Sunday, January 02, 2011

Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

I think I fell for Haruhi when I first read about the plot in a post on AnimeSuki's forum, a couple weeks before the first season aired - somehow it just sounded like it would be fascinating to watch, and in the end it was, hitting a good combination of interesting characters, a unique world, fluid animation, and a plot where anything could happen. I'd probably rank Toradora higher if I was doing my top 10, but I've still watched the first season of Haruhi more times than I can remember.

Then the second season came, and I didn't even bother watching the whole thing - not just the Endless Eight part, which has to rank as one of the most monumentally bad pieces of judgment in the history of the anime world, but the whole Adventures of Asahina Mikuru movie arc, which showcases Haruhi at her least likeable. With that background, I had mixed feelings going into Disappearance - two hours plus? Really? Was my attention span even that long anymore, after years of 24 minute anime episodes? Didn't Haruhi herself barely get any screentime in that novel, so we'll be stuck with Nagato looking expressionless for two hours?

In the end, I've got to give Kyoani credit though - I don't watch movies very often (honestly, any movie out of Hollywood lately has me looking at my watch by about an hour in) but this was really well done, sucking in my attention from the moment the prologue of sorts ended and the world changed on Kyon. I wouldn't have called the first season a "suspense" anime, but Disappearance did a good job creating suspense, and fortunately it was long enough after I'd read the light novel that I didn't remember most of the details.

The highlights? Nagato's obviously the star of this one, although I'm not a sucker for the overly bashful/shy type, so I didn't suffer death by moe, but if you do like that type this movie will get you where it counts. Even I had to be impressed by the power of the fully operational Nagato smile.

But the rest of the cast does get their time to shine too - Kyon's whining can get old after a while, sometimes it's hard not to say "if Haruhi drives you so fucking crazy, why don't you JUST GO HOME and don't go to the clubroom?" Maybe the world will end, but that's Koizumi's posse's problem anyway. But in Disappearance, Kyon does finally come to the realization that as much as he gripes about it, if he's honest with himself, he really *does* like his new life more than the boring everyday life he had before.

Haruhi herself does get more screentime than I remembered too, and alternate version Haruhi is pretty moe seizure inducing, with her long hair making a comeback. Asahina (big and small versions), Koizumi, even Tsuruya and Kyon's friends all make appearances too, but the reappearance of Asakura Ryoko is a big highlight too. One thing the Haruhi series has really lacked since the first novel is a bad guy, and Ryoko fits the bill perfectly, with the sweet, innocent smile never leaving her face as she's trying to plunge a knife into some vital organ of yours. I think until Disappearance, I didn't realize how much the series lost when she left.

Animation quality was another highlight, although I was (as usual) watching on my work-issued ThinkPad, which while it has a great keyboard and all, doesn't have the best display in the world. If it looked this good in 720p on a dimly backlit non-glossy 14-inch screen, I can't imagine what the 1080p on a real monitor would look like. A few of the scenes looked almost too fluid to me, like they were trying to use CG for inbetweening or something, but that's a minor complaint.

Lowlights? The whole daydream sequence with Kyon interrogating himself about whether he really likes the new world or the one with the SOS-dan better was well animated and...well, creative, I guess, but it just came across like it would be much more fun to watch if you're on an acid trip. Being surreal has a place, like in Beautiful Dreamer, but somehow it just felt out of place here. The 'prolouge' of sorts felt a little drawn out too, at 17+ minutes, before we get into the real action - but that's likely just my personal bias that no movie should ever run past two hours talking.

If you gave up on Haruhi and the endless wait for the tenth novel (or I guess the 10th and 11th novels now, if you believe the news they're both coming out around end of May), or if you gave the franchise up for dead after Endless Eight Hell, Disappearance may well convert you back to the fold of Haruhiism. I still think with the 9th novel the author got himself in a plot pit he'll never find his way out of, and I'm not optimistic the series will get a decent ending, but Disappearance does make me look forward to the day when the rest of the light novels make it to be animated. There's far worse ways to spend a couple hours of time at least.

Also, a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's to all of you out there on the Inter-net, and if you haven't given Milky Holmes a try (and like me, you liked Galaxy Angel, probably the closest thing I can compare it to), then I'd highly recommend checking it out, probably the series that made me laugh the most this season...