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Revisiting The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

(This post is part of a series of posts covering Christmas-themed anime episodes. For more posts like these, check out the 12 Days of Anime tag.)

It’s gotten fashionable to say these days that Haruhi Suzumiya has not aged well as a franchise. I can sorta see the argument there. Haruhi popularised the “snarky guy joins a high school club” genre of light novel adaptations, and many of its tropes have been relentlessly copied ever since. I haven’t seen the TV series for a few years now, so I can’t really comment on it.

But for what it’s worth, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is still a good film. A bloated one, perhaps, and probably too faithful to the wordiness of the novel, but still one of KyoAni’s finest works.

vlcsnap-2014-12-20-17h33m36s70If there’s one thing really distinctive about KyoAni’s animation style, it’s the sheer level of detail put into the character animation. Every single subtle movement is drawn out with excruciatingly realistic detail. This is used to great effect in Disappearance. Here, the mundane is alienating and stifling, and the silences speak more than words are capable of.

One thing I found particularly interesting from a cinematography angle is the frequent use of long distance shots. These shots are used during long pauses and little action. They depict a world frozen in time, disconnected from both Kyon and the audience.

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The scene where Kyon confronts Nagato for the first time is a particularly strong example of this. It’s a scene laced with tension, as Kyon desperately clings to Nagato in the hope that she can fix everything for him. But she cannot. Her discomfort is obvious from her body language; she is only a normal girl.

I really enjoyed the first half of Disappearance. The careful buildup of tension leaves you engrossed in what is happening onscreen, even if nothing seems to be moving forward. Each subtle clue to the mystery feels like a revelation. It’s hard not to be drawn into Kyon’s shoes and to feel his horror and sense of displacement as keenly as he does.

The second half of the film, from the moment Kyon chooses to hit the enter key, is not quite as effective. Perhaps this is due to me already knowing the major plot developments, so the plot twists and explanations did not grip me as they did the first time. But it’s a lot wordier than I remembered it as well. The last hour or so consists of Kyon explaining to us through his narration all the intricacies behind his own motivation and Nagato’s. Their motivations were self-evident through their behaviour earlier in the film, so being spoonfed the character development was distracting, to say the least.

That being said, the scene where Kyon confronts himself manages to combine introspection with visual symbolism in such a way that the monologue’s message feels visceral. Kyon is discovering himself through his words, not explaining things for the audience’s benefit.

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Overall, I enjoyed this introspective take on the Haruhi story. I especially appreciated the message of valuing one’s youth and embracing one’s own agency. In many ways, this was a quintessential coming of age story.

To me, the sci-fi angle was never what Haruhi was really about. This is a story about a girl who wishes she could have been extraordinary and a boy who wishes for the same. It’s about as honest and empathetic a take on the teenage “chuunibyou” complex as you can get – and this franchise predated the chuunibyou fad several years!

So to those who are tempted to think that Haruhi is outdated now with nothing new to offer to an anime fan these days: I’d say you’re wrong. Haruhi is still relevant and the story it tells is still resonant. As long as we as human beings continue to value that which we do not have over that which we do have, I think Kyon’s character journey will strike a chord.

The story ends on Christmas Eve, with Kyon poised to spend the rest of his afternoon with the SOS Brigade and putting up with Haruhi’s nonsense. But this time, it’s a choice he makes with full awareness of what it means to him. By spending his Christmas with the friends he treasures, he chooses to live his life to the very fullest.

And maybe perv on Mikuru while he's at it.

And maybe perv on Mikuru while he’s at it.

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Posted on December 21, 2014, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Nice essay as always, Frog-kun! Also, have you/are you planning to read the Haruhi LNs?

    • I do plan to save up for the novels that aren’t covered in the anime at some point, seeing as I doubt we’ll ever see them animated, after all :'(

      But anyway, glad you liked the post!

  2. I’ve been a fan of the Haruhi series since 2008, and this movie may be the anime I looked forward to the most off the top of my head. High expectations can lead to disappointment, but can heighten pleasure, too, if they are fulfilled — and luckily they were. The BD rips for this movie came out on the 18th of December 2010, so almost exactly four years ago. Finally watching Shoushitsu before Christmas and enjoying the film so much is one of my most treasured memories as an aniotaku.

    I agree with you about science fiction not being Haruhi’s focus. The “chuunibyou” escapism vibe is its strongest. I am not a reader of the novels, but the impression I was getting from the TV series is that the sci-fi parts were just one facet of its eclectic style; as I had written previously: “It goes from a high school slice of life to action scenes, spaceships, time travelling, gigs and detective fic and excels at all of it like it’s the most natural thing in the world.”

    Having rewatched the series and movies earlier this year (and surprised myself by how radically my taste in moe changed over the years — I went from loving Haruhi and barely caring about Yuki to pretty much the reverse), I’m sure it is still very fresh. Its eclecticism and ease in tone shifting has spread but still stands out. Some of its stylistic quirks remain original. For instance the indie-movie episode still has a unique, charming kind of humour. It’s hit-or-miss but in a good way in that if you are hit, you’re hit by something special indeed. The long scene with Yuki in Someday in the Rain is another scene with a unique charm, yet in a totally different vein. The wacky snapshots of related or unrelated action are still great and fresh (the woman tearing a letter in the detective episode, the scenes in Live Alive where Yuki and Haruhi pass in the background getting ready before the actual concert, or for example the random shots of two dudes helping a passed out student in episode 24).

