Mikuru, a battle waitress from the future, must battle the evil alien witch Yuki to protect Itsuki, an innocent young man with unrealized psychic powers, from her clutches. . .
No, wait. Actually, first-year high school student Kyon’s prospects for an ordinary high school life were shattered when Haruhi Suzimiya, the pretty, smart, and multitalented girl sitting behind him in homeroom stood up and introduced herself with the bold declaration that she was not interested in normal people, only “time-travelers, aliens, and espers.” Daring to talk to her anyway, Kyon gets caught up in her schemes when, after finding the school’s other clubs lacking, she takes his advice and forms her own, soon dubbed the SOS Brigade, with the stated goal of investigating “unusual occurrences” and with him as the first draftee. Also dragged or cajoled into the club are bookworm Yuki (whose defunct Literary Club provides the club room), very moe upperclassman Mikuru (the mascot), and friendly Itsuki (the “mysterious transfer student”). What Kyon gradually discovers, but Haruhi herself utterly fails to realize, is that Haruhi has inadvertently surrounded herself with the very kind of people she was looking for, and they are all there to watch her because she is the most extraordinary one of them all.
An anime series made specifically for otaku usually fares no better than moderately well, as targeting it at whatever niche market it panders to inherently limits its potential appeal. Every so often, though, one finds just the right tone, or puts together just the right combination of gimmicks, to break beyond its limitations and become a smashing success. In 2006 that series was the megahit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya (hereafter MoHS), whose intrinsic oddity, bold characters, strong technical merits, and boatload of fan-pleasing gimmickry have won it immense popularity (or notoriety, depending on your point of view) in fan communities on both sides of the Pacific. Even its marketing campaign has been quite far off the beaten path, but one would expect nothing less from one of the most eccentric titles in recent years.
MoHS wastes no time in revealing its eccentricities. Episode 00, which starts off the series, is actually composed of a grainy, deliberately amateurish film which features key cast members playing out a disjointed and horribly clichéd story narrated in off-the-cuff fashion by the one main character we don’t see in it; all part of a project made for a school festival, we later discover, and the reactions of the cast members to seeing the completed film are classic. To open a series with something so deliberately bad that it’s funny may be risky, but it certainly caught the attention of fandom. The real story actually begins with the second episode, which is numbered Episode 01. Though a person could actually entirely skip the first episode and not miss anything important to the plot, the novelty of the experience would be lost, as would an appreciation for the cleverness of the foreshadowing used in it; one of the conceits of the first episode, which only becomes apparent later on, is that the roles the key cast members play in the film are actually uncannily close to their true natures. Another oddity came in the fourth broadcast episode, which originally jumped ahead to episode 7. This DVD release does not do this, however, instead opting to release the episodes in chronological rather than the scrambled broadcast order. While it costs the series some of its unique feel, the story does make more immediate sense this way.
Some of the series’ charm also comes from the way it skewers assorted anime conventions and fandom peculiarities without exactly parodying them. It toys with the current Japanese otaku fascination with moe in the same way that a cat plays with a ball of yarn, addresses the “girl with glasses” fetish in two different ways, and unabashedly puts its two female leads in bunny costumes for the explicit purpose of exploiting sex appeal to gain attention. Its use of fan service carries a different feel from most other series, partly because it does not resort to the stereotypical tawdry reactions normally seen in more risqué anime comedies. Most importantly, it revels in finding clever ways to explain the inclusion of fan-fave elements like psychics, aliens, time-travelers, and (for all practical purposes) gods in a normal high school setting. There are even hints of an underlying romance, as Haruhi’s actions subtly suggest that her deigning to carry on conversations with the completely normal Kyon, and getting him involved in her schemes, may have deeper implications.
