Friday, November 9, 2007

Suzumiya Haruhi Uncut

About now, you're wondering if old Senile is really trying to live up to his nick(name). It's true that when the Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) anime showed up in the 2006 spring season it was an immediate hit, and it developed a huge following among both Japanese and international viewers. Haruhi was everywhere, and the anime was so ubiquitous that it actually pushed other deserving anime offerings of that season (Simoun, for instance) out of the limelight.

But it's also true that 2006 was last year. So it looks like I'm in that horribly 'uncool' place of talking about old pop culture that is still fresh in memory. And if I were writing a Japanese blog, that appearance would be correct.

But I'm a gaijin writing for English-language readers (Hi to both of you). Which means that you'd be wise to keep on reading.

As you probably know if you've been reading my blog, or have just been paying attention for a while, most anime series are made from successful manga (Japanese comics/graphic novels). Since there is a Suzumiya Haruhi manga, it's a reasonable assumption that the anime derives from the manga. It's also an incorrect assumption -- the manga appeared after the anime.

But, unlike Simoun, Haruhi's aggressive genki personality did not spring straight from anime scriptwriters, either. The Suzumiya Haruhi anime derives from a very successful series of light novels written by Tanigawa Nagaru. Tanigawa-sensee is a lawyer by training, so you'd be right in expecting him to be a fluid and skillful author of Japanese prose.

He has written nine volumes starring the members of the SOS Brigade, and the tenth is anxiously awaited by his many fans. He has also written twelve other books, according to his wikipedia entry. I think it's a safe assumption that lawyering isn't paying his bills these days. Fine by me - lawyers aren't generally known for contributing to the richness of human society. But I digress.

The novels have all the essential characteristics that Kyoto Animation tried so hard to preserve in the anime. They also have some things that just don't translate well to animation. Kyon is the first-person narrator, and his internal monologue often blends seamlessly with the dialog. KyoAni tried to preserve the feel of this, but they couldn't put a lot of it in without hurting the anime. The books are a lot of fun, and I highly recommend them to you if you would like to find out what the fuss was really about. If you enjoy Kyon's laconic/sarcastic asides in the anime you'll certainly enjoy him in the books much more. He's a keen observer and is master of the understated smart aside.

At left: the cover to vol 4: The Disappearance of Suzumiya
Haruhi Yes, that's who you think it is.

Making the inevitable comparison between anime and novel, I'd have to say that it's almost a tie, but I prefer the books. Why? Well, you do miss some of the working of Kyon's mind in the anime, which is a loss. Likewise, some things just describe better than they show. Contrarily, some things (like the band concert in the cultural festival) show better than they describe.

The tie breaker for me is the tweaking Kyoto Animation did to the Lone Island Syndrome short story. I'm not a purist, but the story's major purpose was to show a side of Kyon's character (and abilities) that had not previously been seen. This character development is of vital importance, because the future of Kyon's world will hang on his reasoning abilities in volume four (Which, along with vol. seven is my favorite of all the books). Kyo Ani took all that out and replaced it with little sister and Phoenix Wright gags that just flat didn't work for me, and apparently not for this guy either - I found him when I googled to find the name of the US localization of Gyakuten Saiban. He came at the episode from the other direction - having seen the anime before reading the book, and he agrees with me. Seems like a smart guy - I'll be checking out his blog in the future.

There's no official effort to translate any of Tanigawa-sensee's books into English. Luckily, there is a crew of hard-working volunteer translators at who slavishly translate the novels into English as they're released. Their work is generally very good, and is free for the reading on their website. Here's a helpful chart on their website that shows the chronology of anime episodes, novels, and stories.

Milady prefers the printed page. Accordingly, I spent a fair amount of time reformatting the Baka-Tsuki translations into MS Word format, tipping in the intertextual pictures, doing color covers, and writing up notes (containing helpful answers to questions like "What is a benjo-korogi?") on each chapter for her consumption. All of my work is also available free for the download at Look for the Haruhi folder. Hint: find a printer that does duplex, or print a short sample and practice your manual duplexing skills...

At right: the cover to vol 8: The Indignation of Suzumiya

Wondering why there hasn't been more Haruhi anime since it was initially so popular? I suspect that the delay is at least partly due to Kyoto Animation being a small studio. They do exactly one project at a time, and their bread and butter has been anime adaptations of Key's visual novel games, including the 2006 Kanon remake and the currently-airing Clannad. I don't think it's an accident that they were the studio to take on the Haruhi books - most other studios could not have handled translating such a text-intensive storyline into a watchable show. The buzz is that the second season of Haruhi will appear in Winter/Spring, 2008.

We novel readers have been annoyed by the slow appearance of volume 10 of the novel series (they're quite short - each one is what I'd call a novella). Volume nine (The Dissociation of Suzumiya Haruhi) was released last summer. Volume 10 is the second half of the story started in volume nine, so we're very much stuck on a cliffhanger. I suspect that it's a simple money-grubbing move on Kodansha's (his publisher) part - they want the release of vol. 10 to coincide with the airing of season two of the anime. I've also read a rumor here or there that Tanigawa-sensee was taking some time off.

In any event, there are ten volumes already translated out there waiting for you to read them. Enjoy.


Kouros said...

I was afraid you wouldn't post anything new, so thanks for another great post. I've only read the first few light novels, so I can use your handy word documents to read the rest. Thanks a lot for sharing them.

Senile_Seinen said...

Glad somebody's interested. I did all the work for Milady's benefit, but if somebody else can enjoy it, so much the better.