The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Review

My journey into KyoAni’s past has finally brought me to back to Haruhi Suzumiya, which was… well, not as friendly or endearing as it felt when I left it. Beyond the show itself aging like a sack of wet tomatoes in the sun, the fact is, I have aged too, and that means Haruhi herself is less enchanting than she is constantly abusive and a misery to be around. Still, it was a solidly rewarding experience running back through these episodes, seeing what things really do hold up and what things don’t work anymore. Haruhi was a pretty key show for me, so I didn’t mind stopping by to catch up.

You can check out my megasized review over at ANN, or my copious episode notes below!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Episode 1

Opening with the Kyon monologue that will carry us through

I’m sure some of this show’s material aged pretty poorly – anything with Mikuru in particular

Kyon’s classic voice, something that has since become absolutely cliche in anime. Haruhi suffers from the copycat saturation of success

His life is grey until Haruhi appears

Seeking an interesting high school life

The very solid character animation

Though the composite isn’t as strong as their later shows

“What’s she doing?”

The show is very propulsive, raising constant questions and mysteries

“I don’t have time for common humans!”

The hairdo gag

Plenty of the comedy is still strong

This series of expression shifts is excellent. The show knows conversational pacing for the actual character development scenes

Yeah, solid expression work and body language

“We common folk find it best to spend life in common ways”

Nice slapstick

Our first introduction to Nagato, her sitting unnoticed in an empty room

Kyon actually really does like Haruhi’s presence, but it’s very hard to justify her if you’re not inherently fond of her

Lots of strong perspective shots

The show indulges in slapstick with Mikuru that demands a heightened world to justify

“Moe is a pretty important concept to keep in mind”

This self-awareness that would later get run into the ground

The SOS Brigade

Episode 2

Many of their conversations kind of aren’t. Haruhi rambles about a wacky scheme, Kyon riffs on it

Haruhi abusing Mikuru to get a computer

The use of framing to separate Kyon is a nice touch

Mikuru is both a bad character and one that makes Haruhi worse, since Haruhi’s behavior towards her is unforgivable

She really is a moeblob

Kyon already entertained by Haruhi’s demands

The way the show shifts in tone based on the characters present is very strong

Haruhi locking the door is already a strong running joke. The show definitely understands comedy

The long-range body language of Haruhi arguing with the school staff. More strong comedy

Kyon’s fascination with Haruhi is definitely one of the key hooks of the series. And his feelings are far from pure in a variety of compelling ways

The alienating longer shots of Nagato’s meeting with Kyon

And the very different sound design

Messing with archetypes, another thing that’s become cliche

Episode 3

Kyon is an “irregularity” in Haruhi’s world

A second viewing actually is kind of rewarding, since there are tons of details and hints about relationships throughout

Koizumi’s so great

So many fisheye shots

And now the date music and framing for the Mikuru talk

God, Haruhi has some great expressions. And her feelings are all clear with no dialogue

Both of them are similar in that they could make each other happy, but want a life of greater glamour

Everything started three years ago

The melancholy sax of Koizumi’s monologue

Koizumi the first to raise the idea that this group and universe at large exists because Haruhi willed it so

“The biggest mystery is you”

“I guarantee that you are a normal human”

Episode 4

The fight with the class rep, Ryoko Asakura

Asakura’s dialogue feels pretty amateurishly yandere-ish on rewatch. “Please die” and all that

Haruhi is good at creating a sense of scale or “mythology” for its world

Episode 5

Haruhi actually making a series of smart deductions in investigating Asakura’s disappearance

Pretty disjointed switch into Haruhi’s big speech

Still reasonably atmospheric, though

Haruhi realizing she’s not special

It’s such an adolescent fear and philosophy

“I was at a standstill till I could no longer see Haruhi’s back”

Little tidbits of fantasy

Koizumi describing a human-centric theory of the universe, and centering it on Haruhi, so all these strange beings came about because Haruhi wished for them

Some cheap CG here. This segment isn’t really directed at all – very flat sequence, just a long monologue

Haruhi’s frustration empowers these giants

Episode 6

Kyon again wondering at his own place in this whole scenario. C’mon Kyon, you understand Haruhi better than anyone

So much of this show is all about the unstated courtship between Kyon and Haruhi. Haruhi’s moods shift based on Kyon’s actions

Haruhi was frustrated enough to commence creating a new world

The fundamental desire to lead a more interesting life, and finding things of value in the one we have

Episode 7

The baseball episode is pretty full of great gags all the way through

Keeping Haruhi entertained to avoid the end of the world

The color palette shifts nicely for the serious scifi moments

Nagato’s posture as she runs the bases is great

“We have slightly less common sense than normal”

“If you’re fine with it, then sure”

Episode 8

Time for Tanabata

The art design of the second season holds up better – less sharp-edged designs, cleaner video, smoother animation

The formative moment that guides Haruhi’s choice of high school

And then they just stay in Nagato’s apartment for three years. I forgot about that. Great trick

Nagato takes off her glasses once she’s synchronized with the current Nagato. Her evolving personality

This also provides a hint of her later feelings – staying in standby mode for three years

A fair amount of the appeal of Haruhi Suzumiya is how it layers these very compelling tiny scifi questions in ostensibly unrelated narratives

“This was a special case. Emergency mode. It has to be rare.”

