The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA

Watched via BD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Before there was The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, there was the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya television series. We’ve already spoken about the latter’s pacing issues in a separate review, but they really go hand-in-hand with this movie as well. While both were being produced, for God knows what reason, the creators decided these story arcs needed to exist as separate and torturously long entities. While the second season got pushed to ridiculously long lengths to double length to fill a single season, this movie got pushed awkwardly to fit the length of a full feature film and then some. Honestly I think they should have trimmed down both and stuck them together instead of trying to milk the cash cow. Really, these two tag-teamed together to ruin the franchise for me.

All right, moving along from production choices, in theory the storyline for this movie is pretty good. The film opens with Kyon going to club like usual and the SOS Brigade beginning its planning for a Christmas party. The next day suddenly brings on a sudden change. Throughout the school day Kyon slowly realizes that his classmate Haruhi Suzumiya has disappeared, altering reality as he, and we, once knew it. Koizumi and Haruhi have completely disappeared from the school while Mikuru and Yuki suddenly don’t recall who he is.

Kyon then sets forth to set matters right and regain his old life. Halfway through the film he discovers a way to
trigger a solution program designed by Yuki. Then with just a half hour left we enter into a realm of existential bullshit and whiney teenaged self righteousness where Kyon has to convince himself that he’s making the right choice to get rid of a perfectly ordinary world to go back to the hectic familiarity of the past. Then, just when you’re hoping it’ll finally finally end, it keeps going, with Ryoko Asakura finally showing her true colors, once again.

Aaaah, I forget how much the second season and Disappearance are intertwined with their problems. They really do create the perfect scenario to drive fans away from the franchise, or at least the animated version of it, with such bad pacing and confused narrative goals.

PLOT: Following the events of both seasons of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the SOS Brigade is gearing up for Christmas by planning a Christmas party with Haruhi’s standard over-the-top flair. Kyon grumbles about as much as you’d expect, but he goes along with all of Haruhi’s plans and even goes out of his way to buy tinsel for decorating the club room. When he brings it to school on December 18, though, everything has changed.

As the film’s title suggests, Haruhi has disappeared from Kyon’s school, but the rest of the world has been impacted, too. Itsuki’s entire classroom (and its students) has vanished from the school, Mikuru no longer knows Kyon, and the SOS Brigade’s club room belongs to the Literary Club again. Oh, and Yuki has become shy and moe.

Once Kyon realizes the world he’s in has completely changed, he spends agonizing time brooding over it and trying to figure out what happened without doing any actual work. The next school day, he broodingly returns to the Literary Club’s room, and then he finds a copy of the same book Yuki left him a message in before, prompting him to find the “keys” that will fix everything. Of course, this involves reuniting the SOS Brigade members (with a delightfully sharp Haruhi), and then Kyon presses a reset button to fix the world.

And after Kyon does that a little over halfway through the film? Then the viewer is treated to more complicated time travel, more Kyon brooding and thinking, and more moe Yuki. And that really encapsulates what’s wrong with Disappearance: it’s both too long and too wrapped up in its own seriousness. The length is ridiculous, and you could easily cut out an hour of its running time, but the tone also messes it all up. Part of what makes the Haruhi series so entertaining is the lighthearted way it approaches all of its sci-fi elements, but Disappearance throws all that out the window with its Gymnopédies soundtrack and becomes a long, mopey mess.

SETTING: Technically speaking, the “setting” for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the same high school and town of the former series. The biggest difference of course is how reality has changed with the removal of several of Kyon’s class and schoolmates, most importantly Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s amazing how much one person’s existence has an affect on everyone else around them. In turn, this new “world” demonstrates not only the power of Haruhi’s absence, but the influences of the other club members, in particular Yuki and Kyon.

When Kyon learns Haruhi and Koizumi still exist, just at another school, he aims to regain what was lost of the previous world. This new change of setting helps to build up Kyon’s character and demonstrate how important the club really is to him, despite how apathetic he usually seems about the whole thing. Too bad he spends a half hour telling us this in long, drawn-out monologuing.

