The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 4

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Suzumiya Haruhi-chan no Yuutsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

Yes, it still has a narrow audience. Yes, many of its punchlines are Osaka-style, i.e. someone says something dumb and the straight man shouts “Are you kidding?”. And yes, it’s still cutesy-wootsy and superdeformed a good deal of the time (though honestly, less so than in prior volumes). And yet I still love this series as it honestly makes me laugh a lot.

I’ll see if I can divide this review of Vol. 4 into 3 parts: the silly, the fanservicey, and the character development (which remains surprisingly large for a gag manga based on something else). For those looking for pure silly comedy, the manga has you covered. Asakura and Kimidori-san solve a murder in their own adorable way; Haruhi invents what must be the world’s only game of Extreme Othello, combining it with badminton to lethal effect; and best of all, Koizumi attempts to train the others to prepare for Haruhi during April Fools’ Day by having Mori dress up as Haruhi and say things she would normally say… which in the end appears just to be an excuse to humiliate and embarrass Mori. But in the most adorable way!

The fanservice chapters are not ashamed to be completely pandering, either. There’s nothing explicit – this is a manga that anyone could read, really – but the blatant school tag game with all the girls in swimsuits even lampshades it by having the male characters doing their own, unseen tag game elsewhere, while we ogle Haruhi, Mikuru and company in swimsuits. And at the end, Haruhi tries to come up with an exercise routine that gets far too sexy far too fast, going so far that even she ramps herself back after revealing a bit too much of her internal monologue out loud. Naturally, these fanservice shots are NOT superdeformed, as the whole point is to look at the fine female form.

Then there’s the Kyon and Haruhi relationship, which is very well handled in the two chapters it gets a focus. On one, Koizumi has rigged a contest so that he gets to pick what the losers do, and gets Yuki to rig it further so that Kyon and Haruhi are the losers. You can see where this is going; he forces them on a date, complete with his own pre-written script. The fun here is seeing Kyon and Haruhi’s punch-drunk reactions at having to say all this cornball romantic dialogue, and seeing the occasional glimpse of their real feelings almost derail things “Don’t go off the script, jerk!” is positively ADORABLE here, especially with the huge blush. Sadly, there’s one line they won’t cross, even if it’s for a bet. On a fluffier note, we get a rewrite of Live Alive where Kyon and Haruhi, both bored, decide to wanter the culture festival together – but they are not a couple.

Lastly, I was highly amused by the chapter where Nagato got her roommates drunk on amazake (aliens have no alcohol tolerance) and we discover the amazing effects that a hangover can have on Asakura. It is incredibly strange seeing her like that, and I have to wonder if it might have been a shout-out to the author’s other Haruhi spinoff, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Best line of the volume comes here (trying not to spoil), from Yuki: “This must be what a parent feels like when their child surpasses them… the bittersweet sadness of parenthood…”

Only buy this if you like Haruhi. But if you do, it’s a hoot. And miles better than the ‘official’ manga is.

Bookshelf Briefs pointer

For those who read my reviews by category (like me), I have reviews of Deltora Quest 1, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 9 and The Story of Saiunkoku 4 in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs.

I also review the first volume of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru in this month’s Going Digital.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya-chan, Vol. 3

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Suzumiya Haruhi-chan no Yuutsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

It always amuses me when I try to review one of these volumes, as one would thinks that a review is designed to tell people whether they would be interested in a book or not, and these Haruhi-chan manga are by definition so narrow in audience scope that I have to add “the only reason you should buy this is if you’ve bought it already.” And yet here I am, reviewing the 3rd volume. Because, as a huge Haruhi fan and someone who loves 4-koma type humor, I continue to find these a hoot.

Given that this is a gag comic, it’s always interesting when I find bits of character development in it. You would think by definition there could be no character development, as the author is constrained by the boundaries of his parent series. Yet this leaves a surprisingly large canvas for building on what has come before. Thus Tsuruya and Mori’s friendly martial-arts rivalry continues, and Nagato’s addiction to games becomes so bad that when forced to give them up by Haruhi (for an eating contest, to give her ‘fighting spirit’), she nearly ends up dead. The manga is also well past the animated episodes as well, so no longer has to worry about the anime outdoing it.

The beginning of this volume is also, I suspect, important for another reason. It’s based off of Disappearance, and so we see the cast briefly styled in the characterizations of that movie. Seeing a rather hapless Yuki, overprotective Ryouko and clueless yet polite Kyon all having hotpot together, you can almost see the lightbulb go on in the author’s head. And now we have The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato, running in Kadokawa’s Young Ace, a spinoff which seems designed to take Disappearance and hit the ‘heartwarming’ button as much as it can. I will be completely unsurprised if Yen licenses this soon as well.

Haruhi gets a bit more to do here as well, not being confined by Kyon being the narrator. She still doesn’t get to participate in anything supernatural, but she still manages to come up with the weird ideas she’s famous for. My favorite chapter was likely the one where she tells everyone to try their hand at drawing a manga, with herself as the editor… then ends up spinning in a chair, bored out of her skull, while everyone else is doing things and she has to wait for them. There’s also some lovely ship tease between her and Kyon during Setsubun, when an argument about bean-tossing ends up turning into a tickle fight, which is innocent but doesn’t look that way. “I don’t think you should be doing sexy things!”

Mikuru probably gets the least to do here, but honestly, that’s true of the source material as well. And it’s lampshaded in a fantastic intro (in color) by Asahina’s older self. Bitter about the fact that she only gets to appear once in the entire volume, she sets about recasting the entire Haruhi franchise with herself in all the lead roles. Including Koizumi. Kyon is the exception, probably so he can make the tsukkomi response. Poor Asahina! Hang in there!

The drawbacks to this series are the same as prior volumes – it’s entirely dependent on its humor, so when it’s not funny there’s nothing else. Likewise, if you don’t like Osaka-style 4-koma gags, you’ll hate it. But I’m pleased to see the Haruhi-chan spinoff has become a world of its own, one where Taniguchi can turn into a giant 50-foot demon, Halloween can feature Haruhi wearing an eye mask straight out of 20th Century Boys, and Asakura can spend over an hour trying to kill Yuki and Kimidori-san with knives. OK, that last sounds like it might actually work in the real continuity. But in context, it’s extra goofy. As always, recommended highly to those who would get it anyway.