It’s not uncommon to have an episode of an anime set around the Christmas period, such as in Toradora, Digimon Adventure, and basically every single slice-of-life show (K-On, Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh to name a few). However, very few worthwhile Christmas anime movies have been made, as opposed to the barrage of Western movies dedicated to sharing the joys of that season. If I had a dollar for every such flick that I named, I’d have enough money for a month’s worth of rent in Toronto – that’s how big the load is! Since we’re only a little over a week away from celebrating that day, I’m going to explore two films which have been called as a derivative of one another: The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya, from 2010, which has been called an anime version of the famous 1946 feel-good classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.
Eastern Competitor #24: The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya
The theatrical successor to the wildly popular KyoAni series The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, we witness more of North High student Kyon’s days with the ever-so rambunctious quartet of Haruhi Suzumiya, Mikuru Asahina, Itsuki Koizumi, and Nagato Yuki – shapeshifter, time-traveler, esper and alien respectively – as they prepare a Christmas party for their club, the SOS Brigade. Tired of being unwillingly pushed into their charades, he longs to live an ordinary life again, free from her grip, and wakes up the next morning to find that all his clubmates have no idea who he is, Haruhi is at another school, and his worst enemy is the school’s club president. Dumbfounded, he tracks Haruhi and Itsuki down, and after convincing them of his identity as an alternate-dimension hopper, sets out to restore the timeline and re-establish the SOS Brigade in spite of all his reservations.
Originally marketed by means of the franchise’s website displaying an Easter egg of the film’s release date of 18 February 2010 in Japan, it 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. Its 162-minute long runtime made it the second-longest animated film due to a total of seven different manuscripts, equivalent to seven different (23-minute long) episodes were put together and bundled up into this film. Talk about one heck of an ending.
Western Competitor #24: It’s A Wonderful Life
Considered by many as one of the greatest – if not, the most inspiring – film, Christmas-themed or otherwise ever created for American audiences, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, based on a 1939 novella by Philip Van Doren-Stern sees George Bailey, a banker from the town of Bedford Falls, contemplating suicide after losing funds to keep his loan business afloat. For this, God sends down an angel, Clarence, to help him see value in his life and prevent his untimely death – by showing him the effects of a world where he doesn’t exist.
Initially released on 20 December 1946, it was a box-office bomb and was largely dismissed by critics, faring poorly compared to another Christmas classic, Miracle On 34th Street. However this attitude was changed over the years, with many seeing an intermittent value in its “life is worth living” and “everyone has their worth” message which was so aptly demonstrated in George’s plight. It has consistently ranked high on film lists of the greatest film ever, and was selected in 1990 for preservation by the Library Of Congress in recognition for its outstanding value. Though nominated for five Academy Awards in 1947, it only won one for technical direction, in addition to Capra receiving a Golden Globe Award for his direction of the film.
It’s easy to see why both films are often referred against each other, Christmas setting aside. They feature a protagonist who is dissatisfied with their life (Kyon and George); upon wishing their problems away, bear witness to a world that fits their description, only to regret ever having wished it, and upon this revelation, find thanksgiving and purpose in their life; and are accompanied by certain mystical beings (Kyon with the SOS Brigade, George with Clarence). It should also be noted that the two films are only half-an-hour apart from each other, and that while George wishes himself out of existence, Kyon wishes away not himself, but Haruhi from his life. Thus, what remains to know is: which one is the better overall Christmas story.
Category #1: Cast
When it comes to the protagonists, George Bailey absolutely trumps Kyon here. Barring the fact that understanding The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya requires a certain level of familiarity with the series, like the fact that some of them are ethereal beings from another dimension, or the purpose of the SOS Brigade, nevertheless Kyon felt like a hard person to bond with. His skeptical, monotone personality is one thing, and it’s nice to see his opinion about Haruhi evolve in the duration of this movie, but still I just couldn’t vibe with how expository he could be as well as his lack of energy. Even in the series I found him to be rather irrelevant figure compared to Haruhi, who is literally the in-show god and therefore has a pedestal worth shining, lifting and glorifying.
With George, his character arc is what stands out most from the film. We learn so much about the character in a two-hour span, aside from his profession or age. He’s an amicable and high-spirited; a workaholic who longs to travel to Europe and see the sights, but never does; he has a bitter rivalry with Henry over who gets to own his business; holds a strong bond with his brother going back to when he saved him from drowning, at the cost of his right ear’s hearing; a pleasant, quick-thinking people person who keeps others ahead of him. When he rejoices, we rejoice with him; when he suffers, we suffer with him – his plight becomes ours and his celebration, likewise. It’s very easy to relate to him because of that, and most of all he leads and takes charge of the story.
