While not being as wildly complex and challenging as “House of Leaves”, the previous book covered here, is, Nagaru Tanigawa’s “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” manages to be an accessible but complex fusion of several distinct fiction genres. Slice of life, sci-fi, school romance, mystery come in play all together without any of them truly dominating, and that is an achievement by itself, but the Haruhi Suzumiya series tops it off with interesting characters, references to all sorts of difficult scientific concepts (author has a background in these) and well-written plots.
Now, there is a point I should get across: the anime adaptation, made in 2006 by Kyoto Animation, has far outshined the original books in the USA. It merits a separate review all for itself (because it is a really good anime, regardless of whatever people say) but as The Death of CDs doesn’t cover these kinds of things, and my main blog, Love Songs on the Radio, does, it will be published in the latter blog… when I become more, well, cultured in the anime matters – I’ve only just begun, afterall.
But still, let’s move on with the review. Screenshots from the anime where available and spoilers where unescapable.
Meet the crew: from left, Kyon, the cynical narrator and the only normal man; the titular Haruhi Suzumiya, beautiful, athletic, intelligent, but extremely eccentric girl; Mikuru Asahina, the unbelievably shy plaything for Haruhi; Itsuki Koizumi, the eternally smiling transfer student; and Yuki Nagato, the quiet bookworm.
Now, how on Earth did they all wind up to be together? The book starts with Kyon (as of book 9, he still hasn’t his name revealed) thinking to himself about what high school will bring, and stating that while he used to believe in supernatural stuff like aliens, espers and time travelers and wanted to be in the same league as them, he’s now grown out of this and just wants to lead a normal life. That is, until he meets Haruhi Suzumiya.
I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers here, come join me. That is all.
Thus starts one of the most exciting adventures in the last decade’s literature.
After joining all of the clubs in her school in search of aliens and etc. but leaving them as quickly, Haruhi decides to found her own – with the help of Kyon who gave her the thought. She finds the abandoned literature club’s room with a single member that doesn’t protest against Haruhi taking over – the already mentioned Yuki Nagato. A bit later in the day, Mikuru Asahina gets dragged in by the virtue of being “voluntarily arrested” by Haruhi – and automatically turns into her plaything because of her… appealing looks. Later still, a “mysterious” transfer student Itsuki Koizumi also gets joined in by Haruhi, and so the five man band gets united under the guise of SOS Brigade – “Save the World by Overloading It with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya’s Brigade“.
Later, of course, Nagato, Asahina and Koizumi reveal themselves and Haruhi to Kyon – turns out that Haruhi can unknowingly alter reality for her own ends, and it now is in Kyon’s and everybody’s duties to keep Haruhi interested so that the world doesn’t end. Yuki is in reality a “human interface” sent by an alien data entity – basically what you can call a robot/alien… never mind, too complicated to explain, besides, Nagato confuses Kyon even more with her explanations. Mikuru is, quite simply, a time traveler, and Koizumi possesses supernatural powers with a twist in that he can only use them in so-called “closed spaces”. Now that we’re done with today’s dose of spoilers, let’s move on…
…and that pretty much describes the series as a whole. Everybody tries to entertain Haruhi so that she doesn’t destroy the world and at the same time keep her from knowing that she has the reality warping powers. Well, of course, the first book begins it all, but not to spoil everything as it is already: the plot twists and turns like a rubber band; it starts out as a usual school romance book, then turns sci-fi, then action, then becomes something else entirely. And Kyon as the narrator is, quite simply, absolutely priceless, snarking at almost everything in sight.
Now, a bit more about the medium it’s published in. Light novel is a tricky thing to discuss in detail here, so here’s the Wikipedia article on the matter. That said, it’s admirable that Tanigawa managed to pack so much action into a single paperback that doesn’t even exceed the first Harry Potter novel in size. And come to think of it, if you put together all the 9 books that came out in the series so far, and put them against all the 7 Harry Potter books, then one can find out that while the books are lesser in size, they actually contain more than, say, “Order of Phoenix”.
All in all, what more can I say about “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” than I’ve already said? My fanboyism pretty much shows through all the cracks, but let’s be objective – if a book brings together such disaparate genres, adds a dash of humor that you can’t resist cracking at, if it makes you feel excited for each and every turn it takes, however sharp it was, has something for everyone in the characters, etc. etc. – knowing all this, would you really want to miss it? I guess not. “The Melancholy…” is an entertaining read, that will draw you into its world and won’t release you for a long, long time. If you still believe that aliens are out there, time travel is possible, and you’re not skeptic towards supernatural phenomena… then this book is for you.
Sergey Konovalov / Love Songs on the Radio