Should be my Christmas Day post if all goes to plan, I figure it is an appropriate post to put on Christmas Day, the review of the best movie to be chronologically located around Christmas.
It’s rare that something from a medium you’ve had little experience with before hits you so strongly that you are always dying to go back to it. Such is the case with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, I just watched it a couple of days ago and I’m still feeling very positive about the story and would love to go and watch scenes from it again. When I first watched it, I was blown away by how good it was. The series of Haruhi had been excellent (as I’ve detailed up to now over the past few weeks) and had interested me in anime for the rest of my life, Disappearance solidified it.
The movie starts out so beautifully that I need to spend a bit of time on that. Every time I watch it and hear Kyon’s voice (for clarity, this one is in dub, even though I watched the entire anime in sub this time I wanted to watch the movie in dub) say ‘It was so cold… and I mean cold’ I instantly have an urge to go and watch the entire thing again. There is describing and there is describing. The tone of his voice carries the weight of just how cold and freezing it is, the temperature of the room I’m in feels like it drops just a little on the weight of those words. Of course this is reinforced through the next few scenes, dark and shadowy tints to the colour to emphasise the coldness. As for what the coldness means, I would say it’s more than simple scene-setting, it ties into the atmosphere of the film and the eventual loss that Kyon will feel of not seeing his friends, this would not have worked as well as a summer film. And for when he goes back in time there’s a sudden contrast in the film’s tone as it begins to feel hope for him.
Anyway, after about 15 minutes of joyful scene-setting and Haruhi acting as Haruhi in order to create THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS EVE PARTY EVER, the plot kicks in and Kyon finds himself in a different world. It starts slowly, with the annoying Taniguchi but quickly moves on to more pressing concerns that turn Kyon’s world upside down. The most notable is about to come into the picture. With a huge feeling of dread, Asakura walks into the room. Now obviously, if you’ve seen the TV series you know just how much of a threat that is anyway but it’s made so obvious by the musical cues as you begin to hear her voice and Kyon’s reaction to what outwardly seems like a sweet innocent girl. He causes such an uproar that he’d probably never live it down were he staying in this world but that’s understandable, the last time he saw this girl, she wanted to kill him and he’s seen no indication that that is not the case right now. Even though ultimately this Asakura might not even be the dangerous one but more the normal girl that is shown in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan (side note: I was always so suspicious of her when watching that show and that made that show really quite good for me), but that’s a theory I’ll expand upon later. As far as the film is concerned she is the Asakura at the end so the musical cues are right. It’s one of the main amazing things I associate with this movie.
The disaster intensifies as Haruhi and Koizumi are nowhere to be found and no-one has ever heard of them while Mikuru and Yuki are individually shocked as Kyon comes up to them while they don’t know him and starts pressing them for answers. You really need to work on your technique there buddy. But he gets the new, quiet and timid Yuki to eventually feel comfortable around him as he spends an afternoon in a depressed state in the literary club room. And finds out that he in this universe still helped Nagato get a library card. That interaction is very important. He also finds more and more proof that this world is completely normal without any supernatural elements.
Okay, I want to talk about my theory now. It may be contradicted by light novel elements but based on what’s presented to me in the movie, I think it fits. Okay. Let’s assume that the universe with these characters presented in the spinoff The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is the ‘base’ universe. The normal one, the original one. It’s where all the characters have no special powers and are normal humans as they were supposed to be. At some point, something or someone, maybe some ancient power awoken within Haruhi three years from the present day, spun off the ‘prime universe’ we are familiar with in the main series, where all the supernatural elements have always existed. These two are now running co-currently. When Ryoko was deleted in this universe, some form of her original human consciousness was uploaded to Yuki’s terminal and kept in reserve. Either Yuki or Ryoko, or both, as Nagato wanted to give Kyon the choice, recreates the base universe in this alternate universe we’re used to. Not perfectly, but close enough. When Mikuru and Kyon come back to stop Nagato creating the different universe, Asakura comes out of nowhere, I think with the creation of the alternate universe she could have rematerialised from the Data Entity as Yuki let go of that power and then come into being and stabbing Kyon. She could have organised the whole thing from a corner of Nagato’s brain as a power play, getting rid of Nagato’s power and getting her wish to see how Haruhi reacts with Kyon dead at the same time – but she didn’t count on time travel shenanigans. Therefore… if you’re following me, the Ryoko in the earlier parts of the movie is not the same as the one at the end but is Asakura as she originally was and how she was portrayed in Nagato Yuki-chan, a friend who’s protective of Yuki but ultimately kindly and motherly. Of course, the foreshadowing music still fits (even though Asakura in the first part is mostly benign and helpful music aside) as there was probably a reason Ryoko became a servitor of Yuki but they’d be different entities. I may just be babbling but that’s how my headcanon is working for a part of the movie that always confused me until I made up this theory, i.e. where did that wonderful best uncanny valley girl spring from with her knife at the end?
