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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2 - 25

The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00. A retrospective.

This past week's episode was from the first season (as I expect the rest to be), so I thought it was a good opportunity to look back at it.

This was, of course, the well-known very first episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that was released, and likely the first one we all saw.

I remember not knowing anything about the show when I first watched this episode. I'm probably not alone in having experienced some confusion when the episde started. The main thing was that this was definitely a 16:9 file, but the screen was in 4:3. Had the encoders made an error?

But more important was the content. It didn't take long for me to realize that what I was watching was a show-within-a-show. Which explained the incorrect aspect ratio and the obviously poor acting and production values. At the beginning, I waited to see when I'd be taken out of the show, to be exposed to the greater, "real" world in which this took place.

By the halfway point, I realized that this entire episode was going to be just this. That's when I started laughing, uncontrollably for a bit. What a ballsy move, to make this the audience's first point of contact to the show! I don't think of being different as inherently good, but I did respect the amount of guts it must have taken to pull off a move like this.

And the fact was, the show-within-a-show was genuinely funny and enjoyable, and not in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way. The producers clearly had a vision and were executing it successfully. The backdrops were meticulously drawn and detailed, just out of focus and off-color, as you'd expect from a cheap hand held cam. The close ups, zooms, drawn-on special effects, pan-outs, over-used still camera shots and the music accompanying them were all wonderfully cheesy. The horrible acting by the extras, the shots with crew members appearing, the times when Tsuruya just broke down, they were all wonderful. My personal favorite was when the fireworks were exploding around Mikuru and Haruhi jumps in, before the teachers appear from the door to the rooftop.

The best part was that Kyon was there with us the whole time, completely in on the joke in his narration, but somehow not amused. Just like someone who had to work on this project but had no control over its direction. It was a very dry, almost humorless humor that I certainly wasn't used to seeing in anime.

It was only in my second viewing of the episode, after I had already seen the series, that I realized just how ingenious the episode was. It became clear to me that this was the perfect way to introduce this show to the audience, and that the episode had a lot more to offer than the laughs I had gotten from it the first time around.

Of course, the show tells us from the start the nature of the three supernatural characters, presented fictionally. But there are clues placed here and there that show us that the fantastical elements exist outside of the show. Shamisen's speech looks just a little too good to be ventriloquism. When Mikuru fires her beam right at the camera, there's definitely some real flash coming from her eye. When Koizumi uses his ultimate attack, to send Yuki into space, it looks much better than anything else so far in the show.

But I think the most enlightening part was Koizumi's conversation with Yuki in his apartment. There was certainly an air of mystery about it, as if they were talking about something that only they understood (which was indeed the case), and Kyon even points it out afterwards. The first time around, it did a good job showing that yes, there is something more to this show than just a high school comedy. The second time around, the true meaning of their words are fully understood.

The episode ends by finally showing us the "real" world in its full widescreen glory. We get to see the eponymous Haruhi for the first time, and her personality is transmitted to us instantly. She alone is not only happy, not only excited, but absolutely ecstatic about the results. And despite all her smiling, the one thing that caught my eye was the very last shot before the credits, when she turns to Kyon and smiles... a little differently. It felt more genuine, more deep in her core than her previous (and future) smiles. So it was this subtle touch that foreshadowed the fact that ultimately, this show was going to be about romance, even if it wouldn't seem like one at any point.

You can probably guess from my ravings that I was a big fan of this episode. It's easily my favorite episode of any anime since FLCL. The direction, the writing, the art and animation, all were executed exceptionally to create not only a great episode, but also an amazing and unique way to begin a show.

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