Fujioka and Suzumiya


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Yuki takes care of business

Haruhi Suzumiya reminds me less and less of George Orr and more of Anthony Fremont. One reason that the tenth installment of her melancholy saga seems like such a vast improvement over the recent episodes is that there is very little of Haruhi in it and no scenes in which she torments Mikuru. Also, unlike the ninth show, this time something happens.


Today’s screen grab

… is from episode six (which is not necessarily the sixth episode) of Suzumiya Haruhi:

Yuki, of course.


Garten at Memento found the fully-choreographed version of “Hare Hare Yukai,” the ending of Suzumiya Haruhi. If you don’t want to download the large file, you can watch it as a Flash video at the Exploding Bus.


The akanbe of Haruhi Suzumiya

The cover illustration from the sixth Suzumiya book, The Trembling of Haruhi Suzumiya

All of the first volume of the Suzumiya Haruhi series has been translated now, along with the “Lone Island Syndrome” chapter of the third book and the beginning of the second, in which the SOS Brigade makes their movie. My guess is that the fourteenth episode of the anime will be based on the last chapter of the first book, which will provide a reasonably dramatic ending. Before then, we should learn some more about Itsuki, and there might be an episode involving one of the other characters introduced in the second (broadcast order) episode. This will account for three or possibly four of the remaining six episodes, so there will probably be yet more random material from the later books arbitrarily interpolated.

The book The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, by Tanigawa Nagaru, is a lightweight young-adult novel. You can read it in one sitting. The premise is clever and Haruhi is a distinctive character, but otherwise it’s undistinguished. Diana Wynne Jones need not fear the competition of Tanigawa. Unlike the anime, in the book the story is presented in chronological order. I actually prefer the anime to the novel, which is rare for me. Usually I find adaptations of books to be inferior to the originals. (But not always; I often enjoy music and ballets based on literary sources. The transformations involved are so great that I’m not tempted to compare the new work with the original. With dramatizations, however, I’m too conscious of what’s been changed or left out.) I have the same problem with the novel as I do with the anime: Haruhi uses Mikuru as a toy and a tool. Mere fan service is far less offensive. The early episodes in both the book and the series are the worst in this respect, but throughout both versions I frequently want to slap Haruhi on Mikuru’s behalf.


The terrifying truth about Tamaki

Lewis Carroll seems to fascinate the Japanese. There are “wonderland” episodes in series ranging from Urusei Yatsura and Cardcaptor Sakura to Ouran High School Host Club. But I wonder just how well they understand the Alice books. The writers of the shows certainly appreciate the strangeness of the Carrollian universe, but I don’t think they fully grasp the wit or the logic of the books. The thirteenth Ouran episode, for instance, is the weakest of the series so far. There’s nothing intrisincally funny in Tamaki as the Mad Hatter. What humor there is comes, not from logical paradoxes or twisted aphorisms, but, rather, from banana peels.

Fortunately, the fourteenth episode is a return to form. The school newspaper takes on the host club. It’s hardly a contest.

Just wondering: how is the fourth estate regarded in Japan? Both here and in the twenty-ninth episode of Keroro Gunsou, young journalists are portrayed as arrogant fools. The only positive portrayal of the press in anime that comes to mind is in the fifth episode of Excel Saga, of all places.


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya begins as “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina.” Mikuru, the narrator informs us, is a “combat waitress” who works as a Playboyesque “bunny girl” in the business district urging people to buy cabbage. Her mission on this planet is to protect a young man with as-yet-unrealized special powers. The story makes less and less sense as it progresses. To quote the narrator: “And so this incoherent story takes an unnatural turn towards a conclusion.” What the first episode actually is, is a hopelessly amateurish science-fiction show, complete with commercials, produced by Haruhi Suzumiya’s SOS Brigade.

Haruhi and Kyon

Whether the rest of the fourteen episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya ultimately make more sense than the first remains to be seen. In the second episode — the first chronologically — Haruhi, on her first day in high school, announces, “I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers here, come join me.” After joining and then quitting every club at the school, she organizes her own, the “Save the World by Overloading It with Fun Suzumiya Haruhi Brigade,” or SOS Brigade. The members she drafts all eventually turn out to indeed be aliens, etc., except for the bemused/exasperated/resigned narrator Kyon, and he may be a time traveler. The third episode, in which Haruhi obtains a computer for her club through chutzpah and extortion, continues the second, but the fourth, in which the SOS Brigade enters a baseball tournament and plays a bizarre game, jumps a month ahead, skipping a lot of exposition. The fate of the world, we learn, depends on whether or not Haruhi is bored.

SOS member Yuki

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is potentially good. It’s based on a series of novels, and it is possible that all the pieces will ultimately fit neatly together, however fragmented the narrative may be. Haruhi is brassy and egocentric, but she is also engagingly energetic and eccentric. The other SOS members are nearly as peculiar in their various ways, and Kyon is appropriately cynical as he narrates the story. I’ll probably continue to follow the series.

I do have one major reservation. Mikuru is a timid, passive girl with a large bust. Haruhi dragged her into the SOS Brigade because, “… in every story where something strange happens, there’s always an alluring lolita-looking character present.” Haruhi often uses Mikuru to get her way, without compunction and without any consideration of Mikuru’s feelings. It’s unpleasant to watch. Here’s how Haruhi persuaded the president of the computer club to donate the newest computer to the SOS Brigade:


School’s out already

Over the years, a dismaying number of shows have been set in high schools, from Welcome Back, Kotter to Azumanga Daioh. I’ve never really understood why; I attended three different secondary schools, and I am not the least bit nostalgic for any of them. I recently watched a few episodes of several recent high school animes, and I still don’t get it.

Ouran Academy caters to the absurdly rich. The campus is reminiscent of Versailles, but more tasteful. Haruhi, who is not rich, attends Ouran on a scholarship. Her hair is short and she is as likely to wear a sweater and tie as a dress. When she blunders into the Host Club room while looking for quiet place to study, she’s mistaken for a boy by the club members. (I don’t completely understand what a “host club” is; it’s allegedly the counterpart to a “maid café.” The members are all different species of bishounen, and their primary activity seems to be serving tea to the female students.) Their enthusiastic greeting frightens her, but before she can escape, she accidentally breaks an 8,000,000 yen vase (which looks like a $2.75 garage sale special to me, but I don’t have an eye for that sort of thing). There’s no way she can pay for the vase, so Tamaki, the “king” of the club, decrees that she must work off the debt. At first she does menial tasks and runs errands (and introduces the club members to instant coffee, a novel treat), but the club members soon realize that the new guy would make a cute host, and Haruhi turns out to have a natural ability for the job.

I ought to hate Ouran High School Host Club — I’m not a fan of pointy chins — but in fact, despite all the pretty boys, it’s not bad at all. It’s satirical, not sentimental, and playful, not mean-spirited. In the three episodes I’ve seen so far, there’s been plenty of humor and no angst. It helps that Haruhi, despite her initial bad luck, is quite capable of taking care of herself and can be devastatingly blunt. Tamaki is one of the better comic characters I’ve come across recently, arrogant and clueless but fundamentally decent. It’s potentially a first-rate comedy, and I’ll be keeping track of it.

I can’t give it an unreserved recommendation. In the first episode I learned a new term that I didn’t need to know, and I hope I never hear it again. There is plenty of homosexual innuendo (but only innuendo, and I don’t expect anything beyond that), and Ouran Academy is rife with bishis and fangirls.

Not West Springfield High School