The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya

THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI-CHAN SUZUMIYA

Watched via YouTube/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya is a spin-off from the Haruhi franchise. These mini episodes came out during a time of high anticipation for the “second season” of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Rather than staying faithful to the original storyline, Haruhi-chan takes the characters down another, more playful route. As Crystal states, the second season and movie from the franchise take a much more serious angle, while trying to flesh out certain characters and develop drama through world building. We all love a good drama from time to time, but I honestly believe that these adaptations lost the magic and parody of the first season. Luckily for fans like me, Haruhi-chan is a return to the zany parody of modern Japanese animation.

To understand the plot, or lack thereof, it is important to be familiar with the general premise of the original franchise. Haruhi has the ability to control the world, but must remain oblivious to that knowledge so that she doesn’t destroy everything and everyone. Her friends and club mates all have some sort of super power that helps them keep her in line, but again, she can’t find out about their secret identities. Kyon, the only normal member of the group, is left to deal with all the shenanigans and clean up after everyone. Really once you know all of that basic knowledge, it doesn’t matter if you’ve watched any prior episodes in order to have a great time watching these short episodes. While the regular seasons and movie focus on the developing relationship between Kyon and Haruhi (or Yuki), these net episodes tend to focus more on the secondary characters or “behind-the-scenes” moments where we see the “real characters” behind the facade of the original series.

While the original sheds its mockery and gives into what it is fighting against, Haruhi-chan rebels once again and turns modern anime on its head while making a joke out of the original series and what it has become.

I’ve got to disagree with you about who can get into this series. If you don’t know the characters already, I think a lot of the jokes would go over your head, since they’re so character based. Maybe a passing anime fan’s knowledge would suffice, but you need to be familiar with the particulars of this world in order to enjoy Haruhi-chan.

PLOT: If you want to watch the best part of the Haruhi Suzumiya anime franchise, look no further than Haruhi-chan. While the first anime series was an exhilarating mix of lighthearted fun and hints at a more epic plot, the second season and Disappearance movie take the franchise’s fun and flush it down the toilet with pointless repetition and overly serious story lines. Thankfully, Haruhi-chan goes in the opposite direction, taking the fun of Haruhi’s world and running with it.

The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya is a series of short episodes that run roughly between two and eight minutes each. The stories show what the SOS Brigade gets up to in its free time, in no particular order, ranging from Halloween celebrations to hanami to sports festivals. The series also looks at how the SOS Brigade’s members keep Haruhi from getting bored in between major events, such as by creating a TV show.

There isn’t much character development to speak of here (aside from the blossoming relationship between Yuki and Ryoko), but that’s not the point, since it’s a gag show. The gags, which are all funny at varying levels, are what keep me coming back, since it’s such a hilarious take on what the SOS Brigade could get up to. They play with common jokes about the character types or spoof other kinds of anime, taking the characters in ridiculous directions that are much more fun than the main series could ever do. In a nutshell, that’s why I find Haruhi-chan so much more satisfying than the main series: the fun episodes are my favorites, and Haruhi-chan turns it up past eleven in a way that the main plot lines can never live up to.

SETTING: The earlier episodes of Haruhi-chan try to throw in every setting possible into every scenario. The first couple of gag episodes really take a beating from this constant influx of information and redirection. Even for fans who have already seen the first season of the original, it’s hard to digest what all is happening in the first couple of episodes. Luckily it’s mostly recap information (like defeating Ryoko Asakura), so it doesn’t really matter if you “get it”.

While the anime was able to explain and develop alternative spaces and time travel in a way that mostly made sense, these “common knowledge” topics turn into short gags that are thrown around quite senselessly throughout episodes. This makes it quite difficult for the average person to follow along with some of the conversations and actions of characters. That said, if you are a huge fan of Haruhi Suzumiya, you’ll probably bust a gut laughing at how seamlessly the studio threw in little tidbits of world building.

Despite all the complexity of the world building in a couple of episodes, the majority of scenes are used to develop relationships between characters in a way that turns everyone into a joke or bigger caricature of themselves. It reminds me a bit of the Lucky Channel shorts in Lucky Star which were so fun to watch.

