This film was watched with subtitles. An American release by FUNimation is due later this year complete with American dub. (EDIT: This is a repost, the release is out).
I’ve been familiar with Haruhi franchise for many years now. To me, it’s one of the most fascinating stories in all of anime, and arguably beyond. I watched the TV series in its original order, the second season (included Endless Eight, which I enjoyed!) as well as watching them both together in the 2009 chronological order – which is perhaps the best way to view this curious franchise about the most supernatural of things living in a boring world where everything is as it seems. The original novels by Nagaru Tanigawa are spectacular too. So to say I was exciting about this film, at a time where it’s one of the most critically appreciated anime around was an understatement…
(Spoilers abound, skip down to the last paragraph for a quick summary)
It’s an ambitious tale that works in parts but doesn’t necessary feel right as one whole. It’s a long film, 160 minutes in fact and that functions both as both a detriment and advantage to it. The first half, both the original bouncey Haruhi and the slow deconstruction Kyon when he realises his world has changed is outstanding and it continues in that trend up to and including the scene in the clubroom when Kyon contacts the other side. The problems begin when he’s thrown into the past. I’m okay with time-travel, and the show excels at explaining complex theories in ridiculous phlebotinum so that the audience both understands the emotions of the situation (through Kyon) without necessarily getting the finer points of the space-time continuum. The (relatively minor) problem is in the awkward transition in switching the focus to Yuki. This was originally setup in the first half which worked well on a thematic level but lacked the audience, and Kyon, lacked investment in that girl because she’s not OUR Yuki. Nagato Yuki has always been a character the show has had trouble defining and switching gears to provide an quasi-forced look at her individual sad undercurrent felt almost unnecessary although it works to give the plot extra emotional resonance.
Let me step back a bit first though: Kyon. This is Kyon’s film. The show has always been Kyon’s show, but there have definitely been points when Haruhi takes the spotlight because… Kyon doesn’t exactly want it, but it’s his story and his life no matter how you slice it. It’s a bold choice to adapt this, but I can’t imagine this tale working in a long-form narrative at all so here we are: A story about Haruhi, without Haruhi. And so there’s sense of eerie familarity when she finally disappears. The series does the fantastical so often and in the few months they have known each other they have survived an endless summer, the destruction of a universe and a culture festival so what’s a small alteration when we know its going to go back to normal? Nothing, really, except to destroy Kyon’s very soul…
The story works because of its character-based history. The timey-wimey stuff does indeed matter as a matter of plot, but the reaffirmation is something that Kyon was beginning to need. I haven’t read beyond so I don’t know exactly how him choosing the real world (with aliens, time-travels and espers) changes him on a superficial level but I can’t imagine his attitude flipping to positive. It wouldn’t be what Haruhi wants, nor natural to him. Without the show noticing his complaining, however, the act would have become trite and downright annoying so its a fantastic answer to a reoccurring theme and almost problem even if the results aren’t immediately obvious.
How a fantasy like this, with several different parts linking together, would tie up in at the end was always going to be an interestingly difficult task (and one that the show or film will eventually delve into again) and I don’t think it felt it accomplished as well as it could have. I understood the pity towards Yuki (through some plot-hammering, obviously) but I don’t think it was earned in the slightest. The sequence on the hospital rooftop only emphasised it. His growing-appreciation for Nagato has been a slow development and I think something like this could theoretically work, but it simply didn’t. One of the reasons I think it felt off was because has to do with her function as a narrative god – the scene didn’t have the expected necessary wink to say the world was real (it did feel awful “it was all a dream” in that hospital for a while). Rather, it felt like it was tying up loose character-ends because that’s the motions it needed to go through than staying true to the world at large. It’s not a huge problem, and one that I might be okay with in the future.
To end, though, even though I had my problems ‘Disappearance’ for all its might earns a 10/10. It’s as perfect as a Haruhi mythology film is going to get (…for now). It’s characters work, it done the Haruhi twisty-turny time-travel plot with that almost incestuous location three years ago. It’s emotions grounded all the actions and it both resolved and opened many questions. KyoAni done impressive work and from purely an aesthetic standpoint, the cinematography and direction was terrific. It’s not surprising for the franchise to be creatively bold but the use of repetition and inspired music choices like the always-fun Gymnopedie No. 1 just made me happy. I think that’s probably the take-away from the film. It’s not perfect and you have to go through hell to get where you want to, but upon arrival all you feel is happiness. Until that other upcoming shitstorm.