Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

Remember Jerome Bixby's short story of metaphysical horror, It's a Good Life? If you haven't read this one, seek it out.

Now imagine It's a Good Life, instead of being horror, written as a romantic comedy.

Is this possible? Indeed it is. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, which played on Japanese TV in 2006, uses the same underlying ideas as Bixby's story, but tone and texture are utterly different.

tMoSH is wildly popular with fans around the world. I missed it when it was in fansubs, but I recently Netflixed it, to find out what the uproar was about. The fans are right. It's a well-done show. So well-done that it bears re-watching. I may buy the DVDs.

tMoSH fits into a common anime genre, the shounen school life comedy of humors. There is a romantic element, but for the most part it's subtle. There's an even more subtle shounen harem element. I normally can't stand shounen harem, but in this case it is so delicately and sweetly handled that I actually found it touching, rather than annoying.

The casting is interesting. If you mixed together Lucy van Pelt, Becky Sharp, Soryu Asuka Langley, and Isadora Duncan, you might get something like the title character, schoolgirl Suzumiya Haruhi. Haruhi is brilliant and talented, but her ambitions run far ahead of her talents, and she is careless of the interests of others to the point of sociopathy. The job of humanizing Haruhi, and protecting others from her screwball crusades, falls to the show's narrator and POV character, Kyon, a cynical, sarcastic and depressive fellow. This is an established anime supporting character type (example: Doumeki Shizuka from xxxHolic), but I wouldn't have thought it could work in a protagonist. Yet, it does. Dour, phlegmatic Kyon is the perfect foil for the reckless, hyperactive Haruhi.

Production values are high. Character design is pleasant, but doesn't break new ground. Backgrounds are gorgeous. Animation is detailed. Music is good, and OP and ED are fun, especially once you get to know the characters. Shounen fan service is mercifully scant, unless you count Mikuru Asahina's ultra-moe character design.

tMoSH can be extremely subtle. For example, the first season's final episode, 'Someday in the Rain', seems at first to be 25 minutes about nothing in particular. But against a quiet background, tiny actions develop significance. The second season arc, 'Endless Eight', seems at first to be the same episode, again and again, with only minor details changed. Eventually this is explained and resolved, but it's remarkable that the director is able to maintain audience interest through the same episode, eight times.

The original show is available in the US on DVD. A 'second season', which is actually side stories from the same time frame as the first season, was recently licensed for distro in the US.

If you get the R1 DVD: the first episode on the first disk is labeled '00', and the next episode is labeled '1'. 'Episode 00' is supposed to be a student film made by the cast, starring themselves. If you don't already know the cast, it will be confusing. Consider starting with Episode 1, which is the actual start of the story and introduces the main characters. The story of how the cast made the film, and why it is so peculiar, are told in a long arc that is part of the show's second season.

Finally: from a writerly standpoint, thinking about the difference between It's a Good Life and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi makes one realize that writers have it in their power to take any basic material of plot or theme and make it happy or sad, tragic or farcical, by their presentation of it, by voice and tone, emphasis and incident. Why couldn't Hamlet be redone as a screwball comedy? What would It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World be like, rewritten and directed by Ingmar Bergman? Or Animal House in the hands of Alain Resnais?
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