Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Vol. #2 (also w/limited edition) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, July 23, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 03, 2007



What They Say
Aliens, time travelers, and ESPers... I used to believe that none of these could possibly exist. But now everything I once believed to be the subject of TV specials, comic books and an over-active imagination have all come tumbling into my life! And apparently they've all gathered because of Haruhi!

The appearance of these fantastical beings is occurring right under Haruhi's nose and to make matters worse, she's getting bored! And when Haruhi gets bored, it can lead to some full blown trouble...

In order to deal with her boredom, I'm going to have to escape from homicidal classmates, a grey world filled with gigantic beings bent on its destruction, and win a game of baseball! And what does Snow White have to do with all of this?

This Special Edition includes Haruhi DVD Volume 2 with a special variant cover, a double-sided pencil board, an iron-on, a Haruhi cosplay armband (Brigade Leader), the Bouken Desho Desho CD, and a special bonus DVD which contains the first five episodes in broadcast order! (Bonus DVD is in Japanese with English subtitles.)

The Review!
Though the show is about the melancholy of Haruhi, you can't help but to feel like Kyon is the one who is truly suffering here.

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. 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 Asahina in her maid outfit where she's holding a lemon between her hands. 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 its "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 special edition for this volume comes in a thin cardboard box that's meant to just hold the items for the short term, not as a long term box. The artwork is cute as it uses the special edition DVD cover for one side while the other has a few of the other characters in the school setting. Within the box are several goodies that will please fans as it has the Bouken Desho Desho? CD and a very wrong pencil board that shows the three lead girls at the beach in flimsy outfits. Each side of it is just wrong, particularly in how Haruhi manhandles Asahina. Another iron-on is included with this release with Haruhi doing one of her poses in her school uniform.

The big extra for this volume, depending on your tastes, is the inclusion of the legendary Broadcast Order version of the show. The merits of watching the show in this form or the home video form has about as much interest to me as debating the meaning of Neon Genesis Evangelion. This volume contains the first five episodes of the Broadcast Order in Japanese language only with removable subtitles. None of the extras found on the regular disc are on here so the show makes out a bit better when it comes to the encoding just because of the differences in space and bandwidth. Fans of the show in this order basically have to pay out the nose to get it though which is unfortunate but all I can think is that if you want to see it in this order, just jump around with the regular edition when the series is fully released if you can't bring yourself to pay for it. Having started the series already, watching the show in its Broadcast Order holds little appeal to me and just added more cost to the end product.

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 while 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:
Similar to the previous volume, there is a good deal of content here in the extras section which includes original material as well. The original Japanese extras show up here in the form of things like the clean opening and closing sequences and a new round of TV broadcast previews. A new galley is included as are a couple of the Japanese behind the scenes making of featurettes which are comical and nonsensical like the show itself is at times. For fans of the series who followed the ASOS Brigade material put to the US website, those are included here as well and have a certain kind of charm to them. Though these kinds of things don't work for a lot of shows, it works perfectly here and just reinforces how much love everyone has for this series at Bandai.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the hype and noise surrounding the release of the first volume now past, the series doesn't feel like it has quite so much pressure to it and you can just settle into what it is. And what a show it continues to be as the four episodes on this volume continue to tell the tale of Haruhi and just what all is involved with her. Though the show is named after her, I continue to find much affinity to Kyon for a number of reasons and simply love the way his narration of events proceeds. Though he panics during various emergency situations, he never overreacts in a way that hurts the show.

With Haruhi now having her club, the SOS Brigade, helping her in her search for ESPers, future men and aliens, her life is still fairly exciting and fun which is exactly what she wants. Sometimes she wants a bit more though and we end up with the absurdly weird episode where she signs up the entire club to participate in a baseball tournament where they must win. Grabbing a few friends to help flesh out the team to the needed number, the game just gets weirder and weirder as it goes on but not without a great helping of humor. With some of them taking it seriously, like Kyon and his friends as well as Haruhi, watching the likes of Nagato or Asahina handle the world of high school baseball is just priceless. Honestly, just watching Asahina freak out and panic at everything has a real laugh to it for me for some reason.

Though the comedy certainly makes up a good chunk of the series, the action and intriguing elements of it make up a significant amount as well. The opening episode for example brings in a revelation about Asakura, the quiet and shy girl who has seemingly had a thing for Kyon from the start. This takes on an amusing twist as who she really is becomes revealed and she acts on it, much to the detriment of Kyon. As expected from the start, the moment that Kyon befriend Haruhi in even the slightest way, he became a focal point for trouble. With Haruhi's place in the world being what it potentially is, if you believe the forces that have shown up so far, Kyon has become a critical component for them to take advantage of but also have to deal with in terms of the uncertainty he can bring to Haruhi.

Kyon's relationship with Haruhi grows pretty well during these episodes though sometimes it does seem that it's a case of necessity in order to save the world. Kyon is introduced to the world between reality where Koizumi illustrates to him how Haruhi is handling things in terms of stress and dealing with the reality that isn't conforming to her desires. Kyon's life has gone from being relatively stress free and simple to alternating bouts of peace and quiet or insanity. But even with all of this he continues to get closer to her and understand her more. When we see more of her younger days and what's motivated her to become the way she is, it makes a certain sense when taken to the extreme. Add in the kind of abilities she has and it makes it rather dangerous, but Kyon still manages to find ways to help her keep it in check without her realizing. His comment about her hair along is priceless in what it does for her.

The series is thankfully not easy to really pigeonhole as one thing or another, though it can fit into an overall category. Each new episode brings about something new to the show as it peels away the layers of meaning both for the show in general but also the characters. There big moments are great ones, particularly the shared dream that Kyon and Haruhi have, but it's the smaller moments that are equally as great. Having Haruhi trying to increase the hits on their site by posting pictures of Asahina in her maid outfit with ample cleavage showing is great but it's also hilarious in how Kyon deals with it (like a real guy!) and then Asahina's reactions to it all. As a whole, the series is solid and highly enjoyable but it's made up of numerous wonderful small moments throughout.

In Summary:
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has managed to hold up well in its second volume, especially in light of all the hype and drama surrounding the launch of the series. Watching this in its Chronological Order, the series is rather fascinating as it lays out a large epic storyline but keeps its focus squarely on the characters themselves. While some of them aren't terribly interesting, such as Nagato and Koizumi, others like Kyon and Asahina are just endlessly fascinating in their own ways. There is a good deal of interesting material mixed into what at first seems to be a simple show and with both versions included in the special edition release it certainly merits a second viewing through that lens in the future. Definitely recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,TV Broadcast Previews,TV Commercial,Making of Haruhi Suzumiya Clip,Adventures of the ASOS Brigade,LE: Special Variant Cover,LE: Doublesided Pencil Board,LE: Iron On,LE: Haruhi Cosplay Armband (Brigade Leader),LE: Bouken Desho Desho CD,LE: Broadcast Order DVD (Ep 1-5, Subtitle Only)

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: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Kadokawa Pictures USA
MSRP: 29.98/59.98
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