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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, November 08, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, November 06, 2007



What They Say
The annual school culture festival has begun and with it comes the debut of Haruhi's surreal film! Who did she threaten this time to have her movie shown? More importantly what other event has she schemed up and what impact will it have on the rest of the SOS Brigade? At least I've got Mikuru and the cosplay café to look forward too, but perhaps someone should explain to Yuki that fortune-telling isn't about eerie accuracy! The computer club counter-attacks! After Haruhi extorted the club's president for their best computer they challenge the SOS Brigade to a not so friendly strategy game. How are we going to win when our chief's strategy doesn't exist? We should just raise the white flag and give up. Can we win without the help of Yuki's bogus magic or will defeat drive Haruhi into a world-ending rampage?

Its a slow day for us in the club room, that is until Haruhi arrives. She's somehow managed to swindle a heater from one of our movie's sponsors. I hope Mikuru's okay while I'm forced to make the exhausting trek in the rain to retrieve it. What bizarre activity will Haruhi force upon our club members while I'm gone?

The Review!
The first season of the series draws to a close as the Brigade runs the gamut of strange yet compelling stories.

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 Tsuruya as the centerpiece with her wearing the maid outfit from the cafe as she holds a lemon in one hand. 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. 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. 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 Kyon and Haruhi from the Saggitarius episodei. Within the box are several goodies that will please fans as it has the Tsumeawase CD and a very cute pencil board that shows the brigade in various uniforms and outfits on both sidesl. 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 in their swimsuits which means there's a lot of skin showing here. 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. A really nice inclusion here is the full ending sequence done as the dance piece with it's really fluid animation. 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. The best one for my money with this run of them is the section where it has about a dozen brief one on ones with the original Japanese cast from Anime Expo 2007. They tend to run about a minute each but it's fun to see the original actors. In addition to this, there is an amusing nod to Anime Expo that was shown during opening ceremonies. Round it all out is a special teaser that informs us that Lucky Star is coming to the US in which it uses the Haruhi gags to good effect. It doesn't sell Lucky Star that much but it ties perfectly to Haruhi.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya comes to a close in a rather laid back manner with the final three episodes here in chronological order. The series hasn't exactly been filled with big moments but there have been times when everything takes on a larger scale due to what Haruhi his and how she copes with situations in which life isn't going the way she wants. With everything easily altered by her without her even realizing it, when life becomes quiet everyone gets to breathe a sigh of relief for at least a little while.

With the laid back nature of these episodes we're treated to what is fairly standard material in terms of high school oriented series. The opening episode kicks off the Culture Festival in which the Brigade gets to show off their movie to an enraptured audience. The bouncy buxomness of Mikuru makes the movie rather appealing to the mostly male audience that simply stares with their mouths open wide during all of it. The movie being their main project, Kyon is able to take some much needed down time and just wander throughout the school grounds to the various stands, cafes and other club ideas. While Kyon gets to touch base with everyone and experience all that the festival has to offer, Haruhi finds herself becoming a substitute in the rock band competition along with Yuki. The surreal nature of it is amusing as the two of them fit in perfectly in a strange way. The way that everyone gets completely into it while Kyon stares, almost in horror, is priceless.

When the series has fun is when I enjoy it the most and episode twelve covers that perfectly. This one brings back the computer club for another encounter with Haruhi. After she confiscated their PC for their own, the club members have been outraged about it and have worked to get it back. They way they've done so is definitely in a manner befitting them as they've created a new computer game to play against the Brigade. Each club makes up their own team and the winner will get the PC back. Haruhi wants four laptops for her club members if they win, which the computer club begrudgingly agrees to. Haruhi does offer Yuki as a consolation prize as well but the boys are more interested in Mikuru as that particular prize.

Though most of it does focus on the somewhat dull real world aspects of watching high school kids play computer games, they do bring in some wonderful visuals to it as we see it as if it was happening in reality. Each of the characters commands their own fleet of ships and it takes on some great epic proportions as the multicolored fleets move about. Mikuru of course has a white ship with lots of little hearts and flowers on it. Everyone else is straightforward though and it was reminiscent of some of the best battle scenes from Legend of Galactic Heroes in some ways. The episode really doesn't have anything fresh or original to it but the execution is spot on and Kyoto Animation's visuals continue to be top notch which helps elevate the material.

With this series being the first season and based on what is at this time a series of ten novels, there isn't exactly anything close to approaching closure here. Much of what constitutes this volume is what you could classify as filler material as it just deals with the characters doing things that don't progress anything. It's actually more a slice of life series with this volume except that one of the characters can really do anything without realizing it. The last episode is very mellow as it serves as an epilogue to events that have taken place, such as the making of the movie, and puts everyone into the same position of being friendly club members. It's been six months since the Brigade formed and the reality of it all is sinking in. Even other classmates are now realizing how tightly tied Kyon is to Haruhi and how her personality works. There isn't anything that jumps out here but if the characters have struck and kind of connection with the viewer by now, these last few episodes will induce a lot of smiles.

In Summary:
Haruhi arrived in the US with lots of fanfare and anticipation among the faithful. The releases themselves, both in the DVDs, special editions, CDs and more, have turned out quite well and has been one of the more creative and complete franchise blitzes to hit in the last fifteen years. Fans of this series got almost everything they could want from it, especially compared to how just about everything else is released that doesn't end up being a big TV draw. The appeal of the show is clear but the amount of hype for it has certainly colored its impact on those coming into it fresh. The show is beautiful to look at and it has some nice concepts it plays with but something is missing from it that lets me really understand why it clicked so well. It's really a show that was a "you had to be there" kind of series. In its home video run for the US it loses something but the core material itself is still strong and very enjoyable. If you can remove the hype from it, you'll have a great show that merits multiple viewings to tie it all together. Here's hoping that the second season sees a much quicker release here.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,TV Broadcast Previews, Nekoman Gallery, Making of Haruhi Suzumiya Clips, Special Ending, The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade

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: 29.98/64.98
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