The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (Review)

Haruhi DisappearanceThe view from 5930 miles away:

The Haruhi series could never be accused of being ordinary, and the film that ends it all is no exception. It’s the second longest anime film ever made, but rarely feels like it’s dragging on too long. Kyon perhaps has a valid meta point to make when he says “for a prologue it was way too long”, because it does take a while to get through the 16th and 17th December before the world changes on 18th, but it is necessary to at least show us a flavour of what Kyon loses on that day. This section of the movie is also useful to illustrate that Haruhi’s behaviour has improved since Kyon first met her, allowing us to understand why he might actually want to continue to be in the company of this strange and bossy girl.

“She did ask if everyone’s got plans though. I guess she’s making a little progress.”

We are also given an important clue:

“Miss Nagato’s been changing recently.”

We’ll come back to that. Then we’re on to 18th and suddenly everything is wrong. Taniguchi has had a cold for a while, although this wasn’t the case the day before, and the date with a girl that he mentioned yesterday is now something he has no memory of. The identity of his phantom date is something that will turn out to be highly significant eventually in the later manga stories. Haruhi is strangely absent, and then in one of the most dramatic moments of the film Asakura is back. This is a film that really does reject new viewers. To understand the significance you need to have watched the series, but the moment is played brilliantly, with slo-mo and shot from funny angles. Coupled with some suitable music and it’s a very disturbing moment.

Then Kyon learns the full extent of what has happened. Koizumi’s classroom has gone. Mikuru Asahina is just terrified of him (“I don’t know you.”) and mentioning her mole just earns him a punch. Nagato is just an ordinary girl, and Kyon looming over her while she is clearly frightened is hard to watch (“stop it”). Even Shamisen refuses to talk. The whole world has changed. The only positive development is that Nagato seems keen to see Kyon again, despite his scary behaviour.

“You’ll have to accept the reality that’s in front of you and then you’ll understand everything.”

Moving on to 19th, Asakura’s words seem a little wiser than they should be for what is supposed to be a normal girl now, and some of what she says is fascinatingly ambiguous:

“I think you should go to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Says the person who… well, we’re not there yet. Kyon at last gets a ray of hope when he finds the note from the real Nagato, and the rest of 19th is all about Kyon and Nagato. Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie is used for the first time in the film, always there to represent the melancholy of Nagato, and it’s the perfect pairing of music and character. The flashback to Kyon’s simple act of kindness, helping Nagato get a library card, makes sense of her feelings for him. She’s not an alien any more, just a normal girl in love.

20th December is when it all happens. Haruhi triumphantly crashes back into the movie. The first view of her is like a fairy tale, and she looks sad, as if her whole existence is a disappointment to her. In this world she has been given what should superficially be a happy life. She’s attending an excellent school and has a loyal boyfriend. But that life is not for Haruhi, and as soon as Kyon convinces her of their connection she is quick to abandon her normal existence and try to rebuild her life as it should be, assembling Kyon’s “keys”. It’s the most euphoric and fun part of the film, and if you are not sure whether to watch the Nagato spinoff or not this sequence gives a reasonable flavour of what to expect from it.

Then Kyon has a choice to make. He can leave things as they are or try to put things back as they were, although the latter choice isn’t guaranteed to succeed. It might seem like an obvious decision, but it’s worth bearing in mind a couple of factors: (a) he is now actually living in a world where the SOS Brigade has been reassembled, and (b) there is the question of Nagato. The moment he hands back the club membership form to her is devastatingly hard to watch, with the poor girl trying to hold back the tears and struggling to muster the strength in her arm to take the form from him. The boy she loves is choosing to reject her and leave. The fate of this version of Nagato is the one major element that makes Disappearance such a bittersweet film to watch.

To appreciate the resolution, with Kyon travelling back into the past, you really need to have watched the Haruhi series and to have been paying attention, because it strongly links in to the events of some of the television episodes. We’re back at the point of Kyon’s first meeting with Haruhi three years before and, just like another of my favourite films (Back to the Future 2) we’re retreading old ground but with the same characters added into the mix a second time. It’s gloriously timey wimey.

Kyon finally discovers the culprit of the change in the whole world, and catches up with the viewers. When I was writing about the Haruhi series I tried to flag up a few significant moments that were building towards this film, without spoiling things. Nagato has never been an emotionless robot of a character. It has been handled with great subtlety, but there have been several moments where she has betrayed the existence of emotions, kept in check far below the surface. And when you repress emotions they have a habit of exploding outwards in spectacular ways eventually. That’s what happens to Nagato. I have also been flagging up the moments where she defers to Kyon, and how, just like Haruhi, his opinion is the only one that matters to her. So in terms of Nagato transforming herself into a human in love with Kyon, and putting Haruhi out of the picture, it’s all cleverly coherent. But Nagato builds in an escape program. Kyon has to be given a choice.