For all its slick use of story oddities, though, the central characters are the heart of the series’ appeal. For decades anime titles have been replete with bold, assertive female leads that buck Japanese societal norms, but the title character here is in a class by herself. Rather than rely on partial insanity, hyperactivity, or stupidity, as most such heroines do, Haruhi achieves her dominance through sheer force of personality. She isn’t crazy at all, as there is always a method to her seeming madness; she just has a unique world view, the audacity and aggressiveness to ruthlessly pursue it without being at all concerned with what others think, and apparently gets bored easily. Kyon, who also narrates, is at least as much of a delight as the low-key and somewhat cynical young man who increasingly finds himself mixed up in all the weirdness surrounding Haruhi and seems to lack the means (and possibly desire?) to extricate himself from it. He gets to see the big picture that Haruhi misses, which provides a window onto Haruhi’s world for the viewer to watch and experience. Other key characters, though they may seem stereotypical, hold their own surprises, such as the placid, soft-spoken bookworm Yuki, who delivers onto Kyon a mass of startling revelations; much-suffering Mikuru, who actually has her own secret agenda despite appearing to be totally at Haruhi’s mercy; and congenial Itsuki, who actually is a “mysterious transfer student” because of his own ulterior motives. A couple of other characters who have appeared so far also have hidden identities, though they are not revealed in this block of episodes.
MoHS is one of an increasing number of anime series based off of Japanese “lite novel” series rather than manga, and it adapts beautifully to animated form. Its scripting paces the first few episodes well, use of visual perspective and scene framing is consistently interesting, and the visuals bring out the full richness of its abnormalities while still retaining the context of an ordinary high school. That the visuals are also particularly eye-pleasing doesn’t hurt. The distinctive, well-drawn, and clearly-defined character designs visually model the personality quirks of each character better than most series and provide just the right balance of cute and sexy for Haruhi and Mikuru, both of whom look especially good in the bunny costumes in Episodes 02 and (for Mikuru) 00. Quality scenery and background art contribute to a great overall look, while the animation is especially smooth and detailed for series anime; even the degree of background animation is unusually high. It shines brightest in the fully-animated dance number in the closer, which also has its characters lip-synching to the lyrics. Kyoto Animation proved on Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? that it could produce high-quality work, and this is just another great example of that.
Also worth noting is that the DVD release has some slight alterations to the artwork used in the original broadcast episodes, primarily to correct minor inconsistencies that cropped up over the course of the series. A viewer who has seen the fansubbed episodes will have to be particularly astute to catch the exact changes, however, and only those who have seen the fansubs through to the end are likely to notice and appreciate the corrections.
The soundtrack remains unobtrusive throughout most of the content in these episodes, its job here only to subtly enhance the quirky or comical side of scenes rather play a lead role. It distinguishes itself much more in the J-Pop opener and closer, which are performed by Haruhi’s seiyuu Aya Hirano and the trio of seiyuu for the female SOS Brigade members, respectively, although the animation steals the show in the closer.
The English dub has been of particular interest to fans, so Bang Zoom! has assembled an all-star cast for the job. The efficacy of the performances varies. Crispin Freeman has proven in the past that he can do the sardonic, put-upon male lead well (think Shannon in Scrapped Princess), so he is an ideal fit as Kyon, and Stephanie “Eureka/Orihime” Sheh so closely mimics the unique original vocal style for Mikuru that at times it can be hard to tell that it’s a different actor doing the English role. Johnny Bosch works reasonably well as Itsuki, as do the performances in most supporting roles, but Michelle Ruff struggles to find the proper style for Yuki, with the monotone she has settled on sounding duller than it should. The key performance, of course, is Wendee Lee’s rendition of Haruhi, which certainly has the tone, enthusiasm, and delivery style right but differs enough in inflection and vocal quality that it will take some getting used to for fans who have heard the original Japanese performance first.
