Nagaru Tanigawa, PUYO and Noizi Ito
The Melancholy of Suzumia Haruhi-chan runs on a simple premise: what if you took the normal “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” (TMoHS) setting and removed all pretense of drama, instead letting the series be an out and out gag comedy series. Can it succeed on its own or will it fall prey to devolving into meta jokes and toxic memes? Surprisingly, it can turn out to be an enjoyable little romp of a manga.
As you might expect from such a tightly linked spin-off, the amount that you enjoy Haruhi-chan will heavily depend on the level to which you are are already familiar with the existing light novel/TV series, and in particular how much you enjoy the characters. Put simply, if you already dislike the characters in TMoHS then you may as well give this series a miss as it leans very heavily on them. Hell, the very first page has Haruhi breaking the 4th wall to command fans of the original series to buy the book. The manga also bases a significant number of its gags on twisting events that appear in the main series, often with the presumption that you are familiar with the source material. However, if you are already a fan of TMoHS then there is a lot to love here.
Thankfully, this series goes the extra mile in setting itself apart from the source material. While it would be easy to simply insert additional jokes into the existing storyline and repackaging that as a whole new series, Haruhi-chan instead removes all sensible limits on the existing premise and the character's personalities, playing off of the situations that result. Haruhi is even more unhinged than normal, Mikuru is functionally braindead (not much change there, admittedly) and Yuki is a Visual Novel otaku. Much like in the main series, Kyon plays the straight man to all the insanity that is going on, but is not immune to being swept up in it. One of the ways that this setup actually works instead of getting tiresome is that it also pulls in exaggerated versions of the extended cast for various gags, thus preventing the series from running the main cast into the ground. This use of the extended cast (admittedly without much in the way of an introduction for them) can make this series a rather tall order for those who are not already familiar with the source material.
The majority of the manga is structured in the normal four-panel style, shooting rapid-fire jokes at you in every strip. Each strip, with very few exceptions, feels well crafted and has an identifiable point to it, giving you a constant stream of well-told humour. These are broken up with some short stories that are every bit as amusing but with a slower pace to them, helping to prevent burn out from the constant unrelenting puns. The manga also has a great range to its art, using both super deformed characters and normal proportions to great effect. One of the biggest compliments I can give to the art is that it always gelled well - even when characters with different proportions were contained the same panel it felt cohesive and I could always identify characters at a single glance. Another defiante plus to the art is that it was always clear to me what was occurring in any panel, often despite the presence of a great number of characters or a lot of exaggerated motion that could otherwise make the manga a confused mess. The exception that proves the role is one particular long gag where being unable to follow the action is the joke itself, which is still drawn very well with a clear to follow panel structure.
Haruhi-chan is ultimately an enjoyable diversion - I certainly laughed out loud more than enough to justify the price of the book and was never forced to read a strip with no pay-off, as has happened to me with previous four-panel comedy manga. That being said, I have to come clean as a pretty big fan of the TMoHS series and so had no problems immediately picking up on all the side characters used in this series, as well as the various references to the light novels/TV series. However, I would say that the series is certainly worth giving a trial run if you see a copy in store. At worst, you might look a muppet for giggling in Waterstones.