As for Yuki, the alteration in setting suddenly transforms her and Kyon’s interactions into a quasi-romance series, with just the two of them spending a lot of time together, especially now that Yuki is capable of showing emotions. As a Yuki fan, I was happy to see how the setting really went to lengths to develop her physically and psychologically.

Except the real Yuki isn’t developed here at all! Instead, it’s a sad, moe-ified version of her character that’s made to pander to male otaku and get Kyon to look at her as a romantic interest instead of as a strong, though reserved, female character.

SETTING: Disappearance takes place in the same universe as the other Haruhi series except, you know, for when the world changes around Kyon. In that version of events, another school has been changed from all-girls into co-ed so that Haruhi and Koizumi can both go there, along with the rest of Koizumi’s missing classmates. Kyon visits a café with them, but otherwise, there isn’t much use of new settings here.

Setting in Disappearance is mostly used when setting tone or emphasizing the fact that Kyon’s talking to himself again. In order to set tone, the settings are presented in ways that feel “off,” like with distinct lighting or camera angles that emphasize how weird Kyon feels in this altered version of reality. When Kyon monologues, the setting can take on some surreal aspects, like Kyon being frozen at the entrance to a train station because he’s trying to make a decision on how to proceed. Either way, these uses of setting stand out from the other Haruhi series for how effectively they communicate Kyon’s state of mind, but they also stick out like a sore thumb for being so different. Depending on how you view the rest of the film, you’ll probably either love it or hate it.

The first series did have some weird abstracted moments when getting extremely technical about time travel as well. It didn’t really fit in then or now.

CHARACTERS: I have to completely disagree with Crystal. As much as I love Haruhi and Kyon’s interactions, Yuki is my favorite character and I love the attention her character receives in this film. However, when you realize what is going on, it seems like a rather silly way to develop a character’s emotional progress. Oh yeah, and then there is “Yuki’s shadow”, which I won’t go into too much so as not to spoil anything, but seriously. Yuki now has a shadow figure? As if the plot wasn’t confusing enough we enter into Jungian theory as a means to create antagonism ¾ of the way into the film.

As for Kyon, I’m in total agreement with Crystal, he is incredibly boring to listen to monologuing. Normally Kyon’s witty charm and sarcasm move the series along, but his existential crises fail to impress. Not only that but his emotional outbursts just seem to be overall embarrassing.

What I appreciated most was how this new world altered Haruhi’s existence. Once Kyon meets up with Haruhi and Koizumi to have tea, he is able to talk to them about his alternate reality. The minute Haruhi learns of her alternate self she instantly lights up and joins Kyon’s cause to return to a world where she has God-like powers. Rather than Haruhi, it really demonstrates how Kyon is the glue that ties everyone together as the instigator for all these bizarre events.

As for the other characters, they don’t get much attention. I do like Koizumi’s new self. Instead of his fake pandering charm he seems sincerely interested in Haruhi. I’ve never considered him an actual love interest, but seeing his quiet devotion to making her happy makes me reconsider how annoying he is. So props for Koizumi.

Mikuru probably gets the worst treatment in this story. She’s still lovably cute and naive, but we “get” to watch her be dragged back into the club and harassed all over again, just like in the first season. It took ages for her to become comfortable with the crew, and now we have to watch her be physically and sexually harassed all over again. Maybe it’s “fan service”, but it’s awful to watch.

I’m glad you noticed the attention paid to Koizumi, because I really do appreciate getting to see him without some of his artifice for once. I love his character and any hints at his real self, so it was very exciting to see him laid bare of his usual Haruhi-pleasing, question-avoiding façade.

