Review: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

For a while now, I’ve actually been covering shows that I at least found to be decent. It’s a little weird considering what started getting me attention in the first place were me just tearing into Tonari and Clannad. I suppose the infamy made me not want to be known as “that guy that hates everything”, which I’m definitely not. Hell, I’m probably the most lenient “harsh” critic out there. Those are the people that desire excellence from every show, while I’m fine with it just hitting the check marks, so to say.

However, it has been a bit too long, so it’s time for another installment of Riyoga’s Unpopular Opinions.

Before everyone lynches me, I should start with what the movie did right.

As per usual when it comes to KyoAni, the animation is fantastic. Honestly, what do you expect when you give those guys a movie-sized budget to work with? It’s obvious they put a lot of love and care into making the movie: the backgrounds look nice, the lighting is done extremely well in the scenes that need it, the breath of the characters in the cold air is nicely done, and the characters… uhm, look good.

Okay, it might be the inner cynic in me towards what the show stands for, but as some other people have said, I feel like the Haruhi character designs keep looking more and more K-ON-ish. They just look more… blobby than they used to. Then again the first season aired back in ’06, so maybe it’s just a result of new animation techniques or animators.

Other than the animation, the story in regards to Kyon was done very well. He’s a guy that’s been consistently defined by his snarky retorts towards Haruhi’s ideas and actions, so having him go through a “trial” of sorts to come to terms with the fact that he actually does enjoy being around her was the perfect way to develop his character.

Though I’m not entirely sure why everyone goes absolutely crazy for the scene near the end where it goes all symbolic and Kyon beats a confession out of himself. Granted, it was a well-done scene, but people make it seem like it was the first time a physical representation of an internal struggle has been done ever, which is certainly not the case. This isn’t really the movie’s fault, it’s a more meta complaint, but I just wanted to briefly mention it because I just hear people praising it so much.

But now we come to the fun part: the things that I hated about the movie. Though perhaps oddly enough, I really only have two major complaints with it. The thing is that they’re big enough to completely ruin the movie for me, one more so than the other. It’s just that since I’m in a vast minority, I have to explain these two problems as best as I can so people know where I’m coming from.

Oh who am I kidding, there will still be people demanding blood no matter what I say.

The first problem I have with the movie is a problem I often have with movies in general: the pacing is jacked up. Fun fact: I rewatch older stuff when I review them, and it took me multiple days to get through the first hour of this movie. Then again horrible pacing is hardly surprising coming from the team that thought Endless Eight was a brilliant idea.

I know people like to argue that it drags on to impress upon you the atmosphere of Haruhi being gone, but honestly, I was bored even before the universe was changed. With a title like The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, you kind of know what’s going to happen, so you’re just stuck there waiting for it to happen.

In all fairness, it’s obviously necessary to have the beginning of the movie be before everything changes, so I don’t have a problem with it as a whole or anything, I just think it dragged on a bit too long. However, the pacing is still awful after the change too.

There’s a point in the movie where it’s obvious to the audience that Haruhi has disappeared, but it takes Kyon about an extra seven minutes before he also gets the picture. That’s a bit over a third of the length of a normal episode of something. Again, I get that it was trying to say how Kyon could never even consider the possibility that Haruhi would vanish, but you don’t have to take seven minutes to send that message. Taking longer is not equivalent to making a message more impactful. If that was the case, everyone would think that the walking scene in Flowers of Evil was the greatest scene ever made by man.

That’s not all though, from the moment Kyon understands that Haruhi is gone up until the next big event happens (when he finds out Haruhi is at another school), thirty minutes pass. That is an absurd amount of time to ask your audience to wait for something to actually happen.

This is also the chunk where, as already mentioned, people argue that it’s trying to impress upon you the atmosphere of Haruhi being gone. That’s still no excuse for boring your audience for so long (again, taking longer does not make something more impactful), but even if we take that into account, most people will probably get that message about fifteen minutes in. At least, that’s when it was for me. So that’s an extra fifteen minutes people have to wait after they already get the message the movie is trying to send.

Unlike me, there are people who will drop movies without finishing them if they get bored, and with the horrible pacing in the first hour of the movie, they’d have every right to.

Now, to the movie’s credit, the pacing after the first hour is a hell of a lot better. Almost perfect, I’d say. While it took me multiple days to get through the first hour, I blasted through the last hour and a half in one go. I think the only thing that bugged me about it was the botched time travel mechanics. It tries to follow two different ideas for it that don’t work together at all.

It tries mainly to follow the pre-determined idea of time travel where everything is already written in stone, which is why adult Mikuru knows where Kyon is all the time and why he’s there, but then she keeps telling him about how he can change things, which is the philosophy that time travel re-writes history as you do it. The two diametrically oppose each other so you can’t really use them together, but the time travel stuff isn’t that big a focus so it’s mostly something you can ignore. Just saying that it makes absolutely no sense since it contradicts itself.

