Friday, 29 April 2011

涼宮ハルヒの消失 / Suzumiya Haruhi no Shōshitsu / The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

I was in no particular hurry to watch Haruhi the movie. I remember seeing that it was being screened while I was in Taiwan, and true, if I’d seen it advertised in a cinema over here I probably would have caught it on the big screen, but since that wasn’t the case, I’ve left it until now. However, I actually feel I should have watched it sooner – because I haven’t liked a Haruhi story this much since the very first episode, which as I’ve said before gave me certain expectations wildly different from what we actually got.

In the wake of the dull and extremely repetitive ‘second series’, I think interest in Haruhi has waned a considerable amount, but to miss out on this would be missing a highlight. The story, as can probably be guessed from the title, is quite simple: in the run-up to Christmas, Kyon unexpectedly finds that things have changed in his school. Mikuru and Yuki no longer seem to recognise him. Itsuki and his entire classroom have gone. And Haruhi is no longer in the class, replaced by Asakura. If Haruhi still exists in this world, she certainly doesn’t know him.

The film is very long – over two and a half hours – but it fills its length with a satisfying progression of events. After the set-up, Kyon largely walks around clueless, having hilarious talks with a Mikuru who doesn’t know him and a Yuki who seems to be a different person altogether. Indeed, this new, diffident, blushing, quick-to-tears Yuki is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, bless her heart. It takes some time, but Kyon eventually finds out the truth and with help from his friends – all over time and space – he must choose whether to set things right, or indeed whether to keep the world the way it has become.

Honestly, much of the reason I liked this is probably that Haruhi hardly features, and a central dilemma is whether or not she’s actually someone Kyon wants in his life or not – which of course involves acknowledging her faults and failings as a person. Ultimately, I wish that the choice was different for him: it would be much more interesting to see what he would choose if his decision was not between the way things were and having to give up three years of friendships and affection. What if he had the choice to carry on from where he was but for Haruhi to simply lose those unconscious powers of hers?

But that would probably not have been a choice that could let the series continue, so understandably it wasn’t covered. What we had instead was still very interesting in terms of character interaction and certainly gave Yuki a new side – which I hear proved popular enough that this iteration has a spin-off manga called The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan.

And for the first time, a Haruhi story actually did feel clever. Others have a general veneer of being smart, but looked at closely, are not very original and rely on a lot of magical contrivances. Kyon’s sarcastic style makes the tone seem clever, but there are a lot of clichés and the get-out clause of Haruhi’s power meaning anything can be changed. But here Kyon actually begins to think about his own role in this, and the leverage he has in regard to Haruhi and her past.

Kyoto Animation’s first cinema release had them pulling out all the stops, although of course they produce beautiful animation for weekly television releases. Few anime look as good as this, and the voice actors have been excellent in their roles from the start. I thought it would drag, try too hard and be unfunny, but I was wrong. I might not want to recommend watching all the Haruhi that came before this to appreciate it, but for any au fait with the story, I’d certainly suggest watching this. It was far better than I thought it was going to be.

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