SETTING: Haruhi-chan takes all of the settings of the universe’s main series and plays with them in ways that fit within its established rules but are still strange and hilarious. For example, during a hanami visit to Tsuruya’s family’s house, the group digs under a tree and finds an old stone that’s distantly related to the group Yuki’s from due to some crazy logic that ties back into the myth about dead bodies and cherry trees. It’s a good way to play with that myth and the ridiculousness of the series’s main plot, especially when it comes to the ever-confusing Data Integration Thought Entity.

The show also takes the chance to bring in new settings that lead to more jokes, like having Haruhi create a TV show where she has unrealistic cooking classes or tries to host interviews. Even though the show never explains how Haruhi got ahold of a TV studio, I appreciate these new settings because it feels like something Haruhi would try and blackmail someone into letting her do. She’s such a pushy character that I expect these kind of shenanigans from her and don’t even bat an eye when the show does crazy things with the setting.

I wish that the story would go into better world building. I know everyone watching the series should be familiar with the original story and premise of the franchise, but I think even a bit more recap would help scenes transition better and make the story flow smoother.

CHARACTERS: If you thought it was impossible to love the cast of Haruhi Suzumiya more, think again! You still have all the main cast, but this time their character representations are even more ridiculous versions of themselves. In particular I love what the studio did with Yuki’s character. This came at a time when fans were yearning for her true personality to come out, like in Disappearance. Yuki finally allows herself to have a “personality”, only this time instead of being an adorable quiet girl type, she’s a hardcore otaku who plays visual novels and eroge. Yuki still retains her quiet nature, but she ends up with quite the devious disposition as she constantly picks on Ryoko (who is living with her).

Ryoko also gets a much desired make over which turns her into the picture of moe and tsundere in a way that is pure comedy. When her body becomes destroyed by Yuki, she regenerates, but only to an 8th of her size. Unable to murder Kyon, and being afraid of the outdoors, she ends up living with Yuki and taking care of the house while she’s gone. Her temperament is constantly tested by Yuki playing jokes on her, then teasing her to get her to lighten up. Despite herself she shows her good-natured side, which is hilarious. She also has a beautifully charming friendship with a balloon dog, but I don’t need to get into that.

Haruhi and Mikuru are turned into total ditzes. This is often characterized by giving them black circle eyes which give them a totally vacant expression. While these two are dumbed down, Kyon and Itsuki become much more witty and sharp, and the men constantly are the ones verbalizing the gags, while the women become the objects of them. Although it’s not the most flattering portrayal of the sexes, it actually points out how ridiculous the gender roles are to begin with in the originals, so I’ll let it slide, plus it’s hilarious.

CHARACTERS: Haruhi-chan largely has the same cast of characters as the main series but the main cast has been changed slightly to allow for more jokes about their roles within the SOS Brigade. Yuki sees the biggest change, where she becomes an otaku who’s into erotic visual novels and cosplay, which lead to some of the best jokes of the series. Itsuki’s a little more obvious about the effort he puts into his façade for Haruhi, and he and Kyon develop a good camaraderie about what they have to put up with from the girls of the group. Haruhi and Mikuru are largely the same, though Haruhi’s pushiness and Mikuru’s airheadedness are taken to extreme levels.

The secondary characters also get more attention here, allowing for a wider range of gags. Tsuruya’s rich family is expanded on, and she’s given surprising martial arts skills, which lead her to an ongoing fight with the maid from Itsuki’s group. Speaking of Itsuki’s group, the maid and butler make recurring appearances where they showcase the incredible and unrealistic skills they need to have in order to support Itsuki and keep Haruhi from getting bored, like by parachuting into the area at a moment’s notice.

