Bear with me all, but I’m going to be reviewing a movie today – but not in consecutive posts like what I did last year. Fifty-one Anime Reviews earlier, I reviewed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the anime featuring the titular manic high school girl with a penchant for world-building at whim, and her motley band of classmates, which feature a cute time-travelling girl, a stoic alien, an esper and an ordinary guy who at times wishes he had absolutely nothing to do with this group. I still consider this one of the most overrated shows out there, because of things like Endless Eight, the mundane scenarios that they go through, and not to mention, Haruhi’s excessively abusive behaviour, which is far from the God-like figure everyone espouses her to be. For an example of what the true God is like, on the other hand, how about “I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for my sheep.” (St. John 10:14-15) for starters?
But that’s beside the point. Although the series was a disappointment compared to the expectations I had, it turns out that there was a movie associated with it which I flossed over up until 29 September 2021. Unlike the series which played more on the typical high school anime playbooks, this movie takes a different approach, providing one answer to the question: “If you could do your life over again in another world where things are better than the original, would you do it?” Such is the case of today’s subject, The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA
One year after The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s first season, the immense popularity of the show among anime circles worldwide, most famously manifested through the phenomenon of Hare Hare Yukai dance segments, led its parent studio Kyoto Animation to begin work on a franchise movie adapted from the fourth volume of the light novel. Under the leadership of director Tatsuya Ishihara of Clannad and Inuyasha fame, it ended up being the second-longest animated film in terms of runtime, lasting 162 minutes. The reason for this absolute monstrosity of a runtime is because during production, a total of seven different manuscripts, equivalent to seven different (23-minute long) episodes were put together and bundled up into this film. Additional scenes were envisioned by Ishihara as well, to make up for all the elements of the light novel to talk about authenticity, but thankfully he balked at it, probably out of fear of initiating fans’ boredom. Through three years of storyboarding and script revisions, the film was released on 6 February 2010, a mere year after the second season’s conclusion.
The film won the Best Animation award at the Animation Kobe event that year, and singer Minori Chihara won an accolade for the performance of the film’s ending song the following year. If one were to think that was the end of the craze involving the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise, another spin-off manga focusing on Yuki Nagato and a video game for the Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable consoles that took place after the film’s events.
The SOS Brigade, led by the notorious Haruhi Suzumiya and featuring Kyon, Mikuru Asahina, Itsuki Koizumi and Nagato Yuki, continues its meager existence across North High School. This time, they’re preparing for the upcoming Christmas season by organizing a party. As usual, Haruhi is excited but Kyon could care less about what she has planned. From every perspective, it seems like it’s going to be an ordinary week leading up to Christmas. However, disaster strikes when, on the following day, Kyon wakes up to realize that his world has flipped upside-down. Two of the SOS Brigade’s members, Nagato and Mikuru, do not recognize him with the latter bashfully rejecting him due to his aggressive advances; Haruhi and Itsuki are absent from school and Ryoko Asakura, the psychopath AI from the first season, shows up in class to Kyon’s horror, and acts dumbfounded when the latter confronts her about her previous actions.
Kyon tries to adjust to the changes, while trying to figure out exactly how it all transpired to this. He spends his after-school days in the SOS Brigade’s clubroom, which has now returned to its lifeless state as the Literature Club with Nagato as the sole member. In the midst of his trifling, he befriends the geekier-than-normal girl, staying over for dinner at her house and stumbles upon a bookmark from his original timeline with notes from Nagato, the first clue to his way out. After learning from his friend of Haruhi’s whereabouts, he quickly dashes over to her location: the top-notch private school, Koyouen Academy, where he finally meets Haruhi and Itsuki face-to-face. As expected, initially his arrival freaks them out, but after he proves the truth that he knows them by calling himself “John Smith”, they warm up to him and agree to assist him in bringing him back to his original timeline. They successfully gather all the original SOS Brigade members to the Literature Club room, which activates a computer program that original Nagato created to help Kyon sort things out.
