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Review: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection (DVD)

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya made enormous waves when it hit the anime community back in 2006. With two TV series’ and a movie in the mix, Madman’s timely release of all of this into a single collection has created a great opportunity to go back and revisit all the crazy antics of the SOS Brigade.

Neatly summarising The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection is difficult given the various paths of narrative that weave throughout, but it’s worth a shot. On a seemingly normal day, Kyon strikes up a conversation with one of his classmates, Haruhi Suzumiya, who believes the world’s entirely too boring and is only interested in meeting future people, espers and aliens. Kyon, being none of these, still decides on having a chat with this intriguing girl sitting behind him without derision to ask about her unusual life goals. This sets off a tremendous series of events that culminate in the creation of the SOS Brigade, Haruhi’s club of ordinary people who secretly happen to be future people (Mikuru Asahina), espers (Itsuki Koizumi) and alien-robots (Yuki Nagato).

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Over the course of the TV series we get hit with a slew of incidental weekly adventure style episodes, some story arcs that roll across multiple episodes, the infamous Endless Eight arc and a few heavy-hitters. The collection settles on the film, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as it’s final resting spot to bring this arc to it’s final conclusion, making the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection pretty robust in terms of content.

After binging through the whole box set with only a vague recollection of the first series in my head (I’m pretty sure it had been nearly 10 years since I last watched it), it’s interesting to consider this as a whole. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a really fascinating show. Not unlike some of its historical contemporaries, the show benefits from the many layers that make it accessible to anyone but capable of probing far deeper questions. Just as Eva rewards deeper introspection and Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell thrives on applying deeper analysis to its narrative, so too does Haruhi present some really interesting points to reflect on. Haruhi’s philosophical posturing on the (in)significance of the individual and how this trigger’s an almost Gatsby-esque reinvention of her reality is fascinating, as is the multiple layers of realities and parallel universes posited throughout this collection. How aware is Haruhi of her own innate yet subconscious ability to make her universal wants manifest in the real world? What is the classified information that Asahina regularly speaks of? Does Nagato have the capacity to evolve through her constant exposure to the shifting realities of Haruhi’s world? Why is Kyon so heavily involved with the proverbial multiverse seemingly emanating from Haruhi? Who is Kyon and what truly motivates him?

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Beyond the narrative and resultant questions, what’s also notable is the incredible polish applied to the production and the Easter Eggs therein. Kyoto Animation’s work on display in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection shows off their now-typical flair for character-based, slice of life animation production with some great attention to detail. One of the standouts in the TV series’ is the incredible scene from the culture fest where Nagato and Haruhi smash out two songs as last-minute ringers to help out ENOZ, one of the school’s amateur bands. There’s also some inspired direction in the final episode from season 1, and while the Endless Eight arc in the second season gets a lot of grief, there’s a few episodes featuring some engaging and interesting choice of angles. The movie release, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is absolutely gorgeous in execution with stunning animation and direction. From the beautiful colour palette, at times dramatic camera work and the highly articulated and detailed animation to the melancholic soundtrack, this seemingly understated movie really delivers on the series’ vision.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection is notable for a number of reasons. In addition to capturing an amazing range of core content, this set also crams in an enormous amount of supplemental materials. Starting with the first TV series, these discs are direct re-pressings from Madman’s earlier release. This is interesting to consider as authoring standards at the time hadn’t migrated away from flashy menus and the need to sell the idea of individual volumes of a TV series with an expectation of having a huge bevy of supplementary content to justify the per-volume releases versus the move to condensed box set releases which is the norm today. This means for the first 4 discs of the package we get flashy menus and exhaustive extras from both the Japanese releases and the infamous ASOS Brigade materials created for the US release, while the second season is a little more understated but is still loaded with some amazing Japanese production videos looking at location shoots and other events with the crew alongside a more spartan series of menus. There’s also a huge array of TV spots, trailers and other features across the TV series releases.

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All of this complements the exhaustive special features loaded onto the stand-alone extras disc for the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, which includes recordings of screening panel events in Japan, a video documenting the music production (including the team’s trip to Sydney where they had the score performed and recorded here in Australia!), various shorts on the production process and a full capture of TV spots and theatrical trailers.

In this sense, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection presents an incredibly comprehensive collection of supplementary materials that give a really intimate insight into the realities of its production and the volume of effort Kyoto Animation funeled into Haruhi. Thankfully the amount of extras haven’t impacted the presentation on a practical level, with encoding tight across all the collections despite being a standard def release. To be honest that’s probably the only knock against this collection, as a blu-ray set would have been the icing on the cake, especially for the movie which is truly sumptuous. Given I’m generally nonplussed with extra features it’s been nice to really indulge across everything here – bearing in mind the kind of passionate fandom Haruhi inspired, it seems very fitting that this collection is home to so many extra features.

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I went into watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Collection interested to see where the journey would lead given I had only seen the first season a number of years back. Having now come out the other side, it has to be said that the content remains engaging, clever and at times stunning in execution. It’s a series that can be enjoyed on the surface level but offers a tremendous amount of depth if you peer below to see what’s stirring underneath, and the proverbial coda in the form of Disappearance is beautifully indulgent. Highly recommended.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.

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