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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Melancholy
of Haruhi Suzumiya

Tanigawa Nagaru

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To purchase The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Title: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Author: Tanigawa Nagaru
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - US
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - UK
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Canada
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - India
La mélancolie d'Haruhi Suzumiya - France
  • Japanese title: 涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱
  • Translated by Chris Pai
  • The first volume in the Haruhi Suzumiya-series
  • The volumes in the Haruhi Suzumiya-series have also been published as manga (drawings by Gaku Tsugano)
  • The novels/manga have also been adapted into an anime TV series

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Our Assessment:

B : slightly odd mix of the un- and intentionally bizarre, but solid narrative voice holds it together

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 27/4/2009 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Readers may be occasionally weirded out -- Haruhi repeatedly force-strips a club member -- but those who get into Kyon's woe-is-me narration will be entertained." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is the first in a long series that has now branched off (more successfully, it appears) into both a manga and a TV-anime series. Despite the cartoonish reworkings (already suggested here too, with the inclusion of several manga-type illustrations) -- and one description of the title-character noting: "She looked like a character out of a manga series" -- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya works just fine as a (semi-)realistic novel (and could equally easily have been the basis for a live-action TV or film version).
       The novel is narrated by Kyon -- so the nickname he's stuck with (and dislikes) -- and begins when he starts high school. ('High school' here is the Japanese 'senior high school', which covers grades ten through twelve (unlike the American 9-12 high school.) Several kids who were at the same middle school as him are also there, but he also meets lots of new kids, including Haruhi Suzumiya, the girl who starts out the year in the seat behind Kyon, described by one of her former middle school classmates as: "the strangest girl you'll ever meet". Certainly, when she introduces herself to the class she makes an impression:

     I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers here, come join me. That is all.
       Apparently she's still pretty popular -- she has the looks, is good at sports, and apparently gets good grades. But she's certainly fickle: she's never had a boyfriend for longer than a week, and now at high school she tries out each of the many school clubs and afterschool activities but quickly quits, dismissive of them all, even the 'Supernatural Phenomenon Research Society'. Eventually she does the obvious: form her own club, with hapless Kyon in tow. She commandeers the space of the Literary Club -- taking with it the one last member sitting there, always book in hand, Yuki Nagato, which gets the club up to three members (out of the required five to form a proper student association).
       Next Haruhi enlists (or rather, dragoons) Mikuru Asahina into the group -- "super cute", this young-looking girl is well-endowed: "A Lolita face with big breasts", which Haruhi figures will come in handy, as Mikuru has that 'essential factor':
     Moe, you know, turn-ons. The element of turning people on. Fundamentally, in every story where something strange happens, there's always an alluring, Lolita-like character present !
       (Mikuru, and especially Haruhi's treatment of her -- repeatedly forcibly undressing and dressing her -- is one of the less palatable elements in the novel, an injection of voyeurism (even as Kyon always discreetly tries to avoid seeing too much) that seems purely salacious; it's probably also why the US publisher suggests the otherwise tween-level book is for: 'Ages 15 & up'. As the full scenario of the novel is revealed the actions no longer seem quite as shocking, but it's still pretty seedy, silly stuff.)
       The final member of the group is Itsuki Koizumi, a late addition to the school as a transfer student. The name Haruhi settles on for them is nothing less than: 'the Save our World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade' -- the 'SOS Brigade', for short. It's an unfortunately silly name, but then its goals -- "To find aliens, time travelers, and espers and to have fun with them!" -- are pretty ridiculous too -- as are Haruhi's initial efforts to root out some such otherworldly beings.
       While unrealistic, Haruhi is definitely driven. She's also kind of blind to a lot of what's happening around her. Kyon is just a normal kid, in way over his head (but willing to play along, in part because of the sheer force of Haruhi's personality) -- left wondering: "Why was I dragged into this bizarre mess ? I'm a one hundred percent genuine normal human being. [...] I'm just an ordinary high school student.". As he (but not Haruhi) learns, however, the other three group members aren't quite who (or even what ...) they seem to be. And Haruhi is in the middle of it all, unaware of the position she holds or the power she possibly wields, even as her (very odd) instincts seem to be pushing her in the right directions.
       The set-up is decent enough, and Haruhi makes a good central character: "an eccentric, bossy, self-centered girl who causes trouble for everyone around her" and has some very wild ideas, but who remains oblivious to her central position and power in this odd universe. Kyon is the average-Joe character who finds himself pulled into all this -- a good choice for chronicler, as he serves to keep the story grounded, with Tanigawa doing a nice job with his voice for that purpose. The three others in the group are interesting figures, living what amount to sort of double-lives, and Tanigawa already shows here some of their potential in the confrontation the novel builds to (and fairly quickly resolves -- if hardly conclusively).
       It's not a bad premise and not a bad start to a series. It is pretty basic and generally hard to believe -- Haruhi tramples over pretty much everything and everyone rather easily, which seems a bit unlikely in what is largely a Japanese school setting -- and there are of course plot holes galore, and the reading and plotting level are at about middle school level (with only some breast-grabbing nudging the book out of that demographic). The cultural translation works, more or less, though it probably would have been safe to keep some of the Japanese elements as is: there's no need for the kids to play Othello when in the original it surely was Go. But Tanigawa nails the voice, keeping normality and the bizarre in the right balance, and that's what makes it a decent little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 July 2014

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Reviews: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - the TV series: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Tanigawa Nagaru (谷川 流) was born in 1970.

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