Danielle Leigh's Reading Diary -- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya vol 1-3

Although some of the delightful weirdness of the The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime is lost when the original series of light novels are adapted for the comic book medium, by the end of the second volume I started to sink into the story as if returning to a comfortable and much beloved armchair.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an odd little franchise comprising a number of novels, one season of anime (so far) and at least two manga versions.  For me, the gold standard is the anime and when reading the manga I have to relax my ideas about what exactly the central story, narrative conventions and character relationships can look like.

Volume one of the manga opens with freshman Kyon lamenting the fact that his everyday life is pretty boring on his way to his first day of high school.  Why can't it be like when he was a kid and believed in dumb stuff like Santa Claus and aliens?  Even so, Kyon still understands that as an adult you naturally lose that sense of wonder.  It just kinda sucks, is all.  However, during first day homeroom introductions, everyone else is giving boring factoids about their middle school affiliation, one girl steps up and declares that she is only interested in aliens, time travelers and esp-ers!  And that is how we meet Haruhi.

Kyon is a little shocked -- not merely by Haruhi's open (and clearly crazy) declaration, but by the fact she may have also been voicing some very private preoccupations of his own.  (After all, normal students would have been worried about the first day of classes at a new school -- in his own way, Kyon isn't the normal boy he appears to be).  Haruhi's effectively alienated the entire school in half a second, so one day when Kyon is dared by classmates to talk to her, he makes the mistake of using Haruhi-speak (read: crazy talk) to get her attention.  Once Kyon's revealed he can think outside of the box, Haruhi is up and running.  She decides to start a club, the S.O.S. Brigade ("Save the World by Overloading it With Fun with Haruhi Suzumiya!"), whose mission it is to find aliens, time travelers and esp-ers.  It turns out that Haruhi *is* surrounded by an alien, a time traveler and an esper, who all join the S.O.S. Brigade, but they only reveal themselves to poor Kyon, in order to warn him that Haruhi Suzumiya is actually a god who has the power to destroy and create worlds.  Or something really insane like that.  Kyon is enlisted as Haruhi-control, since as the only real human of the group, they figure he must have something special about him to keep the interest of a girl like Haruhi.

The manga follows the members of the S.O.S. Brigade on these cockamanie adventures Haruhi cooks up in order to track down her much beloved supernatural targets.  I've also upgraded to the word "cockamanie," because the word "hijanks" can't adequately express how insane Haruhi's schemes can be.  For his part, Kyon knows that they have the alien Nagato, time traveler Asashina, and esper Koizumi watching over Haruhi closely, but in the end they use him as a control on Haruhi.  Since Haruhi can't do anything normally, she certainly can't express romantic affection for Kyon, but there is no doubt that there will be hell to pay if Kyon gets close to the other girls in the group, particularly the entirely too pliable Asashina-san.

The first two volumes of the manga cover "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" arc of the narrative, while volume three covers the baseball episode (or "The Bordedom of Haruhi Suzumiya"), and then adapts material not in the anime. By the end of the third volume, I found I really enjoyed the new material I had yet to have experienced in another format (since only the first light novel has been released in the U.S. and the anime didn't cover these chapters).  The hurdle to these volumes is overcoming the excellence of the anime adaptation -- yes, it is very good, but there is still a great deal of pleasure in experiencing the same events from a slightly different viewpoint (slightly different because I feel Kyon is more than a little different in his manga form).  The first volume, however, is incredibly shaky in terms of art and narrative clarity.  I'm glad I hung in there, though, to discover a rather charming story about Haruhi's version of the Tanabata festival in "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody" in volume three which includes some really cracked-out time travel experiences for poor Kyon.  In the end, each volume of the manga becomes more accomplished in terms of art and narrative and the title was finally able to draw me into the story on its own terms.

Review copies provided by Yen Press.

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