"The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" is an anime series that combines elements of several other psychological/sci-fi anime head trip series of the past decade, such as "Neon Genesis Evangelion," "Serial Experiments Lain," "Boogiepop Phantom," and "X," but couches them all in the formula of a high school romantic comedy. It looks, feels and sounds like a teen comedy (excepting the occasional dimension-warping classroom battle), but the fate of the universe is at stake in practically every scene. And it's up to poor Kyon, an ordinary high school boy, with maybe a little more cynicism than most, to keep it all together. Why him? Because he's the one that Haruhi Suzumiya, his high-achieving, headstrong, easily-bored classmate, latches onto to keep her entertained and help carry out her mad schemes, which usually involve her interest in all things extraterrestrial, supernatural and paranormal. Oh, with a little cosplay thrown in. Kyon initially dismisses her as crazy, but, one by one, the three other kids that get roped in, all with secrets of their own, reveal that there's more to Haruhi than meets the eye.
In this volume, Kyon must contend with a pretty classmate's sudden homicidal bent; a cab ride through Tokyo with Itsuki, the "esper" in the group, who explains the "human principle" to Kyon and the danger of "enclosed spaces"; a night spent in just such a space with Haruhi and the clues he's given to determine the one action that will save the universe in the nick of time; and a baseball tournament in which he must play on a motley team formed by Haruhi, with the implicit directive to win--or else!
Although the series relies on a lot of standard anime themes, it never fails to come up with one wholly original touch after another. (The high point of this volume is the confrontation in the "enclosed space" in episode 6, cited above.) The writing is especially sharp, and often quite funny, particularly in the clashes between the sardonic Kyon, who sees everything with a cold dash of reality, and fast-talking Haruhi, who shows an utter disdain for everyday reality. Japanese pop singer Aya Hirano provides the voice of Haruhi and does a great job of bringing the character to life and engaging the viewers just as wholeheartedly as Haruhi does the four members of her precious "SOS Brigade." The special features on this volume show the exceedingly cute Hirano in a "Making of" segment recording one of the songs for the soundtrack. Another "Making of" segment chronicles a photo shoot featuring her and the voice actresses who play the two other girls in Haruhi's circle, laconic bookworm Yuki Nagato and cosplaying cutie Mikuru Asahina.
I'm not sure what further unpredictable turns this series will take but I intend to be there for the whole ride.