Dec 03 2008

Capsule Manga Review: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Perhaps it was inevitable that the manga version of Haruhi would make its way to our shores. The wild popularity of the light novels and anime in Japan, and the transformation of Haruhi into an anime otaku cultural icon meant that the manga adaptation was inevitable. Of course, this also means that the manga adaptation will be subject to unrealistic scrutiny (by myself included). Truthfully, I started collecting the Japanese manga volume special editions more for the figures and completeness of my collection than a sense that the manga adds anything new to the franchise. That being said, I am glad to see the US domestic release of the manga, drawn by Gaku Tsugano, based, of course on the light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa and character designs by Noizi Ito. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is published in the US by Yen Press.

My guess is that if you frequent this site, you probably already know about Haruhi but to satisfy my own obsessive compulsive need for completeness I’ll do a quick plot recap first. (I suppose that it is also possible you are one of those folks who didn’t “get” why Haruhi was such a big deal, but something tells me the manga won’t change your mind on the matter. The light novels on the other hand…but that is a separate matter and I get ahead of myself here).

Kyon is a typical high school kid. The age when anything fantastic from the imagination is still possible has passed. Resigned to settle into a boring high school life as a trial run for a boring adult life, Kyon enters into his sophomore year (Japanese High School Grade 1) at North High school. Kyon, as we discover, is not our hero’s actual name, it is in fact a nickname. In any case, Kyon finds himself at a school where most of his classmates are familiar faces, as most of the students at North High come from the middle school that he just graduated from. Most that is, with the exception of one particularly beautiful long-haired girl that sits behind him. When it comes time for class introductions, the beauty commands, “if there are any aliens, time travellers, sliders or espers here, join me. That is all.” And with that ultimatum delivered, Kyon is introduced to Haruhi Suzumiya, and the world is forever changed (quite literally).

The manga dutifully recreates the story of Kyon as he is thrust into the antics of Haruhi’s world and the SOS Brigade, a club formed with the sole purpose of seeking out aliens, time travelers, espers and other interesting phenomena, composed of…well an alien organic lifeform interface for the data integration thought entity, a time traveler from another time plane (which time frame is confidential, of course) and an esper tasked with battling closed spaces and observing god, and of course, Kyon.

A few specifics on the manga adaptation. The art style and designs are much closer to the original Noizi Ito character designs from the light novel illustrations. That being said, the influence of the KyoAni interpretation does make occasional appearances. There is the traditional facial morphing for comic relief, but most of the art tends to be simplistic. The volume starts off with handdrawn backgrounds but in a later chapter, the use of photograph based backgrounds creeps in. Overall, I’m torn on the art. It isn’t bad art by any stretch of the imagination, but it also feels a bit eclectic and inconsistent. It is art that you typically expect from a weekly, not much detail or crafting in any one frame.

The reworking of the original story into manga form of course necessitated some changes in pacing and dialogue. Maybe this is a reason for those of us who have read through the novels and the anime to experience the story again, this time with a slightly different narrative train. Still, I find the interpretation, so far at least, to be a very superficial rendition of the story.

If I begin to alternate chanelling Kagami and Konata, please forgive me. I am, as one might tell from my random musings, quite passionate about the world that Tanigawa has created in his novels. I remember that a review of Haruhi at a particular well known English language anime news site that called it empty actually inspired the creation of this site. In any case, that being said, I’m not entirely convinced that the manga is the ideal vehicle for those not infected by Haruhiism to be drawn into the franchise. For most Japanese hardcore Haruhi fans, the light novels were the catalyst. For American fans like myself, it was Kyoto Animation’s fabulous interpretation.

Ironically, what is included as an extra in the first volume of the manga is the most exciting part. Done in normal English page order, in the back of the first volume of the manga, is the first chapter of the official US translation of the light novel, included as a preview of the 2009 release of the first of the light novels in English. This is exciting. For all of you fans out there that think Haruhi is superficial, or “just another harem anime,” I challenge you to read the light novels.

In any case, my final recommendation for the Haruhi manga is that if you are a big fan, then this is going to be one of those purchases that certainly won’t disappoint. The cute retelling of the now oh-so-familiar storyline is novel enough to keep you interested, if only to look for differences between the novel, the anime and the manga. For those of you who are looking at the manga to see if it helps you understand what all the fuss is about, I’d probably say that wouldn’t be such a good idea…except for the fact that you get a sample of the light novel. Perhaps that dual-punch combo is enough for people not yet smitten with Haruhiism to pick up volume 1. Then, its up to you to see if you decide on volume 2.

EDIT: One additional note. On the printing I have, the text is horribly misaligned in a number of places. I have not seen this in other Yen Press titles, so I assume this is a glitch.

One response so far

One Response to “Capsule Manga Review: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”

  1. Ninja Poe Bearon 04 Dec 2008 at 12:50 am

    I am going to have to agree with you 100% when it comes to the recommendations. Because when I got into Kadokawa Shoten’s manga, it was because of Keroro Gunso. So I ended up picking up my first issue of Shonen Ace.

    From a fan that started off enjoying, if not loving the anime, I was set off from the art style the manga series sports later on. But despite that, the flow and feel grew along with my fandom. And by September, I was hooked and purchased the first 6 volumes.

    It’s one of those series as you stated. It will only set you off if you are starting off or just prefer the anime. Because it has a completely different feel. But if the person’s obsession… I mean… fandom grows, this will be one series they will find themselves owning.

    I will hope that Yen Press can license the rest of the series. Because I personally see this one going 15-20 volumes in length.

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