The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan ?
In this eerie alternate reality posited by the Haruhi-fan-favorite film, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, things have taken a turn for the worse! Sure, everyone seems pretty happy in Haruhi's absence, which both corroborates and sharply contrasts with the movie's dark tone, where the world was arguably "better" but Kyon himself was miserable. No, the darkness of that film has been wiped away, replaced with only happier characters in a kinder Haruhi-free world, (although she might pop up in the future, as this episode's sole foreboding moment implies,) but things have still changed in ways they were never meant to change. As you can see in the screencap here, Kyon's familiar sleepy horse-face has been squooshed upward into perkier, rounder, and more girlish features. The horror! On top of that, poor Kyon has apparently had several inches of spine removed in this new dimension, because he is definitely shorter now than he was before. Oh the inhumanity!
In all seriousness, I enjoyed this odd-dorable spinoff's first episode a lot more than I thought I would. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is interesting from a franchising standpoint. On the one hand, it does make complete sense for an uninitiated audience. It's not just a long series of in-jokes and unestablished character relationships dialed up to full pander for hardcore fans. It approaches the material as if it needs to win you over from the start, and in doing so, it succeeds. For my part, I was as "over" Haruhi Suzumiya as I thought I possibly could be, after revisiting the show a few months ago and realizing it doesn't hold up so good (for me anyhow). I was all set to write this one off, and accept that Haruhi's world no longer held the magic for me that it once did. Twenty minutes later, I earnestly wanted to see more of this show, even though almost nothing actually happens in it!
On the other hand, I'm fully aware that my reaction to this episode is mostly based in pleasant surprise at the charm that's been imbued into these re-imaginings of the characters, and even though it makes sense standalone, I don't think anyone would have a reason to care about this material if they weren't already fans of Haruhi's world. On the surface, this is just another slice-of-life romcom, with nice animation, some cute moments, and decent comic timing, but no real hook to speak of. Yuki Nagato plays the role of shy-but-passionate lovestruck lonely girl where once she was deadpan comedy/deus ex machina robot, and the changeup works for me. By adding a thick layer of joy and hope to her existence as set up in the Disappearance movie, she's become a new, adorable, likable Nagato, and the same can be said for the new versions of Kyon and Asakura.
New Kyon has retained his old sense of humor and straight-man charm, but lost his fatigue and disillusionment with the world, along with most of his selfishness-played-off-as-ennui. He's less interesting and unique as a character study, but he's more likable as a romantic interest, and I'd say it's a worthwhile tradeoff for this show's new tone. New Asakura is enthusiastic, mischievous, and deeply attached to her best friend (?!) Nagato, and became by far my favorite part of the show. She will do "anything" for love of Nagato, but she won't do some things, and her overwhelming desire to tease and harass her friend while helping her out gives the whole show more personality. (Before, Asakura was little more than a plot device. As a radical, chaotic, and villainous version of Nagato, she was exterminated too early for my liking, but I also get that she wasn't interesting enough to justify derailing the focus on Haruhi either.) By the time the incredibly charming ending theme sung by Yuki Nagato's own seiyuu started playing, god help me, I was sold. I didn't think I even liked Haruhi Suzumiya anymore, but I kinda liked this, for all its unambitious cutesiness. If anything, the original Haruhi suffered from an overextension of ambition with lackluster payoff anyway. Maybe the lowered expectations are what makes this romcom work for me?
We'll always have the old Haruhi Suzumiya, and this spinoff isn't changing or damaging that material, but for what it is, it's honestly very charming and confident in its own tone. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan knows exactly what it wants to be, even if what it wants to be is "innocuous romcom with likable weirdos who aren't too weird." I'm not sure if this appeals more to hardcore Haruhi fans, casual Haruhi fans, or against all odds, the uninitiated, but it's a better show than I think it had any right to be, and it seems like a nice way to spend Monday afternoons this Spring season. This series is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Rating: 3It's entirely possible to watch The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan never having seen a single second of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, or the movie that this new series' original is a spin-off of, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzimya. But there'd be no point. After all, the appeal of this series is not necessarily the characters themselves (they're unremarkable for now, and generically affable), or the situations they find themselves in (the marketplace competitions made me laugh out loud; Yuki's stammering over weddings and Christmas cakes less so), but how they differ from who and what they were in Haruhi. At the end of the day, there's no point in alternate versions of anything if there's no baseline to compare it to.
If you are familiar with the Haruhi franchise, though, then you'll find a lot to like about Nagato Yuki-chan. It's essentially a "what if?" and it manifests itself through a myriad of ways. The character designs are notably different, for one. But it's not just aesthetics; the new look matches the characters' new personalities. The titular character is not her usual self. She's a lot more like a generic anime heroine, and that's a large part of the setup. Without the SOS Brigade, and without Haruhi (not yet, at least)... what else is there that would anchor that world? Why wouldn't these characters be more concerned with whether or not they can procure a Christmas turkey, or get the Literature Club room for a holiday party? When Kyon mentions that nothing really happens in the Literature Club, we're supposed to sympathize with his ennui.
Therein lies the conundrum inherent in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. If you're not familiar with the world of Haruhi Suzumiya, is it even worth your time? Probably not. It's like going to a party but you don't know anyone there, and no one's willing to talk to you. You can observe all you want, but that immersion simply isn't there. Without the SOS Brigade, or at least the memory of the SOS Brigade, the first episode might be considered downright boring (marketplace competition aside!). Who really cares if their Christmas cake is two-tiered or four-tiered? Who really cares if Kyon helped Yuki get a library card or not? But if you're a Haruhi fan, you care, because it's like stepping into a bizarro world that's filled with possibilities.
I want to think that watching this series cold will inspire newcomers to check out its roots, but I wonder if anyone would even last that long to bother. If you're a Haruhi Suzumiya fan, you will definitely recognize the charm in this quirky, alternate-world spin-off. But for everyone else... well, maybe just table this one for later, after you've caught up.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is a puppy that just chewed up my favorite shoes. I want to be angry at it - I know I have every right to be - but come on. Look at it sitting there, with its big puppy eyes and its dumb happy expression. How am I supposed to hate that?
Nagato Yuki-chan takes the universe posited by the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya film (one where Haruhi is just a normal teenage girl and Yuki a perpetually flustered bookworm) and basically runs with it. If the original Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was a playful fantasy riff on slice of life conventions, Nagato Yuki-chan is that premise played straight. None of the scifi shenanigans, none of the hints of underlying darkness and Haruhi's borderline-veering-into-outright abusiveness, and very little of Kyon's deadpan commentary on the whole production. Nagato herself is now mainly interested in food, Kyon, and making silly faces, Asakura is the maybe-too-confident ringleader of the Literature Club, and the primary conflict we've seen so far involves securing a turkey for Nagato's promised Christmas Party.
All of this should really come off as a grim reminder of what we've lost - like seeing an old friend who's fallen on hard times, their wild wit gone and a sad complacency with the mundane left in its place. At the start, I was very ready to spend this episode mourning the loss of a show I once counted as a personal favorite. And yet, and yet, frustratingly, confusingly, surprisingly, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is actually pretty good at the new genre it's chosen. The conversations still have a natural wit, and Nagato herself is honestly more of a fully realized person. Kyon's role has been diminished but still exists, and the banter between him, Nagato, and all the other old standbys possesses actual chemistry. Nagato can sometimes come off as overly infantilized, but she's full of funny expressions and more often than not able to hold down the protagonist role. Yeah, this might be Haruhi by way of Place to Place, but this is actually a lot better than most Place to Places (including, well, Place to Place).
This isn't a great show, of course. Many of the more low-key scenes move beyond tranquil and into dull, some of the jokes try too hard with too little material (the competition between Asakura and Tsuruya went on for far too long, for example), and the overall show certainly doesn't seem that ambitious. There are echoes of the original series that bait possible returns to that style of material, but this episode is still mainly turkey and blushing. But yeah, I ultimately enjoyed this episode. If you can set aside any Haruhi-based expectations, this seems like a reasonable slice of life/romcom featuring a cast of old friends.
