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[In-depth Movie Review] The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

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On the whole 2010 is a rather lukewarm year; a few good series here and there but none too memorable or generating that much of a hype compared to say, Code Geass R2 and Toradora of 2008 or TTGL of 2007. But well, that is until near the end of the year, with quite a few movie releases such as Unlimited Blade Works, Gundam 00, Nanoha and of course The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. It’s been a long wait and it is finally available in Blu-ray (accept no exceptions!).

“The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.” – Chesterton, Gilbert Keith

A key trait of the Suzumiya Haruhi series lies in Kyon’s narration to the hijinks that goes on around him. This movie goes beyond that, serving as a platform to truly explore his thoughts: beneath the sarcasm, the continuous face-palms and the frequent sighs, is one who does genuinely enjoy the madness that he sardonically remarks upon. In the end, he took the choice of going back to the world where Haruhi exists in his life, rather than the normal, non-fantasy one created by Nagato. It was the exasperating choice, but he embraced it. On the other side of the story, there’s of course also Nagato Yuki’s gradual change in purpose in existence from a deus ex machina to save the members out of tights spots to an actual character with feelings (who also happens to be a deus ex machina). Indeed, in this movie, it can be speculated that perhaps Nagato herself is unsure and is undergoing her own state of melancholy, thus decide to place her trust in Kyon’s choice?

Rather than calling it The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, a more appropriate title would perhaps be The Melancholy of Kyon, because now it’s Kyon’s turn to make his decision. In essence, this movie is a major opportunity for character development of not just Nagato, but more crucially, of our beloved narrator as well.

Just look at the contrast in scenarios between Shoushitsu and Yuutsu.
In Yuutsu, Haruhi’s melancholy is derived from her frustration with how normal, how mundane the world is and thus yearned for some fantasy to exist. This climaxes with her almost re-shaping the world unknowingly due to her Reality Warping. As we already know, this results in the finale that is her subconsciously acknowledging that she is satisfied with the current world and that even though there is nothing supernatural (not that she knows of, of course), that’s fine with her. The world may, in her eyes, be boring but that doesn’t mean she has to follow suit. She can make life interesting for herself as long as there is the SOS Brigade to take command of (naturally, she still hasn’t fully given up her quest for espers, aliens and time travelers, but at least, she’s no longer as melancholic about it). Kyon started out being similar to her; from the narratives, we can see how outwardly, he behaves like the average, typical guy, but well, the narratives say quite a lot. However, rather than get frustrated lie Haruhi, he just heaved a sigh and moved on. Remember the prologue in the Yuutsu novel or scene 1 of ep2 in the first season’s original broadcast order? Here, this one:

The short prologue hence sets the tone for the stories to come. Of course, the novel is more detailed than that, with about two pages just about him pondering on ‘fantasy’ and reality’, which ends with this line:

“Nothing happened, even though I kept hoping, just a bit, that something would.” 

Haruhi subconsciously made him regain the fantasy that he used to have, and now Nagato’s reality warping made him aware that he doesn’t have to succumb to the stable but very much dull world. His long epic rage against the heavens of a soliloquy in Shoushitsuu is thus his answer, a callback to the opening narration in that prologue. That’s why Haruhi got along so well with Kyon. The paths both of them took may be different, but in the end Kyon shared the same sentiments as her.

Reality is harsh and the Laws of Physics even more so. But what if there presents the choice to be the essential lunatic who gets to live in a so-called mad world? The Suzumiya Haruhi series muses of the concept and thus unwittingly becomes the third option to Chesterton’s quote. Or rather, this movie is Kyon’s affirmation that he is not the sane man in a mad surrounding; rather, John Smith is every bit as eccentric as Espers, Reality Warpers, Aliens, Time Travellers and any other oddities.

