Well if you haven't already seen it, go watch it.
The story follows the very cynical but likeable Kyon, who has just started his first year of highschool. He quickly becomes interested in fellow classmate Haruhi Suzumiya (of the title), whose odd behaviour on the first day of term (her only interests are aliens, time-travellers and espers, so screw everyone else!) really sets her apart from the rest of the students. Personally, I wasn't impressed by Haruhi initially, but was compelled by Kyon's witty narration and gorgeous visuals.
A few episodes in and the ball is rolling. Bored of all the other after school clubs, Haruhi creates her own, dubbed 'The SOS Brigade', with the sole purpose of keeping her amused, and gathers our main cast: the ever-tired Kyon, the ever-quiet Yuki Nagato and the ever-useless Mikuru Asahina. Later the group is joined by the ever-resigned Itsuki Koizumi.
Almost straight away comes the big revelation (and this is in no way a spoiler, since you probably already know this): Haruhi is a god, but doesn't know it. Everything (or atleast most things) she wishes for actually comes to life, which is how our cast came in to existence: Nagato is the alien, Asahina is the time-traveller and Koizumi is the esper. However, believing herself to be a normal girl, Haruhi's capacity for reasoning prevents her from truly believing in these exceptional truths, leaving her blind to her own creation. This really is a mindblowing concept that is constantly playing with my mind even when my opinion of the show dips and I move on to other things.
The rest of the cast has to prevent Haruhi from ever finding out her true identity and keep her occupied or reality will become increasingly distorted and the world as we know it could end! Cue some wonderful animation, some touching moments and a great deal of fun!
Season 2 (big surprise) is where this show loses some major points. Instead of furthering the story presented in the first series (which I never felt reached its full potential), we have a set of 'inbetween' episodes, which slot in before and after episodes of series 1. By itself, this is the Deleted Scenes of Haruhi Suzumiya. When I wanted to see some character development, I got more of the same characters. When I wanted to see the further consiquences of Haruhi's abilities, I was denied this. I was constantly asking how much more of the world is influenced by Haruhi? But there just aren't enough answers to satisfy.
One of my favourite episodes of the first series (and perhaps of any other show) is 'The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00', where we see the results of a crude but cute attempt from Haruhi at directing an independent film for an upcoming school festival. It was actually the first episode I saw (it came before episode 1 in the DVD boxset), and I fell in love with the show instantly. Taking every tired trope from all the best and worst anime movies, Haruhi forces her poor clubmates to into participating in the filming and acting of an awful and shameful crapfest, the results of which are absolutely hilarious. But the second series almost, ALMOST crushes that magic by presenting us with 5 episodes of what went on 'behind the scenes'. 5 episodes of totally unnecessary material, which could have been spent making the second series better.
And as for the Endless 8 arc, any complaint or criticism has already been done to death by better reviewers, so I really won't be adding anything by saying that Kyoto Animation SHOULD HAVE SPENT THE MONEY ON SOMETHING MORE CREATIVE INSTEAD OF PUTTING OUT SOMETHING SO IRRITATING ONLY A HIPSTER COULD ENJOY AND CALL EDGY. BETTER SHOWS COULD BENEFIT FROM THE BUDGET YOU'VE WASTED ON THESE EPISODES.
The animation is at best movie-quality and at its worst still leagues ahead of the anime of its time. The only reason it never quite hit perfection for me is that at the end of the day, a lot of the story tends to be confined to the dreary setting of the clubroom. But I can't fault the show too much, because if the animation was any better, the movie would have had a harder job to wow me with its looks (which it definately did).
I can't remember much about the music in the show, but the opening and closing tracks were pretty fun. Again, the movie really excelled in this department, but I can't be too generous here other than to say that compared to a lot of other shows you'll see, this more than likely features better music and SFX, and a better voice cast.
Besides my issues with the second series, the other problem I just can't get over is that, besides Kyon (and, to some degree, Nagato), no other character develops beyond the first few episodes. Most irritating of all is Mikuru, who is hopeless from start to finish, and even her future, more mature self manages to be only slightly less drippy. You see, there is more to making a character interesting than just throwing them at the viewer yelling "She's a time traveller!" or "He's an esper!". I KNOW Mikuru can travel through time, so it doesn't impress me or further her character by showing her doing this either. Ironically, the only worthwhile moment in the absolute disaster that was Endless 8, was learning this one depressing, disturbing and truly heartbreaking fact about the poor alien Nagato, which completely changed my perception of the character, and instantly gave her some depth. That was atleast one of the things the second series got right (IT JUST TOOK ITS TIME GETTING THERE!).
Kyon is easily my favourite characters, the hero of the show, reminding me of Tatsuhiro Satou from Welcome to the NHK before he turned a NEET and a hikikomori. His constant narration might start to irritate in series 2 (purely the fault of the material), but his constant disbelief in the behaviour of his clubmates is as funny as it is understandable. It is through him we view things, through him we feel our emotion. His guilt over Nagato's experience of the Endless 8 arc really hit me powerfully. At the most basic level, Kyon is the opposite of Haruhi: she wishes for things to be real but will never see the reality, whilst Kyon sees the reality but wishes for it not to be real.
Oh, and I'm not keen on Haruhi's personality or treatment of the other characters either: she's a mean spirited brat who just doesn't interest me. I always felt like this show could have been called The Exasperation of Kyon. I know the gang had no choice in the matter, but in reality you'd distance yourself away from this girl as soon as you saw her marching down the corridor, punching and kicking the poor souls who happen to get in her way.
All in all, this series dips halfway through, and never quite recovers. You can easily skip the second season without losing any important storylines, quickly look over the storylines concerning Nagato just to shed a tear, then move right on to the film, which I will have to watch again very soon.
7/10 - Great
(To give it anything more would be to ignore the second series. If you choose to do so, at the very least you can call it an 8/10 - Excellent)