Thursday night, we headed to Laemmle's Sunset 5 for a special screening of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. The movie, released last February in Japan, is based upon the fourth novel in the popular Haruhi Suzumiya series.
Haruhi Suzumiya is a teenage girl with godlike powers. The catch, though, is that she doesn't know she has these powers. It's probably better that way, since Haruhi is bored, moody and constantly in need for excitement. The high school freshman decides to combat the tedium of life with a club, the S.O.S. Brigade. All but one of her recruits have secret powers, but Haruhi is oblivious to this as well.
In Japan, Haruhi Suzumiya has resulted in a two-season television series (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), the movie, two web series, several video games, manga, albums and tons of toys and figures. Much of the related media has now made its way to the U.S.
For many anime aficionados, Haruhi is a big deal and Thursday night's event wasn't just a screening. It was a full-blown fan event in a sold-out theater. Members of the U.S. voice cast Wendee Lee, Crispin Freeman and Stephanie Sheh all made appearances. Cristina Vee of Bandai's ASOSBrigade.com performed a mini-concert of Haruhi theme songs. Audience members had the chance to score autographs and win prizes.
Many people showed up in cosplay, sporting the school uniforms that Haruhi and her friends wear when they congregate in the S.O.S. Brigade club room. During the movie, laughter rang throughout the theater. Everyone seemed to be on the same page about Haruhi.
"I really like watching anime in a big room," said audience member Sharon Blaauw, noting the energy inside the theater.
But why is Haruhi Suzumiya taking off in the U.S.?
There had been a lot of buzz about the series before any of the media hit the States. Cosplayers were showing up at conventions and "Hare Hare Yukai," the first season's closing theme, and its accompanying dance sequence went viral, with fans from across the globe uploading their own performances on YouTube. When you see this kind of fan-based, organic hype, there's a good reason for it. Haruhi Suzumiya is smart and incredibly funny. It is perhaps one of the best written animes to have emerged in the latter half of the '00s.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya isn't your conventional television series. In fact, it doesn't actually air on TV in the U.S.
If you have the box set of the first season, "Episode 00," which is your introduction to the show, is a terrible student film that makes almost no sense until much later in the DVD. The second season, which will be released through Bandai in August, isn't really a second season. Instead, it's a handful of episodes that were interspersed throughout the first season when The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was repeated on Japanese stations last year. Of the fourteen new episodes, the characters spend eight trapped in a time loop, with both them and the audience reliving the last two weeks of summer vacation with a few plot variations.
Meanwhile, the movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, asks what life might be like without Haruhi. Her pals might be able to live normal, drama-free lives, but would they be fun? Like the series, it has the potential to confuse viewers, but, if it doesn't, it's fun and poignant.
The Haruhi Suzumiya series works on a few different levels. At face value, it's science fiction and fantasy, incorporating elements of time travel, alien intelligence and magic. But, it's also a satire, lampooning the conventions of anime. Haruhi is a send up of the "magical girl" character, a young female with supernatural powers who often has to embark on some sort of adventure (e.g. Sailor Moon). Instead of saving the world, though, she uses the powers she doesn't know she has to stir up trouble. There are anime-related pop culture references throughout the show. Haruhi forces her friend Mikuru into a maid cosplay and has her serving tea to the members of the S.O.S. Brigade. One audience member on Thursday mentioned Gundam references as well.
Though the satirical elements are only readily apparent if you have seen a lot of anime, the comedy isn't solely niche. At it's core, Haruhi Suzumiya is the story of really bored teenagers trying to find something interesting in their town. That's universal.
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