Of course, this review can’t be written without including Nagato Yuki herself, as the second focal character of the film where we get to see her as beyond the emotionless doll that she was in the series. Or rather, it would be more appropriate to say that in the series, her development as a character was mostly subtle, more of a gradual build-up whereas the film finally provided her the vehicle to express more of herself. If anything, this film is also Nagato in her own ‘melancholy’ and is having it worse than Kyon (considering what she had to go through with Endless Eight, who can blame her?). The situation is hence reversed where it is Nagato’s turn to rely on Kyon. Yes, she’s the cause of the reality warping in Shoushitsu, but even then, she still has her doubts about her actions. And this is of course, where Kyon comes in, leading to the brief, quietly beautiful scene in the rooftop. Last but not least, is none other than the titular heroine. As the name of the movie may have revealed, Haruhi does not have much screen time, but she does get her moments and similar to Nagato, one can see the stark difference in the world without the SOS Brigade. All in all, the movie excellently ties in the dynamics of the characters, bringing about a fulfilling addition to the franchise.

Moving away from the characters and to touch briefly upon the plot itself, I certainly like the Time Traveling plus Parallel World concept. In addition, I liked how the ‘John Smith’ codename which has been foreshadowed way back in the second episode/ first few chapters. It may be a minor thing, but these little bits are what adds to the overall enjoyment of the series as a whole.

KyoAni certainly went all out on this, for the production value is high in more ways than one. 5cm/s often gets praises about it being a movie comprised of amazing wallpaper-worthy scenes. Well, Shoushitsu deserves to claim some of the limelight in the visual department too. It’s not just the details given to the background, as the animation such as the characters’ movement is fluid. Indeed, the scenes as envisioned by KyoAni are fantastic and I particularly like the snow motive that is being used throughout the film.

When it comes to audio, the studio didn’t hold back either. The voice actresses of the film’s main heroines sing the theme songs so it sure is nice to hear the upbeat and energetic “Bouken desho? Desho?” as the opening theme again. This is contrasted with the ending theme: a quiet, soothing track by Chihara Minori. In addition, great use of orchestra pieces during the appropriate scenes. Hirano Aya returns to portray Haruhi’s over-energetic personality while Chihara Minorie did well in depicting the differences between both worlds’ Nagato. The highlight however is Tomokazu Sugita, who shows just why he is the ideal voice actor for Kyon. Prior to this film, I’ve always been considering his best role as being Sakata Gintoki of Gintama. Shoushitsu just shows that yes, his role as Gintoki is great, but Kyon is not to be overshadowed too. The superb voice acting, along with the meticulous animation for the facial expressions, thus combines to convey an emotionally poignant and memorable performance. Indeed, his soliloquy near the end of the movie is absolutely fantastic. It shall suffice to say that every element in the movie worked seamlessly, for good art style and pleasant audio alone are not enough. In short, the movie is well paced and the scripting is well delivered.

Top-notch production values, intriguing storyline with poignant scenes, delivered by distinctively memorable and very much appealing characters, this movie is in essence, a perfect combination of faithfulness to source material and production staffs’ own creative input. This certainly is one adaptation done right, for it didn’t just meet my expectation: it exceeded it. This one isn’t just the best of 2010; The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi easily goes into my list of all-time favs (a list that keeps getting longer, I might say).

Ah yeah, I guess this (conveniently) doubles as a very, very belated Christmas post. And yeah, Disappearance is the movie I watched to fulfill my quota of Christmas movies – while Toradora insert, Holy Night, fulfilled my quota of Christmas music hehehe.

One thought on “[In-depth Movie Review] The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

  1. Belated Christmas greetings, and all the best in 2011.

    I’ve seen almost universal praise for this film, save for one scathing commentary – and even then it was more of an attack on one of the characters and not the film as a whole. It’s pity I haven’t had the pleasure of watching the whole thing end to end (I blame work as usual, although without work I wouldn’t have been able to afford the Blu-ray in the first place – vicious circle and all that). Even so, judging from the large chunks of the film I’ve seen so far, all the accolades heaped on this work of art are well deserved indeed.

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