And I thought, "My, who is that cute girl giving me a thumbs up?" So I checked makomk's profile and saw that it was Haruhi from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The name was intriguing, so I looked it up...and it turned out I'd stumbled onto the most popular anime in Japan. The anime is based on a series of light novels (the Japanese equivalent of young adult novels, with illustrations), but there's a manga, and radio dramas, and video games, and...it's a crazy pop-culture phenomenon. Yet, I'd never heard of it until seeing this guy's icon. (And then, later, another one!)
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is about a high school girl named Haruhi Suzumiya...who—unbeknownst to her, but knownst to us—has the power to change reality. (That sounded pretty awesome, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.) She introduces herself thusly: "I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers here, come join me." To this end, she forms the SOS Brigade (Save the World by Overloading It with Fun, Haruhi Suzumiya's Brigade) in order to seek out and/or attract strange occurrences (all the while not knowing that she is a strange occurrence herself!).
In the middle of this nonsense is Kyon, who is our brilliantly sarcastic narrator. Imagine Avatar if it were told from the perspective of Sokka constantly rolling his eyes at Aang's fun-loving antics, and you get an idea of what the show is like. Kyon's narration is hilarious, no more so than in the first episode, in which he narrates—to his dismay—an awesomely bad movie directed by Haruhi and starring the SOS Brigade and friends. He makes meta comments like "And what's with this pan up?" and "Leaving various mysteries and inconsistencies completely unaddressed, this story has finally reached its midway point." He continues this style during the show proper to a lesser extent, sometimes saying things like, "If anyone knows what's going on, please come and tell me!" The wonderful thing about Kyon is that you get to have the story told from the perspective of the buttmonkey of the group! And the voice actor is great; there's a constant undercurrent of *facepalm* in his words, especially regarding Haruhi's latest crazy idea.
Haruhi herself is adorably obnoxious. You kind of want to hate her, but you can't! Because, deep down, all she really wants is to have fun. She wants excitement. And she has a very strong personality, so the SOS Brigade just goes along with whatever she says.
Yuki is the indispensable silent character of the group. She constantly has her nose in a book. Unsurprisingly, I love her.
Mikuru is a parody of anime clichés with her long hair, high voice, and ginormous boobs. Haruhi specifically recruits her for her sex appeal in one of many hilarious meta comments. She also makes great tea!
Itsuki is a perpetually cheerful dude who totally gets all up in Kyon's personal space.
There's more to say about these characters, but I don't want to spoil too much! It's more fun when you're in Kyon's shoes.
What's interesting about Melancholy is it's kind of stealth sci-fi. Because 90% of the show is like a regular "kids at school" show; for the first few episodes, you might think the show was just about this group of weirdos hanging around after school with the Queen Weirdo. Except the 10% that's left for sci-fi is holy God, so fucking dense, it'll make your head spin. They packed enough sci-fi tropes for half a dozen shows into that 10%. It's awesome.
Honestly, when I looked into the show, I thought it would be A) serious and B) all crazy with the reality-shifting all the time. And even though it wasn't what I was expecting, I loved it nonetheless because it's fucking hilarious. I'm talking multiple LOLs per episode. And the way Haruhi's reality-shifting ability is handled allows for a more complicated storyline, in a way (again, trying not to spoil). And, like I said, when the show goes sci-fi, it takes it to 11. This is the kind of show where a baseball game can determine the fate of the world. Literally.
Notably, the show was broadcast out of order...intentionally. Because if you watched the season in chronological order, the climax would occur in episode six, and then you'd have eight episodes with no real arc. So, instead, you get all these little adventures interspersed throughout the main arc (based on the first light novel). The beauty of the non-linear order is that all the stand-alone episodes occur after the main story, so you get all these subtle hints about what's going on before it's actually revealed (peri_peteia would call them secret spoilers). And it puts the audience in a weird space with the narrator because Kyon knows more than you do in those episodes, so he doesn't explain his reactions; you have to interpret them based on what you've been piecing together from the other episodes. It's very cool. (In addition, the "Next Episode" bumpers feature Haruhi numbering the next episode in chronological order and Kyon correcting her with the right order, followed by amusing comments on the next episode. I wish more shows made their own previews.)
A note on music! While Eva and FLCL had a pretty uniform musical style, Melancholy runs the gamut! The opening and ending themes are total J-pop, which means you will hate them immensely the first time you hear them until you get them stuck in your head forever and end up loving them. They're too fun! And the dancing is cute! And they're actually sung by the voice actors (Haruhi sings the opening, and Haruhi, Yuki, and Mikuru sing the ending), two of whom are actual J-pop stars (and yet surprisingly good voice actors!). But the musical score jumps from J-pop to ambient electronica to J-rock to jazz to classical (Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and Mahler all feature), whatever best fits the scene.
capnnick, to my surprise, was actually going to recommend Melancholy to me because it was "so me." Why? Because, he said, it:
I found the first episode to be so very hilarious, but it doesn't really give you an idea of what the actual show is like. By episode five, I loved it SO MUCH. Why did I fall in love with it so quickly? Well, for all the reasons Nick just listed, basically! In addition, the SOS Brigade is a great group of characters, each one a distinct personality. They're like a Bizarro Scooby Gang. I think there's a lot more that can be done with their characters and the concepts that are brought up...which is why I'm so happy that there's going to be a second season! Because early on, I knew fourteen episodes was not enough. I wanted more, more, more time with this gang and their crazy adventures. And more of Kyon's sarcastic commentary.
Look, I haven't loved a show like this in quite some time. It's just so goddamn fun, and funny, and awesome, and...I think you all should watch it, even though I may have done a poor job selling it. It is difficult to convey in words. Discrepancies may arise during the transmission of data. Regardless, listen.