‘The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’

After watching the first episode of “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya,” a major phenomenon in Japan and among anime fans who make subtitled versions, one might be confused by the amateur show-within-a-show that lasts the whole episode before revealing itself as such. But even though that first episode should be 11th chronologically and is not related much to the main plot, it acts as a unique intro to this quirky series with some bits of foreshadowing.

The show used to be even more puzzling, as the entire series was originally broadcast out of chronological order for dramatic effect, making it a fun – or gimmicky and frustrating, depending on whom you ask – puzzle of plot to decipher. However, the Japanese distributor felt compelled to release the show in chronological order on DVD, obligating the American distributor to follow suit, but will also release upcoming special editions with subtitle-only episodes in original broadcast order. While it may sound better to watch a show chronologically, the pacing and mystery of the show suffer for it, as the climax happens in episode six, which was originally shown last. It’s still a good show, and it may even make more sense, especially considering the wait between DVDs, but it’s a bit anti-climactic.

As it is, starting with episode two it’s presented as a high school slice-of-life show about the dry and sarcastic Kyon, who no longer believes in the fantastic, and the quirky and forceful Haruhi, who is only interested in finding time travelers, aliens and espers. While Haruhi may appear to be anything but melancholy, the story takes some incredible twists (which, again, had more impact out of order) but remains grounded in the characters and their relationships.

The voice talent is top-notch on subtitled or dubbed versions, as are the vibrant character designs and animation. The series is only 14 episodes long, with those up through episode six covering the first in the light novel series it’s based on, while the rest of the episodes were pulled from various other volumes.

While it’s a little disappointing the episodes are in order (think of watching “Memento” without the gimmick), it’s still a strong series that combines the incredible with the mundane in a fascinating way. For the record, the original broadcast order of episodes was 11, 1, 2, 7, 3, 9, 8, 10, 14, 4, 13, 12, 5, 6. Gimmicky, perhaps, but it worked. If something seems lacking in the show, try waiting until all the volumes are released and watch them in that order. It’s also fine in chronological order, as long as one keeps in mind that the main dramatic story arc will end in volume two, with everything after being more of the slice-of-life stuff.