CHARACTERS: As you might recall from my previous Haruhi reviews, Kyon and Haruhi are my favorite characters. Unfortunately, Disappearance suffers from a pretty great lack of Haruhi throughout, due to her titular disappearance, meaning I’m already predisposed to have a hard time enjoying this film. When Haruhi does show up—especially when her counterpart gets so excited about Kyon’s mysterious story—, the film lights up again and feels engaging, but when she’s gone, it just gets overwhelmed by Kyon’s brooding presence.

Speaking of Kyon, he’s the kind of character who would be a sad, monologuing drunk, and Disappearance feels contaminated with that kind of overblown monologuing of Kyon’s every angsty thought. I’ve always enjoyed Kyon’s witty narration, but it falters here in getting so serious and takes the satirical fun out of his character. As a result, Kyon also has the life drained out of his character, leaving him as a talkative shell who can’t figure out what he wants in life, even though he should already know better by now.

And finally, I’m not into moe!Yuki. Perhaps the Yuki fanboys are, which would explain why this was so popular in Japan, but to me Yuki’s meant to be a quiet badass of a character who makes snap decisions and saves the day. I understand her slowly building up emotions, but I don’t think this is a reasonable way for her to deal with it, and the moe version of her is just hard to deal with. So much blushing! Even the tops of her ears blush! Normally Yuki’s okay, but, just like with everyone else in Disappearance, she now lacks her likable core and becomes a boring character.

I like the outcome, with Yuki showing a slight improvement on emotion, but even a huge Yuki fan like me can’t get totally behind the extreme moe romance thing this film has going on. It really does seem like a silly waste of time when a simple conversation between friends could have achieved the same results.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: What the story lacks, the animation makes up for. KyoAni has already done an outstanding job on the first two seasons, but this film really is breathtaking. There are stunning background shots and close-ups that help establish setting and “mood” through hyper detail and coloring. Frankly, some of it is over-the-top, but it really does provide stunning visuals. Which honestly, the film needs to keep it moving forward. Without something visually grabbing, this film would have fallen flat on its face.

Despite being made so closely to when the second series came out, the designs look more like the first season of the television series. That means no more of the awkward K-On! influence. I couldn’t be more happy considering everyone is back to having normal leg proportions. It’s really nice to see something more modern demonstrate animation styles of the early 2000’s, as that style is one of my favorites. The new update on uniforms and characters is very enchanting as well. I loved seeing how the new uniforms and setting tied into the subtle alterations in personality. Ultimately I think the visuals single-handedly carried the film along and helped pull it all together. No matter how boring the characters, dialogue, and setting may have been, the expressions and pacing of the visual information helped me empathize with this snoozer of a plot.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: If there is one thing that Disappearance has going for it, it’s the art. This is KyoAni’s first real film, and they put their all into making it a gorgeous first theatrical effort. Haruhi has always looked pretty good for the standards of the time, but Disappearance looks even better by increasing the details in characters and costumes, as well as by paying close attention to the backgrounds and angles for shots. As I mentioned above, the setting is only as important as the art makes it in this film, and the art goes a long way towards making sure that the entirety of each frame of the film works towards a certain mood.

The character designs are also nicely back on track from the second TV season, which had lingering aftereffects from KyoAni’s work on K-On!. Here, the designs have been updated to look good on a big screen, but they look refreshingly like the first TV season. On top of that, we finally get to see Haruhi in her Koyoen Academy uniform, which is almost enough to make watching this movie worth it.

OVERALL: Having read the novel, I had high hopes for this movie to turn out well. I suppose there are just some stories which work better as written word. The Haruhi franchise has always suffered from talking too much, but it’s incredibly evident in this film. This would have been much better as part of the second season, or as a short OVA series where the audience could get a breather to digest all of the dialogue.

While I’m a huge Yuki fan, I didn’t really like the over-the-top portrayal of her having feelings. I loved reading the story, but seeing it acted out in full moe style just made it incredibly embarrassing to watch. Actually that goes for the whole cast, it’s hard to watch an anime full of weak girls crying all the time.

I’m happy that this got made, as I always wanted more Haruhi, but I’m glad it’s over. I just don’t think I can handle any more of this franchise animated. I will say, though, I’d happily buy all of the novels and read the story that way. I really think that is the best format for this franchise.

