The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa: B-

Even if you haven’t consumed it in any format, any otaku worthy of the name has at least heard of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The anime has been released by Bandai Entertainment, Yen Press is putting out the manga, but now, courtesy of Little, Brown and Company (also part of the Hachette Book Group along with Yen Press) we finally have the story in its original light novel form. Because I generally tend to like the first incarnation of a tale more than its adaptations, it was the light novel that most appealed to me.

The story is told from the retrospective point of view of a teenage boy known only as Kyon. As a kid, Kyon dreamed of fighting aliens—preferably as a sidekick rather than someone who had to actually engage in combat—and encountering a mysterious transfer student with extraordinary powers. He eventually grew out of such ideas, but he discovers that not everyone his age has done the same when, on the first day of high school, his classmate Haruhi Suzumiya uses her class introduction to instruct all aliens, time travelers, and espers to seek her out.

Haruhi spurns contact with normal humans, but Kyon’s able to get through to her by talking about the topics that actually interest her. He seals his own fate when he suggests to Haruhi, despondent over not finding any clubs that deal with her interests, that she create a club of her own. He’s instantly drafted as the first member of the “SOS Brigade” and caught up in Haruhi’s obsession to seek out and observe mysterious happenings.

As the story progresses, the other members of the club confess to Kyon that they actually are an alien, a time traveler, and an esper and provide proof to back up their claims (ultimately fulfilling Kyon’s childhood dreams). They’ve each come to study Haruhi, for she unknowingly has the ability to make her wishes reality, and the current world exists as it does because of her. Kyon’s job is to make sure she stays satisfied with this world and doesn’t seek to recreate it. One thing I never realized before reading the novel is that the melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is actually a dangerous thing. The title doesn’t refer simply to her dissatisfaction with the mundane, but to the destruction that begins to occur when she grows despondent.

There are some elements of the writing and the story that work for me—like some snicker-worthy bits and the creative backstories for the other club members—but likewise there are things that bug me. For example, the prose is liberally sprinkled with cheesy similes that compare smiles to sunflowers in a grassy field, exhalations to fluttering butterflies, et cetera. I’m not sure if that’s Tanigawa’s idea of good writing or if it’s supposed to be Kyon’s view of same.

Too, I’m quite bothered by Haruhi’s treatment of Mikuru Asahina. Haruhi nabs Mikuru because she believes that every story features a moe character, so having Mikuru around will increase the chances of something interesting happening. She forces Mikuru to dress in skimpy costumes and is continually groping her and photographing her in provocative poses. This element of the story shows several characters in their worst light: Haruhi as bossy and thoughtless, Mikuru as weepy and simpering, and Kyon as a creepy horndog who finds Mikuru’s distressed reactions appealing and saves a folder of her risqué photos for his “private viewing pleasure.”

The actual sci-fi plot of the story is fairly intriguing and the book is a quick and easy read. Unfortunately, because it is a light novel, it never gets as dark or as deep as I personally would’ve liked. Still, because Haruhi is capable of shaping the world to her liking, there are a lot of places the story could go from here.

The back cover blurb notes that Tanigawa is currently working on the tenth installment in the series.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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