Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan Episode 4
by Nick Creamer,
Well this was a mean little episode. Valentine's Day is approaching, and Nagato is determined to give Kyon some valentine chocolate. To that end, she spends most of this episode buying ingredients, cooking with Asakura, feeling generally insecure about expressing her feelings, and ultimately getting encouragement from her friends that gives her the courage to confront him. Meanwhile, Kyon is busy being stolen away by that devil Haruhi, who drags Kyon along through a sequence that very directly establishes the rapport and relationship the two of them shared in her title show. This isn't your show, Haruhi! Get along out of here!
I mentioned last week that it seemed like Nagato Yuki-chan was in danger of being overwhelmed by Haruhi's personality, and this week's drama played out that fear in the most cruel and self-aware way possible. It was basically like two different shows were happening at the same time, with Nagato continuing her silly moe adventures while Haruhi doubled down on being wild, headstrong, and possibly just the spark Kyon's been looking for.
The episode opened with the whole cast together, in a sequence that offered some of the best jokes as Asakura and Tsuruya competed over whose friend was more adorable, Nagato or Mikuru. There were some great visual gags and silly faces here (I particularly liked the image of a blob-like Mikuru waiting to get picked up by the side of a vending machine), but the show ran into the unfortunate issue of sometimes over-explaining its own jokes (as Mikuru did following that gag, outlining exactly why it's funny to see Mikuru as some kind of stray pet), which was a problem that would continue throughout the episode.
Following that first scene, the show branched out into two different shows. On one side, in cute slice of life Nagato Yuki-chan land, Nagato worked to make a chocolate cake for her crush, making every cooking mistake possible and generally being exactly the kind of silly but endearing person this show's ostensibly constructed around. On the other side, Haruhi ended up dragging Kyon to a diner (where he was forced to foot the bill, of course) and explaining her desire to seek out the weird and unexplainable. As Nagato stumbled over her feet and dropped chocolate on the floor, Haruhi took Kyon out to the riverbank for a sequence that culminated in a dramatic rescue by Kyon, a bunch of shimmering eyes between the pair of them, and a whole lot of ominous mutual laughter. Once again, it seems like Haruhi might just be the maelstrom of passion that Kyon secretly wants in his life. This all came to a head in the episode's last act, when Nagato's plan to give Kyon chocolate resulted in her walking in on Haruhi ostensibly handing him chocolate herself.
So yeah, this episode played a whole lot of obvious but cruel dramatic tricks, intentionally threatening to have Haruhi steal both Nagato's crush and show altogether out from under her. The fact that the show is playing up this rivalry so early and overtly makes me think Haruhi won't ultimately be much of a rival, since normally rivalries you're actually going to focus on get drawn out more than this. And the way the last scene was framed makes it likely the next episode's first couple minutes will reveal this all to be a misunderstanding, anyway. But either way, it's kind of interesting in a meta sense to see the relationship threads that were the bedrock of Haruhi Suzumiya here being played as a kind of antagonistic inevitability.
Unfortunately, the episode just wasn't all that entertaining. Though the relationships here work fine in the context of a fluffy slice of life/romcom, they're not strong enough to really justify this kind of ominous dramatic affectation, and the episode's drama was more of a cute subversion in theory than something that felt particularly real or poignant in action. The more Nagato Yuki-chan relies on callbacks and assumed audience affection for the characters, the less it feels like something worth investing in for its own sake, and this episode was very heavy on assumed investment. Additionally, the drama portrayed here was all very routine stuff (Kyon and Haruhi bonded over a classic “she slips, he catches her, starry eyes all around” gag, Nagato's walking in on them couldn't have been more by-the-books, etc), which made me sometimes wish the show would stop baiting these obvious tricks and just get on with the story. Plus, the leaning into this big dramatic rivalry meant the show had a lot less of what it's actually good at - cute scenes with the core cast. So overall, I can't say this episode was really a success - and that's not just because I'm rooting for Nagato.
But seriously, what are you doing here, Haruhi? Go find your own friends. Go on home!
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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