Then Asakura turns up and stabs him in the back.

It’s moments like this that turn a movie from being merely great to an absolute classic. It blindsides the viewer, and despite being subtly foreshadowed (and therefore earned) it still comes out of the blue. Then all of a sudden there are two Nagatos, two Asahinas and two Kyons:

“We’ll take care of everything.”

And they will, but you’ll have to read the manga to enjoy the moment when this loose thread is tied up. To close out the film we get a couple of great character moments with the most important girls in Kyon’s life. Firstly, in a very funny moment, Haruhi struggles to caterpillar out of her sleeping bag by Kyon’s hospital bed. She hasn’t left his side for three days. She shrugs it off as her duty, but we’ve seen enough evidence throughout the series to know that she’s clearly in love with him. Then we have a mesmerizingly beautiful scene with Nagato on the rooftop where Gymnopedie plays again and it snows for Yuki/Snow. Kyon mounts his defence of Nagato and when he says what he will do if her bosses remove her from his life we are in no doubt that he will be able to do it. We have just seen him find a way to change the whole world, after all.

“Thank you.”

…and we’re done, at least with the anime. But Haruhi’s story isn’t quite over yet. In fact, we’re only a little over halfway done. It’s a great loss to the world of anime that the adaptations of the manga didn’t continue, and I’ll talk a little about the later volumes of those next Saturday, but for now this is our farewell to Haruhi, Kyon, Yuki, Mikuru and Koizumi. I’m going to miss them.

Well, maybe not Koizumi… RP

Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Nagato

The view from 6,868 miles away:

So much Nutella!!!

As visitors of our website will have observed, last week’s final episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya did not impress me.  I compared it to a lunch I’d recently purchased, called “the Nutella”, which was totally devoid of said Nutella.  Upsettingly, I only realized this after I got home with the meal.  A rotten discovery, to be sure.  When I went into Haruhi, the marketing was for a science fiction show hidden in a slice-of-life dramedy.  For a good part of the series, it delivered, but the ending … well, the whole final episode was a massive letdown.  Here’s what happened: my son returned home, after being away the weekend, and asked if I’d watched the movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzimiya.  I told him that I had not, and he said he wanted to watch it with me since, having watched the previous two episodes, he had to know where the story was heading.  The first thing I did before the movie started was hit the status button on the DVD player.  This told me the movie was nearly 3 hours long, and on a Sunday night, there was no way we’d sit through the whole thing in one go.  When, 3 hours later, we had completed the movie, I was delighted.  My analogy of a meal without Nutella worked only for the previous episode.  For this one, it was as if the restaurant stopped by my house with a complimentary vat of Nutella for all my snacking needs.  Then, just for good measure, when Kyon spouts out all the possible gods that he would be willing to pray to and mentions Lovecraft, it was the proverbial cherry on top!

The story starts off with the same theme as most episodes: slice of life in a school club.  Haruhi wants to have a Christmas party.  She empties her TARDIS-like purse (bigger on the inside) which includes a deer head mask and begins setting up.  The whole prologue goes on for a good 15 minutes before Kyon tells the audience that everything up until this point was prologue.  Tomorrow, December 18th, would be something else entirely.  The next day, he wakes to a Twilight Zone episode (Person or Persons Unknown) where no one knows or remembers Haruhi Suzimiya.  Worse, Kyon’s SOS Brigade friends do not know him; when he finds Mikuru, she thinks he is attacking her.  Yuki is a regular, if extremely introverted, girl who doesn’t know anything about what Kyon is talking about.  Koizumi is missing altogether, as his Haruhi.  Kyon tries to find anything he can, including using a Windows 95 computer (yeah, blast-from-the-past, and it looked just as I remembered it!)  And to further compound matters, when a girl walks in the room, the “camera angle” (I always find it strange saying things like that with anime) keeps the viewer wondering until it’s revealed that Asakura is back; the girl who was determined to kill Kyon and was dispatched by Yuki.  I truly wanted Rod Serling to show up with one of his signature openings: “submitted for your approval, an anime character who has found out that there are many possibilities… etc, etc…”  After a day of doubt, Kyon finds a note that says he has to find all the “keys” and he has 2 days to do it but wonders: is that from the start of events, or from when he found the note.  The story is brilliantly written because it does not spoon feed the audience that information and we have to infer. It takes a lucky bit of dialogue between Kyon and his classmates to reveal that someone does know Haruhi and that she goes to another school.  Kyon tracks her down.  Haruhi and Koizumi are leaving school together when he makes his move.  He tries to convince Haruhi and Koizumi what is going on.

