Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

To start, a disclaimer... or perhaps rather, a chance to show off - the recent Blu-Ray release isn't the first time I got to see The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as I also got to enjoy the film at its European premiere in Edinburgh back in mid-October - and what a fantastic occasion it was too.  Still, seeing the film on the big screen simply fired my desire to see its Blu-Ray release even more, and so here I am again having been able to watch it through a second time.

After an opening to the movie that sees everything looking as normal (or rather, abnormal) as ever for our protagonist Kyon in the face of her arranging an SOS Brigade Christmas party, all is as it should be in the build up to the festive season - a relatively normality that soon feels like nothing more than a pleasant dream for Kyon, as the very next day he wakes up to a decidedly different world.  While the previously healthy Taniguchi's now raging cold doesn't ring alarm bells and Haruhi's absence from school is surprising but not hugely noteworthy, the fact that all is not well soon steps up right in front of Kyon's face in the form of a blast from the past that he really didn't want to see.  With nobody having even heard of Suzumiya, Asahina not even knowing who he is and Koizumi's classroom having vanished entirely, it seems as though Nagato is Kyon's only hope... only to find that although she recognises him, she's a far cry from the cold, expressionless alien entity he's used to.

What has happened to Kyon's world and his bizarre normal life?  It seems as though it's lost forever, until a clue drops into his lap, setting him off on a journey to assemble the components required to return the world to its former state; a journey which takes in time travel and an ever-more elaborate set of circumstances which overlay some of his previous adventures, while simultaneously adding a further layer which is wide open for future exploration.

Anybody who knows me well will probably be aware that I'm a huge fan of the Haruhi franchise - its first season had me captured in rapt fascination from the outset, its second season had some excellent material within it, Endless Eight never existed at all (it was all just a bad dream, right?) and I own all of the translated light novels thus far.  Given that, it's unsurprising to hear me gush about this movie in absolute terms - it's a glorious effort that restores everything great about this franchise that was lacking from its second televised season, and then some.

Perhaps the most impressive feat for the film is that it takes its running time of dangerously close to three hours, and fills it in such a way that it never seems to drag, even on a second viewing.  The movie is extremely careful and methodical in the way that it sets up and unveils its premise, and does likewise in bringing it to its resolution, but never to the point of being ponderous - every time it threatens to go flat in story-telling terms, along comes the next clue or key event to shift things on once again. 

The movie is also a triumph in terms of characterisation, thanks to the original novel, in fairness.  Dumping Kyon outside of his normal comfort zone allows us to view him from a very different angle from the acerbic, quick witted guy we're used to, but without losing his charm at all.  The use of Asahina's adult version at a key point also removes the slightly irritating whiny nature of her youthful version, and of course there's Nagato, who grows more markedly than any other character as events swirl around both her "real" self and the normal, bookish girl who replaces her.

If you're not a fan of the franchise then there's really nothing new here for you that will turn things around I would wager, but for the existing fan this is quite easily the pinnacle of its story-telling (in anime form at least) thus far - its expertly driven at a character level, while its story also weaves in plenty of smart complexities but never to the point of giving you a headache or making you lose interest - indeed, a second viewing of the film allows you to appreciate some of the subtler hints, developments and moments that you can't spot the first time around.  I'd hesitate to call The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya perfect, but damn is it a close call.  Its running time makes it a long haul, but this film is worth every minute of that time.

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