Image result for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya s2

  • Genre: Slice of Life, Supernatural, Comedy,
  • Episodes: 14
  • Studio: Kyoto Animation

 

What if god actually was one of us. You know, confused and emotional. Not really sure what they want. Prone to mood swings and changing fancies. What if the universe only really made sense when viewed through the eyes of someone who doesn’t actually get what’s going on. What if everything you know to be true was mostly arbitrary and entirely capricious. Are you thinking things wouldn’t change that much? All this time we’ve been fearing an angry god or a vengeful one. We’ve been clamouring to gain their favour and appease their wrath. Just like always, we’ve been completely wrong. The true catastrophe lies in a bored god and we should be doing everything we can to be more entertaining!

I had been hearing about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya for years and always in the context that this was a show I would greatly enjoy. I won’t lie, I hyped it up in my own mind to a point that would have been difficult to live up to for any series. As I mentioned in my review, season 1 didn’t manage that but it was brimming with unfulfilled potential. Did season 2 manage to capitalize on that potential? Find out below the fold. I’m going to put a read more tag here… I’m not sure how it shows up on the different platforms. Oh man, is that fold comment not going to make any sense for most of you? It’s all going wrong guys….

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Haruhi has an idea – run!

Ok, we can save this. I mean, I even looked something up for this review. Fact Checking! Fancy right!? So I found out that season 2 of Haruhi came out a full three years after season 1 and this is clearly visible. The art is obviously upgraded. As it was pretty to begin with, it’s downright impressive now. It maintains that certain classic quality in the designs but it gets even more details and depth. The colours are crisp and vivid and subtle shadows make everything look really 3 dimensional. The animation is still fairly minimal, as it remains largely unneeded, but it has also been upgraded and the few scenes which feature a bit more action are great to look at and make you wish there had been more.

What hit me most though was the sound direction. The soundtrack of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had always been baffling to me. One second it sounds like some cheesy 1980s soap opera track that completely clashes with the scene and even takes away from it, the next it switches to an unexpected piece of music that brilliantly compliments the action. The same holds true for season 2 although the ratio of wins to fails has improved considerably. The voice acting on the other hand had always been good but it seems the actors have grown more comfortable with each other and the chemistry between the characters clearly comes out in their banter which is absolutely charming. Kyon and Koizumi are particularly fun together as the actors play off each other perfectly and steal any scene they happen to share.

I’m not entirely sure on the reason but season 2 toned down the faservice or rather adapted it. Maybe I got numbed to it, but it no longer felt awkward and tacked on for cynical purposes like in season 1. Now, it was perfectly integrated and justified by the storyline and presented in a much more joyful and honest (non creepy) way. Your mileage will vary on this but to me, this simple tweak really modernized the feel of the show. Needles to say, I enjoyed it much more this way.

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classy!

When we say The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya season 2, most of you think Endless Eight. There’s a reason I used the word in the title. Ok that reason may be that I’m bad at naming posts…Basically season 2 is divided into two mid-length arcs with a filler introductory episode thrown in to round off the season. Those arcs are the infamous “Endless Eight” and the only slightly shorter “The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya”. I watched the show in the rebroadcast order in which the last two episodes of season 1 are shown at the very end of the series and it’s a great move. Since the events of the arcs actually happen in between episodes of season 1, it’s difficult to realize the order had been changed at all unless you are really paying attention to the art and animation and thematically they work perfectly to cap off the series and compliment both arcs.

Ok, Ok, I’m stalling. Let’s get to the main event. Let’s talk Endless…

I imagine that for most people these eight episodes will make or break season 2 and possibly the entire series. That makes sense. Eight episodes is a long time and this narrative experiment was a huge risk that could not avoid being divisive. Endless Eight, referring both to the number of episodes and the fact that the story takes place over the last two weeks of August, is a Groundhog Day type narrative in which a series of slice of life summer activities happen over and over again until the characters can figure out how to move on. These episodes are incredibly similar to the point where I almost skipped the second one because I thought I was watching the same episode over again.

