Haruhi Suzumiya re-viewing: Cultural Festival!

After finishing the 2009 episodes in our re-viewing, Yumeka, Goggen, and I have reached the final stretch! The cable station AT-X aired the 25th and 26th episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya today, and just like the past 12 weeks, we watched the episodes as well. Without further adu, here are our thoughts on the two episodes focusing on the events of the cultural festival! (Both episodes were viewed and all thoughts were written without knowledge of what anyone else wrote. Any coincidences are just that. Yumeka-Haruhi, Goggen-Mio, ultimatemegax-Koizumi)

The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina: Episode 00

Everytime I think about this episode, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the 4:3 formatting, nor the shaky movements; it’s the OST by Kousaki. Included in the JP DVD is the entire track list he made for just this single episode. It sounds corny, yet it fits so perfectly. Hearing the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra play a medley and the OP was incredible during Gensou. But I’ve digressed. This episode was the perfect and yet not perfect episode to start the series with. You’re “introduced” to the characters, yet it’s not what you picture being introduced to them as.  After the seriousness of last week’s episodes, it’s really refreshing to see a comedic episode. My only complaint is the camerawork when Mikuru first shoots her beam. The timing between it and the scene in Sigh III is off. Last thought: Koi no Mikuru Densetsu is an amazing OP and one that is vastly under-rated.

What can be said about this episode that hasn’t already been said? Like most people, I started with this episode when I first watched the series. And like most people, I found it absolutely hilarious. I have always loved Kyon’s narration, and it doesn’t hurt that his smartass commentary is dialed up to the max here. That aside, KyoAni’s emulating a bad amateur movie is a blast to watch. We have uninspired and stiff acting, silly overacting, bad lighting, painful dialogue, crappy visual effects, sloppy camera work, sloppy editing, cheaply produced music, a terrible sense of continuity and a nonsensical, incoherent story. My favorite gags are the horrible breaking of the axis of action during Itsuki and Yuki’s first meeting, and how at the end of the scene, the two mortal enemies – Mikuru and Yuki – head down the same street after their confrontation, as if suddenly oblivious to each other. Beneath all the feigned amateur work, however, the actual animation is great as always – a fact I think was unfortunately lost on some viewers.

The episode that began it all. Back in 2006 when KyoAni was just starting to make a name for themselves, they aired this episode at the beginning of April…and it blew people’s expectations to dust. With few fans being familiar with the source material or even KyoAni itself, this episode was the talk of the anime community…and we know where things went from there =) The ability to make an episode that consists of just watching a terribly put-together movie, funny and interesting, is pretty amazing. The fact that it aired as the first episode of the series, it really just seemed like a bunch of randomness with characters we don’t even know – yet, it was surprisingly entertaining and kept people tuning in. I would say that’s the magic of the series and/or KyoAni ;) Since the humor is all about the amateur filming and scriptwriting of the movie, this story works a lot better in anime form than novel form. It was an unforgettable way to introduce the Haruhi series to the anime-watching audience.

Live a Live

One of my most favorite stand-alone episodes of the series, Live A Live not only begins the ascent of Haruhi into a more likable character, the anime version also features two of the series’ greatest songs: God Knows… and Lost my music. And not only do we get to hear the songs, we also get treated to fantastic animation of Haruhi, Yuki, and the ENOZ girls performing the songs. I’d like to think this episode deserves the credit for starting the anime trope of “girl rock bands” and “fully animating concerts within episodes,” which is later seen in popular series like Angel Beats! and K-ON. I don’t think any music themed episode or anime up to that point was quite as stellar as Live A Live. Besides the concert, watching Kyon meander around the Culture Festival may have been boring if not for KyoAni’s technique of making their background characters and events interesting (notice how many times you can see Haruhi, Yuki, and/or the ENOZ girls in the background during scenes that focus on Kyon). And I still wonder if we’ll ever find out who those guys in medieval costumes that Kyon notices are, or if it’s just another loose end left by Tanigawa. But anyway, this is just a good, good episode.

