying to figure out what is really going on and who is just messing with who.

The second series from Kadokawa Pictures USA as they use different companies to distribute and market their titles, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has been very well handled. Just about every aspect of the series has been done to generate the same kind of excitement that the Japanese fans had. The only real exception is the lack of the novel itself that inspired the show which built up the excitement level. While there are some minor issues with how the show is set up and how the broadcast vs. chronological order is being handled in future volumes, the overall presentation of the show is simply top notch. Bandai Entertainment has done some really solid work here, work that I wished showed in some of their other titles.

In Summary:
Knowing precious little about the show itself up until I saw this disc, the series has left me a little unsure of how it's going to progress. While I could easily appreciate the biting look at how student films are made in the first episode, it bored the socks off of everyone else in the room with me. Once it got underway into the first full episode in reality it began to take off more earnestly. I almost hate to say it but new fans to the series may be better off skipping episode 00 until the end of the disc and starting with episodes 01. There are a lot of hints and portents of things to come with this storyline as it gets along and with the creative staff that's behind this I'm more than willing to give it time to develop. There are plenty of hooks here that will reach out to a range of people but those who give up quickly will miss out. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has finally landed in North America and it looks like it's going to live up to its reputation. This is in general a stellar release all around.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,Textless Opening, Textless Ending, TV Broadcast Previews, Making of Haruhi Suzumiya Clip, TV Commercial, The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Kadokawa Pictures USA
MSRP: 29.99/64.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya