After thrilling fans of the franchise with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, arguably the best light novel released as part of its series so far, everyone's favourite omnipotent high school girl returns with the latest in Yen Press' series of English translations for its fifth instalment of decidedly strange goings-on.
Rather than providing The Rampage of Haruhi Suzumiya with a single, coherent plot, and more in keeping with the third novel in the series, this particular instalment splits itself into three short stories. While each of these tales is effectively a self-contained story in its own right, knowledge of the previous books is still assumed so don't expect to be able to dip into this series of novels at this point without reading its prior instalments.
The first of these three short stories is entitled Endless Eight... yes, you read that correctly, *that* story which caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth during its airing in anime form is now available in its original novel format. Unlike its anime counterpart, which went the whole hog and introduced eight entire repetitions to depict the near-endless recursion of a summer fortnight which Kyon and company find themselves trapped within, this novel goes to the other extreme of packing the entire incident into a single repetition. While this is admittedly preferable to throwing the same series of largely normal summer break activities at the reader over and over again, whittling tens of thousands of repetitions of the same thing into a description of a single recursion strips its the core concept of this story of any real sense of despair or desperation, and this isn't helped by the fact that the entire scenario is resolved with a decidedly underwhelming climax that leaves you thinking "is that it?". Ultimately then, Endless Eight can be duly filed in the "nice idea, mediocre execution" tray.
The second instalment of this trio of short stories is The Day of Sagittarius, another story which will be familiar to those of you who have watched the anime series. This particular tale brings us the return to action of the SOS Brigade's club room neighbours, the computer club, as they challenge Haruhi and company to a fight to the death... using a space-based real-time strategy game they've developed, that is. While Kyon is determined that this should be a fair fight with no underhand tactics used by the brigade's members, circumstances eventually have him change his mind, with Yuki Nagato naturally at the forefront of proceedings.
Finally, the book is closed out with a story that *hasn't* previously appeared within the franchise's anime form - "Snowy Mountain Syndrome", a tale which sees the SOS Brigade heading off for a winter vacation at a ski resort owned by Tsuruya's family only for an afternoon on the slopes to turn into something rather more sinister, as the brigade's members find themselves trapped in a scenario which is beyond the abilities of even Haruhi herself.
It's this final story which proves to be by far the most interesting - perhaps not so much in terms of the content of this chapter itself, which is entertaining enough but nothing spectacular, but more in terms of what it means for future volumes going forward, with the suggestion of a malicious force of sorts over and above those the core group of characters we've seen previously. This in turn holds the possibility of giving the series what is arguably a much-needed shake-up from the limitations of its current meanderings, which run the risk of becoming repetitive - a problem most readily apparent in outings like the short stories in this volume.
Ultimately, what this leaves us with is the weakest novel in the Haruhi franchise to date - shorn of the smart story-telling of Melancholy and Disappearance, without the character development of Sigh, and nowhere near as entertaining as Boredom. Yes, Kyon's quips and world-weary take on events still carries the series along nicely, but none of the three stories here really give any of the characters a major role to play in proceedings which often makes the entire thing feel a little arbitrary.
There's still enough here to keep the hardcore Haruhi fans happy, and Snowy Mountain Syndrome's scenario makes it a story worth reading on account of the possible foreshadowing of things to come within it, but beyond that we'll have to put this particular novel down as a mildly entertaining off-day for Nagaru Tanigawa.