I’ve finally completed my long-delayed description/review of the first Region 1 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu DVD. I actually wrote large portions of this post about a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve only recently gotten around to writing the rest of it and I haven’t had much time to give it a good polish. Proofreading and editing may continue for a little while longer, so don’t be surprised if parts of this post mutate into something quite different within the next few days. I’ll also try to replace the images with higher-quality versions when I can find the time to do so.
I should also stress that this review is almost entirely about the DVD itself (and the various extras), not the series. Familiarity with the story on the part of the reader is assumed all throughout and no spoiler warnings will be given (although I think this product-centred review is pretty much spoiler-free). For those who are new to the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise – and especially those who are thinking of ordering the DVD to watch the series for the first time – I can recommend Theron Martin’s nicely written review on Anime News Network; there the author discusses the story as well as the physical product. If you’re willing to risk spoilers in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of the series, try visiting the screencap-rich episode summaries on Memento and Random Curiosity. It is of course the nature of the standard episode summary that the whole thing is one big spoiler, so do give the matter some thought before clicking on either link.
Okay, so much for the preliminaries. Let’s get down to business.
SPECIAL EDITION PACKAGING
It’s hardly an artistic masterpiece, but the collector’s box designed to hold the special edition DVD is pretty impressive all the same. Each side (including the bottom) sports a full-colour illustration depicting Haruhi and the members of the SOS Brigade. I don’t think any of these pictures were created specifically for the DVD release – in fact, I’ve seen most of them before in Newtype and the official anime fanbook – but the overall composition still manages to look fresh and new.
The box has a double door (held shut by an embedded magnetic strip) that swings open to reveal an interior almost as colourful as the exterior. Very nice, although I do have one major complaint: LOL Fang-tan is grossly underrepresented!
Now where could she be . . .
Yo-ho! I’m over here! nyoro~
The interior of the box is divided into two compartments. The upper chamber is probably meant to hold all four volumes of the Suzumiya Haruhi series, although for the moment it only has Volume 1 and a carton containing various bonus items.
Fitted into the lower portion of the box is a small drawer containing the Hare Hare Yukai CD (more on this item later). The excess space is almost certainly intended for the other CDs that will be shipped out with the special editions of Volumes 2 through 4. As of today, we know that Volume 2 was released with the Bouken Desho? Desho? CD while Volume 3 will be accompanied by Haruhi’s character CD. (There’s still no word on the extras that will be packaged with Volume 4.)
The box itself looks sturdy enough to last for a long time, although I did notice a tiny bit of warping on the top panel of my copy when I first pulled it out of the shipping carton. (In any case, it was almost indiscernible and probably due more to the tropical heat/humidity and the rigours of trans-oceanic air travel than to any fault on the part of the manufacturer.) I had some trouble opening the little drawer in the lower part of the box, and the CD jewel case was so tightly wedged inside (lots of room below it, but not a millimetre to spare around the edges!) I was forced to pry it loose with a paper clip. The situation was different in the upper compartment, from which I was able to easily slide the DVD case out thanks to the yellow-orange ribbon that had been included for the purpose.
Following the precedent set in place by the Japanese DVD release, Kadokawa/Bandai are using different cover illustrations for the regular edition DVDs and the special edition DVDs. Volume 1’s special edition jacket (shown above) features a “book-style” portrait of Suzumiya Haruhi done by Itou Noiji (the illustrator of Tanigawa Nagaru’s original novels) which is identical to the one used for Japan’s special edition Volume 1. The regular edition jacket has the same “anime-style” illustration printed on the cover of the Japanese regular edition Volume 1.
Some fans who own the special edition set but prefer the regular edition cover have expressed their disappointment over the lack of a reversible jacket. While I would have appreciated a double-sided cover, I personally think the “book-style” portrait looks better. As a devoted reader of the Suzumiya Haruhi novel series, I’ve developed a taste for the gentler lines and softer, almost translucent tones employed by Itou-san for the book illustrations. These characteristics lend them a touch of warmth and elegance that the brighter, louder anime-style images don’t seem to have.
