There is something very comforting about the constant, reliable release schedule of Nagaru Tanigawa’s Haruhi Suzumiya light novels - every MCM London Expo a new one pops up in its bright, colourful cover and sings its siren's song from the dealers table. For someone who has part of his bookshelf given over to light novel series that will never be completed, it's a soothing balm to know that the publishers of these books, Yen Press, churn them out in a reliable six month cycle. So now that it is in my hands, how does this sixth book in the series hold up?
The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya is another short story collection in the franchise, bringing together five tales to fill out some minor events in the timeline or provide additional details that attach on to the larger events covered in previous stories. It goes without saying that to appreciate these stories you will need to have read the bulk of the previous five books, as all of the short stories freely expect you to know who the cast members are and to have knowledge of previous events that have occurred. In particular, some of these short stories focus very closely on one character, and reading these without prior knowledge given in previous books will leave you adrift with no idea why you should particularly care about the events that are unfolding.
What about the stories themselves? Each story (with one exception) is around thirty to fourty pages long and wisely focuses its efforts on covering one singular event. I’ll keep the descriptions brief as, frankly, giving an in-depth explanation would take away the remaining minor surprises that the stories have. In no particular order, the short stories include a recap of the student film that was shot in "Sigh", what happens on the day of its premiere at the school’s cultural festival/open day, what happens when Mikuru drags Kyon out shopping one lazy Sunday, and a new, slightly more benign, murder mystery for the cast to solve. While the events themselves are interesting enough to read, there isn't much to take away from them and the book overall feels very much like filler. None of these stories are particularly earth-shattering or game-changing, and to varying degrees feel padded in order to stretch out a single point over the desired length. The murder mystery story is a victim of this padding as the mystery itself is poorly framed and is only just starting to develop when the cast solve it themselves and spell it out for you.
The biggest offender in the "hey, nothing actually happened in this story!" game is "Love at First Sight", a sixty page short story where one of Kyon's old friends from school becomes besotted with Yuki Nagato. Most of this story is made up of over-stretched conversations that take an irritatingly long time to go anywhere, and it ends with no real pay-off and only the thinnest slither of character development (which you would already know about if you had read previous books) to show for it. It's still pleasant to read about the characters you have come to know so well interacting and doing various slightly mundane things, but the lack of any real direction or take-away left me feeling unsatisfied come the end.
The prose itself maintains its record of being well presented, although there are a few spots where there is some clunky vocabulary used which makes it very apparent that this work was not originally presented in English. An extra editing pass could have fixed this, but honestly it is not a deal-breaker. As always, the volume includes monochrome and colour panels from the original light novel to provide a nice distraction.
The Wavering of Haruhi Suzumiya is passable - but nothing more. While it is by no means bad, the lack of any kind of strong event or development makes this one of the weaker books in the franchise to date. Sure, it's nice to spend more time with the characters I have grown to know and love, but I could never shake the feeling that the book was padded out to reach the desired word count. But hey, at least these books come out quickly, and it won't be long to see what the next one (which promises some far weightier material) brings.
A nice, if rather lightweight, set of stories from the SOS Brigade that will entertain but leave you wanting something more substantial.