You took the Haruhi out of Haruhi, you bastards!
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya acts as a continuation of my conflicted feelings toward the series. Another case of me thinking I’d have had a more enjoyable time watching it sooner than later, but alas I have no Haruhi Suzumiyas in my life to change that fact. I won’t disregard the possibility of my perception of the movie having been affected going in, since I’ve heard from both close confidants on twitter and general notoriety that it is considered a masterpiece. So there was no avoiding hype and formed opinions on it, but not much I can do about it. And while I don’t think it’s a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, I do think it’s a good movie in a lot of ways. Or as ghostlightning put it: “The film itself is a stunning visual spectacle.” That being said, my feelings are still mixed.
As always with KyoAni, the animation is phenomenal (crisp and smooth) and there is particular attention brought to detail here, such as when Kyon is sticking the tinsel to the board and struggles for a bit before managing to remove the sticker, and later when he walks around the room a full rotation before sitting down. Those kind of moments really stick out in nice little characterizations that don’t really add anything to the overall story, but give a sense as to how the characters act habitually and/or react to the present situation. For instance, earlier in the movie it’s cold and Kyon reacts appropriately by heating his hands at the fan in the clubroom. But once he is separated from it by Haruhi, Nagato and Mikuru, he is seen attempting to do just the same by the computer fan as an alternative, rather than complain (as he tends to do).
KyoAni really brought their A-game animating the down-to-earth scenes to such an insane degree. Colors are vibrant and the art, visuals and movement are a feast for the eyes. All the quiet moments are ridiculously lively in movement and enough to make watching the animation alone an engaging experience. In the scene where Kyon, Haruhi and Koizumi are talking in the coffee shop, YOU CAN SEE KOIZUMI’S REACTIONS TO KYON TALKING IN THE REFLECTION OF THE WINDOW BESIDE THEIR TABLE.
As you may have gathered from my opening, I was disappointed with the lack of Haruhi (in a movie that’s about her disappearance, I know, I know). Kyon is a great character when he works off of Haruhi and her antics, so without her, although Kyon still remains a good, relatable character, the movie doesn’t feel quite right when there’s no Yang to his Yin for the majority of its runtime. Haruhi is hardly present. Not to say she isn’t there for the beginning and end, but that her time is so sparse that the only scenes with her that sort of stand out are the interactions between Kyon and the alternate version of herself, who believes him and is excited by the ideas that exist in his world, and the original Haruhi at the end being so concerned by Kyon’s hospitalization she sleeps beside him for three nights. Just saying the movie wouldn’t have suffered from having more Haruhi.
For the most part, the movie is a generic time displacement story following Kyon and him being the only one who remembers Haruhi. I believe this decision was a key factor in applying a different tone in contrast to the hyperactive one of the series. Understandably, by removing Haruhi from the picture will no doubt change the tone to a more solemn one, especially with it revolving around how Kyon feels about it all being a major component. Now, I’m all for this movie being about Kyon recognizing how important Haruhi is to him, and how fun it is when they spend time together and have interesting adventures. But making him react the same cringey way I’ve seen so many other characters do under these same circumstances intrudes a kind of awkwardness for me watching him act that way. How he frantically reels in horror at Asakura’s reappearance makes sense considering their last encounter, but having constant fits about people not remembering Haruhi and going around looking like a lunatic oblivious to his actions and the potential consequences of behaving in such a hysterical manner is just painful to watch. And dragging out the reactions, focusing too long on Kyon’s expressions in response to all these revelations he’s realizing regarding his current situation just emphasizes the generic nature of the plot, that it pains me to think how needlessly long this movie was, when it so many scenes could’ve been shorter or replaced with something less embarrassing and nothing would’ve been lost.
While nowhere near as bad as Endless Eight, I felt the movie was testing my patience with cringe (instead of tedium) during these scenes. Even though I love the characters, I kept wondering why I should care about the drawn-out moments of scenes I’ve witnessed a thousand times in other takes on this same plot. Having Kyon make mention of Mikuru’s breastmark as a way of confirming her knowledge regarding their relationship and Haruhi’s existence after her clearly demonstrating her ignorance of such things, was uncomfortably all-too familiar, and left me despairing for both Kyon and myself witnessing it all play out. These are the sort of interactions I could do without being tacked on to an otherwise good movie. And as a result, the storyline feels lacklustre during these moments. It’s not Kyon’s fault he acts so stupid here, but damn is it hard to watch him act this way.
Despite how the tone of this post may seem up until now, I do not feel angry or all that negative about this movie. Rather, I am teased by the idea, animation, and Haruhi’s ponytail, and disappointed by the direction of it getting too comfortable with the normalcy of how these plots typically go, when Haruhi is supposed to turn these types of stories on their head and add its own flavour to them. Had it been Kyon spending time with an alternate Haruhi for a longer period, and learned to appreciate the other Haruhi more from the experience would’ve been something different, but not necessarily what I was looking for either. Though, upon reflection the ending wrapped everything up in such a way that I can’t help but appreciate it more and more. It’s odd to have felt at odds with the movie while watching it, but after some mulling over it’s becoming increasingly difficult to criticize it and ignore what it did exceptionally well.
I will say while I didn’t care for the ongoing slow train of interactions between Kyon and Nagato taking up about half the runtime, the climax and resolution were remarkably strong in spite of that. This stems from the movie having a solid foundation (building-off of the light novels), and using Kyon as the basis for the thoughts and motivations regarding the plot. As such, the pacing is fitting for such a character, which is something you’d need to be invested in to really enjoy the movie in the first place. And because the focus is primarily locked-on to Kyon, the payoff is centered around his (and Nagato’s) development. It’s a blessing in disguise, for the intrigues of Kyon and Nagato to finally go addressed, and the culmination of their character arcs having such huge pay-offs is certainly satisfying.
Characters shine through in the movie, with Kyon taking center attention and coming out the most changed after realizing that he truly does enjoy living a life that involves aliens, espers, and time travelers, who participate in eccentric activities with a goddess. Nagato grows as a human in a weird way. I say weird, because it’s made-out to be a good thing for her to do so at the end, but the whole conceit of the movie is that this all happened as a result of her acting human in the first place causing an “anomaly”. Perhaps, I’m misinterpreting it, when they probably meant that her suppressing these human feelings for so long that they caused the anomaly, rather than simply acting out of her programming. Whatever the case may be, I liked how they presented her pathos, and how Kyon recognizes and helps her work true her feelings after coming to terms with his own. A lot of the high points of the movie are to do with Kyon’s reflections and his newfound resolve in ceasing to be a spectator and instead assume the role of a player, embracing his position of power in relation to Haruhi and using it as a threat against Nagato’s IDSEs, as a way of preventing her being removed from Kyon’s life.
When it comes to sound, I’m not particularly well-versed in commenting on the audio and music components in works (at least not currently), but suffice it to say I had no problems with this area here. Regarding voice acting, however, major props to Sugita’s performance in driving home Kyon’s monologues, and making his growth all the more impactful.
While I wasn’t much in the way of singing its praises, I was pleasantly surprised with how everything came together by the end. I’m not the biggest fan of Haruhi Suzumiya, but I like it to varying degrees of enjoyment. Overall, in defiance of any misgivings and nitpicks I may have had, it’s a tight package that really benefits the characters and ties in nicely to make for a gratifying plot.
tl;dr: Needs more (ponytail) Haruhi.