The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – Review
Adapted from the fourth Haruhi Suzumiya novel, the story of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya takes place from December 17 until December 24 a month after the cultural festival. On December 17, everything is normal—the SOS Brigade plans to have a nabe party for Christmas. However on December 18, Kyon arrives at school to find everything has changed—Haruhi Suzumiya is missing, and Ryoko Asakura is a normal student. Kyon is the only one who notices anything different. Nagato is an ordinary human, and Mikuru does not recognize him. The only clue is a bookmark left by the alien version of Nagato, which leads Kyon on a quest back in time, where he interacts with the storyline from “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody”, trying to sort out the mystery and return to his own time line.
In doubt over whether The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya novel was to be adapted into a television series, many fans were questioning if the end of the animated Haruhi Suzumiya series was nigh. Considering its rather rabid success in both its written and animated formats, the second television season had showcased storyline segments from the second, third and fifth novels, but surprisingly did not show any segments from the fourth novel. This led many to speculate if the fourth novel was to be completely glossed over, or sadly, that the animated series was to end. Finally, at the end of the second re-airing of the second season, it was announced through a teaser trailer that the fourth novel was to be adapted into a feature length film and released in one year. This certainly pleased and surprised many fans, and now the only thing they had to do was wait patiently for its release.
And certainly that patience has been well worth it. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is perhaps one of the best book-to-animated film adaptations released thus far, and that’s saying a lot. With an articulate adherence to the original source material, the film presents an emotionally charged plot that brings together all the elements of the original television series albeit presented through a more serious tone. This direction raises the bar significantly in establishing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya as a film that wasn’t produced solely for entertainment purposes. This is a film—very much like the novel series—that truly cares about its characters and their relationships towards one another. Such passionate detail is invested into these relationships that it slowly develops a strong connection with that of the audience—a connection that allows us to care for them and the decisions they make.
Considering these elements, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is definitely a more personal film in the sense of its main character—that of the cynical but always thoughtful Kyon. This is pretty much his film, and the journey he undertakes is one of emotional conviction and devastating frailty. We literally see Kyon at his most tragic and vulnerable state throughout the film, mainly because he has lost everything he took for granted. Kyon’s livelihood of living in a world that is filled to the brim with that of the most bizarre is suddenly replaced with that of one filled with normality—he simply can’t understand nor believe it. He has become so accustomed to hanging with out with Haruhi, Yuki, Itsuki and Mikuru, that be separated from them is to be out of his element. Through the abnormality of the world that he had co-existed with them in, he slowly realizes that to be in a world without them—a more normal environment in every sense of the word—is rather abnormal to him. This makes for a very poignant and intriguing journey into Kyon as an individual character, and truly brings about a newfound appreciation for his relationship with Yuki.
Which brings me to discuss another pivotal character to the plot—that of the shy and timid Yuki. The film presents Yuki in multiple facets, which really sheds light on her as a character and her relationship with Kyon. In the alternate world, she is still very shy, but her attraction towards Kyon is displayed in the subtlest of ways. This is interesting considering her previous connection to him in which she showed no attraction towards, and truly showcases a situation in which Yuki and Kyon could possibly become more than just friends. The film really fleshes her out and having her actually showcase true emotions makes the tale all the more interesting to watch. It’s a great parallel to note that while Kyon is attempting to get it together emotionally throughout the film, Yuki is striving to explore and exhibit her very own emotions. I think this parallel fits perfectly within the context of the plot, and really establishes the direction and message that the film is attempting to convey.
While these two characters are indeed the most opposite of each other, the film ties them together in the most unusual but practical ways. We get to view the loneliness that Yuki faces because of her inability to showcase emotion with the juxtaposition of having Kyon experience a similar inability as she does. Of course, like the novels and television series, this all eventually centers on Haruhi again in some fashion—but that’s the beauty of it; through her intercession, we begin to fully appreciate some of the other characters as well. This attribute rounds out towards the remainder of the cast too, and we finally get to view some of the characters in situations we would’ve never expected to see them in, which makes for some surprising moments throughout the film.
The film is constructed in way that plays to the knowledge of the audience, so it’s important to note that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya should not be considered a stand-alone film. Viewers who have no prior knowledge of either the novels or television series should stay clear of this film completely until they have some familiarity with the material—and indeed, the film relies heavily on the audience to distinguish characters and recognize plot. Those not familiar with the source material will most certainly find the impact of certain scenes lessened because they don’t know the background of the characters or the history of their relationships, which could displace their overall enjoyment of the film. Granted, while the film does take careful steps to reintroduce the cast of characters in the beginning of the film, it soon develops into a very personal tale that is extrapolated upon through prior knowledge. There are also scenes showcased within the film that intersect with that of the television series, which wouldn’t make much sense to those unfamiliar with them.
Story aside, the animation of the film was done entirely by Kyoto Animation. They also animated the television series and they do a fantastic job with animating the film. The film establishes itself as one of the better-animated films to have been released in Japan this year, and really goes the distance in creating some beautiful sequences. Similar to the television series, the film attempts to have the environment look as realistic as possible—and Kyoto Animation succeeds highly in this regard. From the interior look of North High, to the various exterior environments that the character inhibit—the vivid and lush animation is sure to please fans of aesthetic value. Even the characters themselves have been slightly upgraded, including that of them wearing a variety of different attire—yes, more so than the television series. The film also had various classical pieces dispersed throughout, which really helped the overall effect of the film’s more poignant scenes.
Overall, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a very touching and emotional cinematic experience. It presents a little something for everyone, and isn’t stringent in delivering a diverse plot that encompasses many of the elements that made the original novels and subsequent television series as popular as they are today. The rather serious nature of the film seemed quite warranted given what the actual novel portrays, but somehow it seems that it was the perfect fit to adapt this particular novel into a film—I really couldn’t see it being presented within the context of a television series. The added value of having a higher quality of animation only complements the elements already present within the actual source material itself—that of interesting characters and a fairly intelligent and compelling plot. It’s this culmination of elements that makes The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya stand out as a bold and creative cinematic excursion that further cements the legacy of Haruhi Suzumiya as something that isn’t just a fad, but rather a series that can stand amongst the best of what anime has to offer. This is what the film conveys best—and it’s most certainly aware of its importance.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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