To sum it all up, this movie is probably not suited for the average or newer anime fan. It has little to offer to the franchise or to the medium as a whole. If you’re already a fan, you should probably watch it to see the characters and how they continue to develop, but I wouldn’t say you need to buy it, unless you’re a collector of visually-stunning graphics.

OVERALL: After a great first season and a mediocre second season, I had big hopes for Disappearance to lead the Haruhi franchise on to a glorious, exciting future. Unfortunately, the makers of Disappearance got carried away with Yuki’s moe appeal and Kyon’s melancholy and lost sight of what makes the Haruhi franchise fun: the fun. When Haruhi is poking fun at various genres or having Haruhi drag everyone around for her idea of a good time, the franchise is great, which is what makes Haruhi-chan so solid. But when Haruhi decides to get serious, then it falters. You can’t be both a goofy comedy series and a tense suspense series (unless you’re Full Metal Panic!), but Disappearance tries to combine the two, which makes for problems.

On top of that, there’s just too much going on here for one film. Disappearance might have worked as an OVA series, but even then I suspect it’d be like the “Sigh” storyline and drag under its sad weight. I’m glad Disappearance was made, since some people like it, but it’s convinced me that there’s already enough Haruhi out there in animated form. Now that I know there’s nowhere else for the series to go, I’m content to keep the first season and Haruhi-chan for myself and enjoy those whenever I want to revisit the fun, irreverent world of Haruhi Suzumiya. Now, KyoAni, please animate more of FMP!?

FINAL SCORE: (6/10) FINAL SCORE: (6/10)

For another great perspective on this movie, check out Goldy’s review from one of my favorite blogs, Beneath the Tangles.

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5 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

  1. hmmm..I had the exact opposite opinion after watching this movie. I was down with the movie’s deliberately slow pace; I loved that it was a quiet movie and i appreciate how meticulous it was in telling its story. I find this movie to be one of Kyoani’s best works and it restored my faith (and plenty others) in the haruhi franchise after the second season. I would love to see kyo ani stick to the movie format in adapting the rest of the LN material such as the dissociation and surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya. Id be a happy man if those productions were on the table. The Haruhi franchise’s tone changes quite a bit starting from disappearance onwards, The movie was an almost pitch perfect adaptation of the source material. But yea, I can definitely see where you guys are coming from with your criticisms.

    • Thanks for sharing your insightful comments! I’ve only read the first several volumes, but I can definitely see your point about the series becoming more serious as it develops. While the movie felt a bit long to me, I do think KyoAni did a great job of keeping it from feeling like episodes lumped together. One of my pet peeves is when an anime movie takes a break every 25 minutes, as if that’s the only way to move a plot forward in this particular medium. It would be nice to see KyoAni take on more movie projects. I think you are right to point out how much work went into KyoAni making this a faithful adaptation. I’m glad to see that for fans of the original source material, the movie was just what you were hoping for and that it was even able to restore your faith in the series. Honestly this movie is made for the fans, so it’s a little unfair to judge it on its mass appeal (which our reviews are aimed to do). If it’s able to win over the fans, that’s the real mark of it doing well. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on the movie. :)

      Oh and if you don’t mind me asking, how did you feel about Yuki’s development? -W

  2. Wah, usually I’m pretty in step with the reviews y’all give, but this one is a major exception. So surprised at how middling you two thought it was! :O

    • Have you done a review for the movie? I’d like to see what your thoughts on it were. I could add a link to it too to add perspective. :)

      As for Crystal and me, I think we just felt as if the magic of the series was lost after the first season. The first season felt like it was debunking the high school club genre with satire and sarcasm, but the second season and movie felt to me as if they were becoming that which they originally set out to parody. In that regard, I don’t really see how the movie can stand out from other series of its type. It may be entertaining, but ultimately it seemed rather mundane to me. -W

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