Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Vol. #3 (also w/special edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2007



What They Say
It seems that Haruhi has made a full recovery from her state of melancholy, and is back to doing whatever she wants. And even though all club
activities are supposed to be suspended for the exam season, the SOS Brigade still continues to meet. But at least we‚€™ve got something to do this time, as the computer club‚€™s president has gone missing and his girlfriend has sent us to look for him! But what does it have to do with the new SOS Brigade logo that
Haruhi‚€™s come up with?

The SOS Brigade finally gets a vacation when Haruhi drags us off to an island villa owned by one of Itsuki‚€™s relatives. But when does the SOS Brigade really take a break? We‚€™re going from a closed space to a closed circle as we find ourselves trapped in the middle of a freak storm. To make matters worse, there‚€™s a murderer on the loose. This couldn‚€™t be all
Haruhi‚€™s wish could it? She wouldn‚€™t want anybody to die...right?

The Review!
Coping with having to be near Haruhi, Kyon and everyone else aware of what she is work towards making sure reality doesn't cease to exist.

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 Yuki as its main piece which means she's there in her school uniform with the usual expression as she holds a lemon. 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 the cover art from the regular edition of Yuki and Koizumi. Within the box are several goodies that will please fans as it has the first character song CD and a very wrong pencil board that shows the brigade doing their hard sell outside the school while the other side shows Haruhi manhandling Kyon at a festival. Another iron-on is included with this release with Haruhi doing one of her poses in her school uniform.

The most interesting added value goodie in this release for me is the inclusion of a character art pillowcase. Pillowcases haven't exactly made their way over here in the past but they've definitely had fans. The number of times they've been inappropriately used in the past at conventions is almost legendary. The pillowcase (where's the pillow! For the price of it…) has the three lead girls all together lying on a bed in their pajamas. Right or wrong, too much or just plain inappropriate, this is the kind of really neat extra item that makes these limited edition releases so worthwhile. Combining it with a CD and a pencil board only makes it all the better.

And yeah, there's also 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 second 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 clicks 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)
The Chronological Version of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya moves past the halfway mark with this volume and serves up a pair of interesting stories. The first is a decent standalone piece that cements the way the world works a bit more while the remaining episodes form a two part summer break story. Each of the stories brings something different to the table but the real joy in all of it continues to be Kyon's narrative about all of it.

The opening story is one that highlights some of the boredom that infects that ASOS Brigade at times. Nothing has been happening so Haruhi is getting bored of things which can never lead to much good. Kyon is surprisingly forward thinking about this however as he starts putting out posters around the school promoting the club as something of a jack of all trade services. Timed with Haruhi introducing a symbol for the group on their weak webpage, the first case is one that involves a student's boyfriend who has gone missing. It turns out to be the computer club's "chief" that Haruhi doesn't seem to remember all that well. Something of a mystery, the group starts to investigate it and discover some of the strangeness that's occurring in his residence.

The two part storyline, like other basic setups within this series, is fairly straightforward with its design as it plays to convention. With summer break now here, Koizumi has managed to get a four day visit to a distant rich uncles mansion that was built on a remote island. Haruhi's intent on playing supersleuth is what moves the storyline forward as she wants to put her detective skills to the test. While not every clichť is brought in to be toyed with, the closed circle and sealed room concepts are given ample time across both of the episodes. There aren't too many detective shows released in North America for anime so it's easy to draw the similarities to Case Closed. In fact, I halfway expected the slamming door eyecatch to be used just to make it all the more apparent.

The two part storyline is problematic in a way. With it running for two episodes, it feels like it's drawn out more than it should be. With such a basic and simple premise, the lack of real meat to the storyline weakens the way it plays out. Yet if it was done as a single episode, I can imagine that it would have come across as rushed. The murder aspect itself is fairly routine but the background material for it is where the story shines better. With everyone having so much concern about what Haruhi may think and therefore do to the world, when she's bored they have to make sure to channel her energies properly without her realizing it. That leads to situations like this where Haruhi is thinking about a murder that's happened and her hypothesis could potentially change what really happened into something else.

The character interactions are where the series really shines though, providing you can enjoy their personalities. As Kyon notes at one point, everyone in the brigade that Haruhi has brought in essentially fits into a mold. Something that's considered necessary for events to happen and to react towards. Kyon is able to realize this and figure out where everyone fits into it but then comes to the conclusion that he doesn't seem to fit into it properly. His reason for being there isn't entirely clear, though I suspect it's to be the narrative voice of her world, and that's something that can be unsettling. If everything happens due to the wishes or background thoughts of someone and you're included in that core group of playthings, what about yourself really matters or even truly exists? There are some engaging philosophical discussions that can come from the show which continues to be one of its greatest strengths.

In Summary:
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya offers up what feel like some of its weakest episodes so far. They may not progress the storyline much but they do serve up some good world and continuity building stories that help solidify things. The characters are ones we're all comfortable with now, predictable in their own ways, so that leaves their interactions with each others and outside influences to effect things. The stories aren't bad per se since they're working with basic concepts and showing how it works in Haruhi's world but they feel like they've lost a bit of the edge that was in previous stories. This release in general however is simply spectacular and continues to make me want more shows from this combination. Bandai Entertainment has gone above and beyond with their work on the show and with Kadokawa signing off on all of it the end result is one that's a real gem in the collection.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,TV Broadcast Previews,Aya Hirano's Nekoman Gallery,Making of Haruhi Suzumiya Clips,Adventures of the ASOS Brigade,LE: Haruhi Vol. #3 w/special variant cover,LE: Double sided pencil board,LE: Iron-on,LE: SOS Brigade Pillow Case,LE: Haruhi Character CD,Bonus DVD w/Original Broadcast Order (Subtitled 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