Finally, we have the characters who end up living with Yuki, who are my favorite duo in the show. In this universe, Ryoko comes back in order to complete her plans for Haruhi, but she’s given a tiny little body so she can’t do anything without Yuki’s help. Seriously, she can’t even reach a doorknob, which leads to many hilarious outbursts from this yandere-type character. She and Yuki end up making a pet dog out of a light green balloon that they name Mr. Kimidori, and Ryoko and Mr. Kimidori have lots of fun playing pranks on Yuki and seeing what havoc they can cause while stuck in Yuki’s apartment.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: This mini series starts off with a computer generated/vector art style which allows for the characters to move more like figurines in space. I’m guessing the studio did this to save money while also creating a different enough appearance for Haruhi-chan to be autonomous from the originals. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it isn’t all that bad. It reminds me a lot of how Katamari Forever looked. The biggest benefit is that space looks more believable. The down side is, space looks believable, so it really shows how lacking the show is in details. Sometimes it’s best to embrace abstraction.

computer generated

Fortunately it didn’t take but a couple of episodes before the studio switched to a style better suited to the tastes of fans. While animated, the studio still tried to make the characters move with the same motions of the prior computer generated models. I liked the eerie movements as they made the cast look more like dolls, or merchandise of the originals. Every once in a while the studio also treated us to a dramatically timed “realistic” look at the characters to pull a gag. My favorite would be when Yuki is looking out the window of the clubroom longingly only to have Kyon happen across her. She then turns around, transforming back into her SD model proportions before asking if he wants to borrow all of her eroge.

animation

I’m surprised you think the characters move the same in both animation styles, since I thought they were completely different, which is why I was able to relax with the traditional hand-drawn animation. If you want weird character movements, go for Nyoron Churuya-san.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Haruhi-chan has a weirdly uneven art style that points to some major changes occurring during the production of the show. When the show begins, the characters are all computer-made models with huge heads and tiny hands who look a little unnerving. Presumably this was supposed to save the animators budget, but it ends up looking sloppy and distracting in the way that poor CGI always does. Thankfully, after a few episodes the studio decided to switch over to hand-drawn episodes where the characters have smushier faces and better proportions, along with moving more realistically and being less uncanny overall. The characters end up looking like the characters of Lucky Star but with shorter bodies, since they’re almost permanently in SD form.

Every now and then the show changes up the art style just to remind you how good Kyoto Animation’s stuff looks when they’re even half trying. These moments, during fights or when Yuki’s in the shower, were especially frustrating when the series was being put out before Haruhi’s second season had even been greenlit. Now that I know where the series ends up going, though, I’m satisfied with the overall chibi appearances of the characters and just smile when they look more normal.

I’m perfectly content seeing the art style live mostly in an SD world. Then again, I don’t really remember what it was like for the second season of the original not to be out yet. I suppose now that I know what that’s like, I don’t care so much for all the seriousness, and I’m totally ready and willing to embrace the wonderful carefree charm of Haruhi-chan.

OVERALL: Haruhi-chan is my favorite part of the Haruhi franchise. The originals were great to watch, but they soon lost their charisma in the second season and movie. I do enjoy the drama and relationship development of those two, but it’s too slow to build up, with little humor to get you through it. Haruhi-chan is the exact opposite. There may not be a lot of typical development, but there are plenty of laughs. Even in all of the joke making we get to see how certain unlikely pairs end up becoming very close friends with one another.

This short mini series is a much watch for any Haruhi fan. Plus, it’s so easy to find that it’s practically a sin for you to have not seen it by now. You can easily find these episodes on Crunchyroll, and you can marathon them in just the span of a couple of hours. Trust me, I did it yesterday, and it was a blast.

Haruhi-chan gets a perfect score from me. Though I may just be a bit biased since I’m totally moe for Yuki…

OVERALL: From the perspective of someone who fell in love with Haruhi’s world and then got disappointed with the anime’s progression, Haruhi-chan is exactly what I needed, and it’s still my favorite part of the franchise. It takes all of the hilarity of the series and doesn’t worry about making it mesh with a more serious plot. Instead, it lets the characters loose to be as crazy as they want to be in a way that’s genuinely funny without being problematic because it’s a gag series. If I could ask the anime gods for anything, it might just be more Haruhi-chan, because it fulfills that hole inside me that needs unproblematic Haruhi stories. I guess I could always get around to reading the manga volumes that I’ve got sitting around, but KyoAni makes it so pretty that I pine for more.

tl;dr: Watch Haruhi-chan if you’re at all familiar with the world of Haruhi Suzumiya, and you’ll probably be satisfied. It’s the best comedy anime I’ve seen in a long time, since there’s so much more to it than just cute girls being cute or Gainax’s panty jokes.

FINAL SCORE: (10/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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