The English script sticks close to the original, with only minor adjustments evident, but the English subtitles have made some odd choices in their translation. “Future man,” while it may be more literally accurate, does not sound as good as the “time traveler” used in the dub, nor does the truncation of the Data Integration Thought Entity referred to in episodes 02 and 03 to just “thought entity” despite being recited completely in the dub. The font used for the subtitles is a little larger than normal, which makes one wonder if screen space may have been an issue shaping these choices. Watching the series at least once dubbed-only is also advisable because the subtitles sometimes cover up meaningful on-screen text. Unfortunately releasing the episodes in chronological order has forced the replacement of the original catchy Next Episode spots, but that is a carry-over from the Japanese DVD release (which was also in chronological order).
Bandai Entertainment has not had a good track record of late for putting Extras on their releases, but the first volume of MoHS comes well-stocked. The DVD itself is marked with the SOS Brigade emblem, and includes Extras such as the clean opener and closer for Episode 00, live-action Japanese TV spots featuring Haruhi’s seiyuu, “Making of” clips that are actually about the live-action spots, and the original Next Episode previews from the TV broadcasts. Most notable is the inclusion of Parts 00, 01, and 02 of “The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade,” the video clips featuring Patricia Lee (of Power Rangers notoriety) and two of the original seiyuu that were used on the quirky ASOS Brigade website (www.asosbrigade.com) to help promote and make announcements about the series’ American release. Watching these will allow newcomers to appreciate how truly oddball the series’ promotion has been so far. The Limited Edition version also comes with a custom art box, a CD soundtrack, a double-sided pencil board, an iron-on patch, and a hair ribbon.
For all it cleverness, the first volume of MoHS does not portray it as an especially deep or philosophical title, and can be fairly accused of being derivative. Though many aspects of the series may provoke discussion, it is still, at heart, a humorous otaku funfest (albeit an extremely good one), and is best appreciated if one does not lose sight of that. Not everyone will “get” the series, especially if you’re a novice anime fan, but for those that do this is just the start of one hell of an entertaining ride.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Clever, well-animated, good set of Extras.
− Not especially deep, Next Episode previews are a drag compared to the original.
Cute, multitalented Haruhi Suzimiya subconsciously has the power of a deity and the SOS Brigade she has formed secretly includes the time traveler, alien, and esper she sought out, who are there to keep tabs on her – so much for an ordinary high school experience for Kyon, the lone mundane member. Worse, it seems that Haruhi getting bored can have bad consequences for reality, and so could revealing any of the truth to her, so Kyon must figure out what all these cryptic references to fairy tales mean and why Haruhi wants him around when a worst-case scenario arises. It also seems that the SOS Brigades members are not the only extraordinary individuals at the school, and one definitely does not have Kyon’s best interests in mind. Later on, the SOS Brigade finds itself in a baseball tournament when Haruhi signs them up on a whim.
For those who have not seen MoHS in fansubs, ardent fans have much lamented the switch to chronological ordering of the episodes on the DVD releases compared to the scrambled order of the original TV broadcast. That difference starts making its full impact here. The great advantage to having episodes 4-7 (remember, the first episode was episode 0) in this order is that the story makes a heck of a lot more sense this way, especially with episode 7 (“The Boredom of Haruhi Suzimiya”, aka the baseball episode) coming after the episodes which actually explain the whole business about closed spaces, the strange giants, what Koizumi’s power is, and why it’s so important to monitor Haruhi’s mood. Some who saw the series in fansubs argue that easily making sense comes at the cost of the novelty of the out-of-order approach, but unlike the similarly-disordered Boogiepop Phantom the original scrambled order felt more like a gimmick than an actual integral part of the storytelling, so no big loss. Those who are going to get hung up on that can just start buying the Limited Edition versions from this point out, as the extra disc included in them provides a subtitled-only version of the series in the original broadcast order – an option not even available on the Japanese DVDs.
The one true negative so far to releasing the episodes in chronological order is that episode 6, which was the final broadcast episode, gives every indication of being a series closer despite the series being only halfway done. Will the remaining seven episodes feel only like denouement once the moment has passed? If the way episode 7 plays out is any indication, the potential impact of this negative is being overestimated. The series still has as much fun eccentricity going on as ever, and the story does still continue past what is seen in episode 6.
