Reviewby Gia Manry,
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
On December 17th, Kyon's life was abnormal: he spent his free time with an alien robot (Yuki), a time traveler (Mikuru), and an ESPer (Koizumi), trying to keep a headstrong classmate (the eponymous Haruhi) entertained so that she wouldn't unintentionally destroy the world. On December 18th, Kyon's life becomes...normal. Haruhi has disappeared as if she never attended their high school. Yuki is now a shy bookworm, Mikuru has lost all memory of Kyon, Koizumi is nowhere to be found, and only Kyon can see that things have changed. Now he has to decide whether he'll fix it or not.
Do not watch this film if you have no familiarity with the franchise it's set within, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Even if you're familiar with the general concept of the show or maybe saw a couple of episodes, a significant chunk of the film depends heavily on the viewer's knowledge of the series. If you haven't watched the TV seasons or read the novels, you'll be pretty confused when Kyon suddenly starts talking to his cat Shamisen or demanding to see a birth mark on Mikuru's chest.
Fans of the series, however, will have a lot of inside jokes to laugh at, and more importantly, some much-needed character development for Kyon and for alien robot character Yuki.
While not the lead heroine, Yuki has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the series, and for no small reason: where Haruhi is an over-the-top but cheerful bully and Mikuru a well-intentioned blob of extreme anxiety (would she really NEVER get the hang of Haruhi's insanity?), Yuki is incessantly calm and quiet- but not emotionless. In novel form, Kyon primarily tells the reader of her slight changes in expression, but in the anime, those rare and minute shifts truly shine. Subtlety: hey, it can happen.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya places a larger spotlight on Yuki than past story arcs, to strong effect. It's also impressive that Kyoto Animation managed to make Yuki's Haruhi-less self—a socially reclusive high school girl with a touch of a crush on Kyon, of course -very different from the also-timid Mikuru. One could imagine Mikuru as a scared rabbit flailing to get away from a predator and Yuki as a timid but not disinterested kitten, although they admittedly suffer from very different machinations (Haruhi's and Kyon's, respectively).
Fans of Mikuru may not get their fill in this movie, but they will enjoy the return of adult Mikuru. Haruhi herself has several strong moments as well- in fact, some viewers may prefer the powerless Haruhi to her original-timeline counterpart. Kyon, of course, takes the firm lead, and perhaps occasionally over-narrates, but Kyon's tone is so well-written it's hard to complain about it…much. And sorry, Koizumi fans: his role, as usual, is decidedly smaller than the other four SOS Brigade members'. (All twelve of you can send your letters of complaint to Kyo-Ani.)
It should be said that the larger storyline of the movie is predictable. Author Nagaru Tanigawa glosses over this with his colorful characters, enjoyable dialogue, and surprise mini-twists, so for the most part fans will forgive that. However, Kyon spends too long making an idiot of himself trying to confirm that something unnatural has truly happened rather than some sort of massive-scale pranking, which seems a bit odd for a guy who time travels to keep an insane high school girl-slash-god from remaking the universe. As a result of this and other somewhat overzealous tone-setting, viewers will definitely feel the nearly-three-hour length of the film by the end of it. Truly obsessive Haruhi fans will be thrilled about this attention to detail, but more casual fans should make sure they get a comfy chair.
On the technical front, the animation is as would be expected for Kyoto Animation working with a large budget on a project requiring less than half of the footage needed for a 14-episode TV series. It is, quite frankly, beautifully done, although it's still KyoAni, so moe-haters need not apply. The voice acting is excellent on all counts, as with the TV seasons, and Yuki voice actress Minori Chihara also contributes an attractive and well-sung ending theme to cap off the experience.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a film created entirely for current fans of the franchise, who will enjoy it unless they aren't fond of Yuki, Kyon, and/or time travel (in which case they wouldn't watch or read Haruhi to begin with). But don't try to convert friends to Haruhi-ism with the movie; it'll confuse them, and it's really only good when one really understands all the minute references and larger past storylines.
A final note of caution: where The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's second season and its "Endless Eight" arc made the series' time travel famous, it is in this film and its novel version (due out from Yen Press this November) where the time travel starts to become truly confusing. Fans who have trouble wrapping their brains around, say, Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time may want to start drawing a diagram.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Great animation, strong dialogue matched with great voice actors, and the usual cast of fun characters.
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