I feel it’s important to immediately point out that this series is 100% stand-alone from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. If you have not seen Haruhi you can fully watch and understand this, as it’s an alternate reality story so even the main cast’s personalities and such are sometimes drastically different or at least fully fleshed out here on their own.
Anyway, I was never a huge fan of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya or really the Haruhi franchise in general, I thought it was alright especially thanks to the cast except the titular character who was just a mess of so random stupidity and a mish mash of unfinished ideas on the author’s part that there was no way to like or tolerate her. It also didn’t help that her whole personality clashed with her character design making her just really hard to put up with for a lot of reasons. It also always pissed me off when people would pretend she’s a tomboy – she isn’t, not even 1%, not even in any of the other light novels in the series. So because of that I was worried about trying this out. Yuki was by far my favorite character in the original Haruhi but I had no idea what this actually was and thought the spinoff story this adapts was based on the Haruhi film’s version of the cast and world (it’s not). Either way, I tried it out when the first episode released and it was nothing like what I expected.
I was annoyed at the start, Yuki’s personality was just so drastically different. This was the thing I was worried about in terms of thinking it was from the film – in the movie Yuki is a totally obnoxious beta little shit who deserves to have her head dunked in a toilet and be bullied until she’s in her 20s. I really can’t stand what they did to her in that movie, not just because it’s Yuki but because that personality type is just pathetic and annoying on all levels – and just based on episode 1 I felt it was different from that but similar enough that I was worried. However, the more I thought about it and then very quickly upon the second and third episodes releasing I realized this Yuki might actually be my favorite of ‘her’ and a pretty fantastic character in general.
She’s a regular girl who is just kind of shy but isn’t meek nor lacking in self-confidence. She’s totally fine with who she is, she’s surprisingly straightforward and unafraid to speak her mind even if it’s something embarrassing. Sure, she shows that normal nervousness of telling Kyon her feelings – but hell, she tries to fucking tell him almost immediately in this show and she’s constantly pushing forward that whole situation. On top of that she’s not nerdy at all, she’s outgoing and hates reading books but loves playing video games all night, she doesn’t study, her understanding of math and things is “IT GOES BOING THEN ZOOM AND SO IT BLAMS” while somehow being incredibly smart, as if she’s some kind of Amarcian. She’s super cute and far from any archetype I can think of, not to say she’s the first to be this way but she certainly is more unique than most girls in anime in that she feels very natural and incredibly fun – she’s a silly normal very lovable girl and never becomes the “shy character” or “the quiet girl” no she’s plenty talkative and doesn’t back down from anything and on top of that she’s weird in the best way.
Aside that, the rest of the cast is pretty fantastic here as always too, and that somehow includes Haruhi who is actually alright in this show rather than the shit she was in her own. Her design fits her personality much better and she’s far less obnoxious when treated as a side character who also has some more personality to her than IM SO RANDOM AND RETARDED HAHAHAHAHAHA THROW THE SNAKE.
Yuki and Haruhi’s characters aren’t the only things they made better with this show though, the writing feels a lot tighter and really does a great job drawing you into every aspect of it from the comedy to the later-on heavy drama. That drama is actually something that really surprised me, both in terms of the context of it in a show that was otherwise just fun days with Yuki and friends and in the fact that it was handled so well. The actual incident and what happens to Yuki after it isn’t what I expected from something in the Haruhi franchise – even a spinoff – it’s something actually realistic and believable. It’s a rare thing to happen in this context but it’s not unheard of at all – but the way they handle it and the episodes focused on it is really phenomenal and it makes it both engrossing and avoids letting it feel like ‘forced drama’ for drama’s sake. The directing, the atmosphere, the inner-narration, it all works so well to make the viewer not only understand how she feels but seemingly share those feelings thanks to how they’re presented. It’s not, say, Railgun S level atmosphere and directing or anything like that, but I thought it was handled pretty fucking greatly. Not to mention the actual problem is far from something I can say I’ve seen in many anime before, if any, so it ended up being a very unique experience.