If you leave all the order-changing baggage aside, what you have left is an enormously fun series which remains a complete otakufest while not quite taking the traditional path. As the second volume proves once again, channeling the viewpoint through Kyon instead of through the title character or a neutral perspective is a brilliant move and one of many factors which separates the series from lesser efforts of its type. Never excitable and yet still fully a red-blooded teenage male, his sardonic running commentary makes him one of the year’s best male characters. In these four episodes the romantic potential between him and Haruhi becomes more heavily implied, but unlike so many other teen-focused series, it’s never more than implied; Kyon never admits that the reason he keeps hanging around Haruhi despite all the hassles she gives him is because he may be attracted to her, and one has to read Haruhi’s utterly unadmitted interest in Kyon from her actions rather than watch her fantasize about him. On Haruhi’s part, her moodiness and frustration over the inability to recognize and identify all the weirdness surrounding her makes the title of the series more clear.
But the two main characters aren’t the only reason to watch. The personalities of the key supporting cast members also become more distinct, Yuki finally gets to make extensive use of her (essentially magical) data manipulation abilities, and we finally get to see how Koizumi’s powers work, too. The threat to Kyon comes up suddenly and out of the blue but makes senses within a certain twisted frame of thinking, and its consequences aren’t ignored. Plenty enough weirdness goes on to keep the content from ever getting boring, and in a deeper sense the series can hold a great appeal for those who share Haruhi’s viewpoint that the ordinary world isn’t interesting enough. A few doses of action, spilled blood, misinterpreted scenes, details in background scenes (especially in episode 4) and minor fan services don’t hurt, but like everything else the series does, it doesn’t handle any of these normally. Also watch for the occasional eccentricity in the credits, too.
The artistry also continues to excel, with some occasional nice CG effects, good background art, and pleasing character designs which offer some fan service without being too blatant about it, all using a distinctive color scheme that is a bit more earthy and subdued than the normal bright displays. Character facial expressions are a particular delight to watch, especially in the way they illustrate the many moods of Haruhi or the blasé attitude of Kyon. The highlight comes in episode 4 in a scene where Haruhi merely glares at Kyon while he chews her out for her rash use of pictures of Mikuru. That is an expression you almost never see on girls in anime, and though brief it is also priceless, both for how it looks and the meaning it carries. The quality of the animation also shines through in both ordinary scenes and the action sequences, especially in the dance sequences in the closer.
The soundtrack, while not a stand-out individually, continues to do a great job of subtly enhancing each scene and setting the mood. The opener only gets used on episodes 5 and 7, and the closer is absent on episode 6, but both sound good when present.
Hard-core fans consider the performance of seiyuu Aya Hirano as Haruhi to be a legendary effort, and indeed it is hard to imagine the role being done any better in Japanese. That makes some big shoes for Wendee Lee to fill, but she isn’t one of the most experienced of all anime-related English voice actors for nothing, and once one gets used to her voice in the role the caliber of her performance can be appreciated. Ms. Lee has often given her best efforts when voicing petulant characters, and while her performance here may not be the equal of the original, it’s good enough. Crispin Freeman, who has proven in the past to be very good with sardonic characters, nails the key role of Kyon, even getting the right inflection in scenes where Kyon lets his mind wander in more naughty directions, and Stephanie Sheh gives an admirable effort in emulating the original performance for Mikuru. Other performances are acceptable. The English script does not stray too much from the subtitles, although it sometimes makes colorful adaptations; for instance, at one point an exclamation of “Huge!” becomes “Super-Size me!”
