THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA
When it comes to anime studios, I believe Kyoto Animation to be one of the few great studios, along with Studio Ghibli, Tokyo Movie Shinsha, Madhouse, Production I.G., and so on. What makes them great is that their characters, despite having the anime characteristics (i.e. big, Disney eyes), they make them look and feel like real people.
That's why I love Full Metal Panic! so much. They make their characters feel real and create depth to them. It is one of their strongest works to date, but ever since the end of The Second Raid, they seem to be concentrating on high school stories with an overwhelming amount of girls being the central figures, which isn't too much of an issue, but I feel like the women in Kyoto's series are taking over the world, leaving the men to wander aimlessly in the wind, dude.
With that said, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
This show is the most popular anime I've seen since Cowboy Bebop, with merchandise littering the show floor at Anime Expo. Posters, fan arts, and love pillows featuring the title character and her female friends were shown on these floors, the popular theme song, Hare Hare Yukai, being the de facto song to dance to and extremely catchy, and having its own live action take on the series group called the ASOS Brigade.
It has a large fanbase. And I'm not part of it.
I never understood the appeal of the series. It has an interesting premise, but nothing mind-bending. It has some really good animation, given that it's Kyoto Animation. It has that catchy theme song. It's good, but what's with the appeal?
The premise is that we have the title character of Haruhi Suzumiya, an energetic, over-eccentric, and possibly ADD high school girl who's fascinated by the supernatural and the science fictitious. However, what she doesn't realize is that reality changes based on her emotions, or makes things appear when she wishes for it. For instance, when she says she wants to find time travelers, aliens, and espers, all three appear as each individual representing each kind. And she made the entire population vanish, except for her and the leading protagonist, Kyon.
Kyon is the most grounded character of the group, filled with sarcasm and doubt about the events that are happening. Spending with so much time with Haruhi, he's completely irritated by her personality and her ego. Funny, considering that Kyon talked to Haruhi first and try to make a friendly conversation with her, while others look at her like she's a crazy person.
One day, Haruhi complains that she tried ALL kinds of clubs, but she rejects all of them and finds them as complete wastes of time. Kyon suggests that she should make her own club, to which she does and made the SOS Brigade. SOS stands for Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade or Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade. Did I mention that Haruhi is completely batshit insane?
However, that's the charm of the whole series, in that a character like Haruhi is something that we look up to. She is the most happy-go-lucky, hard believer in the unknown and won't stop until she finds it. Kyon creates the dynamic contrast to Haruhi's personality, in that he's more grounded and thinks realistically, the guy who tries to keep Haruhi's mind focused.
I mentioned that there were supernatural human beings that are part of the Brigade. One of them is an alien named Yuki Nagato. She plays more like Data from Star Trek, always speaking in calculations, moves pretty fast when it comes to typing, and never emotes. At least with Data, he plays like a clown in Generations, but I think we all want to forget that. She's also Kyon's go-to person to understand what the hell is happening, but this drags the plot considerably with Yuki delivering exposition out of her butt.
The next character is a time traveler named Mikuru Asahina. She's the moe character, which means she's the cute character that plays to fan service. It certainly shows since Haruhi violates her so many times. And just before you go off thinking of something naughty, Haruhi forces Mikuru into different outfits, usually very revealing outfits. Besides that, she spends most of the time serving tea in the club and just acts really cute in a lot of scenes. If she had a DeLorean as her time machine, I would've been a huge fan of the series, but sadly, the time machine in question is never seen, and she actually lost it in one episode.
The last character is an esper named Itsuki Koizumi. He always smiles and rarely gets emotional. He's the kind of person who would invite women over to his house, murder, and use their body parts as a clothing accessory. Believe me, he's creepy. I never heard of an esper before, but after doing some research, he seems the kind of person Haruhi wants to look for. An esper is basically a person with supernatural powers, like telepathy. He and a group of espers are responsible for protecting the real world from a different dimension filled with monsters created by Haruhi's emotions.
