Hey, it’s Haruhi. Yes, that Haruhi. There was once this show about an insanely hyper girl called Haruhi Suzumiya’s, her eternal straight man quite often, ever, reluctant side-kick, not actual side-kick, Kyon, and a myriad of science fiction. Having always been fascinated by the show The Melancholy of Haruhi since the moment I saw the show so many years ago which it almost seems like it wasn’t that long ago, I had to read the novels. Initially, it took me a while to get deep into the novels but it was high up my ever expanding “to do” list.
Being someone who usually likes to read new material rather than to re-read what one has seen I was prone to skip the first volumes because the prospect didn’t sound too exciting. Granted, it is Tanigawa. It’s Haruhi. So I had to read them. It took two years and something to make it to the 6th novel while reading other unrelated books in the process but here I am – six books later.
The LN can be very similar to the anime to the point that it feels like déjà vu (not because of science fiction reasons) as going through what you already saw one more time feels too familiar. It does make a lot of sense since it is what the adaptation was based on yet the dilemma is that it may start to feel like a real rehash since aside from the random order of the episodes in the anime, the adaptation is remarkably faithful. This may good and not-so-great news. For example, the most notable example of it is “The disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” where the novel and the movie are like near identical twins that their own parents would be the best candidates to tell them apart. While the read was still interesting there was a strong sense feeling like re-reading the same material. This is probably one of the rare occasions where I would recommend to skip the novel and watch the movie (or the other way around) if you can only pick one.
As a result I have some mixed thoughts on the novels.
I half-expected it but there are also few things the LN can’t realistically match the animated version. Namely, moments where animated scenes can visually, vividly and strongly depict what writing can only try its best to because there is just only so much writing can express with words alone.
I recall especially finding the concert episode (Live Alive, ep 12) in the anime to one of the huge highlights of the series, but it isn’t so much in the light novel. Instead, the LN narrates what happens on stage and Kyon’s reactions and the audience as much as it can. “They do this, and that. It was overall pretty cool” sort of reaction. However, it was tough to nearly feel the same excitement from the chapter alone since writing alone has its limitations.
I do find tricky rating the novels, such as dealing with a too faithful adaptation and when the caliber of the stories aren’t always balanced. One note is there are (few really) chapters that aren’t so spectacular such as Koizumi’s second attempt at a “mystery”. Probably, the only chapter that I had the urge to skimp through it since it was so dull lacking any of the flair of an actual mystery. Even Koizumi seemed exhausted to go through with the staged mystery. One chapter that did stand out no matter how similar it was to the anime was, “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina Episode 00”. Reminding me it was one the most comical pieces I’ve read in a good while and making my stomach muscles hurt in agony. “Snow Mountain Syndrome” from The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya was one of the completely new non-anime chapters I enjoyed. Exactly the material I wanted to read more about.
Does the light novel do it better?
Naturally there is a strong inclination to say that it does, but having read this much, I wouldn’t say that for sure. You can’t beat the more extensive, better written, better executed “original” material but there are details, a sort of flair the adaptation has that can’t be ignored. What the LN does better is the writing, the ever-eloquent Nagaru Tanigawa when the light novel and anime aren’t being so similar, reading the *all new* chapters every now and then, and lastly the author’s notes about his thought process and research he had to do to write this volume which are all interesting in their own right.
Ratings the novels is tricky since the similarities are abundant, there are details the anime executes better and others the novels go more in depth into, and the mixture of the old classics and new chapters that makes the experience bizarrely slightly new yet not completely. Having read up to the 6th novel, The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya, I think I am almost completely outside the scope of the anime and more than eager to welcome the next volumes. Completely new material to be able to rate the novels as an ongoing series and as a full new experience.