Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2013 – 10+ volumes
this is about the novel series

As everyone who is at all interested in these knows by now, the 10th and 11th Haruhi Suzumiya novels (Surprise 1 and 2) were combined into one volume that was released around Christmas.  So we have the as-now complete run of Haruhi Suzumiya novels in English!  Hooray!  There haven’t been any more since 2011, and while the last one leaves off in a good place, it doesn’t feel finished, so here’s hoping we see more some day.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of this last story arc, though.  I love that it’s three novels long – I’ve mostly enjoyed the longer stories more than I have the short ones.  But in this case, it makes things really, really complicated.  That’s good and bad, because the longer format gives the story more space to play in, but Tanigawa is sometimes overly fond of very technical details, which is threatening here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because I read volume 10 when I couldn’t help myself.  This volume’s pretty awesome.  It starts with Kyon meeting an old classmate named Sasaki, a girl he was close to in junior high.  Judging by Kyon’s narration, it doesn’t seem like he was romantically interested in her, though it seems like she was in him, and she seems slightly jealous of Haruhi, and vice versa when the two accidentally meet.  Kyon is upset that the two had to run into each other, but then… weirdness happens.  Sasaki has a group of friends at the customary SOS meeting place that appear to be… well, an alien, a time traveler, and an esper.

There are alpha and beta sides to the chapters, and each day of Kyon’s life.  In one, Kyon decides to drop all contact with Sasaki.  Haruhi starts the preliminaries for recruiting new members to the SOS Brigade (the new school year has started, and everyone has advanced a year), and the various trials and tribulations surrounding that are central to the plot.

In the other, Sasaki calls Kyon and he agrees to meet and hear her out.  It turns out that the members of her group all represent opposite organizations to the members of the SOS Brigade, and these organizations believe that Sasaki is the all-powerful being, not Haruhi.  But there’s no Kyon!  Much like Haruhi has a kind-of crush on Kyon, so does Sasaki, and he needs to be part of their group in order for… things to happen, I guess.  This group is slightly sinister and wrong, though, and Kyon meets with them regularly in this book only to find out what they’re about.  The only true thing they have going for them is that Sasaki really is more peaceful than Haruhi, so with her in charge of the universe, there would be no danger of everything ceasing to exist and starting over.

This plot carries over into the next one (originally two, so the next one is huge) novel.  There’s two versions of every day, one where Kyon meets with the new group and studies for his exams with Haruhi, and the other where the SOS Brigade has their tryouts.  It’s not clear what this indicates yet, but it will be soon.

Mostly, I enjoyed this novel because it introduced the idea that, for some reason, Kyon is necessary for things.  Which makes it seem like Kyon gives the power to the girl he likes, which is a hilarious idea.

Aside from being super-interesting and fairly exciting, I loved the alternate stories simultaneously format.  It can get a bit confusing, but here it’s still pretty fresh.  Other than that, I’ll talk more about this story in the next review, when it ends.  But really, these novels are awesome, and I’m happy they all got released here.

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2012 – 11+ volumes
this is about the novel series

Two stories this time, and I’m still up for these longer excursions after the handful of short story volumes that preceded the last one. This volume was… only okay, mostly because I wasn’t thrilled about the second story.

“Wandering Shadow” was the second story. It was kind of a fun mystery. The SOS Brigade is hired to investigate a dog walking path that may or may not be haunted, and is making some neighborhood dogs very sick. The story builds well, and has the characters considering whether or not there really could be a ghost on the path, and whether that means that Haruhi wished that so, although that would also mean she was wishing for the adorable dogs to fall deathly ill. So the characters go over the facts of the canine sicknesses again and again, wracking their brains as to how and why this could happen. I did like that the disease was so mysterious and down-to-Earth, since not even Yuki can pick up on what it is with her alien machine senses. The resolution… hm, was very disappointing to me. It was something very technical, and out of left field. Not only was it impossible for the reader to guess what it was, in the end, the explanation was so long-winded and had nothing to do with what was going on that I found myself extremely disinterested. One thing I do like about this series is that it uses science, philosophy, and pseudo-science to come up with plausible explanations for everything that happens. It bends over backwards here to do that again. But when it tries to hard, I find myself disinterested, which is a shame. And probably just a matter of personal taste.

