Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
BD+DVD - Complete Collection
At North High School, the head of the Literary Club is Yuki Nagato, a shy girl who loves playing video games at least as much as actually reading. With the encouragement of her motherly best friend, Ryoko Asakura, she manages to recruit Kyon into the club to help beef up its meager membership and avoid disbandment. Other schoolmates Mikuru and Tsuruya become occasional attendees to what passes for club activities, but things don't really get going until two students from a nearby prep school, the bold Haruhi Suzumiya and her loyal follower Itsuki, get involved, which results in Haruhi virtually taking over the club! This leads to all manner of random club activities, all while Kyon and Yuki are nudging closer to becoming a couple (with the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle encouragement of everyone around them). However, when an accident has an unexpected but dramatic impact on Yuki, those closest to her are left in a quandary about how to deal with the situation.
This 16-episode series is based on a spin-off manga of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya light novel series. It's one of those “what if” tales, imagining how things might have played out if the people around original protagonist Kyon weren't actually time travelers, espers, aliens, or fledgling gods but just normal high school students instead. In some senses, it progresses similarly to the franchise's movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, but this time no one has any knowledge of the other world. As a result, the series is a straight romantic comedy with some light dramatic stretches that should be accessible to franchise newcomers on that level. However, newbies will miss a number of callbacks and ironic winks to the TV series and movie (especially the infamous “Endless Eight” arc), but none of that is crucial to understanding Yuki-chan's story.
The big difference between this series and the franchise's other entries is that its focus character isn't Kyon. While we do sometimes get inside his head (especially late in the series and in the OVA episode), this series focuses mostly on the title character, Yuki Nagato. It's a friendly reminder of how beloved Nagato was; many fans saw her as the girl that Kyon should end up with rather than Haruhi, and she also did well in character popularity polls. This is also her chance to shine as a personality, since she had very little personality to work with in the TV series. While this version of Yuki may be a timid and insecure mouse of a girl, she definitely has her strong passions, chief among them a firm romantic interest in Kyon.
But is her overt moe draw enough to carry the show? As someone who was always neutral towards Yuki as a character, I question this series' conceit. Nagato has some big shoes to fill, and frankly, her feet are not big enough for them. As a result, the series limps along in early episodes that focus almost entirely on her, and only once Haruhi joins the story to serve as a motivational force does that improve. Even then, Yuki continues to be more of a drag on the story than a drive. This problem continues until the “Disappearance” episodes come up, where Yuki's ability to be a compelling character gets a sudden dramatic upgrade. Episodes 10 through 14 form both the namesake of the series and its heart, unquestionably making up the series' strongest segment.
Fortunately, the franchise has a pretty strong supporting cast to work with, some of them shining much brighter here than in the original TV series. Kyon is still Kyon, Mikuru is still Mikuru, and Haruhi is still the same dominating force she has always been, though Haruhi's character is expanded a little in a few moments that suggest she's not completely oblivious to romance or friendship with other girls, given the right circumstances. Other characters get a lot more development. Ryoko's appearances in the original TV series were brief, but in Yuki-chan, she blossoms into a mother hen type who keeps close watch over Yuki. (It's a clever irony considering her relationship to Nagato in the original series.) She also strikes up an occasional fierce rivalry with Tsuruya, who retains her role from the movie as Mikuru's best friend and classmate. The other character who blossoms most is Itsuki, who's become so utterly devoted to Haruhi in this version that it's almost pathetic. Despite that, he also flirts with Kyon on several occasions, which resurrects the eternal question of whether Itsuki is actually into Kyon or just messing with him for fun. Either way, it's an intriguing twist in a series that doesn't otherwise offer many big twists.
The other major difference between Yuki-chan and previous entries in the franchise is its substantially different staff. That being said, the Satelight staff has made a clear effort to replicate the look and feel of the original series in every aspect, and for the most part they pull it off. Except for the much more expressive Yuki, these characters still look the same, as do the color schemes and background art. The animation quality is a step down, as there are no scenes even close to equaling the quality of the original series, and lapses in staying on-model also seem more frequent. Fanservice is also more limited, with even the beach and hot springs episodes being tame by comparison.
The musical score is a little more ambitious in changing things up. It carries over some themes from the original TV series and sprinkles them throughout, but most of the soundtrack is newer fare that heavily uses string and piano numbers, ranging from playful to wistful in tone. Opener “Fure Fure Mirai” is an upbeat number that falls a little short of fully capturing the verve of original series opener “Bouken de-show de-show?”, while the closer is a more low-key number with four minor visual variations that you'll have to watch closely to catch.
Both language tracks bring back all of their original cast members, which is particularly remarkable for the English track because many of the voice actors are not Funimation regulars. Michelle Ruff's dry deadpan as Yuki was the weakest point of the English dub in earlier installments, but she gives a much more impressive performance with a much more emotive Yuki. Long-time veteran Bridget Hoffman also capably handles the expanded role for Ryoko – I'd place this among her career-best efforts – and everyone else is as reliably good as before.
Funimation is including the series as part of their Ultimate Collector's Edition for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but its base combo pack release is decidedly more modest. All five discs (2 Blu-Rays and 3 DVDs) come in a single case with a slipcover and bonus interior art. Aside from series trailers, a clean version of the opener, and all variations of the closer, the only extra is the full-length OVA episode “I Cannot Let Summer Break End,” which specifically spins off the ending of the original TV series' “Endless Eight” arc. Unfortunately, it's a sub-only inclusion.
Overall, Yuki-chan has its funny moments and turns of effective drama, but it lacks the crazy charm that helped power the original novels and TV series to become one of the biggest anime phenomenons of the 2000s. More than anything else, it's an ode to ardent fans of Yuki Nagato, and it only works mildly well otherwise.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ The "Disappearance" arc, allusions to parts of other titles in the franchise, further development of side characters
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