The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi – Special Edition DVD Volume 4 (review)

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THE END.

Well, not quite.

We still have Tanigawa Nagaru‘s original light novel series, now on its ninth volume (with the tenth expected soon). There’s a more-than-vague possibility of a second season for the anime series. We have a manga adaptation, three radio dramas, a drama CD, nine character albums – the list just keeps going on and there’s simply no end in sight, at least not for the foreseeable future. So long as we poor suckers keep lining up for a lick of the lollipop, KyoAni’s franchise juggernaut will keep the sweet stuff coming. (Salve lucrum!)

Today the spotlight falls on the fourth and final volume of Kadokawa/Bandai’s special edition Region 1 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu DVD series, which was officially released in the US on Tuesday (06 November).

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead. While I think this product-centred review is more or less free of major spoilers, a few minor plot points and hints about the general course of the series are present. No summaries of the episodes included in Volume 4 are provided in this article.

SPECIAL EDITION PACKAGING

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Volume 4 was packaged in a thin cardboard box with illustrations on two sides. Like the boxes in which Volumes 2 and 3 were shipped out, this container is not meant for long-term storage – that task falls to the sturdy, super-fancy artbox that came with Volume 1. Nevertheless, the flimsy carton actually looks great on one’s shelf as it reproduces the colourful jacket art of the special and regular edition DVDs.

One side features the same Itou Noiji illustration used on the special edition DVD jacket (shown in the next section) while the other side (shown above) carries the anime-style scene used for the regular edition DVD. The LE cover of Volume 4 departs slightly in style from the jacket portraits used in the earlier volumes – here the colours are more solid and perhaps a shade or two darker – but there’s no mistaking Itou-san’s signature translucency and gloss. The RE cover isn’t quite as striking as the one used for Volume 3, but the depiction of Supreme Space Commander Haruhi and a frustrated-looking Kyon in their Day of Sagittarius uniforms (with the SOS Dan battle fleet filling the “H” behind them) is still a worthy addition to our gallery of Suzumiya Haruhi jacket art.

So now that we have all four discs, it’s time to see what they look like packed together in the main box as originally intended.

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Excellent. And we know they’ve been arranged correctly because the complete SOS Dan logo appears on the layered spines.

DVD PACKAGING

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The meido-Tsuruya portrait used for the special edition DVD jacket was originally created for the sixth LE volume – seventh if you count Volume 00 – of the Japanese DVD series. As with Volumes 1 through 3, 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 sixth RE Japanese DVD.

And if you’re still wondering why Suzumiya, Asahina, Nagato and Tsuruya 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 4 contains the following episodes, arranged in chronological order:

  • Episode 11 – Live Alive (twelfth in the broadcast order)
  • Episode 12 – The Day of Sagittarius (eleventh in the broadcast order)
  • Episode 13 – Someday in the Rain (ninth in the broadcast order)
  • These three have the strongest slice-of-life feel among all of the episodes in this series. A newcomer to the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise who starts with Volume 4 would be easily forgiven for thinking that this is nothing more than an entertaining journey through the lives of five perfectly ordinary high school students (although The Day of Sagittarius drops some not-so-subtle hints to the contrary). As such, a lot of people may find it a slow end to what has so far been a pretty lively ride, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many voice their disappointment over the rather uneventful conclusion that is Someday in the Rain. Personally, I think the broadcast order gives a far more satisfying finish with the 6th part of the main arc, where Kyon’s last line elegantly rounds off the entire series and puts a gentle period on things.

    All the same, this disc deserves a full thumbs-up for containing two of my favourite episodes, Live Alive and The Day of Sagittarius. Even the somewhat dimmer star of Someday in the Rain, while not as perky or as engaging as any of the thirteen episodes that came before it, managed to give me a nice, warm feeling.