The first story was pretty great though, and very much in the spirit of the series. “Editor-in-Chief, Full Speed Ahead!” has the student council president threatening the SOS Brigade with disbandment unless they can prove they are actually the Literature Club (whose room and funds they use) and publish a ‘zine. This, of course, gives Haruhi a reason to make a ‘zine and get all fired up about a conquerable enemy. Koizumi explains that the Student Council President is a plant, and that all of this is a put-on for Haruhi’s benefit, which strikes me as funny still, especially when Haruhi falls for it so completely. But also interesting are the articles that the SOS members write for the ‘zines. All of them are included for your reading pleasure. All are amusing and/or sad, but Kyon’s is a love story in three parts, and that’s what really kept me going throughout the story.

I still really like this, and I’m still flying through every volume. The next three are one long story, and I’m dying to read them. It’s going to be hard to spread them out over a year and a half, because I suspect the story is epic. Hopefully there’ll be more volumes that come out in Japan in the meantime!

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2012 – 11+ volumes

I waited a bit to read this, since I knew it would be awhile before the next one. Happily, now I only have… well, two more days until The Indignation of Haruhi Suzumiya comes out. Can’t wait! I read this one in about a day.

Back to the novel format, this one again features time travel shenanigans courtesy of Kyon and Mikuru. Haruhi is acting slightly distracted again as the beginning of February arrives, and suddenly Mikuru from eight days in the future appears and tells Kyon that future Kyon has a task for himself, but she doesn’t know what it is. Kyon’s only hint as to what to do appears in the form of notes from adult Mikuru from the future, and he dutifully follows their instructions as the SOS brigade goes about its usual activities.

The… timing of everything here left no secret what this was all leading up to from the beginning. I knew what Haruhi’s strange behavior and the secretive nature of the girls was all leading up to. Less clear are the weird things that Kyon does. Some of them are butterfly effect-type things, like an encounter with a young boy who will some day have an influence on time travel technology. One of the things is an activity that may or may not stop Haruhi from finding secret treasure via a map from Tsuruya.

Other fun involves keeping Mikuru hidden from present-Mikuru and the SOS Brigade via a “clever” lie to Tsuruya, who totally doesn’t suspect a thing. Not at all. There’s also an unexpected action scene when future-Mikuru is kidnapped by rival time travelers, something that is a bit out-of-character for this series.

Surprisingly, in the end, it seems as if the actions taken during this week of running around with a time traveler are minimal, and Kyon himself comments that the future branches and runs freely, and begins to grow uneasy with the fact he is altering the future in favor of what a mysterious agency wants.

Still, it’s a lot of fun, and again, I get a kick out of the narrative tricks these books always play. I’m a huge fan of these novels, and I hope to see them continue in Japan sometime soon. After Indignation, the next three novels are a 3-part storyline, and the last one came out in Japan summer 2011. We’ll be almost caught up by the end of next year if no more come out. Here’s hoping!

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2011 – 11+ volumes
this is a novel

I am still ridiculously addicted to this series, and that’s after two volumes of short stories. I thought I might hold onto this for a rainy day, but I recently saw the movie adaptation of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and it was so good that I sat down and read this in one afternoon.

I dreaded this volume, and I dreaded reading The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00. I hated that movie-making plotline so much, and that the story seems to keep returning to it is aggravating. Not only do we get the short story version of the terrible movie they made here, we also get to hear more about it in one of the other stories, Live Alive, when the movie is finally screened at the cultural festival.

But The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00 wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. That’s even considering I knew what the plot was going to be beforehand. A lot of the enjoyment has to do with Kyon’s cranky narration, where he points out just how bad this story/movie really is. Kyon is the one that walks us through the entire movie, since there’s not a lot of dialogue to do that for us. Interesting that the thing I hated most about the original novel is what made the short story version bearable.