While I had pretty big issues with the pacing, my other problem is the one that killed the movie for me, and is also probably the one people will want to murder me over: I hated what they did with Nagato’s character.

I liked the idea of what they wanted to do with her: she’s a weird robot thing, but she can also display human traits at times, so you’re not sure exactly what she’s supposed to be, so the events that transpire are due to these emotions building up in her and such. I like that, and I like the concept of her character, it’s interesting.

What’s not interesting is when you butcher that character by trying to say she’s actually some stupid moeblob trapped inside her existence as a robot-cyborg-thing due to Haruhi’s godly desires.

Constantly being unsure of whether to view Nagato as a human or a robot was what made her interesting, not… this.

I think I’d be more accepting of this movie if Nagato was shown as kind of a normal person, or hell, they could have still gone for the cute angle, but the blatant otaku pandering personality they gave her (namely the lack of one) was just so offensive to me considering the strength of her usual character. She just followed Kyon around and did whatever he said. She’s completely devoted to him and gets all sad when he rejects her club application because in the past he sort of helped her get a library card? That’s fucking stupid.

This Nagato was just… christ she wasn’t even character. You know what she was? A fucking puppy.

You might think, “Wait, what’s wrong with that? I love puppies!” It’s because people aren’t puppies. Again, I seem to be stating the obvious, so I’m going to explain this in unnecessarily excessive detail, since it also serves to explain why I hate cutesy moeblob characters in general.

Puppies and dogs are entirely defined by their loyalty and dedication because that’s the most complicated mindset they’re capable of. Other than basic things like anger and sadness, pets in general don’t really think on a complicated level. They don’t worry about relationships and jobs and education and anything else humans have to deal with on a daily basis. Sure, maybe they have some thoughts swirling around in their heads if we could understand what they’re thinking, but even then we are two different species and are viewed differently.

Let me give an example: when you bring a puppy home for the first time and it follows you around and watches you do stuff, that’s cute. When a person you just met follows you around and watches you do stuff, that’s creepy.

Unlike our pets, we have societal rules and norms and other complicated shit that makes it so we judge our actions on an entirely different level than other animals. However, shows sometimes try to take advantage of this different mindset towards animals and will give characters sort of quirks that try to draw on those emotions, and it works most of the time. It’s something anime can pull off easily due to the type of medium it is. It can add to this effect visually by giving the characters big eyes and small hands and fingers and such.

But when you’re someone who views anime the way I do, or at least to a somewhat similar degree, you see these moves for what they are: shallow ploys to try and get you far too attached to a character with no actual personality. Generally a good test for character writing is asking yourself, “Would I care as much about this character if they looked completely different?” It can be hard to detach yourself, so it’s not a test that will work for everyone, but if you find yourself answering “no”, the character might not be as great as you first thought.

You know what, maybe it would just be easier if I pointed out exactly which scene pissed me off in regards to her character.

When Kyon is first looking for members of the SOS Brigade after finding out Haruhi has disappeared, he eventually winds up finding Nagato in the room. After questioning her a bit, it gets to a point where he pretty much has her pinned against a bookshelf and she can’t get away. She’s pretty much freaking out but can’t say anything, and Kyon only stops berating her with questions when he notices it looks like she’s practically about to pass out. He apologizes (I think), and a bit later he goes to leave. Before he can, however, Nagato stops him and hands him a club application form.

That scene was when I gave up all hope of enjoying the movie. No sane person would have done that after what he did! You know why the movie thought it could get away with it and why you might be yelling at me that I’m wrong right now? Because the script tried (and apparently succeeded) to cheat by using the audiences previous knowledge of characters.

You see, you know Kyon isn’t actually a bad guy when he does this because you already spent two seasons with him. You know he’s just frustrated and trying to get answers, he’s a bit flustered is all. But from Nagato’s perspective, this is only the second time they’ve met. She knows next to nothing about this guy, and he’s pretty much forcing her up against a bookshelf.

It’s easier to imagine it as if a brand new character had come into the clubroom and done this. Wouldn’t you see him as a gigantic creep or asshole or both? Nagato should be at least wary of him after it, but no, apparently getting someone a library card makes you a fucking angel who can do no wrong ever.

Maybe it normally wouldn’t bug me this much, but when this movie first came out people would not shut up about how adorable Nagato was in it.

I know the movie shares the spotlight between Nagato and Kyon and I already mentioned Kyon was done well, but I just hate when stuff like this is done to characters, especially female ones. It’s the whole reason I got pissed off at Tonari back when that was airing. I mean it’s one thing to have a weak female character, but it’s another thing to make that character weaker and act like you’re making them better. It just pisses me off.

This is one of the very few times I hope a movie is just filler and never gets brought up again in the story that will inevitably continue. The series will be better off for it.


One Comment on “Review: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya”

  1. von Schatu says:

    !!!MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!!