Like so much in this series, there are some brilliant lines.  I love when a cop sees the argument going on between Kyon and his two friends, the cop doesn’t know what to do, and runs off yelling, “Hey, somebody call a teacher!”  There’s more, but I’ll come to one in moment.  First, it pays to mention some of the highlights.  Visually, there has been an airplane viewed throughout the series; a casual drifting plane in the distance.  (During the Endless Eight storyline, I was reasonable certain that meant something so it stood out to me!)  In this alternate universe where Kyon is not in school with Haruhi, there is no plane, but instead a helicopter moves by.  Subtle; a nice touch!  No spoon-feeding here; there’s no mention of it, it’s just there for the attentive audience members.  And that’s one of the things Roger and I have discussed in the past too: anime, like some video games, can really bring out the visual art.  There’s a scene where Kyon is walking down the street and cars pass by, illuminating him and Yuki.  The lights create a beautiful rainbow pattern.  Also mesmerizing is the scene where Asakura stabs Kyon.  The blood spatter scene is visually amazing; a form of twisted art, both horrifying and beautiful even as the blood sprays across Yuki’s face.  Susan Sontag once said: Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.  This scene is both unsettling and beautiful.  Asakura said she would protect Yuki no matter what, and her extremes are stunning.

Character-wise, I was extremely impressed with the way the story is written.  Koizumi is still true to the character we’ve come to know.  He helps Kyon figure things out from the information provided.  He still comes off as an observer of events.  Yuki, we learn, was tired from her reliving the same day so many times and she effectively malfunctions.  This leads to the troubles which Kyon has to navigate.  Haruhi is still pretty convinced of her own awesomeness and of her own abilities, but she still listens to Kyon even though she technically does not know him.  All of the SOS Brigade come to Kyon’s aid even though it might mean wiping out the reality that they know.  Kyon refers to Tanabata from years ago to get Haruhi to listen and she accepts the truth of his words, meaning episode continuity mattered too.  Speaking of continuity, when Mikuru teleports Kyon and herself back in time, they leave from the room within which they had been sitting at Yuki’s house, which means they are not wearing shoes, because the shoes were by the front door.  The episode points that out rather than glossing over it and it proved a smart choice.

These are all amazing areas of the movie and it delivers where the  episodes only showed glimmers of success.  At the end of the movie, as Kyon wakes, I was actually a little teary (yeah, go figure!) when we learn that Haruhi is sleeping on the floor of his hospital room.  I also loved how strongly Kyon defended Yuki even though her actions nearly destroyed everything he knew.  He made me laugh out loud when threatening the Data Integrity Entity saying “I’ve got the power of a loofah…” but he knew he could manipulate Haruhi, and that was enough.  (The scene is nicely portrayed  on the roof of the hospital in the snow, which is doubly nice as Yuki means snow in Japanese.)  And I had to love Haruhi’s comment, “If it’s boring, I’m sending you to another dimension!”  I think Kyon already knows what that’s like.

In the end, the series pulled victory from the jaws of defeat with an incredible movie to end on.  The series started with such quirky music that I made fun of it when I first heard it because it felt so random.  The series ends with such beautiful music that I could not have asked for more.  Luckily I enjoyed it enough to allow the movie to play on and it paid off.  Holy cow, there’s an post-credit scene.  Yuki is watching two children playing.  One wears a shirt with the Enter key logo on it.  No idea of the timing of the scene, but it made me wonder if Yuki had been watching Kyon and Haruhi from childhood; perhaps explaining why Haruhi always listened to Kyon; some memory of a time they met remained in her even if officially, they had not grown up together.  A fluke meeting that influenced everything?  Or not… No spoon-feeding here!

There was a quote in this episode: “Remember I was here.”  I think it’s something we all want in life; to be remembered.  I may be done watching this series, but it left on such a strong note, I will remember it.  I will have it on my DVD shelf, and I will remember that it’s here.  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Haruhi Suzumiya Manga Series
Or go straight to the spinoff… Nagato 1: Precious Place

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Anime, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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