Live Alive is the first story in this volume, and it covers the cultural festival. Kyon talks briefly about the movie being shown, but mostly he walks around the school grounds, eats at Mikuru’s noodle stand… and sees Haruhi filling in as an impromptu vocalist for a band. This is a nice story, and while I didn’t love it, it’s simple charm is probably part of why I’m such a huge fan of this series. Rather than being a story about supernatural occurrences or something insane happening, everyone gets to be normal students at a school festival, and all their personality traits and quirks get to shine as a result.

Where Did the Cat Go? is the story of what happened for the SOS Brigade’s real winter vacation, the planned “murder mystery” from Koizumi and his associates. This wasn’t nearly as fun as the “trapped in a snowbound mansion” story, or the “real” murder mystery from the summer vacation story, so it was hard for me to get into this one. There are no supernatural occurrences once again, so it’s more of the characters being themselves, but I thought Live Alive was slightly more charming in that way. Though it’s hard to begrudge this story its game time.

Love at First Sight is a really bizarre story about one of Kyon’s friends from junior high falling desperately in love with Yuki Nagato. They get to watch an American Football game, which was about the best part of it for me. This one does have something to do with the supernatural, though it wasn’t really anything exciting in the end.

The Melancholy of Mikuru Asahina is the last story in the volume, and it was one I was very fond of. Kyon and Mikuru go on an awkward date that shares a lot in common with the walk they took in an earlier novel, the one where Mikuru told Kyon she was a time traveler. This date is hilariously awkward, and I knew the other time travel shoe would drop if I was patient enough. It did, though not until the very end. It was mostly unrelated to the series, but at the same time, it was a very classic time travel problem, and one that even Kyon had to question in the end. And, of course, Haruhi found out about the date in the end.

There’s not a whole lot of spectacular or stand-out stories in this volume, and the two I liked best, the first and last, were good because they highlighted what I liked best about the series. The good time travel plot in one, and the way the characters were used in the other. The volumes of short stories are definitely not my favorite part of the series though, and I’m itching for another novel. A novel is next, it appears, but I’m going to have to wait six months to read it.

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2011 – 11+ volumes
this is a novel

Three short stories in this volume, and all of them are more interesting than the ones in The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya.

The first is Endless Eight. Haruhi has a perfect end-of-summer with the brigade members. It’s idyllic enough that not even Kyon complains much. It’s so perfect, in fact, that Haruhi wishes it would last forever. And then it does. The SOS Brigade repeats the last two weeks of summer about 15,000 times, with their memory reset every time, before deja vu hits hard enough to trigger a suspicion that Yuki confirms.

Next is The Day of Sagittarius, when the Computer Club challenges the SOS Brigade to a computer game they’ve designed. The bet: if the SOS Brigade wins, the Computer Club is considered subjugated. If the Computer Club wins, Haruhi has to give them their computer back. The game is ridiculously tipped in the Computer Club’s favor (both because the SOS Brigade isn’t good at it and because it’s rigged), but there are ways around that, of course.

The last story is the promised “the SOS Brigade is stuck in a remote, snowed-in cabin” story, when Asahina’s friend invites them to her family’s ski cabin, and during a freak blizzard, the SOS Brigade wanders into a different cabin and can’t get out.

I liked the stories in this volume quite a bit. Most of them are very character-centric, with Yuki getting rare development in the second story. The first is all about trying to figure out what Haruhi would consider a complete summer, and all the stuff normal high school kids do that makes summer memorable. The third story is strange, since none of the characters really use their powers, and it’s an unknown outside entity that’s controlling everything. Also, this story finally, FINALLY has another hint that there may be a forthcoming romance between Kyon and Haruhi, when Haruhi questions Kyon about why he’s been paying so much attention to Yuki.

A few things I noticed while I was reading this:

One is that Kyon’s narration is often stuff he says aloud. Sometimes it has quotation marks around it, so I assumed when it didn’t, it was just sarcastic commentary. It took two books in a row’s worth of people replying to what I thought was his inner monologue for me to figure out that he was actually saying this stuff. Except, I’m almost positive that sometimes he keeps it to himself. Like his thoughts about Asahina. Or when he makes sarcastic comments about Haruhi’s powers. So how can I know what he’s saying out loud and what he isn’t? Do I just assume all of it is out loud, except when it doesn’t make sense that he’d reveal something?

