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Veteran Member - Level 13
Haruhi Suzumiya is an... odd person, to say the least. On the first day of high school, she introduces herself to the classroom. Normal enough, right? Well, immediately after that she requests that if any aliens, future people, or espers are within earshot that they make themselves known to her. The world is boring and Haruhi aims to change that. All this is shown from the viewpoint of Kyon, the reluctant, sarcastic protagonist of the series. Shortly after making Haruhi's acquaintance he notices some strange people start to hang around her, yet none can top the oddities caused by the titular hero herself. From here on it simply shows the day to day lives of Haruhi and Kyon, as well as their newfound group of friends: Mikuru, Yuki, and Koizumi. And that's it. Their lives. Of course nothing could be that easy, could it?
The visuals here are pretty par for the course as far as Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) goes. Which is to say not bad at all. KyoAni always has high production values for their series, and this is no exception. It does a good job at what it wants to show of the school as well as the city at large, if not anything particularly visually stunning. As far as the character designs go, well, they're pretty damn good. Pretty much anyone majorly involved in the plotline are easily distinguishable from one another (I'm looking at you and your three main characters with purple hair Clannad...), and nothing looks off about them. From the perpetually smiling Koizumi to Haruhi's constant excitement KyoAni does a great job at bringing the characters to life. I do have to make special note that season 2 of the show was made a couple years after the first, and you can notice a definite bump in animation quality between the two. Not that the original is bad at all, far from it. It's just the second was even better.
Sound design, I can't really say much as to the background tracks because none of them really stood out to me. But damn, both of the openings and endings are infectious and will get stuck in your head whether you want them to or not. The first ending in particular is almost infamous for how popular it became between the catchy as hell song and even moreso the dance sequence that accompanies it. Come to think of it, I might as well just link it after this paragraph and let you see for yourself. And I also have to take special note of the seiyuu (voice actors) for the series. All of them are perfectly suited for their roles, in particular Aya Hirano (Haruhi). I could not possibly imagine someone better fitting the character, and she's a great singer as well to accompany it.
There's a segment in the episode called Live Alive that I have to take special note of even though I could have just as easily mentioned it in the last two paragraphs. Without getting too much into the whys, Haruhi is on stage to perform two songs: Lost My Music and God Knows. And this is by far away my favorite episode due to this. The animation is one of those times where it just totally eclipses the rest of the series. Yuki Nagato is up there shredding on guitar, and the rest of the band is good as well. But, there are no words for just how fantastic Haruhi is in this. The animators had a field day getting her to actually LOOK like a singer. She gets passionate, she yells and sweats and truly gets into it in ways that surpass even the GlDeMo segments of Angel Beats. It probably doesn't hurt that the song God Knows is utterly fantastic. This is no exaggeration here, but I've literally listened to this song 175 times since I watched the series in October or November.
I also have to go the other way, and mention the notorious Endless Eight of season 2. Haruhi and co are stuck into a time loop, and from there you get one of the most feared watches in the anime world. Each of the episodes have pretty much nothing of note happen in them other than changes to clothes and camera angles. That's three or four hours of anime in which the exact same story is told every twenty-two minutes. You can easily skip five of the episodes without missing a single plot development. I still recommend tackling it anyways however just so that if anyone asks you can say you conquered the feat much as a climber can conquer the Diamir face of Nanga Parbat. It's an obstacle, but one which brings a huge breath of relief on finally passing it.
The story is good enough I suppose, in which it focuses on Haruhi's strange days and Kyon trying to navigate his way through them, as well as the problems the other three friends have. There's not really much of a plot to drive forward though, it's all very character-driven. And, this is one of the things that's important to note; there's a broadcast order as well as a chronological order. I do NOT recommend watching broadcast order as it is one of the most confusing things on the earth to match the enigmatic figure of Haruhi herself. Pick chronological, you'll be immensely glad you did.
As for the characters, like I've stated before they're what makes the series. Haruhi would seem like a typical tsundere character at first glance, but she is much, much deeper than that. She's curious, she's easily excitable, she likes to live life for all it's worth and deeply cares about her friends much as she'd hate to admit it. Kyon is a sarcastic, well, a bit of an ass. He's the reluctant foil to the excitable Haruhi. He's there to temper her enthusiasm and bring her down to earth if need be. Mikuru and Koizumi have their moments. And then there's Nagato. Behind the emotionless exterior lies much more, so much more. You catch glimpses of it throughout the series but it's not until the movie that it truly transcends what one would expect. But that's tomorrow's review, so stay tuned!
My final verdict: 8.5. While I have some nitpicking at the total lack of more than a fragile driving plot, and the aforementioned and thrice-damned Endless Eight section, it is nevertheless a sight to behold. There's not many people who wouldn't find something to like in the series, and while it might not crack my upper echelon of things I've seen reserved for 9 and 10 ranks it is thoroughly enjoyable anyways. Basically if you have any interest in the medium of anime at all beyond exploding robots you will most likely have fun with this series even if it doesn't do anything particularly profound. Haruhi is a cultural icon at this point for Japanese animation, and everyone should see it at least once.