He activates the program, which sends him back to a summer day three years prior from his original timeline – the same day when he and a young Haruhi trolled the North High schoolgrounds (season 2, episode 8) Reuniting with the adult Mikuru, they relive the scene where Kyon calls out to a young Haruhi, and then pay a visit to Nagato’s house where she reveals the source of all this dissension: a disturbance in the space-time continuum which was caused by an alternate version of none other than herself triggering a massive overhaul of things, due to her frustration over Haruhi’s extravagancies. She gifts Kyon with a device aimed at eliminating this problem, and together with adult Mikuru they travel to the early morning hours of the day prior to the switcheroo. Kyon relents to this solution, having realized that in spite of all the annoyances that Haruhi and her motley crew have inflicted upon him throughout the past events of the series, they’re to his liking and he decides that life’s better with them.
He proceeds to go with the plan only for Ryoko to near-fatally back-stab him, but in her yandere-induced delirium is overthrown by Nagato, which allows for Mikuru to rescue him and get him medical treatment. The effects of this sequence, however, means that the original timeline is maintained, and thus returns the SOS Brigade to its normal functionality. Thanking Nagato for getting things back up to speed and promising to repay her, he moves forward with his life with a renewed energy and a desire to enjoy it for what it is.
WHAT I LIKED
- I liked how the story handled the sci-fi bits, starting things off normally as would occur in an episode, before hitting us head-on with the timeline switch and then, the “we gotta fix the timeline before it’s too late” bit which articulates like a less dystopian version of Back To The Future II. Granted, this will involve rehashing parts of the series, such as the “Take care of the John Smith who will overload the world with fun!” segment and the meeting with Nagato in her home, but everything else is given an explanation that ties up all the lost ends, which is good at least.
- The film parlays a memorable segment where the voice of God speaks to Kyon, asking him to explain why he chose to return to his original timeline rather than stay in one that Nagato made to give him perpetual solace; Kyon responds that in spite of how much he loathed Haruhi’s ramblings, deep down he found those experiences, and the existence of the supernatural, exciting. Thus, unable to dismiss them given their big role in his life, he vows instead to make something positive out of it. It sounds somewhat like Shinji’s rejection of Instrumentality in the far-more superior End of Evangelion and the 49th episode of Digimon Adventure 02, but one can also see a moral interpreted through the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order: “If God causes you to suffer much, it’s a sign that He certainly intends to make you a saint.”
- The visual contrast was sharp, easily-noticeable and altogether fitting. When Kyon’s happy, the visuals are bright, colourful and full of life, as in the opening and ending segments. And in the middle segments, when the gang is split up thanks to the sands of time, it’s dreary, depressing, and cloudy – it’s PERFECT to represent Kyon’s lamentation over things, and how he feels without Haruhi around. It reminds me of the exact same thing in Disney’s The Incredibles, between Bob’s office life to his superhero revival.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- Since the film is 162 minutes long, be prepared to sit through a long one. If like me, you can’t survive sitting through something that’s the length of a single NHL or NBA game without breaks, then you’re in for a rough one. Unless you’ve got an extremely good memory or are taking notes, pausing and resuming the next day will not be helpful, since you’ll forget a lot of crucial details necessary to understand the film.
- Do not be deceived by Haruhi’s ecumaniacal behaviour in wishing to celebrate the birthdays of Jesus Christ alongside Buddha and Muhammad during the Christmas party she’s planning. It reeks of heretical notions on ecumenism laid out in Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, which Kyon rightfully dismisses with condescension – that being said, follow his line of thinking instead.
- By the way, what ever happened to both Ryoko Asakura and the SOS Brigade’s Christmas party at the end? We don’t get to see what happens of those, especially in the former where the only remnant of that is otherworld Nagato resisting her brutality, and it seemed like a big plot point in the latter’s case, but is never expounded upon. Don’t tell me all this was a ruse to save a Christmas party we never get to see!
The characters, in relation to the film’s title, is pretty deceptive, since the main character of focus is not so much Haruhi Suzumiya herself, but instead it’s Kyon, Mikuru and Nagato who hog the spotlight this time around. Haruhi doesn’t even get a central role in the story’s beginning or climax; instead she’s relegated as an outfielder whose role is simply to facilitate Kyon’s travel through time; the same can be said for Itsuki. This, added to her powers basically rendered moot, made her into a useless, humanized version of herself – something I found disappointing as I was expecting more out of her like a boost in personality. However, even though that was a letdown I thought it was really minor and forgivable enough given the other three’s involvement, which was, in contrast, well-developed. Same can be said for Ryoko Asakura, the de facto main villain, who makes a come-from-behind appearance that’s about as shocking and meaningful as an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist.