Review: For those who may be too new to fandom to be aware of it, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is an adaptation of a spinoff manga, which is a spinoff of the 2010 movie The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was itself the follow-up to the 2006 megahit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. In the movie Kyon was exposed to an alternate world where Haruhi did not have god-like powers and Yuki was just a normal girl rather than a stoic, data-manipulating alien. This series takes that world and explores it further, with the added proviso that this time Kyon is fully in line with this world rather than being an intruding outsider.
And that's really the entirety of the gimmick to it (at least so far). Evaluate it as a standalone work and it is merely a somewhat funny and sweet but also mostly bland look at a shy girl and the boy that a friend of hers is egging her on into confessing to. Evaluate it as an extension of the franchise and it is still a somewhat funny and sweet but also mostly bland look at a shy girl and the boy that a friend of hers is egging her on into confessing to, only it uses characters that franchise fans will recognize. The focus and perspective are clearly on Yuki instead of Kyon, so doubtless the production is banking heavily on Yuki's renowned appeal to carry the series.
The problem is that I find her dull this way, and nothing about her being a timid, emotional creature makes her any more appealing. In fact, it hurts instead. Yuki was never one of my favorite franchise characters, but what appeal she did have to me usually came from how her demeanor so dramatically contrasted with the other girls, how she so passively put up with all of the crap going on around her, and how one could get the sense that she did, indeed, have emotions and passions buried well below the surface. Here she's just exactly like hundreds of anime girls who have come before her. Kyon is also far less interesting – really just an ordinary anime guy – without us being able to see inside his head and enjoy the sardonic wit which he has shown no signs of even having. Some light humor and a wistful, whimsical tone partly offsets these problems, but nowhere near completely. A different director and animation studio also contribute to the problem, as the artistry and animation do not look bad but are not on the same level as the original Kyoto Animation effort. At least the original vocal cast has been reassembled.
The plot – such as it is – involves Ryoko coming up with various circumstances to leave Kyon and Yuki, who compose the other two members of the Literature Club alone together. Since it is getting close to Christmas time, Yuki insists on having their own Christmas party in their club room, complete with a turkey. While out shopping they encounter Tsuruya and Mikuru, and what starts out as a reluctant competition between Yuki and Mikuru ends up being one between the much more capable Tsuruya and Ryoko instead.
Whether fair or not, Disappearance cannot help but be compared to Melancholy, even if one firmly goes in with entirely different expectations. The latter was almost immediately recognizable as something special. This one isn't.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan takes place in a softer variant of the Haruhiverse. A spin-off of the oftentimes bizarre Haruhi Suzumiya franchise, this story casts Yuki, an alien in the main series, as a shy, ordinary high school student. She's in the Literature Club and she's fostering a major crush on Kyon, who in this incarnation is just a nice everyday guy. Yuki lives with Asakura, who is determined to get Yuki to confess her love, while Kyon seems totally oblivious to the whole thing. There's a nice, casual and comfortable feel to his behavior with her, even when he's freaking out after Asakura accidentally exposes the bottom Yuki's bra. On the most basic level, this episode feels like the introduction to a perfectly ordinary romantic comedy, with nothing really special standing out and a sense of calm gently enveloping everything.
Having not read the source material for this iteration of the franchise, I can't say how long that will last, but given that we've already seen Haruhi crossing paths with Yuki on the street – and that Yuki had a reaction to her presence – I would guess that things will get decidedly less calm as the story progresses. This episode, however, is much more interested in reintroducing us to the characters: Kyon, Yuki, and Asakura, obviously, but also Mikuru and Tsuruya show up. Thankfully Mikuru sans Haruhi is a much more tolerable character, fluttering around but not in a state of perpetual embarrassment. Asakura and Tsuruya feel basically unchanged from their other incarnations, and while Kyon seems gentler than in the original, he still does occasionally retreat into sarcastic narration. Yuki is really the most changed: she's a sweet, shy girl, a little bit clumsy and not adept at communication – you know, the basic cute-n-clumsy romantic interest.