Jeez, the direction is so much stronger for this season

“I’d prefer for things to stay nice and ordinary. Would you prefer for something to happen?”

Episode 9

The glitched logo episode

This crappy CG cricket

The show has a decent mix of music. Reasonable guitar rock here, the various genre pieces for the different scifi scenes. The dorky clubroom music is likely the worst

“She probably normally solves these problems by herself, quietly from the shadows.”

Episode 10

The closed circle two-parter begins

God, Koizumi’s so great

Many small beats to echo the mystery genre framing. Shots emphasizing the other characters, talking about the locks of the rooms, etc

This show sure has some gazey shots

Episode 11

They sure jump to locked room mystery mode quick

One of the few times Haruhi and Kyon fully get along – when they’re legitimately experiencing a dangerous adventure together

Actually using some live-action shots here to reenact the murder

Kyon getting Nagato to open the door is a nice little bit

Koizumi being set up as the villain in a variety of ways

Haruhi lost her interest when she realized the culprit would have to be her friends

The Ace Attorney conclusion

Episode 12

Just a legitimately nice summer vacation. Little did we know the hell that would ensue

This goofy smooth jazz music

I like this steel guitar track

Episodes 13-19

Kyon’s commentary sure gets more aggravating as it repeats like this

“This is the 15,532nd time”

The show definitely does illustrate Nagato’s feelings well

The final cafe scene is excellent. Love the surreal sequence of images as Kyon tries to piece together the exit

Episode 20

More experimenting with halfhearted but interesting framing tricks

Haruhi once again getting jealous and tormenting Mikuru

Episode 21

The episode break literally occurs mid-sentence, emphasizing the fact that this is essentially just another short film

It’s interesting to see this again, divorced from the context of coming out years after the original Episode 00

The relationship between Kyon and Koizumi is probably the most interesting one

Episode 22

Haruhi’s unreasonable anger and the intense music here really sell the tension

“How the hell is a normal person supposed to shoot a beam from their eye?”

“You don’t get jokes, do you?” Haruhi is just textbook abusive

Love how the actual beam shows up. Such a tense, screwed-up moment

It’s hard to find Haruhi sympathetic at the best of times, but she’s just a monster in this story

Episode 23

Yuki just carelessly destroying a fence

Haruhi is getting too passionate about playing god

The music doesn’t let Haruhi off the hook at all – it’s all these slow, ominous piano keys, as Mikura basically makes a sacrifice of herself for the sake of Haruhi’s tyranny

“Did you just want to see Asahina dumped in the lake?”

And now it’s just dissonant noise. Damn

And they actually drug her. Holy shit, I forgot that

And they actually make a serious point out of her being physically abusive, too

“You’re the one being selfish. You’re just hitting her because you want to”

“Miss Asahina is not your toy.” “She is!”

Man, the animation of her anger is so, so good

Tsuruya apologizes, at least

I love Koizumi’s perspective here. His idle musing on whether Haruhi is planning to “fix the world” places him in a softly dangerous cultish position

“Suzumiya thought that no matter what happened, you’d always be on her side”

Koizumi is being monstrous in his own way here, chastising Kyon for not being “logical”

Kyon getting defensive for Haruhi’s sake – “at least she’s trying to create something”

Haruhi in the clubroom, thinking about wearing the ponytail to win Kyon back

The cherry blossoms start blooming for the sake of Haruhi’s shot

Episode 24

They find a cat

And the cat can pretty much immediately talk. Welp

This is a very philosophical cat. Love him responding thoughtfully while slowly sinking down Yuki’s cape

Koizumi suggests making the ending of the movie “it was all a dream” to maintain reality

Mikuru says not to trust Koizumi

Mikuru’s theory is that the world has always contained all these strange phenomenon, and Haruhi can simply gather them effectively

Koizumi alluding to the shadow war Haruhi has inadvertently created

Koizumi is even more direct in his condemnation of Mikuru, saying she was basically designed to win him over specifically

Koizumi’s so great. Their rapport definitely holds up

Episode 25

Oh my god Mikuru’s song. This fucking episode

Their low-budget film production style really holds up

The sound design and un-direction are quite strong

“To think the Mikuru Beam was useless…” This episode is still very good

So many great funny details, like Nagato and Mikuru both making dramatic exits in the same direction

Interesting conversation between Koizumi and Nagato, that seems to reflect Nagato’s actual position between Koizumi and Mikuru’s camps

The show getting caught up in different genres is great

The transition back out of this film is very unnatural, which isn’t surprising, given these were from entirely different seasons. The show overall is extremely disjointed

Episode 26

Nagato’s fortune telling still a solid gag

Conveying Kyon’s boredom quite well

The show performance is still quite good. Remarkable how much genuine enthusiasm Haruhi shows here

Haruhi briefly realizing there’s already magic in the world

“I felt like I was doing something at that moment.”

