The Horrible Botch of Haruhi Suzumiya

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When they announced that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was going to be released in Region 1, my worst fear was that the clueless American distributors would ruin the story by releasing the episodes in chronological order, instead of the original broadcast order. Now it seems that my worst fear has been realized, but it is not the fault of the American distributor. Indeed they seem to be making an unusual effort to salvage the situation.

Here is my understanding of what happened, and what a long-suffering Anime fan can do about it.

Apparently it was the distributors of the Japanese DVDs who rearranged the episodes in chronological order (proving that Japanese marketing executives can be just as clueless as the American kind.) Furthermore the licensing contract requires Bandai to release the Region 1 DVDs in the same order as the Japanese originals.

This tends to wreck the dramatic structure of the series. The dramatic and emotional climax of the story occurs in the episode titled “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Part 6”. As originally broadcast this was the last episode, bringing the series to a suitably dramatic conclusion. In chronological order this episode will appear on the second DVD and everything following will be anticlimactic.

The final episode chronologically is the low-key slice-of-life “Someday in the Rain”, in which nothing of great significance happens. This will be the last episode on the DVDs, ending the series with a whimper.

Recognizing the problem, Bandai is going to release “bonus DVDs” containing the episodes in the original broadcast order. These will be included with the “Special Edition” versions of the DVDs. They will be in Japanese with English subtitles (no English dub.) Bandai explains the plan here on the promotional site.

So let’s assume that you are a true Anime fan, in which case you will certainly want the DVDs. Presumably you will also want to watch the episodes in broadcast order, as Haruhi intended. What should you do?

You can skip the first DVD if you want. Or you can get either the “Special Edition” or the cheaper “Regular Edition”, and watch only the first three episodes, which are the same in either order. (“The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00” appears as the first episode in both sequences.) The “Special Edition” includes a display box and some other spiffs, but the DVDs are the same.

For DVDs 2, 3 and 4 be sure to get the “Special Edition” and watch the included “bonus” DVDs instead. The three bonus DVDs contain all 14 episodes in the correct order. This means listening in Japanese with subtitles, but I consider that a feature rather than a bug. The outstanding Japanese cast was one of the main reasons why the series was such a hit.

If you plan to rent the DVDs, probably Netflix will list the “bonus” DVDs separately. Be sure those are the ones that you rent.

Come to think of it, this means that those of us in Region 1 are actually better off than the poor Japanese consumers, who have no legal way to get DVDs that show the series in the correct order.