Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya–Anime Review

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5 Stars(Broadcast order)
3 Stars(DVD order)

A strong-willed girl wants to meet aliens, time-travelers or espers…but she never does…or does she?

Of the hundred or so anime series broadcast in 2006, this was by far the biggest hit. The quirky story, clever writing, hilarious characters and first-rate animation caught the attention of millions of viewers. It catapulted the small animation studio to the front ranks, and made a cult idol out of Aya Hirano.

Now it is available on DVD, but unfortunately in a degraded form.

  • Original Title
    Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu
  • Genres
    Science Fiction, Comedy, Metaphysics
  • Demographic
  • Contents
    14 Episodes on 4 (or 3) DVDs
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Based on
    A series of light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa
  • Director
    Tatsuya Ishihara
  • Original Character Design
    Noizi Ito (novels)
  • Character Design
    Shoko Ikeda
  • Art Director
    Seiki Tamura
  • Chief Animation Director
    Shoko Ikeda
  • Music
    Satoru Kousaki
  • Animation Studio
    Kyoto Animation
  • Broadcast
  • Region 1 Distributor
    Bandai Entertainment

This series, at least as originally broadcast, is not afraid to challenge its audience. The first episode starts out, without any explanation, with an extremely bad student film. One can only imagine the reactions of the first viewers. Some of them probably thought they had stumbled on the worst anime ever. (Those who stayed to watch were soon rolling on the floor.)

The series continued with the episodes out of chronological order. Some viewers clearly found this frustrating. Hoping to see what happened next in the story, they would instead get something entirely different. However by the final episode it all became clear.

The publishers of the Japanese DVDs, in one of the most bone-headed decisions in the history of anime, decided to rearrange the episodes into chronological order. The effect was to ruin the dramatic structure of the series. The rearranged series builds up to a premature climax half-way through the story. This is followed by some seemingly random episodes, with a final episode in which nothing at all seems to happen.

The U.S. distributors were required by contract to release the Region 1 DVDs in the same order as the Japanese DVDs. Knowing that this would annoy the fans, they came up with an expensive workaround (explanined here.) If you buy the more expensive “Special Limited Editions” of the DVDs they will throw in 3 “Bonus DVDs” containing the episodes in the original broadcast order. (You must buy Special Limited Edition DVDs 2, 3 and 4 to get all three Bonus DVDs.)

If at all possible, I recommend watching the series for the first time in broadcast order on the Bonus DVDs. Then, if possible, watch it a second time in the same order. (There are certain jokes that are much funnier when seen that way.)

It is also very desirable to watch this in Japanese with English subtitles. Japanese voice actors usually do a better job then their American counterparts, but in this case the Japanese cast is so outstanding that they bear a great deal of the responsibility for the success of the series. Aya Hirano is the only real Haruhi. Accept no substitutes!

Parental Advisory

This story is not intended for young children and I don’t recommend it for them. They won’t really understand it and they might pick up bad behavior.

The primary problem from a parent’s standpoint is that the main character does some fairly reprehensible things with no real consequences. This fits into a long comic tradition, but the school setting makes this show more problematic than a typical Bugs Bunny cartoon.

This show should only be watched by people who are mature enough that they can see characters behaving badly in school without feeling the need to go to school and imitate that behavior. American school administrators are notoriously humorless and would probably react to some of the hijinks depicted here by calling the police.

