Humans, there was a lot of negativity from me this past week, wasn’t there? I admit, I was kind of down on things in general back then. But this? This is the second installment of Ryan Reviews, and I’m aiming for a little more positivity, okay? To that end, I’m reviewing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

I freaking love this movie. There’s no way to get around saying that without ruining any illusion of non-biased reporting I might have had, so I might as well go out as say it from the beginning. I love this movie, and here’s why: I did not have a very good childhood. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was a piece of shit, littered with swearing and frequent broken bones. My favorite escape, during that shitty period of my life, was anime. My older sister would spend a portion of the money she earned at her low paying job to buy new releases on VHS, and all my siblings would flee our home on the weekends, go over to our grandparent’s place, and we’d watch them together. I think it’s why I love anime so much in general; the time I spent with Evangelion, or Slayers, or Gunsmith Cats, constitutes some of my finest childhood memories.

And Haruhi Suzumiya- whether it be Disappearance, or Melancholy, the series that spawned it- reminds me a lot of those shows I watched as a kid. It’s got the same whacked out plot, the same interesting characters and insane bullshit that nineties anime used to have, and on top of that, Haruhi is good. Really good, and you couldn’t say that for every released churned out during the nineties. In fact, my first viewing of the original Haruhi series was done in that same room we used to watch in as kids, with my sisters with me. For us, saying that an anime we’d bought was “to be watched at the grandfolk’s place,” means “I can’t wait to see the look on your face when I bust this shit out.”

This image encapsulates what's awesome about this show, and also ninety percent of the show.

To speak of the actual movie itself, it’s a real testament to how good it is that it can spend the majority of its (lengthy) running time with most of the interesting elements of the Haruhi franchise stripped away, and still come out this entertaining. The story goes that in mid December, main character (technically sharing double duty with the title character) Kyon wakes up to find his entire world changed; Haruhi has disappeared, the SOS Brigade no longer exists, and his faithful fellow brigade members appear to be normal humans- instead of time travelers, aliens and espers, you see. Worst still, Ryoko Asakura, responsible for some of the more chilling scenes in the original series, is back from the dead and is sitting at Haruhi’s desk! With no idea what’s going on, no clues as to how to proceed and no talent for the supernatural, Kyon must find some way of restoring the world to the way it was… or even decide whether that’s what he wants.

It’s an interesting set up that’s based upon one of the more epic of the original Haruhi novels. However, what it functions as in animated form is a great big love letter to the fans of the series. Remember how last week I said that Trigun Badlands Rumble suffered for not knowing what its audience was? Well, Disappearance is the opposite; it knows exactly who it’s targeting: the devoted fans who know each episode backward and forward. Happily, I fall squarely in that camp, and so this movie works for me like a well oiled machine… of quality.

Once the movie has picked its target audience, the production team apparently decided to go whole hog on this, and a large part of this movie plays out like a checklist of awesome moments the fandom has wanted to see. More Kyon? Fuck yeah there’s more Kyon! In fact, for the most part, Kyon is carrying this movie; with Haruhi’s exuberant self absent for much of the running time, and the other brigade members transformed into alternate, normal versions of the characters the viewer actually knows, it’s really only Kyon that carries over from the series we know and love into this production. The reason this works because, frankly, Kyon is awesome. He’s the same snarky, well-read slacker as before, only placed in a situation that finally allows him to blossom as a character. This isn’t the same deadpan Kyon we’ve seen in the past; now we get to see him emote, we get to see him afraid and angry, and more importantly, we get to see him happy.

Okay, this isn't happy, but honestly, how often do we see Kyon angry, anyway?

And that’s really important, too; this isn’t a disposable anime movie that doesn’t have any effect on the characters going forward. There’s some major character development here; mainly Kyon’s conclusion that, no matter the trouble the SOS Brigade puts him through on a daily basis, he really does enjoy it. By the end of the movie, Kyon is a full fledged member of the brigade, happy and willing to join his fellow brigadiers in their cause. It’s quite a leap for the character to make, but it’s written entirely convincingly and in a way that’s cleverly natural for Kyon.

Of course, Kyon isn’t the only character to catch some well deserved development in Disappearance; this is really Yuki’s movie too. There’s some great material here for Kyon/Yuki shippers; in the alternate world, Yuki is a shy, almost painfully adorable high school girl who attaches to Kyon, and their interactions take up a lot of the movie and are super cute. There’s a moment where she grabs hold of his sleeve to stop him which made everyone in the room I viewed it in squeal in delight, and that’s really saying something because we’re a jaded lot.

… It’s worth mentioning that I totally ship Kyon and Yuki myself, at this point…

D'awww!

But no matter how cute, any character development in that alternate timeline is meaningless, since reality’s status quo is returned by the climax; the real joy in Yuki’s character this time around is in the way the plot delves into her motivations and slowly developing emotions. In fact, one of the finest scenes in this entire franchise is a very quiet one, with Kyon and Yuki on the roof of a hospital, that’s just so well shot and animated, it’s a real treat. Yuki emotes in such a subtle, yet immediately noticeable way, marking a definite contrast to her manner when we first see her.