    The one aspect in which Haruhi has definitely “aged” is that the hype has long died down. No longer are people obsessing about it, posting Hare Hare Yukai videos, making Internet cults around characters, cosplaying regularly characters of the franchise. I don’t hide that I consider fanbase enthusiasm to be a great factor in enjoyment of anime and this is something of which Haruhi has considerably lost, despite having lasted for a lot longer than the average flavour of the season. Still, I’m in love with this series, and maybe there’s a little nostalgic bias in it, but I’d whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone, even as 2015 closes in.

    • Thanks for the comment! You’ve definitely inspired me to rewatch the TV series sometime. I might have been subconsciously avoiding it out of fear it might not hold up. But yeah, the movie is definitely still great and a must watch for all anime fans.

      The one aspect in which Haruhi has definitely “aged” is that the hype has long died down.

      Haruhi losing its rabid fanbase feels particularly noticeable given how little hype there’s been around the Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan there’s been. I know it’s just a spinoff that probably revolves around moe appeal, but Nagato was such a hugely popular character, especially after the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya first came out. Maybe fact that KyoAni isn’t behind it has something to do with it?

      Oh, by the way, I started reading your blog. You’ve got some really great posts there!

      • I’m quietly hyped about Yuki-chan. Already reading the manga. KyoAni not doing it is not surprising but it probably would be more hyped if they were. Maybe it’ll turn out like Jojo 2012 where everyone expected Madhouse and then was disappointed David were doing it until it turned out to be amazing.

        Thanks for the compliments. I’m never satisfied with my writing :(

  3. I hated Haruhi before it was cool. But that movie was amazing. One of my favorite anime movies of all time. Almost made Endless Eight worth it.

  4. Excellent thoughts on one my most favorite anime movies ;)

    As you know, I’ve been a Haruhi fan for many years…I saw this movie four times during its few public screenings in the US (once at its debut in San Fransisco, once in West Hollywood, and twice at Anime Expo XD) I agree with pretty much everything you said about it. As much as I love it, I agree that it could have been shortened some and the second half drags on for a bit too long. But running time is its only flaw really ;)

    I also agree that Haruhi as a series is still relevant despite there being no new developments for it in recent years. As you said, lots of anime and light novels have come out over the years that have the same themes/style as Haruhi, but in my opinion its still very unique in terms of how it blends the typical school comedy with a sci-fi backstory, as well as its witty, snarky narration through Kyon (again, other series have male leads who narrate like this, but none have been as entertaining as Kyon to me). There are plenty of new anime fans who haven’t seen Haruhi, and I know many who watch it and like it, so that’s worth something right there =)

    • Wow, four times? Considering that the film is around two-and-a-half hours long, you’ve spent over ten hours just watching The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. That takes some dedication! I can only imagine how many times you’ve rewatched the TV series proper… XD

  5. Having rewatched S1 this year and never watched S2, I can say that on the execution alone, S1 deserves its spot in the annals of anime history, independent of its influence. KyoAni has never hit that perfect balance of humor, subtle character development, and tightly plotted structure since. (Mostly because since, they’ve tended to replace “subtle character development” with “sentimentality,” but are still trying to use the old balance.)

    As for the movie, it’s better than the Steins;Gate movie, but still, eh. “too faithful to the wordiness of the novel” was one of my biggest pet peeves, as its best moments are when Kyon shuts up and let the visuals speak for themselves, (that Asakura reveal, wow!) but my other main complaint, and the reason I’ll likely never watch S2, is that Haruhi seems to have lost her humanity and development after S1, becoming simply the plot and shenangigans generator. Kyon’s arc beyond regurgitating his decisions in the S1 finale require Haruhi to be static, but I don’t have much of an emotional stake in Kyon’s development. I really liked the way they fleshed out Asahina, Nagato, and especially Koizumi in the movie, of course, but it’s just a shame that they had to backtrack on Haruhi’s develpment to do so.

    • Hmm, gotta disagree that Disappearance is simply a retreading of S1’s finale. At its core, S1 was more of a bizarre love story about Kyon coming to understand Haruhi. At the very end, when he decides to tell Haruhi the truth, he still has no real idea of the stakes. And then of course he’s quickly rebuffed. Without any further romantic progress between Kyon and Haruhi, their lives quickly fall into a SOL status quo. This is the status quo that Disappearance attempts to break. Kyon learns how high the stakes are and that the power to actually move the plot forward lies with him. I can see how the lack of Haruhi in this development would be miffing, though.

      But yeah I should probably watch S1 again soon, because you rewatched it recently (glad you liked it, btw!) and I’m just talking out my ass.

      Btw, since you seemed to like the Steins;Gate dub, what are your thoughts on Haruhi’s dub?

      • In chronological order, yeah, the S1 finale isn’t in the same place as Disappearance’s, but in broadcast order, the audience has made an emotional journey with the characters nonetheless. So while the structuring of Disappearance to mirror the S1 finale was deliberate, in order to highlight how Kyon has changed, from a viewing standpoint, it did feel a little too similar to me. Then again, S2’s existence makes a huge difference on this point, as it would show how Kyon and the others were getting worn down by the shenanigans afterwards, and then Disappearance would be a reaffirmation, while exploring the ways the other Brigade members were fundamentally impacted by Haruhi, where the S1 finale was only about Kyon and Haruhi. (Of course, that means that S2 fundamentally cannot stand alone. It needs Disappearance to justify it.)

        I’ve never watched the Haruhi dub. I could never get into the FMP or Ouran dubs, so since the styles of humor in Haruhi are very similar, I’m not sure I’d enjoy the same effect as the Steins;Gate dub had, applied to manic KyoAni antics. I’d probably really enjoy the Disappearance dub, though.

  1. Pingback: Has Haruhi Aged Well? | Fantastic Memes

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