The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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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.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Yumeka

    Fantastic review. I’ve only seen the camera rip of the film so far, but even that just blew me away. You’re right in that the film brilliantly brings out Kyon’s character development that had been accumulating throughout the TV series, and Yuki’s as well. I’m hoping this movie will restore some of the respect Haruhi lost after Endless Eight. It will definitely go down as one of my favorite movies of all.

  • Douglas

    Thanks for the comment Yumeka. I loved how the film took itself seriously, and was a great adaptation of the novel! This is definitely the type of wholesome animated features we need more of. It really brought the entire series into a whole new perspective for me.

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  • ShinjiIkari14

    Solid review Doug, I think you hit all the major points. This film was amazing, I laughed and almost cryed during this film alot. I liked how it tied in with Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, and getting to see the characters in very different roles was interesting. Kyon had a lot of development, realising how he took the previous world for granted, as well as Yuki. And the relationship between the two of them was subtle and meaningful, making something beyond friendship seem far more likely. This has become one of my favorite films in general, and I’m really eager to see how the dub will turn out.

  • http://ccharmanderk/ Kevin

    Wonderful review. I as well felt very strongly throughout watching this masterpiece (I can think of no other word to describe it), especially concerning Yuki Nagato: Yuki is my favorite female cast member, and having her be so fully explored in-depth in this film was incredible to experience. I also say that you have to be an empathetic person to fully enjoy this film’s wonders: I’ve seen at least three or four other reviews that completely gloss over the character emotions and depth and just write this film off as being an overly-long Haruhi eye-candy extravaganza, which is ENTIRELY incorrect. The film invests deeply in its characters’ emotions and feelings, and allows us to see them in new light (which is helped with a good amount of much-needed expository padding, which is where said reviews dumbly get their complaints of the film’s length), which is a wondrous thing to do for any fictional tale, animated or otherwise. I’m glad I’ve finally found a review of this work of art that truely does justice to the film; the other guys who reviewed this are just too shallow.

  • Douglas

    Thanks for the kind comments ShinjiIkari14 and Kevin, I really appreciate them.

  • Kevin

    No problem. Gotta give you props for actually knowing what you’re talking about, unlike most reviewers for this movie.

  • Major

    I, for one, am highly anticipating the release of Disappearance on DVD. Thus far I have only seen the camrip, but that was enough for me to understand just how special this film really is. You’ve pretty much covered everything in your review but I’d just like to add that the potential shown between between Alt!Yuki and Kyon is more than superficially interesting. You see, Alt!Yuki is still Yuki. That’s the real mindscrew. Timeline divergences aside, there is something Yuki detects concerning her interactions with Kyon (note the wording, here) that has an influence on the way she performs the Data Overmind’s assigned tasks around him. The film has got me re-evaluating Yuki as a character all over again, and I think I like it.

  • Mikoto

    Thx for Review^^^^

    Obviously, I do not find sufficient Haruhi subject of the film, so if you did not count the Avatar world’s best film or Death Note tthe best anime. Fully inflated by fans of a movie.
    Continuous returning characters,Time Travel,Hot Asahina Mikuru,two Yuki Alter and Allien,always smiling Koizumi and Poor or ESPer Kyon
    some of the scenes reminds me of Evangelion(Two Yuki and Ayanami Rei,different life, Tsundere Girl (Haruhi and Asuka), The perfect Girl!!! Ahhh Boring
    What Hapenned Clannad After Story,Gintama or Mushishi,Evangelion,Code Geass

  • Salonga

    Hello, this is my first time stumbling on your site, and I’m pleased to say I like what I’m reading. I feel as though I was alone im my views of Haruhi with other anime fans. You delve into the the real meat and potatoes of Tanigawa’s ambition. You “read” this movie as if it were a Fellini or Bergman film, and gave the seriousness it deserves. Thats not to say that the series excels in comedic farce, but you see all the layers underneath the silly moe, dance recitals, harem, and obligatory anime plot devices (beach, softball, pool episodes). Your attention to character development and interactions is what I always believed to be the real appeal of the show. Your focus on the Hamlet-like Kyon in contrast to the Quixote-like Haruhi, is an excellent view on the weird quirky relationship that these two share. Although it is one of the many themes presented in the series, and lightly touched upon this movie, the two share one of the best subtle romantic relationships not seen in most animes. While I want don’t want to spoil myself and read the remaining light novels, I’m curious to know if the remaining cast will get the full treatment that Yuki did in this movie. If there is one weakness in the series that I’ve caught is that of the characters of Mikuru and Itsuki. I feel as though they do nothing but advance the plot for Kyon and serve no other purpose but comic relief(Mikuru) and exposition(Itsuki). I felt the same way for the juggernaut Yuki until I saw this movie. The development of the loner android is one where I was pleasently suprised to find. This is a case in which I find anime the perfect medium to explore the development of the loner Android by creating a parallel universe not seen in many live drama’s. I could only think of “Lost” as an exception. All in all great review, not only for your in-depth views of an universal appealing series, but the way in which you approach a show about aliens, time-travellers, and aliens.

  • Salonga

    …. espers. (messed up my flair LOL).

  • Miguel Douglas

    Thanks for the kind comments Salonga. Thanks also for understanding the elements I pointed out within the review as well–the film has layers upon layers to explore and discuss!

  • Nisarga

    Thanks for the review. I found it giving credit enough to this film and series as it really deserves. The HARUHI SUZUMIA series in whole scripulously combines intellect with artistic sense and imagination, and yet is strikingly popular. I have always wondered whether there is some subtle philosophical undertone in the series, and, call me pedantic, but this film confirms my idea, and that is I think the secret behind its entertainment value. The series it not just fantasy but it deconstructs reality, and the yet the open endings of the series which are real artistic delight makes the audience interprete it in their own individual ways. I spent almost an hour after the film is over to regroup my experience. The film is definitely an artistic masterpiece.