(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/7382.html)
All right, I know I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again for people who don't know: I'm actually an avid anime watching/manga reader. I've been fascinated with anime since I began watching Sailor Moon back when I was a wee lass of six years. My fervor for anime has died considerably since high school, but it's still something I enjoy.
Anyway, I was introduced to the anime adaptation of TMoHS back in my first year of uni (so almost three years now), heard it was amazing and was the "next big thing" in anime. So, I watched the first two episodes... and absolutely hated it. I couldn't stand the lead titular character and it seriously turned me off completely from the show. Jump ahead about a year or so, and I try watching the show again... with the same results. Then, for some reason I still don't understand to this day, I decided to read the manga and strangly, maybe because I didn't have to actually listen to Haruhi *speak*, I was able to get through the first three volumes and actually found myself enjoying it. So, for the third time, I tried watching the anime. Well, third time's the charm I guess, because I watched all 28 episodes and actually really, REALLY enjoyed it. I've since also watched the movie (which is an important and latest installment in the series) and I've loved that as well.
I am a converted Haruhi fan.
Anyway, the point to all this is that I read this novel having watched the entire anime and a chunk of the manga (which is pretty exactly the same anyway.) I knew I was probably going to like this book, unless it was a horrible translation and/or it differed substantially from the anime. It did neither of these things, so needless to say, I enjoyed this quite a bit.
HOWEVER, this is not a book for everyone.
For one, the whole premise of this series is absolutely ZANY. Haruhi, for reasons unknown, is essentially the creator of the universe that the characters find themselves in, and thus, is able to change the universe to her whims and fancies (just because -- though the supporting characters [except for Kyon] are actively trying to figure out WHY.) That being said, this series is extremely hard to classify. It's science-fiction because we have characters who are aliens and time-travelers, and people with psycho-kinetic abilities, but this almost all takes place in a day-to-day high school setting. It's also got a very over-the-top sense of humor, as the series rarely takes itself seriously. It is the most un-scifi novel I have ever read, while still being sci-fi. Once you get over the initial weirdness of it all though, it really is an enjoyable premise; you learn to love the crazy.
Another reason this series is not for everyone is because of how genre-savvy it is. The whole point of the series is to satirize other anime genres (such as the moe genre, and high school slice-of-life setting, to name a few) and anime tropes, and this series does so in SPADES. So if you're not familiar with anime genres, tropes and cliches, a lot of the jokes might be lost on you.
One needs to have a fairly decent understanding of Japanese culture and Japanese school-life as well. I've watched enough anime over the years that I have a pretty decent handle on this, but I can see why some things might confuse other people who aren't (such as knowing that the school year in Japan starts in April, instead of September, or why school clubs are so important, etc.) They're little things, but still things that I can see deterring people from enjoying the series.
While this translation isn't a boy one by any means, it still might throw the typical western reader off. One of the things that first jumped out at me was a particular description. I didn't write it down, but basically Kyon is described a look on Haruhi's face and says that she was frowning and her mouth was in an upside down V shape. At first I thought: "huh?" but then this image popped into my head:
It's not a V shape exactly, but as soon as I was able to picture this, I knew what the author was going for. My point is, I think the descriptions, and some of the translations may come off as strange if you can't picture what's going on like in an anime, you know?
Now, enough of that mumbo jumbo. I'm going to get into what I like and dislike about this series, and how the reading experience differs from the viewing one.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the main thing that turned me off from watching the anime was the titular character herself: Haruhi Suzumiya. To put it bluntly, SHE IS A BAD PERSON. She is horrible, she is mean, she is bossy and she has to have her way, otherwise she'll destroy the frikken universe. Also, a lot of her stupid shenanigans get people into horrible situations (ie. grabbing a member of the computer's club hand and putting it on her friend's breast, in order to take a picture with which the blackmail said club member into giving Haruhi a free computer for the SOS Brigade -- this whole scene is presented comedically, because sexual harassment IS SO FUNNY.) This is REALLY hard to put up with, but thankfully it's something that lessens over the course of the series, as Haruhi learns how to properly interact with people and grows as a person (aka Becomes Less of a Self-Centered Bitch.)
While I absolutely loathed Haruhi with every once of my being, there is Kyon to counter-balance her. Kyon, who is the narrator of the story as well, is a very sarcastic, very cynical, and very realistic dude. The problem with a lot of anime male characters is that they're either a) perfect and all swoon-inducing, b) pigs (though they're sometimes still lovable), and are present purely for comic relief or c) take the role of the villain. Kyon fllls none of these roles; he's a very normal guy. He's not perfect by any means, but he's mostly likable. He's also the anti-thesis to Haruhi and they make for an interest contrasting pair.
The rest of the cast is also fairly likable, though this first book doesn't delve too much into their character; we only really get the surface. They're all fun takes on the typical high school student tropes found in anime, but with the sci-fi twist.
Final Verdict: All in all, I was pleased with the english translation of this novel, and it's a series I plan to continue reading. I recommend it, but with HUGE reservations: if you're not a fan of anime, or you're new to anime, this series might not be a good place to start. It's a very genre-savvy title, and if you don't have a grasp on anime tropes and cliches, a lot of this might go over your head. But if you have a taste for the weird, and want to read something completely different? Give this one a shot. And if you like it, watch the anime. Haruhi's character was really tough for me to swallow at first, but if you can stick with it, she becomes significantly less annoying. You might not see these changes in this first novel though, so a bit of patience (and teeth gritting) might be in order. She gets better though, I promise!