    As far as extras go, this volume does not disappoint. We have loads of bonus features on the main disc, including the last two episodes of the “Making of Haruhi” mini-documentary series. Episode 7 covers the 2006 promo campaign for Hirano Aya‘s second single, Second Contact. Follow an amazingly cute Hirano-chansan as she charms her way through otaku hotspots all over Japan in this multi-prefecture promotional tour: Akihabara, Nagoya, Osaka, Chiba, and back to Akihabara (with several stop-overs in each place). In Episode 8, Hirano-san and anime director Ishihara Tatsuya take us on a tour of Kyoto Animation – the famous animation studio where Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu was produced. My favourite moments:

  • When introduced to someone in the main office, Hirano-san says in the sweetest voice imaginable: “Haruhi desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” (Note that she introduced herself as Haruhi.) I totally melted at that one.
  • Ikeda Shouko (character designs/animation director) gives Hirano-san a unique postcard-sized anime-style portrait of her (i.e. Hirano Aya) hugging her character (i.e. Suzumiya Haruhi). Naturally, the gentle seiyuu shrieks with delight when her eyes fall upon the lovely present. (They should sell that little picture in a limited signed edition or something; I’d pay good money for it.)
  • Hirano-san gives the studio a framed Neko-man drawing (by her hand, of course), which Ishihara-san accepts on behalf of the studio staff. Since they’re in Kyoto, the Neko-man is dressed as a maiko.
  • Hirano-san is introduced to the model for Shamisen (the cat in Episode 00): Kuroi, a dark-as-night feline (which makes his – or her? – name, meaning “black”, all the more appropriate). The cat is napping at the time, so she gently rolls it over and starts rubbing its tummy.
  • Two other extras deserve special mention. The first one is the full Hare Hare Yukai dance, which essentially fills in the gaps scattered throughout the anime’s original ED sequence. The second is the now-famous “special teaser” for Lucky Star consisting of a two-minute extract from a certain episode of that series. More I won’t say for the sake of those who haven’t seen the teaser (and especially those who have not yet seen that particular episode); right now, let’s just say it’s a nicely crafted cross-over that should help whip up interest for the Kyoto Animation comedy series Lucky Star, which as this teaser confirms has just been licensed for Region 1 distribution.

    Here’s the complete list of Volume 4’s special features:

  • Nekoman gallery #5
  • Making of Haruhi #07/08
  • TV preview #12/13
  • The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade Episode 0010/0011/0012
  • Anime Expo 2007 Guest of Honor Intro
  • Special Teaser
  • Trailers
  • Credits
  • So far the only episode I’ve given a thorough end-to-end viewing is Live Alive. I was able to spot about four or five additional scenes in that one (averaging a few seconds each), most of which had Kyon saying a new line or two to himself. Koizumi also got a few seconds of extra screentime: the class play scene towards the beginning of the episode was extended by a few words. Visit this Japanese blog for a detailed list of alterations and enhancements, complete with screencaps.

    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 4 (available only with the special edition) contains the following episodes, arranged in broadcast order:

  • Episode 11 – The Day of Sagittarius
  • Episode 12 – Live Alive
  • Episode 13 – The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Part 5
  • Episode 14 – The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Part 6
  • 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 four episodes.

    Set-up options are as follows:

  • Audio – Japanese 2.0
  • Subtitles – English, None
  • SPECIAL EDITION EXTRAS

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    Come on, it’s the last of the lot. Time to loosen those purse strings a little and make sure the series goes out with a bang (instead of a skinflinty whimper). In return for a few extra dollars, the special “limited” edition will bring the happy otaku on the receiving end a good selection of extra items. First, we have the US edition of the Suzumiya Haruhi no Tsumeawase CD, containing the following audio tracks:

  • 1: God knows . . .
  • 2: Lost my music
  • 3: Koi no Mikuru Densetsu
  • One side of the CD insert contains the romanized Japanese lyrics of each song with parallel English translations. Unfolding the insert reveals a mini-poster on the other side that depicts Haruhi in the outfit she wore during her big scene in Live Alive.