All the other characters appear in varying amounts, and generally speaking they’re all deployed to maximum effect; Mikuru gets a moment of genuine gumption that was sorely needed for our resident moeblob, Taniguchi and Kunikida (“those two guys”) are just as funny as usual, and when Haruhi does appear she steals the show. I’ve got some bad news for all the Koizumi fans out there (read: me), since he’s got about two minutes of screen time total, though. It’s a mystery to me why the anime adaptations of Haruhi seem so happy to relegate this character to the sidelines, because he’s actually pretty cool.

The film version also sees the return of 'classic Haruhi' from the first episode of the series.

In fact, the same can be said of all of the characters here, especially the way they move. The level of detail in character and background animation is fucking amazing, almost to the point of showing off, at times. Even background characters move freely and fluidly, and the main cast emotes with a level of charm that’s almost obscene. It’s great.

Special mention must also go to the music, which is performed by Australia’s own Eminence Orchestra, and is freaking amazing. Beginning with a rearranged version of series opener “Boken Desho Desho?” the soundtrack is pure Haruhi magic, just rendered in far more epic style than anything the series could produce. It’s a score that know when to remain silent, but key moments play host to a sweeping orchestral pieces, filled with piano and violin that enhance the atmosphere to no end. I particularly liked the lonely a capella version of “Tender Oblivion,” that plays over the credits; a song that becomes so much sadder when heard while keeping in mind that it’s Yuki singing it.

Really, this movie sounds great all over; all the original voice actors have returned, and they each bring their A game. Crispin Freeman is still the perfect English Kyon, bringing the same wit and sarcasm to the role that the amazing Tomokazu Sugita did in Japanese. Wendee Lee is also a great choice as Haruhi, though it’d be hard to recommend her over the absolutely showstopping performance Aya Hirano gives in the original. Stephanie Sheh still does a better job as Mikuru than the original actor, and Michelle Ruff improves markedly once given a chance to show some emotion as Yuki. Happily, Bridgette Hoffman returns in my personal favorite of all her roles, Ryoko Asakura, and she’s just as creepily happy as she was in her (underrated, small) appearance in the series. All in all, the dub is one of the better ones released this year, and well worth taking the time.

Here’s the really interesting thing about this movie; it’s long. I mean, it’s really long. This is a 164 minute running time, equivalent to seven episodes of the series (you could get bored watching the Endless Eight arc and watch six real episodes in that time!) However, if you can muster the time to commit, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all; even as long as it is, I don’t feel there’s any one scene that sags enough to be cut. Not all of them are exactly integral to the plot, but each of them at least enhances the mood. The Haruhi franchise has always taken a hands off, non-traditional approach to storytelling, and they pull it off again, albeit in a longer form, here. Scenes are given the time they need to unfold, camera angles linger long enough to wring every last drop of emotion from the shot, and the whole story plays out with a relaxed feel that knows when it needs to speed up during more dramatic moments. However, there are some scenes in the middle of the movie that could have done with a little more stringent editing, a few more shots cut out, a few less lines from Kyon’s meandering narration of events. At times, it does come close to becoming tedious, though thankfully it never quite goes over that line.

Actually, can we talk about Kyon’s narration for a while? It’s pretty interesting stuff, actually. For those who haven’t seen a Haruhi episode before, in the series (and the books that spawned it) Kyon is an unreliable narrator, often directly contradicting what’s happening on screen. Mostly, I think that this is a framing device; that he’s talking directly to the audience and that his unreliability is a part of his character. The show often cuts around his mouth when he speaks so that we viewers can’t tell if he’s narrating or talking out loud; at times it even seems like Haruhi is responding directly to Kyon’s narration, like she’s telepathic, which wouldn’t be outside her range of ability at all. Oddly, despite Haruhi’s absence, this style of narration continues despite its sudden lack of utility. It’s spun in some interesting new ways this time around, though; Kyon actively apologizes to the audience for the length of the prologue- which seems to me emblematic of the whole length issue this movie has- and a scene towards the end in which Kyon questions himself about how attached he really is to the SOS Brigade gets a welcome does of introspection courtesy of a sudden visualization of his commentary, with an imaginary Kyon conversing with himself almost as if he’d suddenly been transported into Evangelion. This is different from how this story plays out in the novel, and representative of the effort Kyoto Animation has put into making the movie stand on its own as a part of the Haruhi franchise, instead of simply retreading what went before.

This is probably one of the best, if not the best movie based on an anime ever, tied in my mind with Evangelion 2.22 and the Cowboy Bebop movie (and you bet your ass I’ll be reviewing those sometime in future) It’s just quality, from beginning to end, with very few reasons to gripe. But you really need to be a fan to appreciate, even understand this movie. There are many unexplained references to the events of the series, and a truly mind bending time travel plot towards the end that occurs concurrently with a similar time travel storyline that takes place at the beginning of the second series. It’s practically impenetrable to newcomers; you’d be far better served showing your non-fan (why you gotta be non-fans, people?) friends the series, preferably from the beginning. Just… Maybe not starting at episode zero, because ironically that kind of has the same problems.

But if you are a fan, there’s simply no reason to miss Disappearance. From what Kyoto Animation has been saying lately, it seems that a third season of Haruhi might not materialize, and if that’s the case, then it’d be a pity, but the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya serves as a fitting send off to a modern anime classic. It says a lot about a movie when my main complaints are “it’s a little long,” and “some of the awesome characters are sidelined so we can focus on other awesome characters.”

… God damn this movie is fun.

Kurokami, signing off!