“Soft” really is the word that keeps coming back into my mind as I think about this show, from the character designs, which I quite like; they retain recognizability while still looking different, to the pastels used as the base colors to the way the characters act. Sure Tsuruya and Asakura get up to some mischief, but it is nowhere near the manic level we saw in the original series. For me what this really has going for it as a single episode is the fact that Haruhi Suzumiya isn't in it, and I'm definitely leery of her entry into the story as a regular character.
That aside, the story is actually really dull. Yuki frets over her love for Kyon, Asakura encourages her, they eat oden and plan a Christmas party. There are some shenanigans at the shopping center, but basically nothing really happens. If you like gentle slice-of-life stories, this will probably interest you more than if you're looking for zaniness; otherwise, you may find yourself a little bored. Of course, you can always watch for the one scene of Mikuru running, with her breasts moving in physically ridiculous ways or some of the excellently animated scenes of Yuki nervously twiddling her feet. That's actually something I noticed about the episode – there's fixation with Yuki's legs and feet, with what feels like an unusual amount of shots of them. In many cases the feet are very nicely animated, moreso than some of the other movements we see, but it is kind of odd.
I am hesitant to say that this one episode will prove a good indicator of the series to come, but in itself it is a nice, albeit slow, introduction to this version of Nagato Yuki. It's peaceful and kind of sweet, and if it doesn't exactly grab you, it does shyly take your hand and ask you to watch. There's something to be said for that.
Rating for Haruhi fans: 3
Rating for everyone else: there's nothing here for you
Remember that bit near the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion where the show presented an alternate reality version of itself as a bland high school comedy, and all the people who didn't really like what Evangelion had become said they wished the show were that instead? That's what The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is, except it's a version of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya with all the sci-fi elements (so far) removed, and the title character is missing (save for a brief cameo at a crosswalk, presumably due to the fact that she's a student at another school in this version of the story, which is similar to the Haruhi-free reality that happens in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya).
It's pretty straightforward – conspicuously redesigned versions of Kyon and Nagato are members of the high school literature club, along with Asakura, who has been recast as Nagato's confident pal who guides her through her budding romance with Kyon. That romance is explicit this time around; the show is told entirely from Nagato's perspective, and she makes zero bones about her desire for Kyon's affection; she just isn't sure how to go about making that relationship happen.
In this episode, nothing happens.
Okay, that isn't entirely fair. Nagato wants to plan a Christmas party for the club, and wants turkey for the party, so they go shopping, where they run into Mikuru and her (again, newly-cast) pal Tsuruya, who gets into a hot-blooded, publicly humiliating battle in an outdoor mall with Asakura over who deserves Kyon's affection more, Mikuru or Nagato. There's no real winner, but Tsuruya and Asakura get along famously thanks to similarly brassy personalities. They get permission to use the club room for their Christmas party, and then, credits.
It's a real explosive action-packed thrill-a-minute carnival ride of excitement.
For people who just wanted more stories in the Haruhiverse (what else are we supposed to call it?) this low-key, easygoing romantic comedy might just fit the bill. The original Haruhi Suzumiya series was something like 70% screwing around and doing nothing by volume, so that the spinoff is seemingly 100% that doesn't feel completely out of character for the franchise. If all you wanted was to spend more time with everyone in the show who isn't Haruhi, your wish has been granted, although the crisp, striking Kyoani character designs are gone in favor of this sketchy, round-headed pastel greeting card look that I'm not sure I like. The animation wavers in between just fine and mediocre, so it isn't exactly a visual feast either.
For the most part, I like the shift in focus to Nagato's perspective, and I like her inner monologue. She's clear in what she wants, she just isn't sure how to get it, which makes her a relatable protagonist, much moreso than the superpowered alien enigma we spent so much time with in the original series. If nothing else, the show gets high marks from me just for that, even if it is kind of profoundly boring and has no particular reason to exist since it isn't necessarily adding much of anything to the Haruhi Suzumiya story. I'll probably keep watching more of this, having been institutionalized by the franchise during a marathon of it late last year, but this is for diehards only, and even for diehards, you've been warned: nothing happens.
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