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

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Beyond the hype of the catchy line dancing theme song, Haruhi Suzumiya manages to be a decent, fun series.

What They Say
I thought that when I entered high school, my days of believing in aliens, time travelers and ESPers were going to be 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've met in a long time... Before I knew what's going on, I've been ragged 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 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 Review!
Audio:
My viewing session consisted of the original Japanese stereo track.  There were no noticeable dropouts or distortions, and it makes good use of the soundstage.  It is a solid track that balances all elements for a pleasing aural experience.

Video:
Produced in 2006, the animation is vivid and stunning losing nothing in the digital transfer.  Some of the faster moving segments in the opening seem to have a touch of aliasing, but this is barely noticeable and infrequent leaving you to be absorbed by the gorgeous visuals.

Packaging:
The four DVDs are housed in a flimsy box, but the box features some eye catching artwork from the series.  The individual DVDs feature similar appealing visuals on their front covers with clean, readable back covers outlining the disc's features.

Menu:
Main menus are simple featuring a comic book panel layout playing muted clips.  A clip of the opening theme plays, and transitions between menus are brief.  They are not flashy, but its simplicity is appealing to the eye.  You can get setup and into the content quickly.

Extras:
Spread out over the discs are a number of extras.  You get the standard offering of text free opening and ending sequences and commercial spots.  Bandai also included the full dance sequence seen in the ending theme along with an homage clip from Lucky Star.  Also featured are several "making of" segments with the Japanese cast along with art galleries of "Neko-man", the cast's hand drawn mascot.  Rounding out the extras are the original TV broadcast next episode previews and a series of live-action ASOS Brigade segments produced to hype the series for the US market.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Call me an old school curmudgeon, but I become less interested in a series when the collective fandom embraces it because of a dance sequence.  From Gundam models in stop motion animation to Filipino prisoners, the internet was flooded with videos of people mimicking the dance to the catchy theme song.  Yet, I heard few people actually talking about the series itself -- what was it about, and was it any good.  Perhaps I could not hear it over the deafening roar of dancing feet, but I finally decided to sit down with Bandai's complete collection of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and see if there was something worth watching.

Kyon is your typical high school student who has outgrown his childish pursuits of aliens, time travelers, and other paranormal phenomenon.  However, his classmate Suzumiya Haruhi is obsessed with the subjects to the point of refusing to interact with anyone who is not extraordinary.  Kyon's curiosity is piqued by Haruhi's eccentric behavior; he daily tries to strike up a conversation and find out Haruhi's rationale for her behavior.  Unfortunately, Kyon soon finds himself the unwilling fulcrum upon which Haruhi's lever moves.

Haruhi quickly establishes the SOS Brigade, a school club dedicated to discovering the paranormal around them.  She formulates her club membership by the cliches in anime and manga that cause unexplained events to occur.  Gang pressed into the club are Asahina Mikuru, the moe aspect; the quiet and mysterious Nagato Yuki; and the always cheerful Itsuki Koizumi as the handsome man.  Kyon fits into the equation as Haruhi's man servant, there to fulfill whatever whim she has.

Soon after, Kyon learns that everything he loved as a child is true.  Mikuru is a time traveler; Yuki is a thought entity interface for the universe.  Koizumi is a powerful ESPer.  And all of them are there to observe Haruhi; it turns out that Kyon's fulcrum could cause Haruhi's lever to reinvent the entire world.

The series could take any number of turns at this point and delve into familiar territory.  However, the selection process is the perfect example of what the series wants to do.  Much like its titular character, it wants to follow whatever whim takes it and give the industry a good natured ribbing.  By poking fun at the prevalent cliches, it neatly sidesteps them and provides some genuinely amusing entertainment.

Kyon's character is the most enjoyable aspect of the series; he is one of the more level headed leading men in recent memory.  Though the extraordinary events he once craved are now occurring, he doesn't panic and attempts to take them in stride.  Rather than seeing himself as a savior, he tries to act almost as an older brother to Haruhi.  His focus is mainly to show Haruhi that her petulance is only endearing to a point; her actions affect those around her, usually in a detrimental fashion.  Beyond that, he simply wants high school life to pass by while enjoying the simple pleasures -- a cup of Mikuru's tea and a chance to sneak a peek at her other ample delights.

The stories vary wildly in their subject matter; they can be anything from a baseball match to a mystery on a secluded island to a struggle to prevent Haruhi's powers from manifesting.  Every story though is centered on the Brigade keeping Haruhi from being bored.  Not every episode works well, but there is usually something to be found to give you a smile and keep you watching.  Anything that can effortlessly weave references to Phoenix Wright and Space Cruiser Yamato is doing something right.

My personal favorite is the opening "Episode 00" where the Brigade screens the amateur film Haruhi has produced.  Kyon narrates the entire debacle and hits all the right beats to sarcastically skewer the material.  I was pleased to find that the series is not the usual harem anime or wacky comedy; it fills the niche for an amusing parody of the industry.  But I'm still not going to dance to the theme song, no matter how catchy it is.

In Summary:
Sometimes your default reaction can cause you to overlook a potentially entertaining series.  When the Haruhi hype machine started working overtime, I began to sour on the idea of picking up the series.  However, I've learned to ignore my instincts at times, and Bandai's complete collection of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya left me with few reasonable excuses to continue avoiding it.  What I found was an amusing and entertaining series that deftly avoids the standard anime cliches and has fun giving those cliches and the industry that perpetuates them a friendly skewering.  The episodes vary wildly in their content, but everyone will provide something to give you chuckle.  It is the perfect rainy day series, something you can pull of the shelf and amuse you for an episode or two.  It may be better known for its catchy song and dance and endless merchandising, but there is a light, enjoyable series providing some substance behind it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening, Textless Ending, TV broadcast previews, Nekoman galleries, Making of Haruhi Suzumiya clips, The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Kadokawa Pictures USA
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 350
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya