Review for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Seasons 1 and 2
Anime Limited announced a Blu-ray of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 1 so long ago that I’ve forgotten what year. We may be approaching half a decade of wait on that. You might be expecting a whinge followed by a self-satisfied smirk at having grabbed the US standard release of Haruhi Suzumiya Seasons 1 and 2 on Blu-ray for less than £20 thanks to a misprice on Amazon. You might also expect an expression of incredulity at the lengthy wait between announcement and purchase, and the almost as lengthy wait between receipt and starting to watch it (it’s been working its way up my to-watch pile for over a year now) with nary a peep from Anime Limited. But not this time.
I am still looking forward to Anime Limited’s release. I’m a lazy git, but I love watching Season 1 in original broadcast order, as it’s there that the show’s mysteries are the most satisfying. The original Bandai release had the show in chronological order, so I had a note slipped in there to remind me for each re-watch. This Blu-ray release from Funimation presents Season 1 and 2 in the Japanese re-broadcast order of 2009, which is pretty close to chronological, and while Funimation has listed four possible viewing orders in the sleeve including S1 broadcast order, it still involves a whole lot of disc swapping. I just want Anime Limited’s Blu-ray release to be original broadcast order, with minimal disc swapping required. Of course the more time that passes, the more likely it is that they are merely waiting for Manga’s rights to Season 2, the shorts, and the movie to lapse so that they can then release one of their extortionately priced Ultimate Editions, simply using the Funimation discs. In a small way that might be a good thing, as the movie never got a Blu-ray release in the UK, but in a big way it would be a bad thing, as season 2 of Haruhi Suzumiya, what with Endless Eight and the subsequent character assassination is over ninety percent rubbish.
One of the peculiarities of the Japanese education system is the emphasis on extra-curricular activity. It’s practically expected that students take part in some sort of interest outside of lessons, to foster individual or team development, and encourage initiative. The dropouts who go home at the end of the school day are the exception rather than the rule. It’s a little factette worth noting when watching any anime set in a school environment, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in particular, as it focuses on a rather peculiar set of dropouts. The anime is based on a set of novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, and is told from the point of view of a boy starting High School. Kyon like many other young teens had a brief flirtation with the paranormal, the extra-terrestrial and the just plain weird, but now that he is starting high school he has put such juvenile pursuits behind him as he begins the road to adulthood. But then, on the first day of school he winds up sat in front of the class cutie, Haruhi Suzumiya, who promptly makes a statement when introducing herself, that unless they are aliens, espers or time travellers, that no one should bother her. The students who came up to high school with her tell Kyon that she has always been the eccentric, and that befriending her would take more energy than it is worth. She’s obviously smart and capable, she winds up trying all the after school clubs, yet packs them in as a waste of time. Then Kyon, on his umpteenth attempt to make conversation tells a rather sullen and withdrawn Haruhi that she should just start her own club.
Suddenly she’s energised and enthused, and Kyon has a new role in life, that of Haruhi’s lackey. “The Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade” is born, the SOS Brigade for short, and they soon find a headquarters for the club. But school regulations state that an after school group needs a minimum of five members. Fortunately the clubroom comes with the sole member of the otherwise graduated Literature club, Yuki Nagato, a rather introverted girl who always has her nose in a book, and she gets co-opted by Haruhi as the first member of the Brigade. Next comes Mikuru Asahina, a timid young thing who’s pleasing on the eye in Kyon’s opinion, but who Haruhi sees as her personal plaything, ideal for advertising the Brigade by handing out leaflets in a bunny-girl outfit, until the teachers nix that idea. Of course the oddest students of all according to Haruhi are exchange students, with mysterious pasts and hidden abilities. The first such student that arrives at school gets press-ganged by Haruhi, and with Itsuki Koizumi, the Brigade has its mandatory five members. And so the search for weird phenomenon, time travellers, espers and aliens, begins, although the rational Kyon isn’t expecting it to bear fruit. But no one in the SOS Brigade is exactly as they seem, and odd things start to happen around Haruhi Suzumiya.
The 28 episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are presented across 4 Blu-ray discs as follows. There is also a DVD disc devoted to extras. I’ve noted which season the episode is from.
1. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part I (S1)
2. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part II (S1)
3. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part III (S1)
4. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part IV (S1)
5. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part V (S1)
6. The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Part VI (S1)
7. The Boredom Of Haruhi Suzumiya (S1)
8. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody (S2)
9. Mysterique Sign (S1)
10. Remote Island Syndrome: Part 1 (S1)
11. Remote Island Syndrome: Part 2 (S1)
12. Endless Eight I (S2)
13. Endless Eight II (S2)
14. Endless Eight III (S2)
15. Endless Eight IV (S2)
16. Endless Eight V (S2)
17. Endless Eight VI (S2)
18. Endless Eight VII (S2)
19. Endless Eight VIII (S2)
20. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya I (S2)
21. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya II (S2)
22. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya III (S2)
23. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya IV (S2)
24. The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya V (S2)
25. The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00 (S1)
26. Live Alive (S1)
27. The Day Of Sagittarius (S1)
28. Someday In The Rain (S1)
It’s a tale of two Haruhis. The animation gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs, but for season 1, made in 2006, the transfer is an upscale of an SD source, albeit a decent one. There is limited trickery to make it look faux HD, instead offering pretty good a presentation of the SD source with strong, consistent and vibrant colours, a minimum of compression, and smooth progressive animation, although some of the line art can seem filtered. Season 2 dates from 2009, some way into the HD era, so this is more native high definition, with colours just as strong as before, but a fair bit more in the way of detail and clarity in the image. The downside might be the prevalence of digital banding, certainly not helped by squeezing 10 episodes apiece onto the first two discs.
The real proof of the pudding is in the Season 1 opening credits. The Bandai DVDs were pretty good, but they raised the white flag and surrendered during the bit where Haruhi runs through the corridor of stars. The Blu-ray is still stressed during this sequence, but there is nowhere near the same level of pixellation and break-up. It could have been better still though.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Japanese with translated subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. Locked subtitles are a disappointment, even if the font is a lot more pleasant than Bandai’s big and colourful letters on the DVD. It’s the old English dub, so there’s no difference there, while the Japanese is also the same; what you’re looking at is the pleasant upgrade to lossless audio, which gives the show something of a richer sound. The big, big upgrade for UK fans is that we finally have Season 2 in stereo, as unlike the US, we never got corrected discs for the DVD release.
You get five discs in a BD Amaray with an o-card slipcover. The four Blu-rays are held on two centrally hinged panels with the DVD on the back of the case. The sleeve is reversible, and in the inner sleeve you’ll find the extras listing and the distribution across the discs, as well as four possible viewing orders. Each episode is presented as per the original Japanese broadcasts (minus ad and sponsorship bumpers), and is followed by silent translated English credits.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Funimation Now. Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Disc 3 autoplays a trailer for Mikagura School Suite. It’s also here that you’ll find the first of the extra features.
You get the “Hare Hare Yukai” TV Version Special Ending (The Haruhi Dance), The textless opening and the textless closing for the first season. Putting player locked lyric translations and romanji lyrics over the textless credits and especially the Haruhi Dance is a capital crime, Funimation! You can bet I’m not ditching my DVDs.
Disc 4 autoplays a trailer for Lucky Star. This disc is solely devoted to extras.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Making-Of is the 8-part feature from the first season and runs to a total of 88:56.
Location Scouting Video is the 8-part feature from season 2 and runs to 81:07.
New Mysterious Discoveries Journey is also in 8 parts, running to 69:47, and as far as I can tell is new to Western home media. It’s not on any UK release, and I couldn’t find any evidence of it on US DVD releases. It appears to be the Haruhi equivalent of The Adventures of Minoru Shiraishi featurettes on the Lucky Star Blu-ray.
On this disc you also get plenty of commercials, promo videos and promo spots.
The fifth disc, a DVD autoplays with a trailer for Fairy Tail.
The big extra here is the Behind the Scenes of Aya Hirano’s Music Video, once again in 8 parts, running to 41:54 in total. Again this is an extra feature ported over from the Season 2 DVDs.
The Anime Expo 2007 Guest of Honor Intro lasts 1:59.
Uncut Launch Event Video lasts 5:33.
Nekoman Gallery 1-5 lasts 2:57.
Broadcast Previews 1-13 run to 4:07.
The Special Teaser lasts 2:09.
Endless Eight Prologue – Summer an Audio Slideshow lasts 2:08.
You get 3 textless openings, 5 textless endings and the US trailer.
Note that none of the ASOS Brigade extras (which we only got with Season 1 in the UK) are on this release, and neither is the nifty Easter Egg from the Season 2 DVDs.
Just over ten years ago, I got this bright and shiny Bandai DVD boxset, containing a series that everyone was raving about. I took their advice and watched it in a bizarre, illogical order, and I absolutely loved it, thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, loved its storytelling, its characters and its breathtaking imagination. Since then, a second series has dropped, spin-offs, and a feature film, and over the years I’ve watched and re-watched both Haruhi Suzumiya seasons five times, including this first time in high definition. And it’s been getting worse with each re-watch. I’ve come to the conclusion that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is the anime equivalent of event TV, shows like Lost and nu-Doctor Who, which are great to watch once, but any second viewing and beyond demands analysis and thought, and the whole thing just falls apart. These are one time only deals, and with Haruhi Suzumiya in particular, it’s very much of its time, its zeitgeist, and hasn’t aged well at all.
For one thing, these aren’t characters; they’re archetypes at best, caricatures at worst. The most human and relatable is Kyon, a passive aggressive grump whose inner monologue is a litany of complaint. Haruhi herself has some sort of personality disorder, an entitled, loud-mouth, obnoxious brat whose sole saving grace is that her obsessions aren’t self-destructive, although her penchant for sexual harassment stopped being funny the second time around. This brings us to Mikuru Asahina, eternal victim whose sole purpose is to look cute, whine in a cute voice and submit to Haruhi’s groping. Koizumi is exposition boy, and as smarmy as a game show host, and then there is Yuki Nagato, the ultimate expression of the emotionless, quiet, short, grey haired girl that has been making anime fans moist ever since Rei Ayanami in Evangelion. The viewer is supposed to invest her with emotion, but there comes a point where I can’t make the effort anymore. And this is just season 1. Season 2’s Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya came along and indulged in two hours of character assassination, or should I say caricature assassination.
I first saw Season 1 in 2006 broadcast order, which mixed things up in such a way that you got to see the mysteries before the explanations, the stand alone episodes interspersed with the six episode Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya arc, and I have to say that it still works today. Even with the awful characters, this storytelling and writing style holds the attention, and while it may no longer be that hyperbolic 10/10, it’s still a solid eight. But this was the first time I was seeing things in chronological order, which means that Season 1 is pretty much in straightforward order as well, and it is really quite dull having it all laid bare for you. It’s watchable at best this way.
You can’t get away from the elephant in the room that is season 2. It is woefully bad. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody is the one saving grace, the one worthwhile episode in fourteen, which lives up to and even exceeds the quality of season 1, and that’s the season 1 I saw in 2008, not the season 1 that I’ve reviewed today. But Endless Eight! Repeating variations on the same episode eight times is an utter troll. It was bad enough watching it unfold the first time over two months, but watching it over eight consecutive nights? I should have some kind of award. And as mentioned, the foetid icing on the putrid cake is The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya, which takes those wafer thin characters, thoroughly unlikable outside the context of this show, and proceeds to vilify them within the context of the show. It’s the Gerald Ratner of the anime world.
Thankfully Funimation have put the broadcast order on the inner sleeve. Sure it involves a lot of disc swapping, but if you’re going to buy this collection, just watch Season 1 in 2006 broadcast order, and as a bonus watch Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, and you’ll be okay. I watched the whole thing as presented on the discs, all 28 episodes and I wound up wanting to throw the thing in the bin. It’s been 4 years since All the Anime announced season 1 of Haruhi Suzumiya, but it’s clear that if they want to make life easy on themselves and on the fans, original broadcast order, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody as a bonus feature, and maybe fix the banding, and they’ll sell out. Woe betide they release Season 2...