(originally posted on my LiveJournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/21687.html#cutid2)
Back in April, I read and reviewed the first book in this light novel series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and it was there that I described my tumultuous relationship with the Haruhi franchise. After many attempts at watching the anime and reading the manga, I finally came around to this Japanese cultural phenomenon and while I wouldn't describe myself as a rabid fan, I still like it all quite a bit. So, because of this, the source material for the anime and manga adaptations intrigue me. While at the library a few weeks ago, I spotted the second volume in the novel series on the shelf, and since these books are so tiny and it had been awhile since I read the first volume, I decided to fit into my TBR somehow.
It's been over a year since I watched the anime and about 9 months since I watched the feature-length film, but there's one thing I surprisingly forget about this series: Haruhi Suzumiya, the titular character, is a BAD person, no matter which way you look at it. She gets better as she the series progresses, but it's almost unbearable at the beginning of the series, and this only being the second volume, Haruhi's less than flattering traits are still very prominent. Also, I can't imagine that translating Japanese is an easy feat (Japanese prose has some kind of... cadence/rhythm/*something* that I can't quite describe), making the reading experience kind of strange. Overall though, this book is fine, even if I already knew what was going to happen.
Okay, so as I mentioned above, one of the most jarring things about these books is Haruhi herself. Not only is she a force of nature (she can shape the world to her desires, no matter how crazy, even though she's not aware of it) but she is a huge JERK. She is bossy, rude, forceful and takes hissy fits when people don't do as she says. She is NOT a likable person by any means. The supporting characters are quite flawed as well: Asahina, easily the one in the group who is most targeted by Haruhi's tyranny, next to Kyon, is way too submissive; she does protest when Haruhi tries to make her do stuff she doesn't want to do, but she lacks the guts and never puts her foot down. Kyon complains constantly, ogles Asahina and judges other people. Koizumi is just... Koizumi and Yuki doesn't get to do a whole lot yet (though I know she becomes VERY important later on), and doesn't say boo. So, really, no one in this series is especially *likable* either (though I find Kyon to be quite likable and more sympathetic in the anime series than these books, this second volume in particular). Of course, they all pale in comparison to Haruhi. However, this book presents a much more ambiguous picture of the characters than is originally let on in the first volume: Asahina lets on to Kyon to not trust everything Koizumi says; Koizumi presents the theory that maybe Asahina is putting on an act and really isn't the helpless person she makes herself out to be (which kind of makes sense when you compare Kyon's timeline's Asahina to the one from the future he meets in the first book) and Yuki informs Kyon that the three Asahina, Koizumi and her all have different and conflicting theories regarding Haruhi and all have fairly different goals in relation to what they're trying to observe from her. This was definitely a good angle to take, and while I'm pretty sure most of it was explored in the anime, I can't remember for sure, so it mostly felt new to me, which was nice.
One thing that's a little disappointing about this book is the plot. In the first volume of the series, Kyon meets another being like Yuki who tries to kill him, but then Yuki saves him with her crazy alien powers, Koizumi shows him closed space and how Haruhi affects the world with her moods, Asahina time travels with him, and Kyon saves the world as he knows it when him and Haruhi get stuck in closed space. There was just so much going on; in this book, not so much. It's just about Haruhi wanted to make a movie for her school's culture festival and how she's making weird things happen because she wants them to happen for the movie (such as making Asahina be able to shoot lasers out of her eye). Of course, the SOS Brigade can't let Haruhi know that she's *actually* making these things happen, because then shit hits the fan. There's a lot of Haruhi bossing everyone around, especially Asahina, and Kyon complaining about being caught in her stupid project. None of it was especially riveting, and it's not surprising that they only spent two episodes or so of the anime on this story arc.
One of the most interesting things that happens in this book though (besides the SOS Brigade [except Haruhi and Kyon] revealing they're pretty much all suspicious of each other) is Kyon almost hitting Haruhi. There is a scene where he literally almost punches her because she purposefully intoxicates Asahina. Haruhi is insulted that Kyon would want to go against her (though she doesn't seem too bothered that he almost hits her -- it's just the rebellious attitude that bothers) and she seems legitimately HURT by this, which is strange in regards to Haruhi's character: she doesn't care what anyone thinks, which is made apparent when you think of her treatment of the other brigade members, which is either indifference, or bossing them around. Also, we know at this point that most of what happens to Haruhi, such as who she's surrounded by, is influenced by her desires and the way she wishes the world actually was; so why is she so attached to the completely average Kyon? Sure, she doesn't *know* that the other brigade members have supernatural powers, but that's why they're there. This connection between Kyon and Haruhi is one that still remains largely unanswered (though speculated of course) among fans of the series, and while I think their layered relationship is actually better translated in the anime than this novel, it was still presented well in the novel.
I think that's one of my favorite things about this series: it really is quite layered and at times profound, despite its absurd premise. It's not that obvious in this volume, but later on, relationships are revealed to be quite in-depth, especially in regards to Kyon and the other brigade members. Not to mention that Haruhi's special... gift, brings up all kinds of philosophical, metaphysical and existential questions, which these books just brush the surface of, though once in awhile they take a dive in and really try to unpack it all.
I think my least favorite aspect of the novel was the writing. Like I mentioned above, I've read enough manga and watched enough anime to get a sense of how Japanese speak and express themselves (I think so anyway), so reading this novel wasn't that strange, but I imagine it would be for other people. Kyon's turn of phrases are just... strange, and his metaphors come off as kind of clunky and out of place. I believe this is an almost direct translation though, which is where some of the awkwardness might be coming from. Also, and I try to remind myself of this constantly, these are LIGHT novels -- they're not meant to be high brow literature and thus, I'm sure the language is meant to be more on the light and less-serious side.
Final Verdict: This installment in the Haruhi series is rather unexciting, especially after the fairly explosive first volume, but I really shouldn't be complaining because I knew what I was getting into with this book before I even started. While the plot was a lot less exciting, characters get a little more developed, even if they're revealed to be simply more ambiguous than Kyon originally realized. The relationship between Haruhi and Kyon is also further developed which is of course good, seeing as how the connection between the two characters is one of the most intriguing aspects of the whole series. My only complaint is with the writing, but I can't really blame the author or the translator for that (who I'm sure did a fine job), it's probably just something that got lost in translation. Also, this book is a LIGHT novel (which you can read the definition for here) and as such, the writing isn't supposed to be amazing to begin with.