Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Haruhiism

It's been a while since I posted anything about Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, mainly because every other anime blog on Earth has done a million and a half posts about it since last March, the vast majority of which are better written than the incoherent ramblings I come up with. Still, it seems wrong not to review what was unquestionably my favorite anime series last year, so here goes.

It was last March when I first read about Haruhi coming out, in a thread on AnimeSuki's forums--and there were a couple things that had me counting the days until it aired from the moment I found that thread. Kyoto Animation doing it was the biggest plus in my mind, as even before Haruhi they were one of my favorite anime studios, and having done a good job with Fumoffu, Munto, and Air I was looking forward to what they'd do next. The second plus was the storyline--a girl who may be omnipotent but doesn't realize it. It just wasn't comparable to any other anime series I could think of, which is rare since usually with any given series you can say "oh yeah, it's kind of like X."

When it finally aired, I went as far as watching episode 1 raw, in spite of my Japanese skills being more than a little sorry. While I usually hate being thrown into the middle without knowing what's going on, in Haruhi's case the amateur video of "The Adventures of Asahina Mikuru" was entertaining enough between the bad acting, mahou shoujo poses, and Kyon's narration that I couldn't wait for more.

I won't summarize the plot since I think almost everyone on Earth has seen this (and if you haven't the Wikipedia entry sums it up better than I could) but here are some of the reasons why I love this series:

- The story. It's rare to find a truly original story, but this series has originality in spades. Being original doesn't necessarily mean good--a story about a pack of baboons who fight an epic battle against sentient ham sandwiches from Neptune using the power of their love for line dancing might be original, but you couldn't pay me to watch it. The storyline of SnY, on the other hand, managed to be original and still to suck me in from the very beginning. There's nothing more subjective than if you like a story or don't, but to me SnY is what good writing is all about. The author does a really good job of creating a world with enough mysteries and unanswered questions to keep me interested, but at the same time it reveals enough as it goes along to keep it from being frustrating.

- Kyon's sarcasm. Kyon's sarcastic narration is one of the best parts of the novels and the anime--I think in practically every episode, I laughed out loud at something he said at least once.

- Haruhi. Yes, she's bossy as hell, and in real life you can easily see why people would give her a wide berth. At the same time, though, she's always interesting and fun to watch, much more so than the seemingly endless stream of demure anime girls with the mental maturity of nine-year olds. And the fact that her character does develop and become more human over the course of the series makes her a lot more likeable in my mind.

- The animation. Kyoto Animation really outdid themselves with SnY--the battle between Asakura and Nagato, the guitar performance at the concert, the dance in the ending credits--there were more than a few jaw-droppingly well animated parts of this series, as you'd expect coming from Kyoani.

- The cast--for me, whether or not I like the characters is probably the biggest factor on if I like a series or not, and while some characters I liked more than others (Mikuru's scared rabbit routine just annoyed me for the most part) overall, I loved the cast of SnY. From Yuki to Koizumi, to even the minor characters like Tsuruya, they're all very distinctive and fun to watch. They all have enough character that there's no way you could mistake one for the other, and while they have quirks (and obviously powers normal people don't) they just come across as "real" to me.

Having said all that, SnY isn't flawless--the way they aired it out of episode order didn't bother me with the first episode, but it did get annoying quickly, especially when they broke up Lone Island Syndrome. The novels jump around some too, it's true, but I'd rather that both the anime and the novels had stuck to chronological order. Especially for a series like this that has some good character development, it really suffers when the timeline keeps jumping around. Watching it through in chronological order after the TV run finished, the flow of the story really went much more smoothly, and it was easier to see the growth in the characters. The first time I watched it, the gaps as it jumps around were frustrating enough I ended up seeking out novel spoilers to fill in the blanks.

Overall, I'd put SnY in the top ten anime series I'd want with me if I was stranded on a deserted island (an island with electricity and a DVD player). The cast, the dialogue, the animation, everything hit all the right notes for me. It passed the rewatch test with flying colors, and still doesn't fail to make me laugh. SnY is just one of those series that makes me thank God/Buddha/Haruhi/etc that I'm an anime fan.

Reading through the novels on Baka-Tsuki's site has me really looking forward to the rumored second season this fall, since there's some great material that hasn't been animated yet. After the first season, I was wondering if the author would start running out of ideas, but based on what's coming up in the novels, I think the second season could be even better than the first.

5 comments:

Michael Huang said...

It's definitely the most playful appropriation of otaku anime archetypes--if anything it's to anime what Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was to sci-fi novels. I gave it an originality award for last year, along with Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni--both of them were very "postmodern" and metafictional.

hashihime said...

Great post, and good comments from michael huang. I disagree about the episode order: that was one of the big postmodern, metafictional pluses for me.

And I was taken aback when you said you liked the cast, and then proceeded to talk about the characters. For me, the voice cast was one of the big triumphs of the show. Sugita Tomokazu was the one who made Kyon's ironies work. Hirano Aya came into her own and really made Haruhi unique. A blunter or limper performance could have made the character either ridiculous or almost normal. And Yuuko Gotou, whether you like her or not -- and I totally love her -- made Mikuru incredibly memorable, especially in the first few episodes. Chihara Minori's Yuki was also memorable, though I don't see Yuki as so hard a character to play.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood is calling, they'd like to steal the idea about the sentient ham sandwiches. They also hope you'll enjoy "The Adventures Of Harriet Susan Meyers."

Chihara Minori's Yuki was also memorable, though I don't see Yuki as so hard a character to play. I thought so, too, till I heard the test reads for the Yuki dub VA poll. Chihara's reading is an odd combination of flatness, urgency, and womanliness. I don't think we'll be getting that in the dub. Actually the only other seiyuu I've heard as convincing with that type of role would be Hayashibara Megumi.

But the dub succeeds or fails based on Kyon's VA. Everybody else in the dub cast (including Haruhi) can be mediocre to average, but a great Kyon will save the production. And a bad Kyon... well that's a little too painful to contemplate right now.

suguru said...

huang: I really like your analogy. And yes, it's definitely got originality.

hashihime: You're absolutely right about the seiyuu doing a great job, it was very remiss of me not to even mention them. It took a very talented group to be able to pull this off as convincingly as they did.

For me, going back and watching it chronologically not only made more sense but made the sometimes subtle character development stand out better, which is one of the areas I think the novels excel at. In the order aired, one minute Haruhi's generally antisocial, the next she's helping out a band with a performance, and without seeing her growth in between, it just feels out of character. I think especially for new viewers or more infrequent/casual anime viewers like my wife, the out-of-order just adds confusion. It may well be a good example of postmodern storytelling though--to be honest college was long enough ago I've forgotten what that means, I blame my memory loss on a dozen years slaving away in large, evil corporations. ^_^

Anon: Yeah, a bad Kyon (I'm thinking Takaaki from To Heart 2's seiyuu here for some reason) would have been very, very unfortunate. In some ways, I think Yuki's the hardest role to play, because the changes in her character are so subtle--but a lot of that hasn't been animated yet, I guess we'll see how her VA does in the next season.

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