Image result for the melancholy of haruhi suzumiya endless eight
it may be a bit much for some people

The fact is there are a lot of differences, these episodes were purposefully made and no animation is reused. The characters do and say the same things while wearing completely different outfits or standing in slightly different positions. We do get some extra dialogue here and there slowly revealing more of the story but I cannot overstate how similar events are from one episode to the next. As I said, eight episodes is a long time to watch the same series of events repeat over and over again. That’s 2 full length feature films. Whether you’re watching one a week or binging them all in one go, that is a very bold choice on the part of the writers. A ridiculous gamble. Who else would be so foolhardy. I’ll tell you who: No one! This is a unique experience you will not get in any other anime. At least none that I’ve seen.

I stood slack jawed and mesmerized, completely unable to look away from my TV for eight entire episodes. Keep in mind this is a show that occasionally bored me enough for me to wander away. I thought it had its moments but was overall fiercely average. Endless eight didn’t just up the ante, it flipped the table, threw out the board game and started something wholly new. I’m not sure what game we were playing before, with antes and boards but let’s say competitive strip scrabble.

As I watched and rewatched the gang going to summer festivals, splashing around in the pool, playing with fireworks while slowly feeling the unease of something not quite right, I fell into that particular anxiety, that time travel paranoia if you will, desperately trying to memorize every single detail and catalogue each minute difference from one occurance to the next. Grabbing at everything and anything that could possibly be a clue as to how to move on. Wracking my brain in a frenzied attempt to avoid Chaos Theory Homeostasis. If you recognized those, we are now friends. What I’m trying to say is that on a personal, visceral level, the only other time I’ve experience something similar was while playing Steins;Gate. I’ll let you decide for yourselves if that’s a good thing. No wait – there’s a wrong answer here. It IS a good thing!

Image result for the melancholy of haruhi suzumiya endless eight
if you appreciate intelectual stories and all….

Unfortunately, The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya cannot maintain the momentum for the rest of the season. Some episodes were enjoyable, especially more towards the end of the arc, but as the series returned to a more conventional linear slice of life, my interest started to wane with much of the same complaints I had in season 1.

It’s not a bad show but the sci-fi or supernatural elements that had attracted me to the series in the first place are pushed way to the side and reduced to gimmicks. Ironically, these same gimmicky elements are given just enough time and exposition to rob us of character development that would have been crucial to truly engage us with the mundane slice of life aspect of the series. They just never manage to get the balance right. I quite liked the episodes which was just a showing of Haruhi’s movie as it was in fact a tongue in cheek metacommentary on the entire series and it voiced a lot of my complaints about the show. Knowing your failings isn’t the same as correcting them but kudos for being able to laugh at yourself.

Image result for the melancholy of haruhi suzumiya the sigh of haruhi
movies with a talking cat are an automatic win

And then something happened.

I enjoyed the last two episodes (originally last two episodes of season 1) a lot. These would have been considered pure filler no matter what show they were a part of but somehow the pacing and tone was better than in most. For one, they completely forgo any mention of surreal elements and stick to a strict school life anime structure. They both use Kyon as a grounding narrator while letting the story naturally meander across the rest of the characters without insisting on anyone. I would have watched an entire series of this happily I thought to myself. I wrote a little line in my notebook: “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya skirts greatness”. I was quite proud of that line. I went on with my life and that evening chose the next anime I was going to watch (Terror in Resonance btw). Suddenly, I realized I missed Kyon and the gang. Not that almost painful longing you get when a beloved series ends but I had gotten used to spending my evenings with these guys and I wasn’t entirely ready to move on. I wanted to know how things turn out. I wanted to know if they remained friends as they grew up. I guess the in the end the biggest fault I could find with the series is that I wished there were more aliens and future men and espers. Don’t we all?

I’m not sure what this means. As with most things I find myself in the minority, largely preferring season 2 to season 1. Overall I think this show has a lot of obvious problems and may not quite live up to its reputation but I also enjoyed it. I’m happy I watched it and I would do it over again. And again. And again…  

Favorite character: Koizumi – I just luvs me a troll, guys..