As with its first volume, the regular edition of volume 2 loads up on Extras. Clean opener and closer and the original episode previews from the TV broadcast constitute the more ordinary extras, with others including two more “Making Of” featurettes, one focusing on a photo shoot involving the three lead female seiyuu and the other focusing on Aya Hirano recording a song that comes up later in the series. A pair of brief “Nekoman Galleries” only make sense if you watch the “Making Of” featurettes first, and of course the on-DVD highlights are the next four installments of the live-action “Adventures of the ASOS Brigade” promo bits, which are stupid, campy fun, especially the one involving Crispin Freeman’s recording session. (That he can do that with a straight face is either a sign of his caliber as an actor or a sign of multiple takes.) As always, the credits on those are worth reading. The Special Limited Edition box set gets you the aforementioned second DVD, which contains the first five broadcast-order episodes in subtitled-only form. Also included are the audio CD single for the opener, a double-sided picture plate, a good-sized iron-on Haruhi emblem, and an Ultra Director armband that is an exact replica of the one Haruhi has been seen wearing in the intro and Episode 0.
Whether a newcomer to the title or an established fan fulfilling obligations to purchase the DVDs for the fansubs you’ve watched, the second volume offers a lot of entertainment value in both its episodes and Extras. It may be a fan-focused series, but it elevates itself above most others of its type through good storytelling, superior technical merits, and by avoiding descending into the most puerile levels of fan-pandering.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Great characters and storytelling, lots of fun content.
− Debates over the episode order.
Haruhi’s melancholy now apparently cured, the biggest threat to the world as we know it is her boredom. An idle Haruhi is a dangerous thing, so it’s probably for the best that she has the SOS Brigade to keep her busy. The brigade gets a request from a girl to find her missing boyfriend, who just happens to be the poor computer club president that Haruhi railroaded into giving the SOS Brigade his best PC. Naturally this all leads to the brigade going head-to-head with a giant extraterrestrial camel cricket. Later Itsuki invites the entire club to a newly-constructed mansion on a deserted island. Haruhi hears “deserted island” and automatically thinks “super-sleuth.” Which spells big trouble for everyone, ’cause how can you have a super-sleuth without a murder?
At the center of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya lies a question asked by everyone from the Wachowski brothers to a small platoon of science fiction writers and nearly every disaffected teenager in America: “What if the world really did revolve around you?” It isn’t a question unknown in the anime world; Paranoia Agent and Lain brushed up against the question and other shows have tackled the subject head-on with varying degrees of success (does anyone remember Interlude?). The key to Haruhi’s success is to approach the question with intelligence and wrap its musings in a conventional (if originally nonlinear) entertainment that doesn’t skimp on humor, style, or characterization. That something can meld paranormal stereotypes, moe, romantic comedy and semi-hard science fiction into one perfectly seamless whole may be a difficult proposition to sell to skeptics, but that’s exactly what Haruhi does.
This third volume, however, isn’t quite Haruhi at its prime. There’s a dearth of brain-tickling sci-fi ponderings this volume, largely attributable to the fact that two thirds of the volume is spent on a murder mystery of a decidedly more Earthly nature. The mystery of Haruhi takes a backseat, and the discussion of observer effects and questions about the nature of reality are more a matter of flavoring than of serious consideration. Still, even when running in place for a bit, the series outpaces most of its competition. Naturally, Haruhi’s influence on reality gives the perfect excuse for the contrived mystery setup (ripped straight from any of a hundred fictional mysteries), and that fact is cleverly worked into the mystery itself. Even if the two-part mystery is far too easily solved by a little application of logic (independent of any of the clues) and the sci-fi angle isn’t really worked, every episode still provides a virtual smörgåsbord of the other qualities that make the show such a blast to watch. The series’ sharp oddball humor continues to prove that a show doesn’t have to be stupid or frivolous to be funny; its mildly disorienting approach to story-telling is wielded in amusing ways; the cast continues to grow strongly on one (despite not being terribly deep); and there’s even a little romance as Kyon and Haruhi grow a bit closer.