This also made me realize that Kyon is just as rude as Haruhi, and it made me like him a lot more. His constant stream of pessimism really got on my nerves in the second novel, but after reading more, it’s easier to accept that it is who he is. Now that I know that his pessimism is being aired to the world at all times, he’s pretty funny. I also like that people seem to ignore what he says 80% of the time.

The other, unrelated thing I realized was that… maybe Kyon is the one with the powers? After reading two volumes of short stories, small plots where the other SOS Brigade members have to approach Kyon in a variety of situations, it started making less and less sense that Haruhi was the one that had to stay entertained, since it was clearly Kyon that was having all the supernatural fun. He’s the one that knows all Haruhi’s wishes are real, and gets to have adventures because of it, while Haruhi is being entertained through relatively conventional means. And maybe they just tell Kyon that Haruhi has the powers since they know, deep down, that Kyon likes Haruhi and would want to keep her happy. Kyon admits that he hates being bored, and perhaps the powers stuff only happened recently because Kyon wasn’t creative enough to imagine situations to use it in, and Haruhi is, so he simply follows Haruhi’s suggestions. Or something.

It’s even better that way, because Kyon is so bitter about everything. It would be awesome if he actually was the cause, and they had to lie to him because he would simply stop using his powers, get bored, and destroy the earth or whatever if he thought he was giving himself too much of a headache.

I’m sure the reason for Haruhi having the powers was explained better in the first novel, and I’ve simply forgotten. But everything that I’ve read seems to work from the perspective of Kyon having the powers too, and really, these short stories make a lot more sense that way. Haruhi almost never uses her powers through volumes three and five (only Endless Eight and the Cricket story are related to Haruhi’s powers), and yet Kyon is still running all over the damn place.

Yuki also seems to respond to Kyon’s (I assume) internal musings that a slider should just appear already. I can’t remember if Haruhi mentioned a slider back in the first novel, but Kyon’s the one that keeps bringing them up. If they appear, it’s his fault.

One thing that bothers me a bit is that these are still clearly young adult books. The time traveling and nonlinear storyline are simultaneously too simple and too complex for the way it is written. Like, Kyon still takes a long time to describe things, yet characters will sometimes have philosophical discussions that have some bearing on the plot. This is probably the only young adult novel I’ve read with a plot that hinges on the formulas and equations of Euler (the final story in this volume comes down to mathematical theory). To be fair, Kyon often just begs out of this stuff, and I’m on his side most of the time, but it’s still odd that, for as simple as the writing is, it sometimes gets a bit too existential. Well, I think that may be its main theme, but it’s a difficult thing for a young adult book to verbalize.

But I like it. I like it a lot. I can’t wait for the next book, though I am disappointed that it will be more short stories instead of another novel. Even worse, one of them is the plot to the movie I hated so much in the second novel. But still. I’m quite fond of the characters at this point, and while Haruhi is using her power less and less, they still seem to be getting caught in increasingly interesting situations. Plus, as confusing as it is, I’m also quite interesting in the nonlinear storytelling. It’s good stuff, but I’ve gushed and analyzed enough already. Just read them. Start from the beginning.

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press – 2010 – 11+ volumes
this is a novel

As I’ve said before, I adored the first novel in this series, hated the second, then skipped this volume of short stories in order to read the fourth in the series, another continuous plotline. I loved that one too, so I’ve decided I’m in for the long haul. I went back to give these short stories a try.

