Watching new episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya of late has felt almost like a never-ending litany of complaints and questioning of KyoAni's decisions, and even the end of the interminable Endless Eight story arc hasn't really been enough to dissipate these doubts. I have to give this latest episode of the current Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc at least some credit however for being by far the best dose of "new" Haruhi we've had in quite some time.
The subject matter of the episode is, of course, the continued filming of Haruhi's culture festival movie and the perils that it presents, but from its beginnings as more pure comic relief, with the hapless Mikuru having ever-more unpleasant situations thrust upon her, so this instalment takes a darker tone as Haruhi's demands become ever more questionable.
As if having her thrown into a lake isn't bad enough, Mikuru ends up being "drugged" with alcohol and humiliated even more by Haruhi until finally Kyon snaps and gives her an earful... several earfuls in fact, until Koizumi has to step in to prevent the entire situation descending into violence. This entire scene (and those both leading up to and following it) show us a very different side of both Kyon and Haruhi, with the former letting his normal internal monologue of smart-ass comments boil over into direct confrontation, while Haruhi shows her deeper insecurities and need to be accepted (if only in a slightly off-kilter way) by Kyon. This isn't really angle that we've seen delivered quite so explicitly by this series in animated form before, so it actually makes for a refreshing change of pace, particularly after those long, long summer weeks where we constantly lamented Kyon's inability to stand up and say anything to Haruhi during Endless Eight.
This perhaps still doesn't remove the question of whether this Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc requires quite so many episodes to cover (especially when there is so much more material that we could be enjoying from the original novels), but on this occasion at least (and for the first time in a while) I'm left finishing an episode of this series with a feeling of satisfaction and having seen something genuinely "new". It probably isn't enough to save many people's misgivings about this current series, but it's a start.