#1 An oblivious Goddess
Haruhi Suzumiya is a Japanese schoolgirl living a normal, boring life, but unbeknownst to her, she has the power to change that. While she is not aware of it, the very world changes at her every whim. So when she expresses that life would be so much cooler if it had aliens, espers, and time travelers in it, that is now the new reality.
Our second main character is Kyon, a sensible if slightly cynical guy who takes an interest in Haruhi’s strange behavior. This leads to him being forced into joining Haruhi’s new club, the SOS Brigade, which seeks to spread joy around the world (or at least the school) by doing… mostly whatever. Lo and behold, his fellow club members turn out to be the time-traveling beauty Mikuru, a guy with ESP powers called Koizumi, and the super-powered alien creature Yuki Nagato. All three of them appear like normal students and quickly involve Kyon in their plot to keep Haruhi in check in order to prevent her powers from changing the world all willy-nilly.
The idea of a character having God-like powers lends an interesting bend to a show that would otherwise be just another school-based comedy anime. Stories can be about regular adventures like putting on a performance at a school festival or they can involve all manners of paranormal mysteries, like the sudden disappearance of a classmate.
#2 Solid comedy & characters
All the members of the SOS brigade form a nice cast of main characters together and are supported by a number of side-characters that aren’t too shabby either. Everybody in the club (and general vicinity) is at the mercy of Haruhi, who is a determined and pushy lady at the best of times. Many storylines revolve around her forcing some activity on the group, like suddenly deciding to film an amateur movie or entering a baseball competition.
The writing is spot-on and it honestly had to because Haruhi’s character is one that could easily be taken as obnoxious or even offensive to some. Suffice it to say, I experienced nothing like that and actually really enjoy the flavor of comedy offered in the show, including Haruhi’s antics that sometimes border on harassment. The storylines are creative and hilarious, with characters that really endeared themselves over the course of its 2 seasons.
#3 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
While it probably deserves a review all of its own, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is very much tied to the show and I would always recommend people to watch both. This movie came out in 2010 after the show concluded its rebroadcast a year prior and acts as a major, new storyline.
Kyon wakes up one day only to find that people no longer recognize him, there is no SOS Brigade, and Haruhi and Koizumi are missing. The movie is more of a mystery drama and much lighter on comedy. It also helps bring story arcs from the show together and uses everything the club has gone through in the anime to achieve some amazing, often emotional character development. And this hits hard exactly because we got to enjoy these characters for so long and the show’s great writing has made sure we are invested in them by the time this movie takes place.
A friend of mine did watch just the movie on its own and still found it enjoyable, but it calls back to so many moments from the show that it’s best enjoyed after watching both seasons. For me, watching the movie is what really completed the series and ended it all on a big, emotional highlight.
#4 The experimentation
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a show very much confident in its appeal. So much so that it often likes to shrug conventional storytelling and pulls jokes on the viewer that few other anime would ever replicate. The Endless Eight arc is a famous example, but most notable is that the chronology of the show is kind of up in the air. That episode about shooting an amateur movie, for example, is technically episode 1, but falls somewhere in the middle of the timeline. There are like 4 different orders in which to view the series, each with its own supporters. My copy from Funimation even came with an overview of them.
I am not going to spoil what makes the episodes that pull tricks like this special. Just know that you are in for a bunch of surprises.
#5 Two top-tier audio tracks
I might have made some controversial comments in the past by shitting on Japanese audio tracks while praising the dub to high heaven, so it’s probably safe to first reaffirm that I tend to watch both and have no immediate bias for either dub or sub. I just end up sticking with whatever version has the characters sound more iconic or whichever version somebody else prefers if I watch anime with a friend.
With that said, Haruhi is a show where I can never settle because both audio tracks are absolutely fantastic. The Japanese version has the renowned singer Aya Hirano and Tomokazu Sugita for Haruhi and Kyon respectively, alongside a variety of other experienced actors doing a great job with the rest of the cast. Meanwhile, the dub has Wendee Lee and Crispin Freeman in it, with the latter making my list of the five best voice actor performances in anime… for his role as Kyon! Both versions are just so darn good and I adore the writing in both, so please don’t ask me to pick a favorite between them.
On that note, major props to the English localization team for translating Aya Hirano’s song “God Knows” for the dub. That is a level of effort I was not prepared for and I absolutely love the English version of it.