The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. English translation originally published by Yen Press, 2009. Approx. 200 pages (some interior illustrations).
As mentioned in other reviews, I've been out of the anime loop for well over a decade. I am aware of some of the powerhouse series that have come and gone within that span, but I've only just gotten around to trying to catch up on them. Also, I've mentioned how wonderful the prevalence of these light novel translations has become. I mean, talk about the best of both worlds - book format and anime themes. So, I decided to take a break from the SAO novels, both to allow me to catch up on the show, and avoid series fatigue. In doing so, I perused my local library's catalog of light novels and came upon this one. I knew that Haruhi Suzumiya had had a huge impact upon its release, so now was the time to see what all the hubbub was about. As I wait for one of my friends to lend me his copy of the series, I tore into this, the first light novel.
First, the blurb:
Haruhi holds the fate of the universe in her hands . . . lucky for you she doesn't know it!
Meet Haruhi - a cute, determined girl, starting high school in a city where nothing exciting happens and absolutely no one understands her.
Meet Kyon - the sarcastic guy who sits behind Haruhi in homeroom and the only boy Haruhi has ever opened up to. His fate is now tied to hers.
Meet the S.O.S. Brigade - an after-school club organized by Haruhi with a mission to seek out the extraordinary. Oh, and their second mission? Keeping Haruhi happy . . . because even though she doesn't know it, Haruhi has the power to destroy the universe. Seriously.
The phenomenon that took Japan by storm - with more than 4.5 million copies sold - is now available in the first-ever English edition.
Fair enough cursory summary. And, to be honest, I really don't want to go into too many details, since it's a lot more fun to see them unfold as you turn the pages.
Even though Haruhi is the literal center of this universe, the story is told (via first person perspective) through the eyes of Kyon. Kyon is a young man, just entering his first year of high school, who finds himself sitting at a desk in front of this enigmatic and infamous young lady. A bond of sorts between them grows, perhaps due to Haruhi's declaration that she wants nothing to do with "ordinary" people, being much more interested in aliens, spies, and those with ESP (Kyon had, as a matter of fact, been lamenting over growing out of belief of just those kinds of entities in the prologue).
Haruhi is a bit of an odd bird; cute as a button, but bossy, domineering, and standoffish. With Kyon in tow, she proceeds to create the SOS Brigade, all to satisfy her quest of finding the interesting character types that she mentioned in her homeroom introduction. In the process, she enlists a few other members as well.
As the story progresses, each of these characters divulges to Kyon who they really are, and what their inherent interests in Haruhi are. These all seem to be along the lines of Haruhi being some god-like entity; one upon whom the actual fate of the world is contingent upon. One thing they all seem to agree upon is that Kyon is the linchpin to maintaining Haruhi's interest in keeping the world as it is.
Again, I don't want to go into too much more detail, for the sake of letting readers enjoy the story evolution on their own.
As far as English translations go, this is, without a doubt, one of the best that I have ever read. This is an immensely readable, accessible, and enjoyable book. I'm sure it was like that in its original Japanese text, and I'm glad it got a translation that does it justice. One particular highlight is in conveying the emotions behind what are usually facial responses in the anime; it isn't easy to transfer those moments to paper and prose, but in this novel it is done right.
Another thing I must praise is how the story grabs you and drags you along. I have to admit, at first I didn't see myself finishing this book - Kyon's sardonic humor makes him a great lead, but it is really hard to like Haruhi at first. Then, the reader finds themselves unwillingly dragged along by here - much like Kyon himself. There is something special about her there, that is for sure.
And then, before you know it, it's over. Now, I will probably read the next installments, but in my own humble opinion, this book works great as a one shot deal. I mean, it tells a complete story, with a wonderful, playfully ambiguous ending. It's the type of ending that is structured in a way that any conclusions that the reader draws can be validated with previous cues - a true payoff for the reader's investment.
This leaves the reader with a true mystery; should the book be taken literally, or is it all constructed within the imagination of an unreliable narrator such as Kyon? Again, I'll be seeing what direction they take it in the subsequent volumes, as well as the anime, but I'd recommend again enjoying this book as a standalone piece. It's well worth it.
I think the hardcover edition of this book has a dustjacket with a more manga-inspired cover. This edition, the paperback, has the cover shown above. I really like this cover. The color and font are playful and eye-catching, and by just showing a silhouette, rather than an actual anime character, it doesn't isolate readers that might otherwise turn their noses up at a light novel.
The few interior illustrations are fairly basic. There are some nice color pics inside, as well as a welcome manga sample excerpt.