Clarence, the film’s resident guardian angel, is also a fun character to accompany with, though he falls flat when pitted against the duo of adult Mikuru and Nagato who I found to provide some of the film’s best, more intimate moments with the lead protagonist. The rest of the supporting cast I couldn’t really care much for, though between these two films, overall I’d have to pick It’s A Wonderful Life to be the more engaging of the bunch, seeing how they have more depth and meaningfulness with George’s daily musings as opposed to their absence or sheer uselessness in Kyon’s case, and gave the film an engaging source of direction and conflict to boot.
It’s A Wonderful Life 1-0 The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya
Category #2: Buildup
It’s A Wonderful Life starts the story from a third-person perspective of George Bailey’s life. And when I mean that, they cover every single extensive detail about him, starting from his childhood to the present day: work, aspirations, and relationships asunder. This goes on for nearly two hours, and the manner in which it’s directed feels like a biographical tale as opposed to a redemptive tale featuring the hand of God Himself. Even He and Clarence, the angel sent to help, rarely make themselves known until George gets on the bridge, ready to end his life – that’s when they spring into action. They do drop in from time to time to provide commentary for what’s going on, but sparingly. Long as it may be, it was still very informative and straightforward to follow, as you quickly understand and sympathize with George, his hard life and the many sacrifices he’s had to make to keep himself afloat. With all that he’s gone through, his frustrations are quite easy to discern as the reason for the story’s coming into being.
Moving on to Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya, it starts off fairly quickly – Kyon hates his life, because of Haruhi (“…since April, she had been a curse on my everyday life, and the universal source of my troubles.”), and makes that visibly clear, critiquing and bemoaning all of her meanderings for the SOS Brigade’s upcoming Christmas party, and basically is going to stay home while his best friend is going on a date in a week’s time. His sullenness turns to shock when his world is turned upside-down, and the shock expressed on his face in this part is one of the times this movie gives him strong emotional output. The rest of the story follows from that place, getting the SOS Brigade “back together”, while diverging from the former by incorporating artificial intelligence lifeforms, computer simulations, and the ever-so popular world of alternate timelines in the fray. Think Tron, Back To The Future II, and It’s A Wonderful Life mixed into a single script.
Overall, I found Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya to be the more interesting variation, for its use of science fiction improves and enhances the quality of its storytelling allows Kyon to have a decent adventure that goes through multiple boundaries. It’s a lot less emotional than the latter, but it’s definitely able to stir up intrigue by its going-ons, was action-packed from the get-go, isn’t topically monotone. You’ll wish to see something other than George at work or repeatedly butting heads with Henry Potter after the first time, though.
Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya 1-1 It’s A Wonderful Life
Category #3: Mood
Atmosphere is something that both movies make use of setting up to deliver their impact. They put much into focusing on the dialogue and having it drive the story, and rarely use the appropriate-sounding music tracks unless to highlight an important moment. In case of its scenery, things are different. Kyon’s journey takes him to different worlds, each with its own magical charm and quirks: he finds himself lingering through multiple versions of December 18: his classroom at day, the streets at night, and Nagato’s barren apartment. Bedford Falls on the other hand, is a charming town filled with a diverse range of peoples, both good and bad; but is very dry and seems very cardboard-cutout, mostly owing to George being there all his life, and changes little from one scene to another – which fits the premise rather squarely.
When these are combined, The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya once again wins purely because it has the better soundtrack choices to evoke mystery, longing, and decisiveness in its scenes. It’s A Wonderful Life just didn’t have the same gusto as it did: most of its tracks relied on the same style of tone and felt too rigid (no apologies to Pope Francis). Its only silver lining is the use of Alfred Newman’s “Hallellujah” sequence at the end, first heard in the 1939 Hunchback Of Notre Dame and again in the 1953 Catholic epoch The Robe.
The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya 2-1 It’s A Wonderful Life
Category #4: The Final Introspection
The real meat of each story is the introspective journey that the protagonists go through near the end. While one could argue that Kyon’s predicament was not his fault, and rather the doing of an inwardly angry Nagato, it still doesn’t change the fact that this event strikes him deeply, seeing people like Mikuru squirm in fear of his aggressive advances, or his enemy Asakura returning to his classroom despite having been eliminated in the series. All this leads up to a scene where he comes face-to-face with his “guardian angel” of sorts: a mirror image of himself, who questions him with one single thing: “Didn’t you think your extraordinary school life was fun?”, which Kyon answers in the affirmative, and we are treated to a small monologue where said “angel” would harangue as an idiot those who would refuse a world without individuals as fascinating as Haruhi.
