I think I started to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya about three or four times, got into the first five minutes of the first episode, and thought to myself how the premise seemed really lame and was generally poorly presented; I also wondered why my brother was so ecstatic when he told me to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi. When I finally forced myself to watch through the end of the first episode, I realized I was going to be in for a humorous and off-the-wall experience to say the least. (In hindsight, if you pay close attention to the opening of the first episode, it is amazingly funny.)
The Melancholy of Haruhi wastes no time setting the story’s backdrop – okay, it “wastes” the first episode confusing the viewer, but don’t worry, all will become clear. Anyways, Haruhi quickly informs the viewer that this series will follow an enigmatic girl, Haruhi, who declares she only has interest for all things supernatural (espers, aliens, things of that nature.) Haruhi drags an unsuspecting Kyon (let the harem genre begin) into the SOS Brigade, a club which she creates and seemingly forces a few select people to join.
The story follows Haruhi and her fellow club members participating in the usual after-school activities: playing in a baseball tournament, searching for aliens, espers, and maybe taking an occasional field trip; at this point you should realize that maybe the SOS Brigade isn’t all that typical for a club, but then again, with a girl like Haruhi running the show, things cannot stay dull for long. Revealing any more details regarding the story line spoils all sorts of fun and secrets, so I will only further say that the story of The Melancholy of Haruhi is well thought out, stays interesting, keeps a good pace, and has an enormous amount of humor.
Crisp, well-drawn, and good lighting contrasts – viewers do not need to worry about poor animation detracting from the great plot of The Melancholy of Haruhi. The female characters especially each have their own contrasting style (and Haruhi probably wouldn’t have it any other way, otherwise she’d be bored) so you don’t have to worry about over-representation of the brown-haired ladies. Despite the good dialogue, the writers do not underestimate the value of priceless facial expressions or body contortions, which are generally made by Kyon or Asahina.
Hooray for upbeat openings! Harems generally have the whole “life is fun” motif going for them, The Melancholy of Haruhi being no exception, so why not open each episode with a bouncy, playful song? The background tracks are well-placed and appropriate, so I have no complaints regarding the music side of the sound. The voice actors do an excellent job of personifying their respective characters, whether it is Haruhi’s take charge and enthusiastic nature, Kyon’s reluctant and follower persona, Nagato’s intelligent yet quiet demeanor, or Asahina’s shy tendencies, each characteristic is captured by their voices, which aids in their development.
The title would have you think the story’s protagonist is none other than Haruhi, but as it turns out, Kyon is the main actor in this harem comedy (Haruhi just tends to steal the stage every once in awhile.) The seating arrangement in their class facilitates the development of both Kyon and Haruhi early on. Their relationship reminds me of the Tamaki-Haruhi relationship in Ouran High School Host Club, except the genders of the dominant and reluctantly submissive characters are reversed. We learn early on that Haruhi gets what she wants, and will make use of Kyon or whoever else (generally the less-than-willing Asahina) to reach her goals. At first Asahina, Nagato, and Koizumi seem to be present only for some cliché purpose, however, each of their characters slowly develop during the series, especially through the eyes of Kyon. Finally, the costumes frequently worn by Asahina and Nagato add to the playfulness of the series; I couldn’t help but giggle each time Nagato appeared onscreen wearing her witch outfit with the floppy hat.
Anime that focus on the after-school club motif generally end up having a stereotypical story and character set; The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya keeps some elements of the club theme, while pushing past stereotypes to generate something even better than yet another after-school series. The characters and plot developments give this series strength, and the intelligent yet incredibly “silly” humor kept me more than entertained for the duration. I think The Melancholy of Haruhi is one of those anime that should cater to a broad audience – regardless of taste, I’m willing to bet the majority of people who watch The Melancholy of Haruhi will at least enjoy it, if not acknowledge its superb overall execution.