While Mikuru becomes to this show what Morpheus was from The Matrix and we finally get from her that one thing which was “classified information” this whole time (trust me, that’s a huge step up for me considering her largely stale moe-moe-kyun behaviour in the episodes), Kyon and Nagato were the real stars of the show, as throughout they experienced both plenty of action and character development through their ordeals. Nagato, we learn, has started to shed her expressionless, alien form and starts to feel emotions – something which is important to kick-starting the entire time-travel shenanigans while Kyon longs for the normalcy of his after-school friendship with the SOS Brigade, and, in realizing how much they mean to him, seeks to redeem himself in the face of the world by seeking out Haruhi and sacrificing his energy to save the timeline; even at risk of his own life. He goes from the worn-out, observant and easily-complacent boy in the series to a fearless, secure man by the film’s end. Arguably, their journey and the development of their bond was worth the watch and saved this film in a way.
If the characters were strong, the music is the complete opposite; weak, uninspired and void of any praiseworthy elements. You know, for a movie that’s about time travel and has emphasis on how Haruhi’s world is lit, I was expecting something exhilirating, ethereal and wonderful to join along, but unfortunately what I got was a flat response of a musical accompaniment that failed to strike a chord with the overall tone. Case in point is the ending theme, Chihara Minoru’s Yasashi Boukyaku. I failed to see how this song was supposed to convey a moral lesson, or evoke an emotional response. Sure, the pentatonics was nice but the lack of a thrilling musical accompaniment or lyrics that fit the film’s context was sorely absent, ensuring that this track will never be among my favourites.
Favourite moment: Kyon’s re-encounter with Ryoko after the switch to the other-world was terrifying, yet astounding; his reaction was priceless, and best amplified the seriousness of how whack things have become for our male lead. The way that his facial expression becomes half-scared to death at the sight of a former evil arch-nemesis stepping back to his life, and the latter’s innocuousness just felt all too real and for me marked the moment where “This is the part where it gets good”.
Favourite quote: My top choice for this goes to Kyon’s epiphany where he submits to God’s Will and basically acknowledges the dankness of his life. Of honorable mention is Mikuru pleading with Kyon to cherish the high school memories they spent, and Haruhi proclaiming the true meaning of Christmas as the celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity.
God: Deep down, you think Haruhi is annoying… If so, why did you press the button?… Nagato gave her time to making a world for you where everything was calm, but you rejected it! You’ve been complaining all this time about your shortcomings, but you didn’t ignore the program. In a world where Haruhi and Itsuki would be out of your life, Mikuru an idol-like moe girl, and Nagato a quiet bookworm… who would grow to love you. You left behind that peaceful life. Why? Do you think being dragged around with Haruhi is fun?
Kyon: Yes…yes I do! It was every bit fun. Why would I think otherwise?? Don’t ask me something stupid as that!!
God: There you have it. Only an idiot would respond to this question in the negative. Who would discount a world where aliens, time travelers, and espers exist? Not to mention, a girl with powers beyond her comprehension, and many more to come!Kyon’s admission that life in the series was, in fact, awesome
I’m not a fan of The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya. But in regards to The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya? Though it’s a really grueling movie, which can be a turn-off to some, I think it’s a significant enhancement to the original story. For one thing, the lack of Haruhi, while lamentable, means no sights of tyrannical rage frothing from her, making her personality tolerable. Also, I think it’s worth it for the decently satisfying plot and, not to mention, the core sci-fi elements of it, such as the dimension-hopping, time-travelling parts were brilliant inserts as much as the film’s overall message of finding contentment amidst the apparent hardships of life. Anyone who enjoyed stories along the lines of Steins;Gate will find this to be a worthwhile watch, myself included; the addition of a familiarity with the first two seasons, on the other hand, is also necessary if you want to understand the deeper roots of the SOS Brigade members’ roles, which is not to be taken lightly here.