How To Disappear Completely

Many of the scenes involving Yuki feature some level of reflection.

I honestly don’t think it’s that outlandish to suggest that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the best thing KyoAni has made so far. I realize this is a statement that people are going to disagree with, even those who liked the movie (which appears to be the overwhelming majority). The most notable thing about Disappearance is the massive departure in tone compared with previous outings. There’s still comedy and a strong amount of meta-awareness, but these things have been reduced, and the focus was taken away from both of them. There are two things that make this departure in tone particularly well timed. (This post contains major spoilers for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and moderate spoilers for both TV seasons of Suzumiya Haruhi.)

The tune that Disappearance redeems KyoAni for “Endless Eight” has been repeatedly played. I don’t think it needs to be said again, and I think even if we momentarily ignore the controversy surrounding Haruhi S2, Disappearance does the franchise an immense service. Since the first series aired back in 2006, Suzumiya Haruhi has been it, as far as anime franchises go. Its influence for the last four years has been far reaching, and anime hasn’t been the same since. We’ve seen homages, parodies, deconstructions and reconstructions from a plethora of series, each looking to tap into one or many of the aspects that has made it such a success.

I'm only barely exaggerating when I say I just about crapped myself during this scene.

Suzumiya Haruhi did the unconventional sci-fi, moe deconstructed harem, self-aware meta-comedy first, and arguably it did it best. Since then we’ve seen series like Lucky Star and Manabi Straight! borrow from its tone and atmosphere, Hayate no Gotoku and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei borrow from its comedic style and Kannagi and Bakemonogatari borrow from its character dynamics. What Suzumiya Haruhi did back in 2006, which brought anime fandom to its knees in adulation, has been done again and again since, and has itself evolved. A repeat of season 1 with a sequel-esque plotline and nothing else new, would be passe.

The other reason why the change in tone is well timed can be seen from the movie itself: Disappearance is by far the most atmospheric entry into the franchise. In fact, the only other thing from KyoAni that I can think of that compares, as far as atmosphere is concerned, is FMP!TSR. Without being overly familiar with the source material, it’s hard for me to make comments on whether certain things were overemphasized and other things were suppressed or quietly ignored. But the serious tone creates a great deal of anxiety fitting given the events of the story, especially early in the film as each of Kyon’s hopes of escaping his new strange world are snuffed out and replaced by an eery, lonely reality.

This is the reflection in Yuki's eye.

The film is filled with lots of little cinematographic and directorial effects that are interesting to take note of. After the world changes, everything is filmed with a dark blue filter. The movie is also in love with reflections, both subtle and not so, even before Kyon enters the “disappeared” world, when he mentally retorts the fact that Haruhi’s “Merry X’mas” scrawl on the window of the SOS-Brigade room will look backwards from outside (he even uses the word “mirrored”). One of the climactic scenes comes when Kyon explicitly chooses the old world after arguing with his reflection. But I think some of the most important reflections are the ones that appear in certain characters’ eyes.

This is the reflection in Kyon's eye.

The animation is also worth discussing in the context of what KyoAni has done, especially thinking back to the years between 2005 and 2006 when they were kicking everyone else in the ass. Those were the days when KyoAni set the bar, and it took the likes of Production I.G., P.A. Works and Shinkai Makoto (among others) to overtake them and set their own standards. Around 2008 (a little after the time that Yamamoto Yutaka left) KyoAni seemed to stop trying to keep up, something which disappointed me since being trend setters of animation quality was one of their defining traits. The brilliant animation and astounding artwork of Disappearance is a demonstration… this is what they can do when they throw all their resources (and, I daresay, passion) behind something. I doubt you could find a bad frame in the entire movie.

I liked the script, especially the way it revolved through “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody” (far and away the best episode of Suzumiya Haruhi S2), but its emotional imploring helped it wallpaper over some of the flaws. Disappearance told the story of the days December 16th – 24th, after “Endless Eight”, which recounted the 595 years that took place between August 17th and 31st. If Yuki were to lose patience with her world, probability would demand that it would happen during the days of “Endless Eight”, not in the small handful of months after. Also I wasn’t a fan of the climax, and the fact that it could only resolve itself if events are predetermined. Time travel in literature is always tricky, and prior to Kyon and adult Mikuru’s confrontation with “disappeared” Yuki, there are two different, circular, parallel time-trips taking place, centred around Tanabata three years ago. A third needs to be introduced to save Kyon after he gets stabbed by Asakura. However, considering he would have died otherwise, this is only possible if everything is fated. I see that as a cop-out in time travel stories… what’s the point/fun of time travel if you can’t tamper with destiny *cough* Natsu no Arashi *cough*.

So much of the artwork is beautifully picturesque.

It’s nothing new for me to have issues with the endings of Suzumiya Haruhi stories. I didn’t think much of the endings of either the main arc of the first season, or “Endless Eight”. They’re about the only thing I don’t consistently like about the franchise. However, the most important thing about Disappearance is the character development, from Kyon taking an active role solving the mystery, to the revelation of Yuki’s discontent with the world and Kyon’s contrasting and (finally) honest embrace of it, as well as the resulting changes in character dynamics from the whole ordeal.

