As we reach this ninth volume of the well-known light novel series, we also find ourselves moving forward into the second year of protagonist Kyon's high school life - not that it seems as if much has changed, with Haruhi still bossing her fellow SOS Brigade members around while causing chaos wherever and whenever possible.
Thanks to the start of this new school year, Haruhi's main goal is to attract some new members to the brigade - something that looks likely to prove easier said than done given the student council's disdain for here activities and the fact that her reputation well and truly precedes her, and wearing a Chinese dress isn't going to solve either of those problems.
Still, at least Haruhi seems happier enough with her current lot in life... or is she? Perhaps not accordingly to Koizumi, who reports a marked increase in the activities of so-called Celestials which usually appear only as manifestations of Haruhi's stress.
Kyon is at a loss to explain what might have caused any kind of inner turmoil to his esteemed leader, but a brief look back at recent events soon reveals the possible answer - namely Kyon meeting with, and introducing to Haruhi, an old middle school friend in the form of Sasaki. All of this pales into near-insignificance compared to the developments which follow however - developments which bring forth direct threats not only to Kyon's rather unusual circle of friends, but even to Haruhi's unique position in the universe itself.
If this finally paragraph leaves you punching the air and crying "at last" at the prospect of some major developments to the franchise's core narrative, allow me to temper this by informing you that this is simply part one of a two-part story, and as a result you'll finish this book being left hanging on the brink of some interesting elements until the tenth novel arrives in English later this year - a novel which was itself a two-part release in Japan, albeit with both volumes released simultaneously.
This can leave The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya to be a slow-going book in some ways - its major events are sprinkled rather lightly throughout a volume which is otherwise filled with the kind of everyday antics which are admittedly a staple of the series, although by this point they don't have quite the same allure, especially when some fascinating stuff is bubbling under the surface throughout its second half.
On the other hand, there is a sense of playfulness that strengthens this volume as a whole - the final chapter in particular effectively splits its narration across two timelines with very different outcomes, which works better than it probably should and also lays some further foundations for whatever the next novel brings our way.
In spite of concerns that this series has simply outstayed its welcome at this point in time - Kyon's snarky turn as narrator feels nowhere near as fresh and funny as it once was, and the slice-of-life elements of the story feel ever-more needless and peripheral at times - this novel also serves as a reminder of why we fell in love with it in the first place, as it gleefully blindsides the reader with revelations one moment and then splits the narrative in two without explaining why the next. All of this combines to create a feeling that this book could be the crest of a wave which returns the series to former glories - of course, we've sat upon similar crests before only for them to peter out and leave us in a state of abject disappointment, but maybe this time will be different?
We'll find out soon enough... and by "soon enough" I mean in another five months or so. Where's a time traveller dressed as a maid when you need one?