    As with Suzumiya Haruhi’s character album (which shipped with the third LE volume), I had already acquired the original Japanese edition of Suzumiya Haruhi no Tsumeawase. This time, there will be no virtual pat on the back for telling them apart: it’s perfectly obvious which of them is the Japan CD.

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    And as with the Haruhi character album, I plan to keep the Japan CD in mint archival state by playing the heck out of the US CD instead.

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

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    Also in the box is an iron-on featuring chibi Haruhi.

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    Finally, we have a shitajiki that shows Nagato, Tsuruya, Asahina, Kyon’s sister and Suzumiya on one side and the three SOS Dan ladies in cheerleading outfits on the other.

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    OVERALL IMPRESSION

    Well, what can I say? I love this series to death and nothing can change that, but this volume pretty much proves – at least to me, if not to anyone else – that there was real value in the old anachronic order. Setting the episodes in chronological order just takes too much out of the ending.

    But that’s a minor issue. By any standard, this DVD release was a huge triumph for Kadokawa Pictures USA and Bandai Entertainment – and, ultimately, for Kyoto Animation and the whole Suzumiya Haruhi franchise. The production quality was superb from start to finish, with all four volumes managing to deliver top-notch video and audio. (TV aficionados armed with Blu-ray players and plasma screens will probably nitpick about all sorts of things, which I’m not qualified to do since terms like “aliasing” tend to fly way over my head. All I can say is that with the basic set-up I have at home, I didn’t experience any problems.) Fans got what they wanted and more as the studios loaded the discs with tons of extras. The added scenes and innumerable corrections, in addition to enhancing the quality of the DVD release, gave us several hours’ worth of “can you spot the difference” fun. And of course, hard-core fans will be forever grateful for the inclusion of the bonus LE discs, which ensures that the legendary broadcast order won’t be confined to the underground world of fansubs.

    From this blog, a word of thanks goes out to the production teams on both sides of the Pacific who made this well-executed release possible.

    THE END.

    (Well, not quite.)

    Final verdict on Volume 4: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
    Final verdict on the series: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF VOLUME 4
    Anime News Network
    Anime on DVD

    LINKS TO REVIEWS OF EARLIER VOLUMES
    Volume 1, Part 1
    Volume 1, Part 2
    Volume 2
    Volume 3

    11 Responses

    1. […] The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi – Special Edition DVD Volume 4 (review) […]

    2. […] 4 arrived a couple of days ago, and I can now personally confirm the existence of the trailer. Click here to go to my review of the SHnY […]

    3. Very good review.

    4. Very nice. I’m expecting mine in the mail any day now.

    5. @Yamcha: Very nice indeed. I’m glad they managed to maintain such high standards all the way to the end.

      Let me know what you think of Volume 4 when you get your copy.

    6. […] should start to look a lot more like the series of articles I wrote about Kadokawa/Bandai’s Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu R1 DVD release, the multi-post format of which was born out of necessity (since I acquired the four […]

    7. […] Make no mistake – this isn’t SHnY redux. It doesn’t matter how much you’re willing to unload on this series since there […]

    8. […] version of Volume 1 is of a similar design to the container that Kadokawa/Bandai shipped with their special edition Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu DVD set last year. Reasonably sturdy construction, illustrations on all six sides (the top and bottom are […]

    9. […] Volume 1.) We’ve seen this type of arrangement before, when Kadokawa and Bandai teamed up to release Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu in the US: one series artbox to hold all of the DVDs, initially containing just the first disc, followed by a […]

    10. […] Volume 1.) We’ve seen this type of arrangement before, when Kadokawa and Bandai teamed up to release Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu in the US: one series artbox to hold all of the DVDs, initially containing just the first disc, followed by a […]

    11. […] with Volume 1.) We’ve seen this type of arrangement before, when Kadokawa and Bandai teamed up to release Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu in the US: one series artbox to hold all of the DVDs, initially containing just the first disc, followed by a […]

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