Haruhi and the SOS Brigade are back for a second season of universe-manipulating fun, and to say that this is a strange one would be understating things. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way – which is a shame, as the first season was pretty damned good…
What They Say:
The second series of the mega-hit anime based on the series of light novels written by Nagaru Tanigawa and illustrated by Noizi Ito, The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 2 Collection comes to DVD as a deluxe four-disc set that also includes the two spin-off original net animation series The Melancholy Of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Nyoron! Churuya-san. The series kicks off as Haruhi continues her search for exciting ways to keep her world from being boring. Unfortunately, for Kyon and the rest of the SOS Brigade, they are also forced to go along for the ride. On the night of the Tanabata Star Festival, Kyon is transported back in time by Mikuru Asahina to what may be the source of what led Haruhi to search for aliens, time travellers and espers in the first place.
In the last two weeks of summer vacation, Haruhi leads the brigade on a dizzying list of summer time activities that leads the brigade into experiencing what they think is déjà-vu but they’re actually re-living the same two weeks of summer over and over again. It’s up to Kyon to figure out what’s missing to get them out of this endless loop. As autumn rolls around, everyone prepares for the school arts festival, but Haruhi isn’t content with their class’s survey project. Instead, she hatches her own plan for the SOS Brigade to film and screen their own.
Audio is listed as being English & Japanese 2.0, but due to an issue with the materials provided that also affected the US release, the Japanese track is straight mono. Not being much of a dub fan, it’s the Japanese track I went with, which leaves me with not much to say – it’s clear and there are no problems picking out out dialogue from the background effects, but it’s mono. Not much life there.
Video comes in its original 1.78:1 aspect, and being a Kyoto Animation show you can see the TLC that went into the production – the animation is of a very high quality, bright and highly-detailed. With no obvious encoding issues, it’s a joy to look at.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
As usual for Manga releases these days, we’re greeted with a static menu when the disc loads, with the new opening theme playing over the top. Haruhi features on all discs, with a different companion each time, with options for Play All, Setup, Episodes and Extras. There are no transition animations, so it’s all quick and easy to use.
Not a bad dose of extras here. Disc one has a ‘special’ version of the ED (a version of Hare Hare Yukai with the full dance), creditless versions of the second season OP/ED sequences, an extension selection of promo clips, and (most interestingly) some ‘location scouting clips’ – producers of the series, Kyoto Animation, are well-known for using real locations in their shows, and here we get to see a little of the process of choosing some locations to be featured. There are 8 of these clips spread across the first 2 discs in the set. Disc three has a behind-the-scenes look (split into 8 parts) of the production of Aya Hirano’s music video, and a 2-minute slideshow to accompany Kyon’s introduction to the Endless Eight arc. And as if that weren’t enough, the Haruhi-chan Suzumiya disc contains more TV spots for the series, and creditless versions of the Haruhi-chan OP/ED sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first strange thing to point out about this “season” is the way that it fits in to the show’s timeline. When this was broadcast in Japan, it was alongside a rerun of the first season, which itself was in chronological order (as opposed to the out-of-order original broadcast), with the new episodes slotted into the timeline in the appropriate places to create a single 28-episode series. With the UK rights for the first season resting with Beez, though, Manga UK have had to make do with just releasing the new episodes – saving you an enforced double-dip, it’s true, but also altering the experience somewhat.
It also doesn’t help that the bulk of the new season, the eight-episode Endless Eight arc, is essentially the same episode repeated eight times. Let me explain that in story terms: Kyon’s relaxing summer vacation is interrupted by a sudden phone call. – it’s Haruhi, wanting the gang to join her in a whirlwind of summer activities, from swimming pools to summer festivals, part-time jobs, and bug hunting. Summers are meant to be enjoyed, after all. But unknown to the gang, at least initially, with Haruhi subconsciously not wanting the summer to ever end, they’ve become trapped in a repeating loop that shows no signs of ending. Finally, on the 15,498th loop, the gang finally realises what’s going on. But how can they break the loop..?
On a purely technical level, this is a great idea – the problem comes in how it’s presented. The first episode of the arc takes you in detail through the gang’s summer; the second, the same, with Kyon maybe beginning to suffer a few tinges of deja va. The third, the gang realise what’s happening, but don’t know how to stop it; and so one, with each episode in the arc changing only very slightly in content from the previous. Cleverly, the animation for each episode is completely different – the gang choose different clothes, are shown speaking from different angles, and so on, each episode has been made completely from scratch rather than Kyoto Animation taking the cheap & easy route and reusing footage from one episode to another, and that at least gives you something to look at each time through. But the same story, eight times, with only minor differences each time? I admire their balls for trying, but it really doesn’t come off. And that’s half the series wasted as a result.
Fortunately, the rest of the series does come off rather better. There’s the single-episode Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody tale, a fun little story where Mikuru takes Kyon on a trip to the past with her, and the five-episode Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc that follows the making of the gang’s Adventures of Mikuru Asahina movie (that you’ll have to dig up the first season to see). That movie was, if you remember, completely terrible, and this arc explains why – and it’s not just down to Haruhi’s lack of directing talent or script. It’s the problems that arise thanks to her desires affecting reality again that get in the way. Mikuru Beam? Let’s just say that that wasn’t a special effect…
It’s a fun little arc, but I have to say that by the end of it I’d grown rather tired of the sound of Mikuru’s voice – she’s got a particularly whiny tone whenever Haruhi’s abusing her, and she gets abused rather a lot here. That also meant that Haruhi’s antics also wore thin here, too – the way she mistreats those around her and uses them as her playthings is fine and funny up to a point, but I was really finding that the point had been crossed here, pushing her behaviour into distasteful territory.
So far, so hmmm, then. There are some added extras in with this set that brighten things up, though, as the first volume of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Nyoron! Churuya-san shorts have been bundled with the set (volume 2 gets a stand-alone release in October). These were originally created as web-only shorts – Haruhi-chan takes the usual cast (with some subtle changes – Yuki as an eroge game freak? I like it…) and turns the insanity up to eleven, while Churuya-san focusses on the smoked-cheese-obsessed chibi version of Tsuruya to have some fun that veers well into the surreal. As a break from the normal style of the series, these are both great fun – especially as this season isn’t up to the standard of the first – and kudos to Manga for including them here instead of just releasing them separately.
Good as they are, though, they don’t raise the overall ‘experience’ above average. The first season of Haruhi wowed me, in a big way, and I still hold it quite dear. This season just isn’t up to the same standard, with Endless Eight in particular feeling more like a proof-of-concept gimmick that didn’t quite work, than like a genuine attempt to entertain. Okay, up to a point, but firmly in the ‘for completeists’ camp.
Japanese Language 1.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Special Ending, Textless OP/ED, TV Commercial Spots, Retail Promo, Promo Spots, Location Scouting Videos, Behind the Scenes of Aya Hirano’s Music Video, Endless Eight Prologue: Summer – an Audio Slideshow
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 4th, 2011
Running Time: 350 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.