Anime Reviews: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Boasting both tremendous visuals and an engaging alternate-universe storyline, this titanic comeback for the franchise proves there's still gold to be struck.
Title: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya a.k.a. Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu
Production: Kyoto Animation
Film Length: 164 minutes
Air Dates: 2/6/2010
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, brief mild violence)
Summary: Christmas is fast approaching, Kyon notices. And he knows he will not be the only one, as he ascends the stairs to the former literary club room, now officially the headquarters of the S.O.S. Brigade. During this particular meeting, Haruhi asks the other members if they have plans on Christmas Eve ("I freakin' knew it," sighs Kyon). And as luck would have it, everyone is free, so Haruhi plans for a full-blown party to be held in the clubroom. Mere days before the 24th, Kyon wakes up and finds that something is strange around town: his friend, Taniguchi, seems deathly ill when he was perfectly fine yesterday, bragging about his date for Christmas Eve, Ryoko Asakura is somehow back in class (and alive), Mikuru and Yuki don't recognize him, and Haruhi (and Itsuki) is nowhere to be found. Can Kyon set things right and go back to the way things were, or is that even an option he'd be willing to take?
The Good: Freaking incredible production values; serious and introspective story shines new light on the franchise; character development in spades; you can avoid most of S2 and still enjoy it!
The Bad: May be way too long for some; shameless sequel hook ending
The Ugly: Where's my season three, KyoAni?!
So, after the abysmal failure that was The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2, I was beginning to feel a little skeptical that the Haruhi franchise could bring me joy ever again. I had heard about the movie that was released on the heels of S2, and so, as a faithful fan, I had to check it out. The result was a spectacular comeback that I, and many others, was waiting for; a gargantuan titan of a movie that simultaneously washed out the bad aftertaste S2 left behind and filled us with joy once again.
Let's begin, as we always do, by talking about the production values. And boy, do we have some production values here! Kyoto Animation had already set the bar so high for TV animation that I forgot it was possible for said bar to be raised, but holy crap! The artwork found a way to be even more crisp and attractive, and the animation quality is mind-blowing. The TV series was already highly detail-oriented and lively, but Disappearance just flips that dial all the way up to 11. As for the music, there may not be a lot of it (many scenes are filled with unsettling silence), but when it kicks in, it's some powerful stuff. Also, the version of "Yasashii Boukyaku" that plays during the ending credits is nothing short of haunting. Brilliant stuff. Also, once again, the voice acting is top-notch. Do I even need to say anything else about it at this point?
As far as the plot of the movie goes, KyoAni takes a much more serious approach than usual, and it pays off beautifully. There's something almost eerie about the noticeable lack of strange, supernatural occurrences that so often plague Kyon, and while Kyon should be happy about his troubles being over, he is less than thrilled about being thrown into an alternate reality against his will. This sudden development Kyon finds himself in allows for the movie to really take its time and give us a lot of insight about the Haruhi universe and how strange everything seems even when it's perfectly "normal." Suddenly, the world where everything is normal is strange, and the one where everything is strange is normal, and it's all explained to you without actually being directly explained to you. An anime that actually involves your thinky parts? Who'da thunk it?
Speaking of using thinky parts, the writers were obviously using theirs, because the characters get ample development time without interfering with the story. Even though the majority of the movie's focus is on Kyon and Yuki, we get some great character moments from the rest of the regular cast (both as we know them and their alternate universe counterparts), as well as Asakura, who was admittedly pretty one-dimensional in the original series, but here she shows some pretty unsettling complexity. Even though the characters have always been fun, with rare exception, they stayed in their same molds through both TV series, and so it's refreshing to finally see them stretch their legs a bit.
And the best thing about Disappearance: you only need to see one episode from S2 to understand the plot, and that episode is Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody--you know, the good one! After that, you're free to skip the rest and go straight to the movie!
(Oh, and they make a single-sentence reference to Endless Eight, so I'll post it here to save you the pain: "What about that time we had to repeat summer vacation 15,000 times?!" refers to them, well, repeating summer vacation 15,532 times in Endless Eight)
So, where does this movie fall short, you ask? Well, it's nearly three hours long. It's a mere minute shorter than The Dark Knight Rises. Some people would not be willing to sit down for such a long time to watch a movie, and I can understand that...sometimes. If you've got 3 hours to dedicate to a movie, then you can't really do better. In anime, at least.
Another thing that might bring people bad vibes is the extremely obvious and similarly shameless sequel hook the movie ends on. While I was personally excited about the possibility of a new series or another movie when it was over, I can see people raising the arms in disgust yelling "Are they serious?!" quite easily because of it. A lot of people really seem to hate sequel hooks, so if you're one of those people, SUCK IT UP--I mean, try to overlook it, because it's merely a small blemish on this nearly-flawless face of a movie.
Unfortunately, for the time being, this is the last installment of the Haruhi anime franchise (Haruhi-chan and Lucky Star don't count, I will physically hurt you), but at least it ends on a monumental high note for now. If you've seen one or both of the TV series, then this movie is mandatory viewing for you. Even if you've never seen a single episode, I would highly recommend (that you watch the first season and the first episode of S2 before you watch) this movie for your viewing pleasure. Very few anime films outside the realm of the legendary Miyazaki pantheon can claim to be as good as Disappearance.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. While its hefty length can be intimidating, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a fantastic anime film that should be seen by anime fans of all kinds.