Now, aside all that, one of the big complaints I heard from people before it aired and even after it started was that the art was “worse”. I felt the exact opposite though, yeah, KyoAni made their adaptation of Haruhi beautiful but in a totally different way that wouldn’t fit at all the story we’re being given here. That style wouldn’t fit, and really I personally think this looks better in general. It captures the fun this whole franchise is known for much better while managing to be rather unique and pretty to look at. I especially love how incredibly well they manage to throw in super deformed shit and silly faces, and really while that’s nothing “new” to anime this is one of the very best examples of it that I’ve seen. It’s seamless and even in any scene with a normal person and one looking all retarded it works, and people can just change into silly shit without it feeling jarring or out of nowhere. All of that really enhances the experience and helps create the lighthearted and fun atmosphere most of the show aims to have, while somehow also making some certain later episodes get across a heavy and rather jarring feeling equally as well. The animation overall is also very smooth and consistent – actually they found a way to avoid “QUALITY”, instead of making horribly drawn characters they just made them fucking adorable blobs which just gives this show even more personality.
The voice acting is done by the same seiyuu as in Haruhi across the entire board, that even includes Aya Hirano who sadly kind of quit being a seiyuu entirely a good while ago. Yeah, she’s a slut and she’s into some gross shit (old dudes) and she’s retarded for going around on talk shows bragging about her sex life all the time and fucking her band (let alone letting them take pictures), and yeah that ruined some of the credibility behind how she rose so fast in the industry…but actually since I first heard her way back, probably when Eyeshield 21 first began airing and I was watching along, I felt she had a fantastic voice and incredible talent with it. I can’t give a shit about her personal life and her stupidity when she’s this talented, and she shines here yet again and luckily as a less-obnoxiously written version of Haruhi (who is even legitimately cute very rarely). It was nice hearing her again in a new show.The latter applies to Chihara Minori just as much, she’s around from time to time but she’s mostly focused on her music career for the past decade rather than voice acting, so it’s great to see (hear?) her in action again as she’s a fantastic seiyuu. I’ll never get over how amazingly different her singing voice is from any of her roles, it always makes listening to character songs by her feel weird yet awesome because she’s fucking great at singing. Obviously everyone else is great too, but I mean who doesn’t like Sugita and such? Though it’s worth mentioning Kyon is kind of hard to like this time around later on, he starts out great of course – though as dense as ever – but later, mostly the ending and a couple episodes prior, he’s kind of shit.
Aside that, the music is great, the pacing is great, the writing is great, it’s all great. I also love the OP and ED both due to Minorin singing them (the OP she also sings with some of the other cast members, but the ED is just her) but also thanks to the fact that the ED has real meaning to it – meaning you don’t realize until certain events come to pass, and I love when shows do things like that. Make the OP, ED, or both have some real tie-in into the story, even a metaphorical one, and I appreciate it more because it feels like more thought was put into it than “we need to have an OP and ED”. In this case it’s exactly that, a metaphor, which also helps avoid a thing a lot of shows – mostly shounen – tend to do with OPs/EDs which is just fucking spoil half the shit that’s going to happen and even major twists. Here it’s very simple and nothing is hinted at, shown, or even implied at all yet the same meaningful side of it is there.
I’d say for fans of Haruhi, haters of Haruhi, and people who haven’t seen Haruhi or thought it was “okay” – really just for EVERYONE, that this is at least worth trying out and if you enjoy its first episodes you’ll have found a really great show. It’s totally stand-alone from the rest of the franchise and given it’s an alternate story it’s essentially a fresh new cast and all so you can and really should just jump in here even if you don’t know anything about the rest of the stuff or don’t like any of it. Another plus is that there’s none of the poorly written and just shoehorned in at every turn supernatural or sci-fi elements mucking it up that Haruhi just loved constantly having – you could say it all “Disappeared” as this takes place just in the real world in the way we know our world to be.
The story is very fun, touching, and in some ways pretty unique and unexpected, the romance is well handled most of the time, Yuki’s character is a very fun to watch unique and developed lead, the cast avoids being purely archetypes somewhat (while a few others remain that way to parody those archetypes), it avoids the dumb bullshit that Haruhi focuses on and all that dumb magical crazy shit that happens in it, and so on. This is just a story about Yuki, her friends, her love life, and an unexpected but totally in the realm of reality event that occurs. I do have to say the ending left me a bit upset and was very lacking in that it avoided delivering what we all wanted out of the show and what the entire show was purposefully trying to achieve…but it wasn’t a shit ending either, just a little disappointing not hugely, and definitely not enough to ruin the rest of the show.
It’s got a shit ton of character and personality while also getting across a fantastically put together and important chunk of Yuki’s life and one of the better abilities to handle a mental disorder I’ve seen in the medium (though not quite up to something like Gakkou Gurashi). It’s definitely something I highly recommend checking out for just about every aspect of it even with a somewhat sub-par conclusion.