ANIME REVIEWS: Two Based on The Works of Nagaru Tanigawa – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEWS: Two Based on The Works of Nagaru Tanigawa

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Funimation: $64.98, 5 discs, (4 Blu-ray and one DVD)

Despite the series title, Haruhi Suzumiya (Wendee Lee) is hardly melancholy. She’s one of the prettiest girls in her high school, but also the strangest and the loudest. Haruhi dismisses normal people as “boring” (“What kind of fun does a ‘normal’ high school student have?”). She wants to meet “aliens, time travelers, and espers.” When she founds a club, The SOS Brigade, to aid her search, she cheerfully usurps a room, steals computer equipment and shanghaies members. Her first “volunteer” is Kyon (Crispin Freeman), the show’s long-suffering narrator.

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Although she doesn’t realize it, Haruhi has actually found what she’s looking for among her recruits: hyper-intelligent Yuki Nagato (Michelle Ruff) is an alien; shy, ultra-cute Mikuru Asahina (Stephanie Sheh) is from the future; genial, low-key Itsuki Koizumi (Johnny Yong Bosch) is an esper. Kyon is normal–at least superficially.

The exotic trio has gathered around Haruhi for reasons they explain to Kyon. Although she appears to be a regular high school student, Haruhi possesses extraordinary powers that she’s unaware of. When she gets upset, dark rents open within the space-time fabric; the gaps are haunted by destructive shinji (ghostly giants) whom Itsuki and other espers must destroy. These phenomena have grave implications for the Earth and perhaps all of creation: Itsuki warns Kyon that the existence of the entire universe may depend on Haruhi’s whims.

As the story progresses and evidence of Haruhi’s powers accumulates, Kyon wonders if he’s having an extended nightmare or saving the world from destruction. He and the other SOS Brigade members come up with diversions to keep Haruhi happy, yet she still manages to play hob with the universe. Unhappy that the Brigade’s web page is getting so few hits, Haruhi designs a new logo. This seemingly innocuous cluster of data somehow sends the president of the school computer club to an alternate dimension inhabited by an “info entity” that takes the form of a giant cricket.

When the members of the computer club challenge the SOS Brigade to play their newly invented game “Day of Sagittarius III,” Haruhi accepts. The episode turns into a very funny spoof of sci-fi anime, with Haruhi shouting commands from the bridge of an imaginary space ship. Yuki realizes the computer nerds have rigged the game, and rewrites the code during the battle, ensuring an SOS victory. For the school arts festival, Haruhi decides the Brigade should make a film. The things she has Kyon film throw reality out of whack–Asahina shoots laser beams from her left eye, a cat starts talking, cherry trees blossom out of season—until Kyon can talk her down.

A great deal of the series rests on Freeman’s portrayal of Kyon, the de facto narrator and disgruntled voice of sanity. Happily, he’s more than up to the task, making the character both likable and believable.

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Based on the popular novels by Nagaru Tanigawa (which are available in English), The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya overflows with zany energy. The challenge for the filmmakers is to juggle the spoofs of other anime, the character relationships and the existential threat Haruhi’s powers represent while presenting a coherent story. Director Tatsuya Ishihara and his crew generally do a good job, although the episodes have been shown in two different orders—one supposedly dictated by Haruhi, the other by Kyon. (The packaging for the Blu-ray lists both, so the viewer can watch the story either way.)

But things falter in the “Endless Eight” adventure from the second season. Worried that she hasn’t wrung every possible drop of fun out of her summer vacation, Haruhi inadvertently traps the members of the SOS Brigade in a time loop that recalls Groundhog Day. The days between August 17 and 30 repeat more than 15,000 times before Kyon devises a way to break the pattern. As the filmmakers repeat the same footage with only minor changes, the viewer can skip from the first episode to the last without missing much.

The new Blu-ray set comes loaded with extras include promotional spots, trailers, video footage of location scouting trips and a DVD of behind-the-scenes clips of Aya Hirano’s related music video.


The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan
Funimation: $64.98, 5 discs, Blu-ray

Based on a manga spinoff of Tanigawa’s original novels, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan takes place in an “alternate universe.” Yuki Nagato is not an eclipsingly intelligent alien, but a typically shy, bookish high school girl. The president of the Literature Club, she nurtures a crush on Kyon.

Asahina remains ultra-cute, but isn’t quite as shy, as Yuki has the meekly self-conscious racket cornered. In the third episode, Haruhi herself shows up from another high school with Koizumi in tow. This Haruhi is interested in aliens and espers, but she lives in an ordinary world where they don’t exist.

Stripped of the supernatural powers that put the fate of the universe in jeopardy, Haruhi is just a rather loud high school girl. She can’t bully the others effectively. With no one to complain about or react to, Kyon devolves into an everyday nice guy at the center of a fairly pedestrian high school romance. The original voice cast reprise their roles, but the new material doesn’t give them much to work with.

The result is like looking up an old college drinking buddy and discovering he’s working at Wal-Mart and become a Republican.

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Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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