(For the record, this shouldn’t be interpreted as a put-down of the anime-style covers, which I also happen to like. I just think the book-style illustrations are nicer to look at and represent a refreshing change from the usual, since the anime style – for obvious reasons – utterly dominates the merchandising landscape.)
The first volume contains four episodes in all:
This line-up covers the first two volumes of the Japanese DVD release (Volumes 00/01) and part of the third (Volume 02).
Set-up options are as follows:
I’m no audio expert so I can’t offer a detailed analysis of the sound quality. The most I can say is that the Japanese soundtrack comes out clean and crisp, although results will of course vary depending on the playback/output equipment used. I cannot comment on the quality of the English soundtrack – or, for that matter, the quality of the English dub itself – since I have not played and will probably never play the disc with audio set to English, but based on the reviews I’ve read so far the reaction appears to be generally positive.
The subtitles are accurate, at least as far as I could tell; my judgement is based mainly on the fansubs, the translated novels and my own (very limited) knowledge of Japanese. Still, I think they’re a little bland when compared with a.f.k.’s excellent fansubs, which were able to preserve the spark and snap of the original dialogue (especially where Kyon’s snide remarks are concerned) through a careful mix of literal translation and creative interpretation. Some of this life is lost in the official subtitles, although they’re not exactly flat and overall I’d say they were competently done. The font size also looks a little on the large side, leading to a few (thankfully rare) occasions when the subtitles actually seem to intrude on the viewing experience.
The DVD comes loaded with special features. I haven’t seen any of the ASOS Brigade videos so I can’t comment on them, but I’m pleased to note the inclusion of the original end-of-episode previews. (Keep in mind that since the episodes are being released on DVD in chronological order – more on this contentious issue in the next section – the previews that had Haruhi and Kyon arguing over the next-episode numbers have all been replaced.) There’s also a special treat in the DVD for Hirano Aya fans: Japanese live-action ads for the TV series and the subsequent DVD release featuring none other than Suzumiya Haruhi’s seiyuu (all dressed up in a North High seifuku, of course).
Here is a complete list of the special features included in Volume 1:
With the exception of Episode 00 (which retains its position at the head of the line), all of the episodes will be fielded in chronological order for the entire DVD release (as opposed to the anachronic order in which they were originally broadcast). This is likely to disappoint those fans of the series who enjoyed the way the episodes were tossed about and served in a seemingly random fashion, a tactic roundly condemned by some but which many others – myself included – would argue was part of the show’s unique charm. Bandai got soundly thrashed in a couple of Amazon.com product reviews as a result of this apparent act of treason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if overzealous fans are venting their rage in blogs and message boards even as we speak.
Hold your fire! Before the rock-throwing goes out of hand let’s get a few things straight. First of all, the North American licensees are not to blame for the new state of affairs, since the chronological ordering was a non-negotiable condition of the original licensing arrangement. The Japanese DVDs were released with the episodes in chronological order; the US DVDs, said the licensors, must follow the same pattern. End of story.
Well, not quite. Knowing that the change may offend a large part of the established fan base, the licensees wrung out one major concession from the copyright owners. While the DVD release will be organized chronologically, each of the special edition DVDs from Volume 2 onwards will be accompanied by a bonus disc containing the episodes in the original broadcast order. The catch is that the supplementary DVDs won’t have English dubs; that is, only the main, chronologically ordered DVDs will contain the English soundtrack (in addition to the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles). That’s not a problem for those of us who favour subs, but people in the dub camp may find this arrangement less than desirable.
Of course, the least expensive solution would be to get the regular edition DVDs and watch the episodes in broadcast order. Just be prepared to do a lot of disc swapping.
For the official word on the chronological vs. broadcast order situation, click here.
TO BE CONTINUED
Just a quick word about Part Two of this review: I’ll discuss the alterations made to the episodes for the DVD release (including various “corrections” and the insertion of several new scenes), the Hare Hare Yukai CD and the other souvenir goods included with the special edition set.
UPDATE (07 July 2007): Part Two has been published. Click here.