Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan
Episode 10

by Nick Creamer,

This week's episode starred an unexpected character - Nagato Yuki's old self.

It happened like a light being switched. In the wake of Nagato almost getting hit by a car last week, her established personality disappeared. No bumbling friendship with Asakura, no awkward pining for Kyon, almost no emotion at all. In its place, the show slotted in the Nagato Yuki familiar to anyone who's seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - a girl who expresses virtually nothing, who responds when prompted but otherwise sits reading in standby, and who treats everyone around her with polite but distant respect.

This was a pretty significant shift, to say the least. It wasn't totally unexpected, since the show has consistently hinted at odd connections with the old universe, but it was certainly a shock to Nagato Yuki-chan's style. In fact, the show essentially jumped genres this week; from a slight and joke-filled slice of life, it curved immediately into a slow-burning drama. Such a shift is a bold risk to take, and can often result in a show that feels disjointed. And this episode did feel disjointed, but the shift has worked for me so far for two main reasons. One, the show we're shifting away from wasn't terribly good. And two, the episode I just watched was very good.

The credit for that goes largely to this episode's stellar direction, pacing, and sound design. You could feel the earth move the moment this episode started; Nagato's slow recovery in the street was framed not with music, but the incessant pouring of the rain (a sound that would continue all through the episode), and the driver's attempts to reach her rose in intensity purely through their slow repetition. The measured pacing worked together with the direction in the next scene, where Asakura attempted to get some reaction from Nagato regarding her accident. As Asakura cried over Nagato possibly being hurt, the camera lingered outside Nagato's window for a long shot that portrayed Nagato simply staring at her crying friend. The distant framing made the moment feel even more impersonal, until the shot ended with Nagato simply saying “I'm sorry,” apparently unsure of what action was required in this situation.

The next day at school, an extended scene between Nagato and Kyon once again demonstrated keen use of labored pacing. The two spent some unknown amount of time sharing proximity in the club room, with Nagato having switched from videogames back to her Melancholy books. As Kyon fidgeted and attempted to open conversation, Nagato shut him down by answering his questions in the most mechanical way possible. A character could easily have said “there's something wrong with Nagato,” but this episode made you feel it, stuck you in the place of her friends as minutes slowly ticked by. Things can be slow without being bad if they're using that pacing effectively, and this episode was a perfect demonstration of purposefully slowing things down.

The sound design was the star in the episode's last act, as it almost had to be. With Nagato expressing virtually no emotion, most of the tension of these scenes had to be conveyed through the framing and music, and this episode's collection of mournful piano, off-kilter strings, and well-chosen incidental sound effects rose to the challenge. Nagato staring through the window, any emotions she might be suppressing reflected through the sad, winding piano and rain outside. Asakura waiting at the train tracks, her growing anxiety clear in her expression and the incessant ringing of the warning bell. And the final dinner scene, where Asakura and Nagato's polite exchanges were undercut by the building, relentless song. Even the last moments, when Asakura finally asked “who are you?”, were elevated through the framing, as a single drop of water lingered on the faucet, hanging, hanging, falling down. The rain poured outside. Nagato stared.

This episode didn't justify the nine preceding it, but it was its own aesthetic reward. A powerful, deeply melancholy vignette.

Rating: A

Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan is currently streaming on Funimation.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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