The anime series of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has become perhaps one of the more popular anime series to make the jump to the US, and one of the few anime series based off books to have the original source of the series get translated into English. I have already seen the series (and a review is forthcoming, once I finish with Patlabor), the question is, how does the book hold up?
Note: I forgot to put in a cut when I originally published the review. I regret the error.
Title: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Author: Nagaru Tanigawa
First Published: 2003
Get it from Amazon.com
Kyon is an ordinary high school student, who never believed Santa, but did believe (when he was younger) in aliens, time travel, parallel universes, psychic powers, etc. Ultimately though, he grew out of that. On his first day of High School, he finds the girl behind him, in his class, believes in aliens, time travel, sliders, and psychics, and isn’t really interested in people who don’t fit that criteria. She’s also astonishingly beautiful (in Kyon’s opinion), and Kyon decides to get her out of her shell – and ends up leading her to start up a club on campus to find various weird stuff. The girl’s name is Haruhi Suzumiya – and Kyon’s life is about to get significantly more interesting then he would ever have liked.
At the time I read the book, I’d seen the TV series before reading the book. Thus I’d gotten familiar with some of the more slapstick sight gags from the series. Kyon’s deadpan commentary in the book (as he narrates) really makes up for the lack of the sight gags. It reminds me a lot of how the narration works in Johnathan Gash’s Lovejoy novels (Lovejoy’s narration being one of the series best traits).
There’s a lot of stuff here that people who don’t know Japanese animation might be unfamiliar with or stuff that people who have lived in Japan recently might be familiar with, either stuff like moe, or stuff like students testing into a particular high school, the way we take SATs into College. Also, unfortunately, the anime has some references to other Science fiction novels – ones that are very relevant to the book series – that aren’t present in the book. I don’t know if they are easter eggs added to the series on the part of the director and animators, or if this is something that was dropped from the book in the translation.
Originality: If the book reads like an anime (and not just because you’ve already seen the anime) – it’s because the book does like to play with a bunch of High School anime schticks. While it’s enjoyable, it does hurt the originality a little, but not too much. 5/6
Imagery: As mentioned under the High Point, the imagery is well done, particularly how it’s executed through the Kyon’s narration. 5/6
Story: The story is solid, but it’s also pretty straightforward. At this point in the series it’s not going to make you backtrack in the book when you come across some big reveal that was teased earlier or anything like that. That said, once I started reading it, I didn’t set it down until I finished it, and that’s the first book I could say that about in a while. 5/6
Characterization: This is probably the book’s biggest weak-point. If the rest of the book series reflects the character arcs of the animated series as much as episodes 1-6 of the series reflect the book, then most of the character development is to come. This book basically just sets everything up, with most of the character development being around Kyon, and to a lesser extent Haruhi and Yuki. 3/6
Emotional Response: I don’t know if it’s an issue with the translation or what, but the emotional response didn’t quite click for me. It had its moments, and this was an enjoyable book. However, there were particular moments of the story that felt like they should be provoking a stronger emotional response, particularly when Kyon kisses Haruhi, that didn’t provoke that response. Other moments, like when Ryoko attacks Kyon, came off okay. I don’t know if this is a situation related to me knowing what’s already coming from having already seen the show, or the weakness of the translation. 3/6
Overall: As I mentioned under story, this is one of the few books in the past few years that I couldn’t put down, until I’d finished it. Mind you, the last book series that really did that to me was the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovitch, so say what you will about that. 5/6
Total Score is: 32/42.