What this anime taught me: Sometimes you’re not just drunk, the episodes really ARE repeating.

I drink to make other people more interesting

Suggested drink: Endless Summer

  • Every time Asahina says “classified information” – take a sip
  • Every time Koizumi closes his eyes – take a sip
  • Every time Haruhi volunteers someone – take a sip
  • Every time Koizumi launches into exposition – take a deep breath
  • Every time we see insects – take a sip
  • Every time anyone is wearing a yukata – cheer
  • Every time Kyon blushes – take a sip
  • Every time Kyon gets annoyed
    • if it’s at Haruhi – take a sip
    • if it’s at Koizumi – take a sip of water
  • Every time Asahina cries – take a sip
  • Every time Yuki talks – listen
  • Every time Asahina is forced into a costume change – fan yourself

29 thoughts

  1. Still one of my favorite franchises after all these years.

    “I guess the in the end the biggest fault I could find with the series is that I wished there were more aliens and future men and espers. Don’t we all?”

    I own the entire set of books, and you actually do get more aliens, future men, and espers later in the series, once you get into the later novels that KyoAni didn’t animate. Structurally, Haruhi an interesting series, because the whole is a mix of full-length novels and short story collections. For the parts that were animated, Melancholy, Sigh, and Disappearance were complete novels. Someday in the Rain was an anime-original episode, and all of the other episodes were adaptations of short stories from books 3, 5, and 6, including Endless Eight (which in the books only covered one time loop, the last one). It’s hard to structure a series when you have to deal with that kind of mix, without making it feel too disconnected or episodic. That’s why KyoAni opted for the unusual broadcast order they chose for the first season, which I actually think works very well for that block of material. Unfortunately there was no way to incorporate the second season into that structure, so if you’re watching both together you’re stuck with the largely episodic chronological order instead. Or watching season 2 after season 1, even though S2 was never intended to be watched on its own, which it sounds like is what you did.

    It does pain me a little bit to hear you call Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody a “filler” episode in this review, though, because in terms of the larger narrative it’s probably the single most important short story in the entire series.

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    1. Well as I’ve mentioned in the other comments I am limiting myself to the anime so I have no idea about the extended canon of the series which does seem to have a lot of loyal fasn and detractors. I watched season 1 up to a oint then 2 then last 2 eps of 1. I guess the reason I called Bamboo rapsody a filler ep was mostly because of the smore muted color palette and more slower moving animation which made me think that there may have been less budget alloted to that particular episode when compared to the multi episode arcs of s2.
      I have alwas tried to review anime without regard to the source material because I beleive that it should be able to be appreciated as a stand alone product. And I do think the Melancholy is a good show that I enjoyed as I say in my review. After hearing for years that this would be a favorite of mine though… I loved endless 8 – taken individually it certainly makes my top 5.

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      1. “I am limiting myself to the anime so I have no idea about the extended canon of the series”

        I know, and I think that’s the right approach for your review. I’ve often said that if you have to know the source material to enjoy an adaptation, then it’s a failure as an adaptation. I was just adding a little context.

        Anyway, I come out somewhere in the middle on Endless Eight. i watched the whole thing (on the later DVD release, not as it was airing), and I didn’t mind it so much, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to watch the entire thing again. I have gone back and watched some of the individual episodes occasionally on their own, though, and in small doses i can fully enjoy them.

        I think where I kind of deviate from consensus, instead of on E8, is that I actually liked the “Sigh” arc a lot more than most people seem to. I’ve seen a lot of comments over the years that “Sigh” brings out the worst of Haruhi’s personality, since she’s at her most selfish and obnoxious during that arc. I’ll concede that there’s some truth to that, but I also think “Sigh” is Haruhi at her most dynamic, proactive, and creative, in a way we seldom see very often again for the rest of the series. Also, KyoAni’s work on the Kyon/Haruhi argument scene is fantastic. When I read that scene in the book it was just kind of like, “Oh, okay, they’re having a fight,” but with the anime scene, by the time things deteriorated to the point where Haruhi was calling Mikuru her toy, I was on the edge of my seat and practically seeing red right along with Kyon.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You are definitely in the minority on this one haha. After waiting so long for a new season I can’t believe they wasted so many episodes doing the exact same thing. Killed my interest in the franchise completely. Thankfully the movie was decent.