Kyoto Animation forgoes large-scale actions and complicated camera movements in exchange for animating characters that are actually animated. Of course, even though everyone moves in uncharacteristically realistic ways and has a wide array of expressions and motions, Haruhi is special. Haruhi is the show, and the animators know it. She’s simply a joy to watch; she never sits still for a moment and her personality fairly bleeds from her face and body language. The animators know exactly when to punctuate her actions with a shift in expression, a blink, or some other incidental but infinitely meaningful detail. Combine that with her sassy, distinctive design and you have an entity that embodies exactly the energy that makes her such an irresistible force of nature, believably communicating both her half-insane idiosyncratic personality and her almost pathetic desperation to live a life less ordinary. The rest of the cast features strong designs and fluid animation (with a marked preference for the female members), but are never allowed—quite rightfully—to approach Haruhi in terms of visual appeal (or any other type of appeal for that matter).
With the exception of Kyon, that is. He hasn’t as flashy a part, but his snide running commentary is crucial to the series’ humor, helped by a lot of mouth-obscuring compositions that allow the director to play off the uncertainty of whether his dialogue is internal or external. Kyon’s caustic wit and intelligence also make him something of an anomaly among the sea of personalityless male leads. His importance is such that the slower tempo of his English rendition, and the attendant loss of the original’s breathless quality, actually has a noticeable effect on the overall tempo of the show. The extreme fidelity of the dub is actually a bit of a liability in this case, as a wordier, looser adaptation would have preserved the feel of his internal monologue better. Which is, of course, the grand bull-moose of petty nit-picking criticisms. Crispin Freeman does a fine job in the role, as does the rest of the cast with theirs. Those for whom a dub is important will hardly mind, or even notice, the difference and the vast majority of the series’ appeal makes the transition to English intact.
Given the quality of the others, saying that the music is the weakest of the series’ technical qualities really isn’t a very strong criticism. It only means that it supports the visuals, manipulates mood (the score is particularly effective at heightening energy), and is occasionally utilized in unusual ways. That it doesn’t cling to the mind like jingle is probably more an advantage than a drawback. Both the opening and the ending are fun songs that are completely overpowered by the visuals.
The almost bewildering array of art galleries, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and other extras continues. This is as comprehensive a collection of extras as anyone could reasonably desire. The “Adventures of the ASOS Brigade” also continue, with three new installments. On top of (attempted) entertainment, they also provide some welcome interviews with the English cast.
This isn’t the best volume of Haruhi to date. Which doesn’t mean squat in terms of its domination of the other comedies on the market, a fact that speaks volumes for the series’ overall quality. It remains pure fun with a healthy respect for its audience’s intelligence…not something readily found in any entertainment format.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Excellent pair of leads; funny and thoroughly entertaining with a dash of romance.
− De-emphasizes the sci-fi element; murder mystery is too obvious for all the care lavished on it.
“The Adventures of Mikuru-chan” is finally in the can, so Kyon decides to enjoy the school cultural festival as much as possible. He is in for a shock, though, when none other than the bunny suit-clad Haruhi steps on stage as a substitute lead vocalist for the all-girl rock band ENOZ during their Rock Club stage performance and blows the crowd away with her surprising singing ability. Later, the heavily put-upon Computer Club challenges the SOS Brigade to duel using a computer tactical space battle game to regain lost face and the computer Haruhi extorted from them months earlier, but what will happen when Yuki actually seems to be enjoying herself? A later lazy winter day finds Kyon going into town to fetch a heater for the club room while Haruhi finagles the helpless Mikuru into more photo ops.
Of the complaints fans of the series have made about MOHS’s DVD releases (both in North America and in Japan) being done in chronological rather than the scrambled original broadcast order, the most justifiable one concerns the way the series ends. In the original broadcast the episode “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya VI” actually aired last, offering the series some semblance of a climax and resolution, but “The Melancholy of Suzumiya XIII,” which actually is last chronologically and marks the end of this volume, is just there. It delivers no climax, drama, or weirdness at all beyond some goofiness in dodging displays of fan service, nor does it give any sense of completion. It’s just a mundane, lazy, slice-of-life episode with a faint hint of a Kyon/Haruhi relationship development that you might expect to find in the middle of a series, or as the quiet before a storm, rather than at its end. It does make more sense in story context than when originally broadcast, has its moments, and actually is not bad overall, but even those watching the series for the first time are going to get to the end of the last episode and scratch their heads while saying, “okay, where’s the rest of it?”