George Bailey triggers his own epiphany by first lashing out at his family following a financial blunder committed by his business partner and uncle Bill. He runs off to a bridge, contemplating suicide, but is interrupted when his soon-to-be guardian angel Clarence calls out for his rescue. In a fit of distress from what happened before, as well as how miserable his life has been, he declares “…it would have been better if I’d never have been born” – and without a wait he enters a world where the peaceful Bedford Falls is now a degenerate Pottersville owned by his rival, his friends and family don’t recognize him and are living bitter lives – or in his brother’s case, dead. This horrific realization leads him back to the same bridge, repentant and asking for a second chance to turn things around.
These introspections are what both movies hinge upon to drive home what it’s about, but there’s a reason why the moment from It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the most famous in cinematic history. For one thing, it makes the biographical meanderings of the first 2 hours all the more meaningful, giving them proper context. I loved the way this moment was filled with terror, dread, and astonishment through George discovering the reason behind everyone’s misery after he’s taken out of the picture, and the “wham” moment when Clarence’s playful banter turns into a morose acknowledgement of the film’s ultimate lesson: everyone’s life matters, one way or another, to the people around them.
Kyon’s version takes place in two separate parts: the first in the school sequence, where his discovery that something’s amiss evokes that same terror, and then taking on a more ethereal form, in literally arguing with himself to justify why he chose a world with Haruhi and company rather than otherwise: I would easily consider it the film’s highlight, and what’s worth a watch. Something tells me that it was Mikuru who told him to “…look back fondly on these high school memories, and wish they didn’t go by so fast” leading to this outcome, but that’s the issue: it’s not that clearly defined or has anything to tie in the two together other than implied consequential exposition. Even with one, the lesson, no deeper than “life’s better with friends by your side”, was slightly obscured by him not extending his thanks to anyone other than Nagato, and the film ending abruptly before we see him celebrate the Christmas party with them.
Compare that with George who runs through the streets of Bedford Falls, wildly shouting “Merry Christmas!” with glee to everyone, in his glorious expression of triumphing over despair, and his friends coming to lend his business a hand, throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at his feet. Corny as it sounds, at least it keeps its central point out in the open for all to cherish. Kyon simply just ends with… more exposition about saving the world, and that’s that. Pshhh.
It’s A Wonderful Life 2-2 The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya
Category #5: Christmas Spirit
Let’s face it, both of them are unquestionably, Christmas movies. Both of their main stories are set during that season, involve the protagonists getting away from a party (George due to frustration over work and life, Kyon by a mystical act of Nagato), and have at least one scene with someone intoning “Merry Christmas”. But that’s not all the Christmas spirit consists of: it’s a season that encompasses hope, joy, thanksgiving and optimism – the same values embedded in commemorating of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer, by whom salvation only comes through. Externally, these are present in both films: from its healthy treatment of the characters to its various heartwarming moments, like Mary and George singing “Buffalo Gals”, or him saving Mr. Gower’s business from a fatal accident; in the case of the other flick, Kyon and Mikuru chatting nostalgically on the park bench, as well as with Nagato assuring her of his protection under the snowy sky. And both explain the importance of living in the moment and not being too crabby about it, lest we find ourselves in a worse situation or powerless.
Still, I have to give my regards to It’s A Wonderful Life: as any good Christmas movie should, it’s thought-provoking, simple to grasp, and has many bright moments to cherish. It’s got enough in its characters for us to keep us invested in their journey, and ties them in to the plot thoroughly. It starts out strong, ends strong, is an emotional rollercoaster with a very meaningful transmission of its lesson, and as a result, a feel-good experience is guaranteed to anyone who’s fortunate enough to come across it.
Final Score: It’s A Wonderful Life 3-2 The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya
The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya found merit in its science-fiction elements taking over, and in great music. If only they invested more into broadening the underlying effect on the moral lesson in its characters’ thinking on-screen, rather than having us probe through it ourselves, I would have enjoyed it more, and gotten better out of it. That’s exactly what It’s A Wonderful Life did, and for that reason it remains the beloved Christmas flick it is known for to this day. What’s more, its message is transcendental in nature as well, being directed by a filmmaker who was slowly regaining his Catholic faith, and as a result the film is chock full of explicit reminders of that upbringing, from the prayers his friends make on George’s behalf, a brief scene of a (really) Catholic Mass, and a wonderful lesson throughout on Divine Providence.
