If you fancy yourself as an anime fan you may have come across the name Haruhi Suzumiya at some point. Maybe you’ve seen her dance into AMV in her sailor uniform, or seen her fellow club members shoot cheesy laser effects out of their eyes, or perhaps you’ve flummoxed why an anime has an online fan religion called Haruhiism. If you’re on the bench about giving this series a go, trying to decide just where to start or simply wondering what the hell this series is then look no further.
From the title and school setting you may think that this is a story about a girl struggling with the dullness of everyday school life. What you don’t expect is a story about an average schoolboy’s adventure with Haruhi Suzumiya through time, space and alternate dimensions. Created by Nagaru Tanigawa, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a slice of life series that stands out in the genre as it blends a healthy dose of science fiction and the paranormal with the usual school-life comedy routine.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The story is narrated by a laid back, sarcastic High school student known simply as Kyon, who upon starting his first year as a freshman student feels that he has outgrown his childish dreams of aliens, magic and so on and has become accustomed to the normalcy of the world. That is until the girl sat behind him utters the words that change his life forever. “I’m Haruhi Suzumiya, from East Junior High. First off, I’m not interested in ordinary people. But, if any of you are aliens, time-travellers, or espers, please come see me. That is all!” After trying out and disliking every club in the school Kyon finds himself talking to this strange girl and suggests that she form her own club. Words he soon comes to regret as he’s dragged into her weird little club along with other unusual individuals to seek out the extraordinary. As it turns out though Haruhi’s already found the extraordinary she just doesn’t know it.
The S.O.S. Brigade
…or ‘The Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade’ sole purpose is to seek out and investigate the mysterious. That’s what Haruhi wants anyway as the rest of the group have ulterior motives for following her antics, and it’s not long before they unveil themselves to an unsuspecting Kyon. Firstly the severely quiet bookworm Yuki Nagato is in fact a super intelligent Alien AI. The painfully shy but buxom Mikuru Asahina is a time traveller from some unspecified future time period. Finally the polite “mysterious transfer student” Itsuki Koizumi is an Esper (wielder of psychic abilities) who always has a lecture on standby and is constantly sucking up to Haruhi which irritates Kyon to no end.
The three individual all work for their own factions who each possess their own motives for following the escapades of Haruhi Suzumiya who is not what she appears. Yes, ironically the eccentric and hyperactive girl who spends her life seeking out something out of the ordinary is in fact someone very special. Haruhi Suzumiya has the power to warp reality around her as she wants but is completely unaware of her god-like abilities. As a result the three are trying to find ways of keeping Haruhi from becoming bored and finding out about her powers to stop her from destroying the world as they know it on a whim. While Kyon moans about being roped into this bizarre situation he gradually grows into helping out his new friends and starts to enjoy his new interesting life.
Boredom, Rampage, Surprise and Everything Inbetween
To keep Haruhi entertained and maintain this illusion that she has an ordinary life the S.O.S Brigade embarks on a series of adventures. Stories can feel a little disjointed at times for example one moment the Brigade will be entering a baseball tournament or competing with the Computer Club via a computer game. Then in the next story you’ll suddenly find them caught up in a murder mystery on a secluded island in the middle of nowhere. Then there are the main story arcs that push the whole sci-fi element further. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (the story used for the film) for example has Kyon running around in an alternate universe in which Haruhi is missing and the S.O.S Brigade does not exist and his attempts at getting home.
One storyline that I feel I should really bring to your attention (as it ticks a lot of fans off), is the Endless eight. The story revolves around the gang being stuck in a time loop as they relive the same 2 weeks over and over again, which is one of the more interesting story arcs in the series. However for some unknown reason in the anime the scenario plays out over 8 episodes. That’s exactly the same scenario for eight episodes. The episode ends with the gang failing to rectify the time-loop and the whole thing repeats over again in the next episode. If you’re reading the novels or manga it’s not an issue as the story only last an chapter or two, so it’s bewildering why this was done for the anime. So here is my advice when you get to this point either take those episodes nice and slow or watch the first episode and the last episode as that’s really all you need to understand what’s going on.
So where’s the best place to start?
Beginning life as a novel back in 2003 The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has gone on to spawn everything from a 20 volume manga, an anime sprawling 2 seasons, a hit movie, several spinoffs and a number of games that sadly haven’t made it to the West. So how do you know where to start? Well really that’s down to personal preference; the manga and anime are both very faithful adaptions of the novels original story. Of course the novel gives the story a lot more depth and, along with the manga, goes further than the anime. The only major difference is some of the ordering has been rejigged ever so slightly and due to a number of reasons the anime has multiple ways of ordering its episodes. I won’t go into too much detail here but put simply there are 4 accepted ways Kyons order (Broadcast order as it was in Japan), Haruhi’s Order (Chronological for Series 1 and the order that the manga uses), DVD Order and Chronological for both series.
If you search for the most optimal way to experience you’re going to get lost in many arguments this has spawned over the years so I’ll just explain how I watch it. I opt for the DVD order which is basically a chronological order of event with series 1 followed by series 2. The only notable difference to Haruhi’s order is that it places an episode called The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina first, which is a short student film produced by the S.O.S Brigade that you don’t actually see them making until the second series. The reason I watch that first is because that was my first glimpse into the series, it was so odd and funny that it pushed me to watch the rest of the series to discover what exactly I had just witnessed. Of course the choice is up to you but the main thing you want to ensure when watching the anime is that you watch both series 1 and 2 BEFORE you move on to the film to get the best experience.
Haruhi-chan and Yuki-chan
The Haruhi Suzumiya series has managed to spawn a couple of successful spinoffs in both manga and anime form. The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya is a parody series that features the usual cast of characters but with some slight personality tweaks. Haruhi is even more obnoxious and excitable, Koizumi has strong feeling towards Kyon and Nagato has a thing for playing Eroge. Some slight knowledge of the characters and their situation is advised before watching but the sheer randomness of this comical spinoff mean it can easily be enjoyed on its own. The Disappearance of Nagato Yukl-chan on the other hand drifts into to the comedy romance genre, as the emotionless Alien Nagato is replaced with a timid young with a secret crush on her fellow Literary Club member Kyon. Along with her best friend Ryoko Asakura the trio try to keep the small club afloat while , get involved in a couple of mysteries themselves while the relationship between Nagato and Kyon develops. Essentially the story is based on the alternate world created during the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya arc. If you find this idea appealing you can actually dive into it without any previous knowledge of Haruhi, it really does stand apart from the main series.
“There’s something wrong with people who seek reality in fiction” – Kyon
So there you have it a brief (or as brief as I could keep it) guide to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya which I highly recommend you watching. The characters are the most appealing aspect of the series. Each character is so well developed, they’re funny in their own way and each has their own distinct quirks. Haruhi searching for this extraordinary things while not realising she is some all-powerful being is a great concept that opens up a lot of creative stories, while Kyon makes an amusing narrator with his level-headed and objective opinions. It’s clever, funny and just so much fun! Certainly a unique plot!
This is of course just a brief guide to provide some insight on the general series and where to start, so I hope this has been of some use for those sat on the bench or cleared up those niggling questions you might have had!