Here’s the short version: whatever you’ve heard about it is true; it’s really that good. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an absolutely stunning film that succeeds on every level. It does not make up for the horrible second season, but if you liked the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and long for more of something of that caliber, this is a must-watch. You will not be disappointed.
If you actually want me to expand on those thoughts, proceed downward (note: like any proper review, this will contain no spoilers, although I will delve into story bits when necessary).
Let’s first make one thing clear: you must watch the TV show The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in order to understand Disappearance. It is a sequel that depends on the first work, and there is just no getting around that. Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are high that you’ve already seen both seasons of the show. But in case you haven’t, make sure to watch it in the following order: 1. Season 1 in airing (not chronological) order, 2. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, 3. 1st and last episodes of Endless Eight, 4. The Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya. Don’t make the mistake of watching all 8 episodes of Endless Eight.
As I write above, Disappearance is a direct sequel to the TV show, taking place in December of the protagonist Kyon’s first year at high school. The movie starts off with a brief set up to Kyon’s daily school life before he awakens one day to find that the entire world has changed around him, with him the only one aware of this. Haruhi Suzumiya has literally disappeared, and the one sitting behind him is, well, I won’t spoil that bit for you. Gone along with Haruhi is the should-be transfer student Koizumi Itsuki, and while Mikuru Asahina and Yuki Nagato are still at the school, the former doesn’t know him, and the latter is still the glasses-wearing girl, the sole member of the literature club whose room that Haruhi had taken over when starting the SOS Brigade in the show. That’s when the story really begins, as Kyon attempts to untangle the mystery of this sudden shift in timeline, to find the one responsible for it, and to figure out a way to go back.
Technically speaking, Disappearance follows Kyoto Animation’s tradition of being ridiculously well animated. It sometimes takes things a step too far, and the over-smoothness of some of the animations look unnatural, but all things considered, that’s a good problem to have. The cinematography is excellent throughout, reminiscent mostly of the anime original episode, Some Day in the Rain in its wide angle shots of rooms and long single-take cuts. The music is subtle and serves its purpose, though the use of new versions of the same tunes from the show will definitely please the fans. Unusual for a movie, it features an opening sequence, using the first season’s opening song, Bouken Desho Desho? – as if to help us forget about the epic failure that was the second season.
At the surface, the movie is just plain fun. It doesn’t lose the lighthearted sense of humor of the show. Most of the comedy is at the beginning, as Kyon first discovers the differences of this new world, leading to some very embarrassing situations. His run in with Mikuru involving the mention of her unique mole was particularly humorous. But the movie remains amusing throughout, revitalized when Haruhi finally makes her triumphant reappearance and acts in ways Haruhi only could. Throughout, Kyon’s narration is as dry and sarcastic as ever.
The scifi/mystery-thriller aspects are also well executed. The pacing is sublime, never lingering on any situation for too long, but also never feeling hurried or rushed. The movie keeps you hooked with its constant twists and turns, always leaving you in anticipation and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, but never frustrated. The fact that this movie is 163 minutes long may scare some away – it certainly scared me, though obviously not enough to keep me from watching it – but this is one that uses every bit of time it has to the fullest extent. There are some awesome OHSHI- moments as well, which would be criminal for me to spoil for you here.
But simple entertainment was never the hook for Melancholy. Though the show succeeded in that regard, what made it special was the subtle emotional and personal story taking place, specifically between Kyon and Haruhi. The show was ultimately a high school romance story of those two characters with the science fiction/fantasy comedy genre being used as a vehicle, and it was that layer that had made it, in my humble opinion, the best TV anime of this past decade. And Disappearance exploits that same method to be not just an enjoyable movie, but also a deeply meaningful and emotional one.
In that context, Disappearance is the story of a couple separating and realizing that they can’t go on without the other. It’s mainly told from one end, Kyon’s, but both parts are there. Perhaps for the first time ever, Kyon is actually honest to himself about his feelings regarding Haruhi and the SOS Brigade. Kyon performs far more introspection than he ever did in the show. Some of his internal scenes are reminiscent of the scene at the train crossing from the episode The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Part 5, in which Haruhi explains to Kyon how she decided to be the way she was. Kyon’s inner struggles feel honest and heartfelt, and there is a powerful feeling of release and relief when he reaches epiphany.
But the movie takes things even a step further than the show and examines the relationship Kyon has with other members of the SOS brigade. Nagato is the one that receives the most focus. Perhaps the purpose of Endless Eight was to give us just a small taste of the pain that Nagato had to go through during the 15,000+ cycles she had to live through. And the conversation that Kyon has with Nagato at the very end of the movie simultaneously leaves us feeling ache and hope in the heart.
Indeed, one could interpret that the whole movie was about Nagato and designed to make us sympathize with a character whose physical manifestations of emotion have only been subtle up to this point. It makes us ponder, what issues face one who is effectively omnipotent, but at the same time is not allowed to make any decisions in how to use that power? How does she, quite literally a slave, deal with them? More than that, it makes us sympathize with her, to feel for her plight, and to want to fight for her. This is a somewhat common theme in the realm of science fiction, and Kyoto Animation presents it to us in a way that can only be presented in the world of Haruhi Suzumiya. I don’t consider that to be the main focus of the movie, but it is undoubtedly a key element of it that is integral to making it as powerful as it is.
The other members get their moments too, though they are mainly there for fanservice. An adult Asahina gets to spend some time alone with Kyon and reminisce about her fun days. And Koizumi, the one who has always seemed easygoing and bright shows us a small glimpse into the pain and heartbreak he must experience due to his position. Besides the members of the SOS Brigade, Kyon’s friends Taniguchi and Kunikida get plenty of the screen time they couldn’t get in the show.
All in all, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an amazing film. Don’t let its near 3-hour run time or the bad taste from season 2′s Endless Eight scare you off. If you are lucky enough to live near one of the places it is showing in theaters, go see it. Does it make up for the debacle of Endless Eight? No, but nothing can. This movie comes as close as possible, though, and reminds us of why we first fell in love with the world of Haruhi in the first place. In not only recapturing the magic of the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya but expanding upon it, Disappearance truly is a marvelous achievement.
I’m not much one for attaching numbers to reviews, but, for what it’s worth, I give it 5 out of 5 stars, a perfect 10/10, A+, etc. This is the best anime movie I’ve seen since… well, Evangelion 2.22, which I saw earlier this year. So that’s actually not saying much. But this is a movie that easily ranks right along with it, far above anything else in the past decade. Melancholy showed us that Kyoto Animation was capable of creating anime that was not just entertainment but also deeply emotional pieces of work. Disappearance proves to us that that wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and they are very capable of doing it again.
Now, to get them to stop adapting banal 4-koma or vapid visual novels and keep making anime based on award winning novels…
- I watched this film at its screening last Friday at the New York Anime Festival. I also made a post on the cosplay I saw at the festival.
- Disappearance was originally released to Japanese theaters on February 6, 2010. The DVD and Bluray of the film will be released in Japan on December 18, 2010. The film has been licensed by Bandai Entertainment and is currently set to be released on DVD and Bluray in the US sometime in spring 2011.
- Given the technical excellence of the film, I recommend that you avoid watching the camrip that is floating around and rather wait for the movie proper to be available.
- All art contained in this review are official art by Kyoto Animation from various sources.