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
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.
Excellent. And we know they’ve been arranged correctly because the complete SOS Dan logo appears on the layered spines.
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
The main DVD of Volume 4 contains the following episodes, arranged in chronological 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
SPECIAL EDITION EXTRAS
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:
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.
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.
Also in the box is an iron-on featuring chibi Haruhi.
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.
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.
(Well, not quite.)
Final verdict on Volume 4: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Final verdict on the series: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.