Watching it, one can say the same as Psalms 29:11-13 more boldly: “The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness: to the end that my glory may sing to thee, and I may not regret: O Lord my God, I will give praise to thee for ever!”
Roundup For The 2022 East Meets West Series
January: Spirited Away beats Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
February: Raiders Of The Lost Ark beats Castle In The Sky
March: Boku No Hero Academia (series) beats The Avengers Quintology
April: The Three Musketeers (book) beats The Three Musketeers (anime)
May: The Great Gatsby beats 5 Centimeters Per Second
June: Amadeus beats Your Lie In April
July: Neon Genesis Evangelion beats Pacific Rim
August: Super Mario Bros (1986) beats Super Mario Bros (1993)
September: Sonic The Hedgehog (2022) beats Sonic The Hedgehog (1996)
October: Journey To The Center Of The Earth beats Children Who Chase Lost Voices
November: Sword Art Online beats Ready Player One
December: It’s A Wonderful Life beats The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya
East Winners: 5 West Winners: 7
6 thoughts on “East Meets West #24: The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya .vs. It’s A Wonderful Life”
Just got full metal alchemist brotherhood and rebuild of evangelion 3 as an early present to myself. I was wondering if you could recommend any good resources on the near proximate and the remote occasions of sin. This has been an area of interest to me recently particular in regards to anime . This may seem a little strange as well but can you reccomend any saints who are good to pray to help with weight loss. The nee year is starting soon and this year I need to get my weight in order. Any trad catholic resources on this would also be appreciated. By the way have you seen ssword art online rogressive on crunhyroll yet.
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I have plans to see the later SAO seasons (Alicization, Progressive), and I’m aware that the latter is a revamped version of the original, which seems to be good news. How are you finding it? Also, be prepared for the funky ride that is the third Rebuild of Evangelion film. Personally I thought it was too much of a diversion to the plot, but maybe you might find it different!
Your best bet for a patron saint of weight loss would be one related to exercise, physical ailments or against giving into of self-desires. St. Sebastian, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Margaret of Cortona respectively fit these, and thus would be your best friends of God to ask for assistance. Make sure as well to plan out a good workout routine and diet that will allow you to hit your goals over that timeframe, and ask a friend/trainer for help if needed. I will pray for your success! 🙂
I find that a moral theology handbook usually has sections for that. I will provide the sources below: hope you find them helpful.
* Fr. Anton Koch’s Moral Theology, Vol II; pgs 46-52 (https://archive.org/details/moraltheology02kochuoft/page/46/mode/2up)
* Frs. John A. McHugh and Charles Callan’s Moral Theology, points #263-267 (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35354/35354-h/35354-h.html)
* The Catholic Encylopedia (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11196a.htm)
It’s great that you are seeking to become more prudent in your anime-watching habits, and I can share your sentiments, having found those sections interesting to read and ponder about. Understanding those two distinctions are very important in forming a good, faith-based decision-making; to paraphrase Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid”: the lessons can be applied not just for anime, but for your whole life – especially as a Catholic devoted to Christ.
God bless, Dominic! Hope your Christmas season will be a merry one! Do you have any upcoming plans for it aside from the ones you’ve already mentioned?
Another excellent review. I loved both these movies, and would gladly watch them again, though as you say, I give the edge to It’s A Wonderful Life.
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Can’t go wrong with the original, especially with its triumphant ending! And its soundtrack is perfect for an Easter Sunday High Mass if you ask me: https://youtu.be/lCFsv4ynkKc
Thank you for your kind words as always! 🙂 Hope your Christmas is going well so far Paul!
I do not like like Haruhi. If only Kyon stayed on the other side with Nagato, he could have lived a good life but he threw everything away just for that shameless hussy. I’m sorry, but I really do not like Haruhi and she deserves a punch… in the mouth.
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I’m in the same boat as you, not a big fan of Haruhi and the show was astoundingly mid-tier as well, to my surprise. One scene that I vividly remember most is when she berated Kyon for trying to protect Mikuru from one of her shenanigans after she was tired. And guess what – he comes *very* close to punching her out! Unfortunately, were he to do that, he would have not only invoked Haruhi’s wrath but also destroyed the universe, or something like that.
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