Other than that, the last volume is a smashing success. The “computer duel” episode provides great fun as it rounds out the simmering resentment of the Computer Club and recaptures the playful, enthusiastic spirit that helped make the series so great, but the real gem is the school festival episode, which shows the series at its very best. Those who watch it carefully in the first half might notice important events going on in the backgrounds of several scenes as more ordinary school festival occurrences progress in the foreground, events which set up what is unquestionably the series’ best individual scene: Haruhi’s on-stage performance with ENOZ. Just watching the reactions of Kyon and the crowd around him can be a blast, but they pale in comparison to the great rock songs “God Knows” and “Lost My Music” and the beautifully meticulous animation of their performances. Kyoto Animation deserves enormous praise for animating the finger movements on the guitar and bass so carefully that the performers actually appear to be playing the notes you hear, and one of the “Making of” Extras suggests that Haruhi’s singing was actually animated around seiyuu Aya Hirano’s recording, which makes for one of the most accurate lip-synching jobs you’ll ever see in an animated singing performance. Kyoto Animation even paid attention to fine details like the beads of sweat rolling off of Haruhi’s face as she performs. During the scene and afterwards viewers also get to see a side of Haruhi not previously seen in the series, the side which is a little uncomfortable with actually being appreciated. For everything that the episode does, it is well worth watching multiple times (which may be necessary to catch all the background details), and in both languages.
And that is another thing which makes the episode so remarkable: the caliber of the vocals in the songs. Given that she sings the opener and contributes to singing the closer, everyone knew that Aya Hirano could sing, so the real discovery is that her English counterpart Wendee Lee, who has mostly been holding her own in the role, can actually match her on the songs, too. (Anyone who does not believe this should flip back and forth between the dubs during the performances and compare. Even diehard purists may not notice a difference in quality.) Crispin Freeman still masters the role of Kyon like he was born for it, while other roles will still come down to normal sub-dub preferences for most viewers.
The musical score does not have to rely just on its insert songs to get a high grade this time around, as its space opera themes suitably enhance the “computer duel” episode and more subtle themes evoke appropriate mood elsewhere. The same could also be said of the always-appealing artistry and crisp animation, which occasionally takes some shortcuts but goes all-out on detail in feature scenes. It even uses multilayered animation, such as the scene where Kyon and Itsuki are talking while the crowd goes wild behind them. The visuals so carefully avoid fan service to that it becomes a joke, unless you qualify high school girls in sharp maid outfits or Haruhi back in her bunny suit at fan service.
As with previous volumes, Bandai Entertainment has loaded even the regular release up with Extras. Nearly all of them are in the same vein as those seen in previous volumes: a Neko-Man gallery, “Making of” features which this time focus on the adorably cute Aya Hirano during promo tours and visits to Kyoto Animation, original episode previews, and the last three installments of “The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade,” which include a visit to an authentic Akihabara maid café, brief introductions of all of the principle seiyuu, and a live-action performance of the closer dance by the ASOS Brigade girls. The new entries this time are the full animated version of the closer dance, the introduction for the guests of honor from Anime Expo 2007, and a special Haruhi-themed teaser for Lucky Star, Kyoto Animation’s latest effort. The Limited Edition version also includes a Haruhi iron-on, SOS Brigade pillow case, a pencil board, an extra DVD with the subbed-only broadcast-order versions of episodes 11-14, and the Haruhi no Tsumeawase OST CD.
While this volume may not be as thoroughly eccentric as earlier installments and lacks a proper ending for the series, it nonetheless offers great entertainment with a lot of replay value and does advance the hinted-at Haruhi/Kyon romance a bit. MOHS may be over (for now), but its impact and popularity will live on.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Wonderful insert songs, beautifully animated performances.
− Lack of a proper ending when episodes are viewed in chronological order.