This is the “Question of the Week” for the Hey, Answerman column on Anime News Network. I usually don’t have the time or motivation to submit my own answers to things like this. But…since I’m on vacation now and I was kinda bored today, I decided to give this question a try. I’ve been rather Haruhi-obsessed this past year so I probably could’ve written a lot more than this but I didn’t want to overdo it XD Hopefully Zac will post my response, and if not, at least I used it as a blog post so it wasn’t a total waste ^^a You can check ANN next week to see other answers to the question. Anyway, here’s my (kinda long) answer…
I mostly think fans who judge the Haruhi Suzumiya series, whether in a positive or negative way, only discuss the anime series. The light novels, which are the original source material, have been read only by hardcore fans. The first anime series only covered about 25% of all that’s happened in the novels so far (and if I may add, a lot of the better stuff still has yet to appear in the anime). Therefore, saying whether the series itself is a masterpiece or junk based on the anime alone is rather insufficient. Since I’ve watched the anime and have also read translations of all nine volumes of the light novels, I will judge the series based on these two mediums together, but mostly the novels since that’s where the majority of the material is.
Personally I think the series (again, the novels more than the anime) is deserving of being called a masterpiece, though maybe the anime is slightly overrated. First of all, one of its best qualities is Nagaru Tanigawa’s unique writing style as he portrays Kyon’s point of view throughout the series. The sometimes sarcastic, sometimes intuitive, and sometimes completely random thoughts, feelings, and metaphors that Kyon comes up with as he describes the situations and characters around him is extremely clever and refreshing. Kyon’s views can shift from humorous to philosophical quite naturally, making him a very appealing and entertaining character to follow. Being “light” novels, the series isn’t extremely deep or difficult to read, but at the same time, since it is literature and Tanigawa is a good writer, it has the unique attribute of being amusing and also being thought-provoking. Throughout the novels, Tanigawa also uses a number of cultural, mathematical, scientific, philosophical, and historical references, again emphasizing that the series can be fun but also demands a level of knowledge from its audience. It may annoy some fans that the episodes are out of order (in the novels and in the original airing of the anime) but this again assumes a certain amount of commitment and intelligent reasoning on the part of the audience to interpret the story. Luckily a lot of the original dialogue is carried over into the anime. This is another good point of the anime; it’s not often that one of the main characters is constantly narrating throughout the episodes, especially not with Kyon’s clever and amusing dialogue.
And of course, the main appeal of all good series comes from the story and characters. I find it difficult to argue that the story/plot of the Haruhi Suzumiya series is not unique. Anyone who knows a general synopsis of the story and background of the characters might have difficulty finding another anime that’s similar. Thus, having such a distinctive plot is another one of the series’ good qualities. The amazing blend of high school, slice-of-life antics together with complex and mysterious science fiction (even more complex and mysterious if you’ve read further in the novels), as well as the series’ intriguing plot (and Kyon’s philosophical and sarcastic ramblings) makes for a very engrossing and unpredictable adventure. And although the series is often humorous, the humor is never annoyingly hyperbolic or “cartoony.” It’s more subtle and character-based rather than derived from out-of-place slapsticks.
As for the characters, as I’ve mentioned before, Kyon can sometimes be sarcastic, sometimes deeply insightful, and sometimes just a normal guy, again making him a very appealing protagonist. Unfortunately the first anime series was too short to give proper character development to Mikuru, Yuki, Itsuki, and even Tsuruya-san. Once again, the novels give much more insight into their inner thoughts and conflicts beyond what they appear to be. And of course, Haruhi is the Goddess of the series because of her wildly unpredictable character and the many sides of her unique, impulsive personality. She’s appealing not so much because she’s really compassionate or sympathetic, but because the things she does and believe are so outrageous, and her view of the world is so unusual, you can’t help but be drawn into her outpouring enthusiasm and self-confidence. There are no boundaries in life as far as she’s concerned, but she also has a “melancholic” and deeper side to her too (again, one needs to read more into the novels in order to see more of her character development). Kyon and Haruhi really are one-of-a-kind protagonists.
I’ve established why I feel the Haruhi Suzumiya novels are brilliant, but the anime is where most of the fan following is. Adding to the series’ appeal, Kyoto Animation gives it gorgeous, high-budget animation. The anime version changes/leaves out very little of what was in the novels and leaves in as much of Kyon’s narration as it can. The good animation together with the literary sense of the dialogue makes the anime a worthy equivalent to the first few novel volumes. I feel the anime is slightly overrated because again, most fans praise it solely based on the anime and may be more or less ignorant of the novels. If more anime episodes are made to follow the novels, then I believe that both mediums would be equally valid to judge the series.
In summary, I think the Haruhi Suzumiya series is a masterpiece because of its amazing blend of humorous, high-school adventures and intricate science fiction elements, together with some philosophical ideals and an enjoyable, not-too-serious point of view. It can be light and comical as well as insightful and complicated and it has an extremely unique, unpredictable story and enjoyable characters. However, at this point, someone who criticizes the series in general after watching just the anime without even glancing at the novels is like someone making critical judgments about the Harry Potter series after only watching the first movie. While the anime can definitely be judged in its own right, until more of it is made, I feel the novels are the best way to see the series’ true potential. Perhaps I am a little biased, but I still feel that my opinions about the Haruhi Suzumiya series hold a bit more merit than those of someone who has only seen the anime version.
UPDATE 06/27/08: Zac actually posted my response on the Hey Answerman column here. However he only posted the first two paragraphs ~_^ So yeah, my complete response is still right here on this post…but at least I got some recognition =D