Anyway, where were we? Eventually, Kyon finds out where Haruhi is in probably the best scene Taniguchi and Kunikida have ever been involved in as he loudly berates and then thanks the former for letting him know where Haruhi is, and it’s just another sign that Kyon is going crazy without Haruhi. He races over to the school where she’s gone, Kouyouen Academy (and is it only me who thinks it can’t just be a coincidence that this sounds like an elongated way to say Kyon?) and yet again, for the third former member of the SOS brigade this movie, demands that they recognise him in a way that, if they were a stranger, he should expect them to slap him. You really need to learn. But he does find the connection, the time travelling bit in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, which I like to maintain is where the entire supernatural thing started in Haruhi and therefore it’s a huge stable time loop. Yay.
Haruhi and Koizumi are surprisingly receptive to this, Haruhi at least, but as they point out, she’s more willing to believe in strange things than her prime counterpart because she’s not subconsciously used to them. And she comes across very likeable as she extols the virtues of that world being awesome. That’s just an aside but it’s lovely seeing Haruhi excited, it never fails to make me smile. Koizumi is much more cagey, even without an organisation his agenda seems even more muddled and you wonder whether he wasn’t already assigned by some group or other in this world. Or maybe he’s just an inherently suspicious person, claiming he’s in love with Haruhi and all. Okay, I can see why he’d say that but I still don’t trust him, that ‘makes me jealous’ line is very dark for him, I’d love that to have been explored more, I hear there’s something on him in the light novels that may cover that. Anyway, Kyon starts to consider the possibility of alternate worlds and gets annoyed at the thought that there may be an SOS Brigade without him, ‘who am I supposed to pray to’. It’s clear that he has already made the choice, even with everything he’s seen so far, he needs to get back to his original world. At least the one he thinks is original.
With a flurry of musical cues, the three grab Mikuru and rush to the clubroom, creating the great scene of the five main cast members put together (‘Well hello there’), thankfully exactly what needed to happen for Yuki’s magic backup to come into play and tell Kyon how to get out of this mess. The Enter key sends him back, out of the alternate world, sadly just as alternate Haruhi was planning to create some awesome events for them to all do together even with them going to different schools (another plot point I was glad was picked up on in Nagato Yuki-chan, I do like the slice of life side of Haruhi as much as the sci-fi), to Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody where he can fill in the timeline with adult Mikuru Asahina, including adding the great line ‘John Smith wishes you the best of luck in making the world more exciting’, an important line as that really speaks to the ethos of Haruhi’s motivations, she does indeed make the world more exciting.
The Ryoko confrontation is wonderful as she swings her dagger, one of the best gifs I know of, and we get double Miss Asahinas crying over Kyon out of nowhere which is probably the best and funniest character moment Mikuru has in the anime. But the important scene in this part of the film is the choice. Kyon berates himself in his head over making his mind up as to what path he will take, whether he will take the normal world, without supernatural elements but allow Nagato to be human and have emotions, or have the fun that he supposedly hated with Haruhi all day every day for the rest of his school life. It turns out he really did enjoy it and that’s probably the most important character decision in this movie, out of all the great character decisions, that Kyon’s whining and snark aren’t based in reality, he actually really enjoys all the fun stuff that he gets to do with Haruhi but falls into snark because he’s a natrual at that. I like that, it really does make sense for his character and as a finale for this series to the motivations of the main character, it is glorious and justifies his choice.
Even though it denies Yuki some form of humanity, which is a dilemma. But Kyon does really like Nagato the way she is and sends a clear message to the Data Thought Entity that they are not to punish Nagato for this incident and they are to leave her as she is. Kyon makes a vow to protect her, which is really important and inspires one of my favourite pictures, the one I’ve used in the title card, with the snow falling around her, solidifying this as a Christmas film and a really emotional moment, Yuki is snow, snow gives her identity, maybe snow can give her freedom to express herself. It’s also backed by an incredible classical track, I had forgotten how good Haruhi was with classical-sounding music at the right points to make everything even more emotional.
Finally, I want to touch on the final point of Haruhi’s growth. As we see in the end of the series, she deeply cares about Kyon and goes out of her way to sleep in the hospital to make sure he’s alright. But she doesn’t want him to see that and gets really mad when he can’t wake up without informing her in advance. It’s a great final anime look at one of the craziest and polarising and complex characters in the business, one which really shows her often obfuscated morality in the best possible light.
The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya is one of my favourite films of all time. I really hope I’ve done it justice with this review and general talk about some of my ideas on it, and if you are reading this when it goes out, a very Merry Christmas to y’all.