Compared to the other short stories, Tanigawa wrote this quite late (13th of 21 stories thus far) yet it’s one of the most crucial to understanding Haruhi. After the giant blow-up near the end of Sigh, we see Haruhi start to change. She understood what someone else felt and acknowledged it for likely the first time in the series. This sets up her development in Someday in the Rain/Disappearance (depending on format) much better. As for the episode itself, I have to give a ton of credit for Yamamoto. He storyboarded/directed wonderfully. It’s 6 years since this episode first aired and yet the fluidity of the animation holds true. The energy from ENOZ’s performance is incredible. I also have to credit Kousaki again for composing/arranging these songs. It captured Haruhi’s character perfectly with the sharp guitar tones IMO. Another aspect I noticed was a lot of movement for the cultural festival. As much as I complained about the obon festivals during Endless Eight, this felt more like KyoAni’s current work than they did. And then the final sweet scene with Haruhi and Kyon is so wonderfully done. We finally see Kyon smile honestly! There’s so many more moments I could comment on, but I’ve taken up half the general post limit already.

Live Alive is a big part of why I first decided to watch Haruhi. I didn’t follow the series when it aired, but after I got into K-ON! I became curious when people kept comparing its performance scenes (unfavorably) to “God Knows…” and looked the scene up on YouTube. What I saw completely blew me away. Seeing it in context later, it impressed me even more. “God Knows…” has become not only my favorite song of the franchise by far, but also one of my favorite anime songs of all time. On top of that, the animation of the band performance is nothing short of spectacular. The combined package of the gorgeous visuals and the amazing music is enough to cause goose bumps, even after many repeated viewings. That awesome scene aside, this episode is also notable for showing a more caring side of Haruhi than we usually see, the impact of which is greater after the addition of the Sigh arc in 2009. And it’s not even Haruhi helping out SOS Brigade underlings, it’s Haruhi helping out more or less random strangers out of genuine sympathy. That’s new. The final scene with Haruhi and Kyon is sweet in its own way, and the music is one of my favorite OST pieces from the series.

And that ends the Live a Live gush-session for this week. I don’t know if it’s because these are two great episodes or that we were starved for something good after 7 weeks of Endless Eight and Sigh, but this was one of the best weeks episode-wise of the franchise. Next week, we finish our re-viewing with two more fan-favorites!

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5 thoughts on “Haruhi Suzumiya re-viewing: Cultural Festival!

  1. Yes. That episode was splendid. I can see that they really put a lot of effort in that live performance. Animation was so good, I set it as my standards for looking for great anime (really, KyoAni made me make it as that).

    And yes, that scene on the grass is my favorite. I could wish that they’d better animate the whole thing, but I can’t ask for more because KyoAni always gives me what I want and that is actually “good stuff”.

    • Live a Live was very well crafted. It’s easy to see that both Yamamoto and Ishihara spent a while ensuring that everything was set to move and move well. The extras included on the DVDs/BDs shows Hirano singing both songs and how difficult it is to “sing live” when you’re in a studio. It took a while, but they were able to give off the impression she wasn’t professionally singing.

      We’ll just have to wait and see for more Haruhi. I find it odd we don’t know their next project after Chuunibyou.

  2. Every time I rewatch episode 00, I thank the anime-gami that I was around when it was airing. I didn’t have to ask “broadcast order or chronological,” I just waited for a.f.k. to post the episodes, and watched in amazement. I don’t think I’ll ever have an anime experience quite like that ever again.

    I also love Goto Yuuko’s pitch-(im)perfect rendition of Koi no Mikuru Densetsu.

    I don’t have much to add on Live a Live. It’s still the best concert animation, though a few have come close since.

    • I hate that people ignore the fact that the series itself was re-composed and yet say to watch it in “broadcast order.” The 2006 airings were quite something, even to someone who wasn’t into anime then. I think we’ll have something like that again, but it’ll take a while as more and more source material become translated prior to airings.

  3. These two episodes are easily the best of the series. Interestingly, both episodes were done by the same team. They were written, storyboarded and directed by Yutaka Yamamoto, with animation supervision by Satoshi Kadowaki (who also did storyboards on Live Alive). His current works are up for debate, but when it came to Haruhi, Yamamoto knew EXACTLY what to do with the episodes he did. And also, Kadowaki was one of KyoAni’s best AD’s so he made sure the animation fit perfectly to Yamamoto’s script and storyboards.

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