I’m glad I waited until after I read The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, because I don’t think I would have been that impressed with these stories if I didn’t know there was more to the series. They are mostly short, cute stories. One is about a baseball game that the SOS Brigade participates in. One is a murder mystery on a deserted island. And one is about the Tanabata festival where Kyon has to travel back in time…

That’s the only reason I regret reading the books out of order. Time travel is an important part of the series, and that Tanabata festival is tied to three stories. At least. Kyon also has no problem referring to events that may happen in the future, or have already happened in the timeline of the story but haven’t appeared in story form yet. For instance, during the island murder mystery, both Haruhi and Kyon talk about a winter trip. In the fifth book, the SOS brigade takes a winter trip. They refer heavily to the summer trip, and Kyon also mentions in passing that he has to tie up his loose time-traveling ends from the end of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. If you think in terms of a school year, the timeline of the series makes sense.

The next part is just me talking myself through it, so I’m going to cut it. ‘Cause it’s boring and convoluted, but I have a serious love of nonlinear storytelling.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nagaru Tanigawa – Yen Press / Little, Brown – 2010 – 9+ volumes
This is a novel

So I liked the first book in the series, but hated the second. I hated the second enough that I probably wouldn’t have picked up any others in the series, except I’d preordered 3 and 4 based on the strength of the first. The third volume is, more or less, a collection of short stories about the SOS Brigade, so I didn’t think that would really win me back. But the plot of the fourth book sounded very, very interesting. I skipped the third and read this one in a desperate attempt to remember why I liked the first one so much.

I hated the second one because I just could not deal with Kyon’s near-constant, repetitive complaining. The plot was also way less interesting, and the only part I was really interested in, the resolution, was rushed.

The events of the third volume were mentioned offhandedly a few times here, and one of the stories is very much tied into what goes on in this volume, but it’s not necessary to have read it since you can figure out what happened from context. Also, Kyon just gives you the short version. Makes me not want to read the third even more now, but the way it ties into this volume makes me wonder if the other stories will re-appear later, too.

I’m a sucker for this type of story: Kyon wakes up one day to find that everyone in the SOS brigade is… normal. They don’t have special powers, they don’t know him, and some don’t even go to his school. He wakes up in a world with no SOS Brigade, basically. The solution to his problem involves time traveling, with extensive details about how the situations need to be set up and executed, and most importantly, Kyon has to figure out if he wants a normal life or the craziness he’s complained about for three solid novels. So he can’t blame any of his misfortunes on anybody else. Essentially, it is him starting the SOS Brigade and sanctioning its activities from this point out, should he make that choice.

Or maybe he finds a happy medium. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I love that the weakness of the narrator was turned around and made into a legitimately interesting plot point along with a “restore the present and people you know” story. Plus, I love time traveling if it’s done right, which it is here.

It’s interesting seeing “normal” versions of all the characters, and while there’s no character development save for Kyon (which is significant) and one other Brigade member, I loved seeing Kyon acting crazy and how all the characters regarded him as the nutjob for once. I also liked that, even without their powers, some characters were just themselves, and no amount of normalcy can strip them of their personalities. I do like Kyon too, I like that he’s the eye of the storm in the club, and he is a decent narrator, I just hate the excessive complaints. Hopefully we’ll see a reduction of that in future volumes.

I do like Kyon, but I realized after I finished this that… these novels are treading in dangerous territory, since I don’t love any of the characters. Aside from the narrator, the others in the Brigade are still too shallow to really get behind. One of the characters was definitely fleshed out here, but she’s still a little too much of a stereotype for me to really appreciate. I realize that’s the point, but even so… I need somebody to love, or I’m not going to like this series for very much longer.

What I also liked is that time is progressing in the world of the novels. The first book took place just after school started in spring, the third book was a collection of events from summer vacation (or at least the Tanabata story was), and this book contained a Christmas story. It’ll be interesting to see if the characters age and prepare for graduation and adulthood, or whatever, as the novel series progresses.

It was a lot of fun this time around, and I’m going to happily pick up the next couple novels, at least. I liked it for different reasons from the first book, though. While I liked that the first book simultaneously parodied common anime plot devices and used them effectively, this one just took a type of plot device I love and used it well, with a suitable set of established characters to pull it off. I don’t think the series is anything spectacular, and I have a feeling I’m going to have to weather a few more bad with the good, but hopefully I’ll still get to read a few more Haruhi Suzumiya books I like as much as this one.