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  3. I’ll admit to only watching the first and last episodes of Endless Eight in full and fast forwarding through the middle set. I love that a choice like that was made, but just couldn’t put up with the time commitment, considering I was binging it at the time. Kudos to you for finding joy in it.
    I vastly prefered Sigh, as it was the only time that Kyon really stood up to Haruhi about her harassment of Mkuru. I was shocked that a male lead in an anime would actually call out the main heroine on her crap, especially since he thinks she is a god that could destroy everything in a pout. Both characters went to far and had to deal with the fallout. Character development!
    I’m concerned about your comment about the lack of animation. Recent Kyoani shows have really excelled at the little character animation flourishes – hand movements, facial changes, how and where characters stand. Its been awhile since I watched either Haruhi TV season (and I haven’t seen the movie either), so I don’t remember if they were using those tricks yet. Were you referring to a lack of grand animation spectacles, or more static character work?

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    1. I elaborated a bit more in the first season and I will have to look at my notes but when all put together there were often several minutes worth of still shots in certain episodes and Kyon’s inner monologue narration meant that talking animation wasn’t required so you would have camera movements instead of actual animation. Mind you it wasn’t done poorly but as far as technical merits of this show go, I don’t think animation was its strongest point.
      I understand the repetitions being tiresome but I loved them. Can’t quite justify it without resorting to personal taste.

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  4. Someone else who doesn’t mind the endless eight? That is so exciting. I’m weird, I watch the endless eight through whenever I rewatch Haruhi. I enjoy it even though it does feel repetitive. I just like playing spot the difference and looking for all those minor changes and did I mention I’m weird.

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  5. Well, I was already convinced by your review for season 1, but it’s always nice to read that season 2 is good, and you find it even better than the first season. Still, sadly can’t see this one (yet), but as I said I will keep my eyes open.
    Shocking fact: I bought Terror in Resonance on dvd last year. Yes I know right, an anime series that we are both able to see (miracles do exist lol 😂😂). Looking forward to your thoughts on that one.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Nope, I still have to see it, but it’s scheduled to be reviewed in my Anime theme month, that I am planning in March…..shhhhh don’t tell anyone yet, you are the first to know what the theme of March is going to be 😀

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  6. I’m so pleased to see this article and comment section giving so much love to Endless Eight, it just somehow works, especially with the reaction it’s designed to evoke in you. But that aside well, it’s one of those incredibly audacious things that only work in anime and I still can’t believe they actually did it – so it works for me. Very insightful article as well, taking me back to all of the things I love about the series.

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    1. I’m also pleasantly surprised t find so many people enjoyed endless eight – the internet at large had led me to believe fans had not appreciated the gambit.

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  7. I love the endless eight and have never before found anyone who does, too. I stumbled upon it blind, and marathoned it. Airing it weekly on TV is perhaps not the best distribution, though. So people who saw it as it aired may not have been that happy with it (especially after waiting for three years for their sequel).

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    1. I’ve been really asking myself this question. Obviously I also essentially sat there for four hours not blinking at my screen but I wonder what the impact would have been if I had been forced to wait a week between episodes. Frustrating for sure but that frustration may have brought its own reward. Having to strain your memory even more to pick up on subtle variances, getting an entire two months to really ponder and simmer upon what’s going on. Maybe I would have lost interest but I’d like to think my stubbornness, if nothing else, would have heightened my anticipation for and ultimate attachment to this arc. I get not everyone is going to feel this way.

