*SOS Dept: As you all know, I’m always anxious to find new ways of serving the comics internet public, so today I’d like to offer a few words on pricing. Yes, the issue of price is always on the tips of everyone’s tongue - comics pamphlets are often four dollars these days, or even five. It might seem like costs have risen out of anyone’s control. Well I have words of succor for all you comics fans out there:

At least you’re not watching anime.

Case in point - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I’ve gone over this show before, but for my purposes today it’s sufficient to note that it’s easily the most staggeringly hyped television anime release of this and probably the past few years. Haruhi (as I’ll call it now, for the sake of my fingers), based on a series of prose works, was initially a pretty huge hit in Japan, and promptly became an absolute darling of the fansub-watching English-language scene. Yes, it is quite thoroughly overrated, though with hype this big it’s not hard to be both overrated and genuinely good, and that’s what Haruhi is: an entertaining 14-episode concoction of self-aware ‘magical girlfriend’ and ‘harem’ genre tropes that provides an intermittently convincing illusion of depth while flattering its audience relentlessly and shining up the old devices until they actually seem halfway worthwhile again. One might easily argue it’s the old case of the rare decent work in a quality-starved yet perennially popular genre being bloated by fan overreaction into the greatest thing ever, and almost seeming to belong there in comparison to its peers.

But Haruhi is a fun show. It certainly got more mileage than expected out of its unique broadcast ploy, airing its 14 episodes out of chronological order. I thought it pulled it off pretty well. But much in the way that some people inexplicably demanded that the film Memento be released to home video rearranged into a chronological procession of events -- even though such a thing would largely demolish the film’s not-particularly-subtle themes and annihilate much of its unique suspense -- the draw of tradition apparently struck Haruhi, which apparently had its chronology-shuffling scheme stripped out for its Japanese dvd release. Considering that the ‘next episode’ blurbs would occasionally make jokes about how the episodes aren’t in order, I’m not sure exactly how this could have gone seamlessly, without going in a rerecording stuff. Maybe they did.

So, now Haruhi is coming to US dvd, first release this May. The standard release already isn’t that cheap; despite being only a 14-episode show, it’s spread over four dvds, at $29.95 each. Ok, well… maybe you can just rent them. And nobody ever buys these things at retail price anyway, so it’s not like you’d ever really pay $120 for half a season of television. More like $90 or so. But anyway, if you do that, you’ll just have to put up with having the episodes in chronological order rather than broadcast order. Maybe you can wait until all four discs are out, and keep switching discs in and out of your player to simulate the broadcast order. I don’t know.

Ah, but there’s another way. The Special Editions. Yes, the Special Editions.

The Special Editions of Haruhi, which I’m sure you won’t be able to rent, retail at $64.98 for the first volume, and $59.98 for the other three volumes. The main bonus? The series, now as a three-disc release, presented in its original broadcast order, one disc included with each Special Edition volume from 2 to 4. This is something of an accomplishment, since I don’t think Haruhi has appeared in broadcast order on any Japanese release beyond its actual television broadcast, but that doesn’t quite vanquish the nagging feeling I’ve got in the back of my head… oh what is it… oh right!

The main bonus of a Special Edition dvd set that will cost a total of nearly $250 retail is the privilege of purchasing the same 14 episodes twice.

I mean, wow! Full details here! People will shell out too, since they’ll probably want the non-chronological Haruhi they all went bananas for in the first place. They’ll also get a pretty box, a bunch of pillow cases, pencil boards, an official hair ribbon (oooh!), an armband, and several soundtrack cds. But really, I can’t be alone in thinking the overindulgence of all this -- not to mention the sheer complexity -- might serve as something of a deterrent to casual viewers, right?

I mean, Haruhi is obviously the hottest thing in the online fan community, but that’s sure as shit doesn’t mean it’ll translate to sales. Might all this (pretty blatant) price-grabbing cause a deterrent effect in days to come? Anime isn’t cheap - it’s cheaper now than it was in 1993, sure, and it’s much cheaper than it is in Japan, but compared to other television-on-dvd releases in the US it self-identifies itself as a subculture through price, although much of that is due to the pressure of Japanese backers and often high licensing fees. A small company can’t always get by without high prices. Or they might have to fight for a series in its broadcast order, and then be made to include it in something… challenging.

One wonders what will happen if Haruhi performs under expectations. Surely the incessant fansubbing of the work will come under fire, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of folks who love the work to death online, but fortuitously not quite enough to actually pay anyone money for it. But there will be other factors at work, believe me.

Hey - don’t you feel better about comics? No? Eh, me neither.

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