Premise and Characters

KyonKyon [1], the narrator, is just starting high school. As a boy he used to dream about an exciting world full of aliens, time travelers and evil conspiracies, but as he grew up he realized that such things don’t really exist. This seems to have left him rather bitter and cynical. He enlivens the story with a steady stream of sardonic observations.
Haruhi“I’m not interested in ordinary humans. If any of you are aliens, future men, otherworlders or espers, please come see me. That’s all!” With this introduction, Haruhi Suzumia at least manages to get Kyon’s attention.
Haruhi Thumbs UpHaruhi is pretty, smart and talented. She tends to excel at everything she tries, though she also tends to get bored and abandon things quickly. She is capable of the sort of charismatic enthusiasm that can convince people to do things against their better judgment. However she is the antithesis of the Japanese feminine ideal: she is loud, bossy, self-centered, inconsiderate and rude. Kyon is appalled, but also strangely fascinated.
Haruhi and KyonSince Kyon is an ordinary human, Haruhi is not interested in him. However he is the only classmate who seems willing to discuss her ideas seriously, or even able to understand what she is talking about. Somehow they end up having daily conversations.
Haruhi and Kyon’s TieA chance remark from Kyon gives Haruhi an inspiration: she will start a club to track down extraordinary phenomena, to “find aliens, espers and future men and play with them” [2]. She orders Kyon to take care of the paperwork while she finds a suitable headquarters.
Yuki in the Literary ClubAs it happens, the Literary Club is almost defunct, with only one remaining member, a first-year student named Yuki Nagato. Haruhi orders Yuki to turn the clubroom over to her. Yuki agrees. She only seems to care about having a place to read.
YukiYuki is a very quiet girl who speaks in a monotone. She rarely say more than a few words, and when she does speak her statements often sound very strange. If left to her own devices she will do nothing but read. She will generally do whatever Haruhi commands, sometimes in a dangerously literal manner.
Mikuru and HaruhiIn many stories, if you want to attract aliens it is a good idea to bring along a pretty airhead for them to kidnap. Perhaps Haruhi has something like this in mind when she grabs a second-year student named Mikuru Asahina, drags her to the clubroom, and orders her to join the club, which she has named the “SOS Brigade” [3]. Mikuru looks like she would prefer to have a root canal, but she agrees to join once she realizes that Yuki is already a member.
MikuruMikuru is pretty enough and helpless enough to melt the heart of any male viewer [4]. She is clumsy and timid and obviously terrified of Haruhi. As a sempai (older student) she should be entitled to respect and deference, but Haruhi constantly bullies her.
Haruhi and ItsukiEveryone knows that the arrival of a mysterious transfer student is likely to be followed by extraordinary events, so Haruhi is delighted when Itsuki Koizumi transfers in a month into the semester. She immediately drags him to the clubroom and orders him to join. He agrees as soon as he sees that Yuki and Mikuru are already members.
ItsukiItsuki is a pleasant enough fellow, unfailingly polite and agreeable, but he goes around with a perpetual smirk, as if he is enjoying a joke that no one else is aware of. Kyon finds him very annoying.
AsakuraRyoko Asakura is the Class Representative. She is concerned about Haruhi and hopes that Kyon will be a positive influence on her.
Kunikida and TaniguchiKunikida (L) and Taniguchi (R) are two of Kyon’s friends who observe his escapades with Haruhi with a mixture of disdain and ill-concealed envy.
Tsuruya and MikuruTsuruya is Mikuru’s best friend. She tries to be supportive but has difficulty keeping a straight face.
Kyon’s Little SisterKyon’s Little Sister has few lines but she is very cute.
Shamisen and YukiShamisen is a cat. Cat’s can’t talk. That was ventriloquism. Everyone move along now, nothing to see here!

Translation Notes

Some fans have harshly criticized the translation on the DVDs, comparing it unfavorably to the translation on a popular fansub. The fansub translation was witty and idiomatic, occasionally even inserting jokes that were not in the original text. The DVD translation is much more literal and often has a strange sound. For example in the fansub translation Haruhi says that she wants to meet “aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers.” On the DVD she says “aliens, future men, otherworlders or espers,” which sounds very odd.

The question of “literal vs. idiomatic” is a constant problem for any translator. If you translate Japanese literally it will sound strange and stilted to an English ear. If you try to convert it to idiomatic American English you risk distorting the meaning or losing the cultural context (they really don’t talk like us.) So a translator must try to strike a balance, and there is always room for disagreement about where the balance is.

Rika Takahashi, the translator for the DVDs, is one of the most experienced anime translators around, so when she makes a choice there may be a good reason for it. In this case it is worth noting that for various reasons the main characters tend to speak in ways that are not normal idiomatic Japanese. In other words, they are supposed to sound strange.

However in at least one case I am pretty sure that she has made a mistake. The phrase “anthropic principle” is an accepted term in cosmology. When she translates the Japanese phrase literally as “human principle” the point is lost. Either she wasn’t aware of the correct English term or she didn’t recognize that that was what Itsuki meant.

Other DVD Notes

The Bonus DVDs contain the original 14 episodes in broadcast order, with no extras and no English dub–just Japanese with English subtitles. They also include reconstructions of the original broadcast episode previews.

In addition to the English dub, the “non-bonus” DVDs contain some interesting extras including Japanese promotional spots and some crude but charming “home movies” of the making of the series. One thing that comes through on these is that in real life Aya Hirano is shy and soft-spoken and spends a lot of time drawing “Nekoman” cartoons. In other words she is nothing at all like the character she plays!


Wikipedia entry. (Spoilers as always.)

Anime News Network listing.

Bandai explains the episode ordering issue on their official English web site.

My own notes on the series. (Major spoilers.)


[1] “Kyon” is not his real name; it is a nickname that he rather dislikes. However everyone calls him “Kyon” and he probably has only himself to blame since we never hear him tell anyone his real name.

[2] The word “asobu” means “play,” but it doesn’t have the childish connotations of the English word. It would be quite natural for one adult to invite another to “come to my house to play.” That would just imply a social visit with no business purpose. Nevertheless it seems a strange choice of words when discussing contact with aliens.

[3] An acronym for a Japanese phrase that could be loosely translated as “Suzumia Haruhi’s brigade to spread excitement over the world.”

[4] Which is more or less what Haruhi means when she says that Mikuru is moe.”