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  8. Haruhi Suzumiya is an interesting story for its time. I am glad you got to see it finally, even if its a little out of context. There’s several referential jokes in the series to other Kyo-Ani projects like Full Metal Panic. There’s also the matter of the original showing order from the initial broadcasts, which are NOT in order used later. This affects how you recognize Kyon’s part in the series, and reveals, now that you’ve seen this I can spoil it for you: Kyon is God, not Haruhi. Haruhi is given the powers, which only work while Kyon is nearby, and Kyon is the one who expresses boredom in the ep 2 narration, and gets the adventures with the exact things he wants to experience: time traveller, alien, esper, and magical girl (haruhi). He’s blind to these facts, and thinks Haruhi is god, which is the running joke of the entire series. The discussion between the esper and time traveller while eyeing kyon sideways is the huge clue to him being god. There’s other aspects as well. Giving Haruhi a portion of his power when he time travels back 3 years, essentially locking the universe, is another clue to his nature. The strange conversations about the universe with the alien is another huge clue. She doesn’t try to talk to Haruhi, just to Kyon, and in the movie she falls in actual love with Kyon, and the part of her human enough to love dies for it.
    Haruhi Suzumiya is not the only Japanese anime about god. There’s one about war gods called Saikano, and lots about the wrath of gods (Evangelion), and about being the destroying god (RahXephon), and the evil angels (Bleach), and even the adorable goddess from the childish Shinto faith (Kamichu!), plus various shrine gods (Cat god, hot springs goddess, etc). Haruhi Suzumiya isn’t the first or last of these stories. Its just easy to watch and light hearted, and knowing that Kyon is the god in the story just adds another layer to the humor, and makes some of these other stories funnier. Kamichu BEGINS with the first line being recognition that the middle school girl woke up and knew she was a goddess. The rest of the story is her adventures, and the moe cuteness overload of her affection towards a certain boy who draws script, and the fan theory that he’s the guy in Barakamon, and why that character is nice to girls and never dates (because he’s already married to the goddess of winds and storms). A shame we never see an omake her visit as an adult looking goddess, with her long hair.
    Cheers! Now you have more shows to watch, and you’ll get more jokes.

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    1. Oh I remember reading this on TV Tropes. It was an awesome article! I also liked how it posited that Haruhi is essentially a personification of Shrödinger’s second rule if we consider Kyon to be the observer. It’s a very plausible interpretation and the story certainly pushes for it offering a lot of circumstantial evidence in support. It’s most likely the canon one. However, I personally enjoyed that the series offered the possibility for multiple interpretations.
      Admittedly I’ve only seen the anime not the movies neither have I read the books (and as I said I think your theory is probably canon) but I lost interest in an ominipotent being interpretation early on. Poetically I enjoyed the notion that Kyon and Haruhi are archetype adaptations of the Tanabata Myth – it’s a sweet idea and sheds new light on Haruhi’s obsession with the festival. While my penchant for overcomplicated plots would prefer to think that there is no single god and we are looking at a series of branching phenomena interweaved with a couple of possibly unrelated coincidences. I mean only Koizumi actually says “God” and he is hinted at being an unreliable narrator.
      I tend to go off on wild tangents. Both of these interpretations are long shots. I am so happy I’ll finally get the references to this series, I’ve probably missed a ton already.

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  9. I thought that Endless Eight was a brilliant narrative choice and respect the studio for taking that risk. In comparing season 1 and 2, I would give a slight edge to season 1 myself but I can’t fault you for favoring the second season. I guess for me the series does cross the greatness threshold. There are many ideas in Haruhi that other series just could not pull off plus Kyon & Haruhi’s banter is anime gold. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this series- will you be checking out the sequel movie- The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya?

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    1. If I can get my hands on it! I desperately want to, I’ve heard nothing but great things and I am very curious about the novels as well. Seems like a lot of the story didn’t make it to the anime

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know what part of the world you reside in but the movie was re-released last year on blu-ray along with the rest of the franchise. It is a great follow up to season 2 and a beautiful film. Hopefully you will get an opportunity to experience the film, it is a must watch!

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