Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan Episodes 1-3
by Nick Creamer,
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya casts a long shadow. Released almost a decade ago now (and no, I don't want to talk about how that makes me feel), it's no longer the cultural phenomenon it once was, but it still stands as an influential forerunner to our current light novel-saturated anime world. Haruhi didn't come up with sarcastic, genre-savvy protagonists or premises that mixed light fantasy, school clubs, and laser-targeted fanservice, but it certainly knew a thing or two about the art. Its mix of episodic antics, surprisingly thoughtful underlying storytelling, and stellar execution struck a real chord, and varyingly successful riffs on the Haruhi formula have been cluttering our airwaves ever since. There's a lot to dig into in that show - the way its protagonist Kyon helped pave the way for a new era of self-aware protagonists, the difficult balance of fantasy intrigue and well-observed human drama that few studios have managed to repeat since, or even the inescapable sharp edges of the series, best represented through the selfish, violent, all-consuming nature of Haruhi herself. It'd be difficult to reduce The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to a pat, tidy summary.
It sure is easy to reduce The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan to one, though. And here it is: “mostly harmless.”
Nagato Yuki-chan takes place in the universe posited by the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya film - one where the aliens, espers, and other mysterious beings Haruhi seeks don't actually exist, Haruhi herself is an ordinary high school student, and Nagato Yuki is more shy and flustered than inhumanly even-keeled. The series so far has mostly proceeded at the pace of an extremely sedate slice of life/romcom, with Nagato's underlying issues of confidence and feelings for Kyon forming the bedrock on which we explore such gripping dilemmas as: getting turkey for the Christmas party. Having turkey at the Christmas party. Having tea with friends. Etcetera.
If these sorts of harmless pleasantries sound like your thing, Nagato Yuki-chan is probably already worth a watch. The show isn't ambitious, but it is fine at what it does. The characters all have an endearing rapport, the jokes are lighthearted but generally effective, and the show has an endless reserve of silly Nagato reaction faces. Nagato and Kyon are positioned firmly in that classic position of being adorable for each other, and almost certainly into each other, but unwilling to take that final confidence leap, and Asakura completes their club by essentially acting as the mom of the group. Soft lighting and low-key music offer a reasonable aesthetic background for the idyllic picture, making Nagato Yuki-chan an overall warm slice of fluff for fans of the original series.
That “for fans of the original series” is kind of a weird sticking point here. Though the plot doesn't exactly demand thorough familiarity with the original series, callbacks abound, ranging from the minor (a midnight scene between Nagato and Haruhi that echoes the original, a knife gag with Asakura) to general assumptions of character behavior. The romantic threat implied in Kyon asking Haruhi to wear her hair in a ponytail is understandable just from Nagato's reaction, but the true danger it reflects is only understandable to someone who sat watching as Kyon and Haruhi almost let the world burn. Nagato's a new person here, but you're more or less expected to know the rest of this crowd, and the third episode in particular seems to be bringing this show even more in line with the original.
That episode looks like it might serve as a turning point for the series. Though the first two episodes were basically just Nagato and Kyon's Harmless High School Life, the third episode has seen Haruhi staging a full-scale invasion of their club, and her presence threatens to warp the entire show around her. Haruhi's an overpowering personality, and it remains to be seen how Nagato Yuki-chan will keep her on-screen while still highlighting Nagato as a character. This show probably isn't going to wow many people, but it's to Nagato Yuki-chan's credit that I kind of fear Haruhi's presence - I like the relationship between Nagato and Kyon, I'm a little invested in Nagato's overdone but reasonably portrayed confidence-building arc, and I don't want this show to devolve into Haruhi Mk. II Minus The Fantasy Stuff. Do your best, Nagato. I'm rooting for you.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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