And then she once again gets caught up in her own plans

Like with Endless Eight, there’s a brief window there for Kyon to steer her, but he generally lets it pass

Episode 27

Time for the computer game episode. This CG doesn’t look so terrible!

Kyon’s shtick sure does wear thin after a while

Koizumi: “I just got a bit jealous of the unseen trust that exists between you and Miss Suzumiya”

Definitely one of the more immediately entertaining episodes

This is a really great Nagato episode. Her getting into the game is a lot of fun

Nagato and Koizumi are essentially the only characters that hold up, but they hold up very well

Episode 28

And we’re here! Someday in the Rain, at last

Another strongly atmospheric episode. Feels like a predecessor to much of KyoAni’s later work

These quiet moments with Nagato really do capture a lot of the after-school atmosphere

Haruhi and Kyon’s bit at the end is good, too

8 thoughts on “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – Review

  1. Yes, Koizumi is best character, and key to making the show work, insofar as it does. He often gets neglected by the fandom, but he’s one of the best parts of the show.

    • Oh yeah, personally I’ve never had any problem with seeing Haruhi as an antagonist, but Mikuru’s character is just bad by any standard.

  2. The 1st season holds up so much better in the broadcast order, paralleling the subtle relationship building occurring in the stand-alone episodes to the slow-burn self-realization Kyon has during the “origin story” arch. The school festival episode is magic. Of course the rock concert was a sakuga bomb back in the day, but with hindsight, the Haruhi character development in her wistfulness the day after is still so compelling. The lack of following up on that is what sinks the show, with Oregairu harshly criticizing that backtrack into escapism (Haruhi in effect rejecting “the real thing”) years later. But when you watch the 1st season as its own thing, in broadcast order, that failure to launch doesn’t taint the proceedings. (with Someday in the Rain serving as a glimpse of what “the real thing” would have looked like)

    It doesn’t help that Disappearance yet again centered around Kyon and all but dehumanized Haruhi, regurgitating the origin arc’s revelation. That’s another place where Oregairu seems like Wataru’s “fix” of the genre, by fully exploring Yui, Yukino, and even Hayama’s perspectives and lives outside of school as important, revealing that Hachiman is actually closer to being the Haruhi figure in his own group.

  3. Hmm, I have to disagree woth you on this as I recently watched Haruhi and it stills hold up well (surely the 1st season did). I do think that watching it in broadcast order is way more better experience, as the climax will be at the end so it gives you a satisfied feeling. The chrononical order kills it, and worst of all you have to get through that Endless 8 arc.
    For the things that you think it’s dated, Kyon still has his sharp and cynical observation for me, and for Haruhi, I was afraid I’d would find her annoying this time but I still grew attached to her; and I’m getting older as well :). The only character that didnl’t work well for me was Mikuru
    Anyway, for better or for worse, I still see Haruhi as a staple for how LN adaptation should be.

  4. I haven’t seen Haruhi, but I’ll probably watch it at some point, if for no other reason than because it’s Haruhi. I have a feeling the LN-isms won’t bother me too much since I’ve mostly avoided the generic LN adaptations that keep coming out.

    Are you also going to review Disappearance? I keep hearing that it’s actually better than the main series.

  5. The C+ score seemed rather low, but makes sense in the context your notes provide. My impression of Haruhi is probably skewed since I’ve watched the first season more than once but never finished the second (I dropped it really early in Endless Eight).

    This exercise makes me wonder how some of my old favorites like Full Metal Panic (2002) and Mai-HiME (2004) would fare if they were reviewed today.

  6. Having just watched the series recently, I find the review rather interesting in that I disagree on a few main points. For one, I thought your “cultish” comment on Koizumi’s behavior in the Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc is how I felt about him the whole time. Throughout the whole show he happily serves the role of the smiling yes-man, not even trying to question the things Haruhi says and does because she’s actually a goddess to him. This is interesting because, even when Kyon finally snaps and wants to smack Haruhi for all the abusive shit she’s done, he’s still doing it because he cares about her and wants her to improve as a person. Koizumi never has that kind of realization or development, so he sort of falls flat to me.

    I can also see where you’re coming from on Mikuru. She certainly succumbs to a lot of the “cute” character problems: she’s spineless, exists in large part only to be acted upon rather than to drive the story in any way, and the harassment she suffers seems as though it was meant to be entirely a joke most of the time. For me, though, getting to see the tough, powerful, experienced woman she’s eventually going to become has a lot of impact. Haruhi’s “full steam ahead” attitude seems to have rubbed off on her in some way, helping her grow as a person. At the same time, she feels somewhat tragic, since you get the feeling that her employers from the future essentially threw the young Mikuru to the wolves in order to appease Haruhi and keep their own position intact. Those are a few of the thoughts I had about her throughout the series, but they were more than enough to make me interested in the character beyond her surface-level presentation.

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