The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi – Special Edition DVD Volume 3 (review)

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UPDATE (11 November 2007): The review for the fourth and final LE volume of this series has just been published. To view that article, click here.

After a brief dry spell on the merchandise front, my credit-card-wielding hand went on a (financially) ruinous rampage through Amazon and several local bookstores over the past couple of weeks, sending a fresh crop of DVDs and manga flying straight into my anime bookcase. Naturally, some of the bigger items are prime candidates for reviews. Today the spotlight falls on Volume 3 of Kadokawa/Bandai’s special edition Region 1 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu DVD series, which was officially released in the US on Tuesday (25 September).

For the sake of readers who haven’t seen my review of Volume 2, I’ll quote a paragraph from that article that still applies to the contents of this one.

Like my article on the first volume, this is a product-centred review, which means that I will not directly comment upon the story, original art direction, screenplay, voice acting, etc. Familiarity with the Suzumiya Haruhi series is assumed on the part of the reader and no spoiler warnings will be given (although, as a product-centred review, I think this post is pretty much spoiler-free). If you’d like to learn more about the series/story (rather than the physical product), please visit the first part of my Volume 1 review for links to sites with additional information.

SPECIAL EDITION PACKAGING

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Like Volume 2, the third special edition DVD was shipped out in a simple box made from thin cardboard. Even though the fancy artbox that came with Volume 1 is meant to hold all four DVDs, the illustrations on this more down-to-earth container are nice enough to make it suitable for display in its own right. (At the moment it serves a more practical purpose: I’m using it to hold the various extra items that came with the purchase.)

One side features the same Itou Noiji illustration used on the special edition DVD jacket (shown below) while the other side (shown above) carries the anime-style scene used for the regular edition DVD. Both are visually pleasing in different ways. The Nagato portrait on the DVD jacket is simple, serene and elegant – qualities that can be attributed mainly to the neat outlines and subtly translucent colouring that, in my view, are the hallmarks of Itou-sensei’s appealing artistic style. The Nagato-Koizumi scene benefits from a slick juxtaposition of elements that creates a nice spectrum of colours ranging from the blues and purples of Nagato’s side to the rich reds and browns of Koizumi’s, with the flipped desert scene in the central “H” highlighting the transition between the two.

DVD PACKAGING

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The lovely Nagato portrait used for the special edition DVD jacket was originally created for the seventh and last volume – eighth if you count Volume 00 – of the Japanese DVD series. As with Volumes 1 and 2, the cover illustration for the special edition DVD was done by Itou Noiji in the same style she employed for Tanigawa Nagaru’s Suzumiya Haruhi light novels. The regular edition DVD jacket is nearly identical to the one used for the fourth Japanese DVD.

By the way, if you’re still wondering why Suzumiya, Asahina and Nagato are all holding lemons in their special edition DVD portraits, this blog post may be of some interest to you. [Edit (07 August 2008): That link is now dead, but I’ll keep it intact for reference purposes. Click here instead. Essentially, the DVD jackets seem to be parodying the standard cover pose of the Japanese weekly magazine The Television. More sample covers here.]

MAIN DVD CONTENTS

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The main DVD of Volume 3 contains the following episodes, arranged in chronological order:

  • Episode 8 – Mysterique Sign (seventh in the broadcast order)
  • Episode 9 – Remote Island Syndrome, Part 1 (sixth in the broadcast order)
  • Episode 10 – Remote Island Syndrome, Part 2 (eighth in the broadcast order)
  • None of these episodes ranks among my top picks of the series, but it’s a pretty solid grouping nonetheless. For one thing, the Remote Island Syndrome mini-arc (9 and 10) was a welcome treat for this huge fan of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novels. Both the plot and the setting were more than faintly Christiesque – indeed, vaguely reminiscent of And Then There Were None – and the final scene where all the key players are gathered in one place and the truth is finally laid bare seems like something that the Queen of Crime herself would have written. Mysterique Sign (8) contains what I believe are two of the snappiest unspoken witticisms ever thought up by Kyon, delivered with impeccable timing and just the right amount of snark during the scene where Haruhi interviews the SOS Dan’s first “client”.

    There are loads of extras on the main DVD, including two more installments of the “Making of Haruhi” series. Number 5 documents a photo shoot for a reversible poster that will have Suzumiya Haruhi on one side and Hirano Aya on the other. (Hmm, time to raid my collection and see if I already have that one.) Number 6 features the surprise appearance of two of our SOS Dan ladies, Hirano-san and Chihara Minori, at a May 2006 book-signing event for Tanigawa Nagaru’s new light novel Suzumiya Haruhi no Fungai. As she walks into the building where the book signing will be held, Hirano-san cheerfully notes that this will be her first-ever encounter with book illustrator Itou Noiji. Smiles all around as the four key persons in the event – Tanigawa-sensei, Itou-sensei, Hirano-san and Chihara-san – meet in a back room before the signing and politely exchange autographs.