I’m more than willing to forgive its flaws, because it’s so rare to find an anime movie with such pitch perfect tone and atmosphere, complemented with a script this good and animation so polished.

8 Responses to “How To Disappear Completely”

  1. One does wonder if Disappearance would have as much power as it has now if season 1 of Haruhi had been merely “good” or even “average”. If it were the exact same movie but had neither the insanely strong backing of the original nor the climate the first season imposed on the anime industry, would it gain the accolades it has now? Or would it merely be remembered as “that well animated 2010 movie of the good/ok show” and lack a defining value that could sway an industry?

    The question is to some extent a moot point. I think Disappearance is a product that can only be made in the current anime climate. So much of its contrast borrows from the entrenched view of the spirit and characters, not only from the original show itself but from the social consciousness it has developed, that it could perhaps be said that even with the same care KyoAni put into the film the movie would be nothing without Haruhi S1’s success. Not the show itself, but its success. It’s why I have a hard time placing the movie over its original predecessor, even if my mind tells me the former beats the latter in plot, execution, and aesthetic. Disappearance will be well remembered, but it will be as an extension of whatever quality that makes Haruhi S1 endure.

  2. Excellent review. I liked how you pointed out the issues you had with the movie while still taking note of all its good points. I also liked your little blurb about KyoAni in relation to other anime studios.

  3. I have to say that I think TDofHS is a good movie, but just that. I won´t remember it in a near future. I hear some praise about the visual aspect, the use of stills or the “symbolism”, but I still feel I have seen it before and better used. It may be first for the franchise, but it doesn´t make it worth of all the praise it´s getting.

    Haruhi never worked for me and is impossible for me to watch it as something original. Most of the time, I found it more obnoxious than funny and full of pandering and otaku references just for the sake of it. Some people say it´s a homage or a meta-critic, but the clichés I saw were just that… clichés.

    Yeah, I´m one of the guys who thinks the franchise as a whole is REALLY overrated.

    About the influence, I don´t see SHAFT borrowing things from Haruhi. They are their own class, and they handle references and humor way better. But if we talk about the negative influence… with KyoAni alone you have a bunch of examples.

  4. ”Suzumiya Haruhi did the unconventional sci-fi, moe deconstructed harem, self-aware meta-comedy first, and arguably it did it best. Since then we’ve seen series like Lucky Star and Manabi Straight! borrow from its tone and atmosphere, Hayate no Gotoku and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei borrow from its comedic style and Kannagi and Bakemonogatari borrow from its character dynamics.”

    …except all of the originals they are based on were created before or shortly after the airing of the Haruhi anime (short enough to make any impact unlikely). And while I can’t talk for Manabi Straight!, Hayate no Gotoku or Kannagi, the rest of the elements you mention are carefully reproduced from the original. I also heavily question where you think Hng and SZS borrow their comedic style and Bakemonogatari its character dynamics. This is a very outlandish claim if you ask me.

  5. @Elineas
    I have no question that Suzumiya Haruhi is a great anime, but I’m wondering if, by your reasoning, it’s possible for any of its sequels made in the future to surpass it in quality. I understand that anime is more than the sum of its parts, so I realize that improved writing, execution and animation may not be enough to raise the movie above the TV series. But I’m not sure what more Disappearance could have done, other than change its name to a different series, in which case it probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much impact, since it relied on the context set by the first season.

    @Yumeka
    Thanks (although I consider this more to be a “reflection” than a review). I was starting to get worried during 2008 and 2009 that KyoAni was slipping behind a lot of other studios. Disappearance has reaffirmed to me that, on their day, they can match it with almost anyone.

    @Titolion
    Well, I won’t argue that “references for the sake of it” afflicted quite a few of KyoAni’s subsequent series, but I do think the references in Haruhi had genuine satirical merit. You’re obviously not a fan, so I don’t think we’ll see quite eye-to-eye. But as far as its use of cliches go, yes, some were little more than cliches, but many others were, in my eyes, attempts at deconstruction. That’s why Haruhi has so much of my respect.

    @Numbers and Space
    Evidently “borrowed” is too strong a word for what I was trying to portray. And I guess I didn’t pick the best examples either. However, I remain reasonably convinced that anime has changed in a major way since Haruhi first aired. At the very least, I think the success of Haruhi helped make the climate amenable to many of the titles I listed getting anime adaptations.

