- 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….
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.
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.
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!
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.
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