    You know, it’s been months since I first saw a lot of the “real” Hirano Aya in the documentaries that accompanied Volumes 1 and 2, but I still can’t get over the fact that her manner and personality are almost the exact opposite of those of the character she played. Suzumiya Haruhi (a.k.a. the Beast of North High) is brash, loud, and shrill. Hirano-san – I’m sorely tempted to use “-chan” here – is unfailingly polite and a little timid-looking, with a sweetly childlike voice that could’ve easily come from the voice box of a girl half her age. Not that I’m surprised by any of this: we all know that the characters played by a seiyuu (or by any type of actor, for that matter) often have little or nothing to do with how he or she actually behaves in real life. But I do find it very amusing to see the girl woman who played the biggest little dictator this side of Eurasia humbly bowing to and thanking anyone who happened to do her even the tiniest favour.

    Here’s the complete list of Volume 3’s special features:

  • Nekoman gallery #3/4
  • Making of Haruhi #05/06
  • TV preview #9/10/11
  • The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade Episode 009.0/004.1/004.2
  • US Launch Event Video
  • Trailers
  • Credits
  • I haven’t given any of the Volume 3 episodes a detailed viewing yet, but judging from the pictures published on this Japanese blog it looks like there aren’t any new scenes this time around – just a lot of the usual minor alterations and enhancements.

    Set-up options are as follows:

  • Audio – English 5.1, Japanese 2.0, English 2.0
  • Subtitles – English, None
  • SPECIAL EDITION BONUS DVD CONTENTS

    The bonus DVD of Volume 3 (available only with the special edition) contains the following episodes, arranged in broadcast order:

  • Episode 6 – Remote Island Syndrome, Part 1
  • Episode 7 – Mysterique Sign
  • Episode 8 – Remote Island Syndrome, Part 2
  • Episode 9 – Someday in the Rain
  • Episode 10 – The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Part 4
  • As indicated in the official statement issued by the US licensors regarding the broadcast-vs-chronological-order issue, the bonus DVD can only be played with audio set to Japanese 2.0 (with or without English subtitles) since the English soundtrack is exclusive to the main, chronologically-ordered disc. I don’t mind the restriction since I never watch dubbed anime, but if you’re after both the English dub and the original broadcast order, you’ll have to make do with swapping the main discs as you watch the series.

    The DVD features the same menu layout as the main disc and includes scene selection sub-menus for all five episodes. Audio = Japanese 2.0; subtitles = English, None.

    SPECIAL EDITION EXTRAS

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    Invest a little extra cash in the special-edition version of Volume 3 and you’ll get some nice goodies in return (on top of the extra DVD, of course). First, we have the US edition of Suzumiya Haruhi’s character CD, containing the following audio tracks:

  • 1: Parallel Days
  • 2: SOS nara Daijoubu
  • 3: Hare Hare Yukai (Suzumiya only)
  • 4: Parallel Days (karaoke version)
  • 5: SOS nara Daijoubu (karaoke version)
  • 6: Hare Hare Yukai (karaoke version)
  • Incidentally, I already have a copy of the original Japanese edition of Suzumiya Haruhi’s character CD. Anyone who can tell one from the other – check the picture below – will get a virtual pat on the back. (Hint: Look very carefully at the covers.)

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    Having two copies of what is essentially the same product may seem wasteful, but ultimately it’s all for the best. I can keep the Japanese CD in mint condition by playing the US CD to shreds instead.

    Next, we have a large pillowcase featuring the three SOS Dan ladies in pyjamas.

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    I don’t actually plan to use it on any of my pillows; after all, I wouldn’t want to run the risk of desecrating Nagato-chi’s portrait by accidentally drooling all over it in my sleep.

    Next is an iron-on featuring the SOS Dan logo.

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    Last, but not least, we have a colourful shitajiki featuring the SOS Dan (sans Koizumi) on one side and the First Couple at a summer festival on the other. Interestingly, Nagato on the shitajiki looks virtually identical to the MaxFac figurine I got earlier this month.

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    OVERALL IMPRESSION

    This is the sort of project that a lesser studio could so easily have made a huge mess of. Fortunately for us, Kadokawa/Bandai seem perfectly capable of taking this amazingly successful series all the way to the last episode without any major missteps. Both the main DVD and the bonus DVD feature crisp video, problem-free audio, easily navigable menus and a broad range of extra features. The subtitles still leave a lot to be desired, though: generally accurate, perhaps, but a little bland in some parts. The official subs might be closer to the letter of the script, but I believe a.f.k.’s fansubs are more faithful to the spirit of the original dialogue. I may be a stickler for accuracy, but I’m always prepared to sacrifice some literalism in return for a smoother, livelier flow of words, especially when Kyon dishes out his famously sarcastic thoughts.

    Final verdict on Volume 3: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    UPDATE (11 November 2007): The review for the fourth and final LE volume of this series has just been published. To view that article, click here.

    LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF VOLUME 3
    Anime News Network (published 18 October 2007)
    Anime on DVD (published 09 October 2007, 10:01 EDT)

    LINKS TO REVIEWS OF EARLIER VOLUMES
    Volume 1, Part 1
    Volume 1, Part 2
    Volume 2

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    4 Responses

    1. […] UPDATE (29 September 2007): My review of Volume 3 has just been published. Click here. […]

    2. Finally! Thank you very much.

    3. […] Aliens, time travellers and espers: your week in the sun is up. Today the spotlight falls on Geneon’s four-volume Haibane Renmei DVD collection. […]

    4. […] LINKS TO REVIEWS OF EARLIER VOLUMES Volume 1, Part 1 Volume 1, Part 2 Volume 2 Volume 3 […]

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