    Dear Rigoya

    First of all I would like to say that I very much liked your review on the movie. Though I absolutely love the film, and I am here to disagree with you at some points, I found very refreshing and interesting to see the point of view of someone who thinks this movie has some remarkable flaws. Not to mention that your critique is concise, well written, and your arguments are well explained. It really made me think over why I love Disappearance, and from a critical point of view, it is very important. Hell, I am also in the minority in many cases (e.g. against the universal acclaim of the Grave of the Fireflies), and I know what it is like that. Be that as it may, I want to explain, why it made me sense to alter the character of Yuki Nagato the way the movie did. I must add that I am also very fond of the human Yuki character, so I am a bit biased in my thinking.

    You mentioned that the human Yuki character is like a puppy, and I see the merits of your explanation to that. But I think what sold it to me is it’s introverted style. The biggest fun in those introvert characters is the premise of thinking there is something really valuable inside. You think that if you crack his/her protecting shield, you find a pearl in it. It is not only “Disappearance” which operates on that basis, bunch of movies use it (even Dr. House, but with an “asshole” overlay instead of the “shy” one). I think people liked Yuki not because what she really is, but what she could be. I most certainly did. And it was pretty obvious that Yuki is not someone who is naturally incapable of having things settled. She is just not used to it. If there is really a puppy character, who is just running around, and unable to take individual action, it is the young Mikuru Asahina. Who – to be honest – pissed me off many times. But Yuki, no. When it is about her interests (e.g. do not want Kyon to disappear from her life), she very much takes action. And why she insisted of Kyon staying with her? She simply “loves him”.

    Every now and then throughout the series I had the hint that Yuki is in fond of Kyon. I would not call it really love, because I have no clue how humanoid interfaces function, but it was pretty obvious for me that there is something. I think the thing that triggered it in Yuki is that Kyon treated her as a human being. Mikuru and Itsuki were very much satisfied with the fact, that she is an interface, and treated her that way. Nothing more than the casual interaction, just to make sure they can control Haruhi. Haruhi treated her as she treated anyone else: a chess figure in her game of having fun. But Kyon stopped every now and then, and asked her if she was OK with that stuff around. In Endless Eight there are “endless” references to that. Also he was the one who pursued Yuki to have fun with the computer club in “The Day of the Sagittarius”. So I think Yuki just captured these feeling (bugs as she says), and she wanted to fully explore it. And when it came to the point she had enough, she did not want to lose the only precious thing in her life. That explains a bunch of things. For example keeping the memory of the library scene, which had no significance in the series, but gets a real significance in the movie. Maybe because it was significant to Yuki. She even had memories recognizing him in school, maybe implemented. When Kyon forces her to the wall, that is the second time they speak, yes, but not the second time they see each other. And it is a scary situation for Yuki, but would you let the person you adore leave just like that? No, that is why he gets the registration form to the literary club. What are the things Nagato deletes from the computer before lets Kyon sit there. Photos of him, maybe? Nice memories? I know it sounds the biggest cliche ever, but hey, love is a cliche. If there were no feelings at all, and she just had enough of the whole bunch, she would have reset the universe with everybody in it, including Kyon. But that way Kyon would not recognize her at all. She wanted him to recognize her, that is why she left the unaltered memories of Kyon.She even trusted him with the possibility of choice. Choose me, and we might be happy together. Or choose your world if you feel that way. She did not want to drag him into this against his will. For me the real drama – and the real beauty of the movie – is that Yuki miscalculated herself. She truly thought that a life like this would be fitting for Kyon, who did not stop whining about all the fuss he has to go through with Haruhi. But no, the fact is Kyon very much liked the things back in his world, and that was something Yuki did not take into consideration. This kind of personal tragedy of Yuki made me the movie a depressing but beautiful experience. And I like these types, my favourite anime movie this point is 5 Centimeters per Second (which Disappearance may overwrite)

    And for your comment on changing Yuki’s character to “normal”, well I do not feel that way. First of all, there were no character changes at all, everybody stayed pretty much the same. If we see it that way, then what would be the character of a humanoid interface, who had previously no real human interaction and it is just suddenly filled with all kinds of emotions? I think she would be pretty much freaked out, and clueless, much like the Yuki in the movie. She has to start everything from the scratch, with feelings like fear, anxiety and whatever else, which were previously unknown to her. Now I know, that this contradicts at some points with my description of her having feelings for Kyon (why would a person with no feelings at all feel connection), but to be honest I do not stand on solid grounds here. I may need to watch the movie more times to come up with a better idea.

    As for the pacing and the other stuff you did not like in the movie, I have no reason to argue about. It is a thing of taste, I do not argue about tastes.

    That’s it then. I hope it made some sense, and not just a bunch of incoherent thoughts trying to justify my love for Yuki Nagato. Anyway I am happy you made me think about it, because it made me appreciate more the things I love in this movie. As for you, your review is very good, you really enlightened some good points. Keep it up!

    von Schatu


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