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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a wildly popular anime based on a series of light novels penned by author Nagaru Tanigawa. I loved the first season which combined likeable characters with high school high jinks and a smattering of science fiction. Years later a second season appeared on Japanese airways and man what a disappointment it turned out to be. After eagerly awaiting more Haruhi content viewers were shocked to discover that a large portion of the new series was made up of a horrible story titled "Endless Eight." The eight part tale saw the cast trapped in a time loop which resulted in them reliving the same summer over and over. Fans had to endure watching the same episode eight times in a row. Yes we get in, they are stuck in a temporal anomaly. Dedicating more than three episodes to ram that point home is overkill. It felt like the studio was trolling fans much like when Wolf's Rain decided to air four recap "clip shows" in a row.
After the negative reception received due to the Endless Eight stunt I had misgivings if we would ever see any more Haruhi stories get animated. Thankfully a feature film was announced after the season two debacle giving Kyoto Animation a chance to salvage the series' reputation. Hopes were high as the movie was based on arguably the best Haruhi novel to date "The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya." Manga Entertainment released the English language DVD last year which I snapped up as an early Christmas present to myself. Would it match the high standards set by season one or prove to be another let down like season two? Read on to find out.
For those of you not familiar with the series, Haruhi Suzumiya is a Japanese schoolgirl who bored with her student life. To liven things up she starts up an after school club called the SOS Brigade whose aim is to look for espers, aliens, time travellers and go on all manner of whacky adventures. Kyon, the class mate who suggested the club idea to Haruhi, is recruited against his will to join the brigade who eventually increase their membership to five. Yuki Nagato is part of the group as she is the sole member of the literature club, whose clubroom is commandeered for SOS business. Mikuru Asahina, the shy beauty, is forced to join the brigade to act as club mascot (which involves wearing all manner of weird outfits.) The last member of the team is Itsuki Koizumi, who Haruhi enrols to the Brigade because she reckons every club needs a mysterious transfer student.
Sounds like a quirky high school cartoon right? So where do the sci-fi elements I mentioned earlier come in? Well the twist is that, unbeknownst to her, Haruhi has god like powers that can bend the very fabric of reality. The club she has created ironically enough includes an esper, alien and time traveller who for their own reasons have convened at North High School to observe Haruhi. The club does their best to keep Haruhi entertained, because if she gets bored with her existence there is a real danger that she may subconsciously erase the world we live in. Appeasing a teenage girl is no easy task so I wonder how long it will take before the world is no more. I give it a few months... guess those Mayans were right about 2012 being the end of life as we know it.
As you can gather from the movie's title the story concerns Haruhi vanishing without a trace. Things start normally with the SOS Brigade getting ready for Christmas, but on the third day Kyon is shocked to learn that Haruhi is no longer a part of his class. None of his fellow students even know who Haruhi is. Koizumi isn't a part of the student body either and neither Mikuru or Yuki seem to have any memory of the club's existence. At first Kyon thinks that he is losing his mind, but after some investigating he finds some clues that seem to indicate that his reality has been altered somehow. The question is can he find a way to change things back? Even if he can would he choose to revert the universe back to its former chaotic glory or would he just be happier in the new peaceful Haruhi free zone? You'll have to watch the movie to find out, but one thing is for certain, the resulting adventure is much more interesting than repeating the same story eight times.
Haruhi may be the star of the TV series, but in this movie she is reduced to a supporting role as she is missing for a good chunk of it. The hyperactive Haruhi we know and love appears at the start and end of the film, but that is it. Suzumiya fans can however console themselves with the knowledge that a young version of their favourite character makes an appearance as does an alternate version who has no powers. Kyon, the only club member without an extraordinary background, is the lead. It's interesting seeing how he copes in a world without Haruhi as in the series he normally bemoans her insane antics which leads to messes he has to clean up. Without the Brigade leader around we get to see him take a proactive role in saving the world and some character development concerning his outlook on life. Although he constantly complains about the predicaments he finds himself in, when push comes to shove would he throw it all away to have a normal life?
Much like Haruhi, Mikuru the time traveller from the future doesn't get much screen time in the film. The Mikuru that Kyon interacts with in the alternate world is just a regular girl with no Dr Who like knowledge of time travel. An older version of Mikuru does however make an appearance later on in the movie and plays a big role in sorting out the mess. Koizumi the esper features briefly as, like Haruhi, he is not a student at Kyon's school in the new world. The alternate version of Itsuki, that we eventually meet, isn't part of an organisation who tries to patch up the closed space that could wreck the world when Haruhi is unhappy. He's just a regular kid who has a crush on Miss Suzumiya. The new version of Koizumi does however retain his wisdom as demonstrated when offers theories as to what may have caused the changes to the world.
Yuki Nagato, the organic alien android, plays a big role in the movie which should please her sizable fan base. Her popularity is quite surprising given that she is an emotionless robotic character. Us anime fans do however seem to have a thing for quiet girls (I present Rei from Evangelion as a prime example.) In the new world Yuki is transformed into a shy bookworm who seems to have feelings for Kyon. If you like Yuki you should enjoy seeing this more vulnerable side to her which is in stark contrast to the cold and powerful version we are more accustomed to. The story probably develops her character more than any other and raises a few issues which could lead to some interesting possibilities in future novels/cartoons.
After watching the movie I was satisfied that the Haruhi franchise is back on track. With a running time of over 160 minutes, what we get here is a faithful adaptation of the book. The feature is jam packed with story and I can assure you that things are not padded out with needless songs (as Disney are sometimes guilty of in their films.) Fans will be impressed with the high production values which give us clean crisp visuals that retain the look of the TV series beefed up with superior picture quality and animation. It's just what the doctor ordered after the rather shallow season two that failed to advance the story set up in season one.
There's not many faults I can name, although I suppose one strike against the movie is that it is not accessible to anyone not familiar with the series. The movie references certain episodes which will leave new viewers scratching their heads as to what is going on. The running time might also not go down well with some people. Although I wasn't ever bored I can imagine that the pacing may be too slow for some fans (especially those who prefer the high octane comedic episodes over the more serious story driven ones.) For those reasons The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya only just misses out on getting a perfect score. If you are a fan of the books or cartoon it is however a must own. It's one of the best animated movies I have seen in a long time and a huge step up from season two with its endless story which I h8te.