  6. […] But the thing is, the plot of Fractale is that this system is going to crash. The fantasy cannot be sustained. People will have to strive and therefore suffer. And perhaps, the way to this story is through the pastiche, mashup, collage, champloo of otaku database tropes and others (as the behavior and presentation of Phryne’s pursuers reminds me of Ghibli films, and “Happy Tomino” anime¹) – just as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya did it for its own science fiction elements. […]

  7. Just got around to watching this yesterday morning and it really highlighted how a bit of polish and some excellent directing can take a mildly above-average slife series and make it one of the best anime of the year. Having just read Eternal’s post, he has (nearly point-for-point) covered everything I had wanted to say about this movie, so you are fortunately spared another tl;dr…… meh. So, just some brief points:

    1. The first meeting between Kyon and Alt-Nagato. The image of Kyon forcing himself onto this scared and confused girl is already quite disturbing. But after watching the movie in its entirety, you do a double take: is this really any different from what the S.O.S. does in the original universe? As Kyon himself points out towards the end of the film, they have been treating Nagato like a tool: an easy fix for everything they do not understand, giving little consideration for Nagato’s increasingly human feelings. Yet because she so emotionless, we get the impression that she does not mind; that she is either content with her role or simply holds no love for contentedness. In a way, the meeting with Alt-Nagato is just an ordinary scene from Nagato’s point of view. By making her human, we see just how much is required of her and how much of an effect it will eventually have. (*Nice touches: The books falling off the table when Kyon realizes what he’s doing, as well as Kyon observing the new Nagato through the reflection on the monitor when he first uses the computer.)

    2. The reflections are used to show the characters in self-doubt, literally reflecting upon themselves. In contrast, the eyeshots are used to show a change in dynamics between two particular characters. In every case an eyeshot was used, the characters were not seeing eye-to-eye, both literally and figuratively. And in every case, the “reflected” has gained a silent but powerful, new understanding of the “reflector”; the reflected undergoes serious thought that the reflector is always completely oblivious to. When viewed like that, it should come as no surprise that the most common reflected was Kyon and the most common reflector was Nagato.

    3. To tie into the previous point, there is an increasing subtext of Kyon wanting to make things up to Nagato as the movie goes on. He comes to appreciate and understand Nagato’s feelings for him but ultimately decides to reject her ‘human potential’, as his own reflection states. This is shown by the recurring image of Kyon walking away from Nagato, first in the apartment, later when returning the club application, and finally in the dreamstate with the CG snowflakes; in the last example, you can see him somberly reflecting on the Nagato he is ‘leaving behind’ even as the narration triumphantly proclaims his choice. And as this Nagato is in fact a future part of the Nagato he returns to, Kyon’s choice of the S.O.S. over a calm and peaceful life is also a choice of Haruhi over Nagato. So, assuming Mikuru is just there as a joke, the film effectively ends the harem aspect of the series — solidified by Kyon caringly looking over a sleeping Haruhi in the penultimate scene.

    4a. Some stuff I liked that Eternal didn’t mention: The moment where Kyon converses with the adult Mikuru was one of the most powerful scenes for me. Mikuru states that there will be a time when Kyon looks back on his high school days fondly, but when that time comes…. and she cuts off as Kyon’s eyes follow a butterfly disappearing into the night sky and the music swells to a brilliant climax. It is clear that she is referring to future events but without that knowledge, it is almost as if she speaks of the way you look back on your life bittersweetly just before death. And before Kyon can even ponder how he might remember his life at the very end, he is pulled out of the moment by Mikuru’s head falling onto his side — she is a representation of his everyday life and problems, the distraction that keeps us all from venturing into those dark thoughts.

    4b. Last thing to mention: when Nagato bites Kyon. Moments like this are what solidify this film as one of the best of the year, as I certainly didn’t expect this kind of subtletly from a mainstream show — and Haruhi no less. After non-chalantly stating that she is the cause of this entire situation, Nagato silently gives Kyon the solution for erasing her own humanity, lowers herself and sinks her teeth into his arm just as the screen lights up. The camera then pans out to show her bowing down as Kyon and Mikuru are taken aback. But they are not surprised, they are sad because they understand. In that moment, Nagato essentially reduces herself to the subhuman she is supposed to be. She so willingly sends Kyon off on a mission to destroy her desires, and her bite is the enslavement of herself to her duties. I tip my hat to the director for knowing this wasn’t some throw-away moment: the music and light both build to a crescendo just until Nagato solemnly lifts her face up with a blank expression. This is, of course, followed by an eye reflection.

    5. Asakura in the elevator: “Urusanaiwa.” ^__^

    I get your point about the pre-determined time travel but I’m not sure what you expect from a show that’s trying to be meta and self-referential. In such a case, it seems like paradoxical storytelling would be the ‘correct’ way to go — otherwise you wouldn’t be able to crack a smile over two Mikuru’s identically crying over Kyon despite being separated by twenty-years of non-maturity. If they resort to ‘the other kind of time travel’, I hope for more plot development, as Disappearance continues the trend of the S.O.S. being the cause of their own problems. Being character-focused is nice, but it is also finite — it seems like Nagato has already finished her character arc. But maybe I’m expecting too much of what is, at heart, a very sci-fi-ish slice of life.

    Oh, and unrelated comment as I don’t want to post in the convo: lol @ kadian1364 “These headphone don’t work”. I’ve definitely been there, man.

  8. […] made to, and credited to  Sorrow-kun’s How to Disappear Completely. Please note, most of the content in this post is from my own opinion and observation. This entry […]

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