All three characters are there to study Haruhi while under the guise of high school students interested in joining the club. They, Haruhi and Kyon go off on different adventures that involve a murder mystery, school festivals, and filming weird movies. There are interesting stories to be had, including the six-part episode concerning Haruhi and Kyon's relationship from beginning to sort-of end, and the premise has charm to it.
But even with all the charm and magic this show conjurs up, it's still a standard show. It's still a setting set in high school with eccentric high school kids, usually women outnumbering the men, and having wacky hijinks. So why is this show so bloody popular? Surely it can't top something like Cowboy Bebop or Full Metal Panic!
The point I'm trying to make is that for a show that has garnered a truckload of fans, it has neither the scale nor the grandeur that the shows Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis: Evangelion, or Full Metal Panic have. Those shows have a sense of a grand scale and not limited to a high school somewhere in Japan, where the characters pretty much do fuck all.
It's not like I'm bashing the show on its story and characters. I'm judging it based on fan popularity and appeal that I just don't get.
I will say, though, is that the animation for the show is really great, offering a lot in detail with the backgrounds to the character design, even if some of the characters go a little too far into cutesy territory. It's fascinating to see the characters animate the way they do and make them look more realistic in terms of body language, even if at times, they move around so much that it's the animators trying to give them too much life that it becomes a bit unrealistic.
There is a second season, which I saw not too long ago. There's one episode that concerns time travel and again, no DeLorean. I'm telling you, if this show had the DeLorean time machine, all will be forgiven. Joking aside, it's an interesting character study of Haruhi when she was a young little worm.
The plot concerns Kyon and Mikiru going back in time to when Haruhi was in the Japanese equivalent of middle school. During that time, she snuck into the football field and spray painted the entire field with some form of alien language to signal their presence. Why Kyon and Mikuru are there is beyond me, but I believe Kyon was supposed to help her in spray painting the field. Wouldn't that create a time paradox and destroy the entire universe? Would've made for a great movie.
The episode was interesting enough, but it was the only one of its kind. The rest are either eight-parters or six-parters. The six-parters, or the Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya, gives a more in-depth look in how the movie, The Adventures of Mikuru-chan (the 00 episode in the first season), was made. All I can say is that at first, everything was cool, but later on, it gets tense. I've never seen Kyon act in such a way where it actually frightens Haruhi and makes her depressed. It's THAT tense.
The eight-parter, by far, is probably THE WORST EPISODES EVER! Why?!?!? Imagine this. Someone wrote the story for the first episode to make an eight-parter. The producer comes in and said that they are on a time-frame and the story needs to be completed as fast as possible. Instead of coming up with an interesting plot to go on, the story writer Xerox-copy's the first episode and makes at least seven more copies and turns it in to get it done.
The entirety of this eight-parter is the EXACT SAME THING. Very little has changed in terms of situations and emotions. There is nothing that threatens the entire group in anyway and with each passing episode, it feels like an eternity. In some way, they borrow elements of the movie Groundhog Day, only that movie was far more interesting and it had better character development. THIS HAS NOTHING! The worst part, and I'm spoiling it here, the way that they manage to get out of the time loop is that Kyon needs to finish his homework.
HOMEWORK?!?!?! That's it?!?!? We wasted art assets, key animators, and the in-betweens for something so anticlimactic? What a load of bullocks.
Beyond that, the animation seems a little different this time than in the first season. There's less detail and the bloom, or at least the light reflection off of the characters, is turned all the way up. Although it has rich animation here and there, it feels like they had to cut some corners with some of the designs.
So what do I honestly think of the show?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with Haruhi Suzumiya. I don't mind the whimsy or the eccentric nature of the series. I think the characters have their own unique take, even if a bit unoriginal in some cases. The show is completely harmless.
The main problem is the appeal that it has. So many people really like this series, probably more so than I could imagine. Also, I don't often find myself re-watching the series than I do with others. But hey, don't let people like me get you down on stuff you like. If you like this series, more power to ya. I'm probably the wrong person to see this kind of stuff anyway.
Oh, and if there are those who wish me to review the movie The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, here's my two cents for ya: It's 2 hours and 46 minutes of people talking and has very little action. The animation could've benefit from a bigger budget, but it doesn't go beyond what I expect from it. It's for the fans, not me.