ANIME REVIEW: “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Movie” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Movie”

Haruhi Suzumiya (voiced by Wendee Lee) is a fascinating individual, as she’d be the first person to tell you.

She’s smart, athletic and may be the prettiest freshman in North High, but she’s also the most difficult. She wants nothing to do with the “boring” activities most high school students enjoy. She establishes the SOS Brigade to help her find individuals she considers interesting: “aliens, time travelers, and espers.” Although she doesn’t realize it, she’s found exactly what she was looking for in the students she’s shanghaied into the Brigade. Brilliant Yuki Nagato (Michelle Ruff) is an alien; cute, painfully shy Mikuru Asahina (Stephanie Sheh) is visiting from the future; and seemingly laid back Itsuki Koizumi (Johnny Yong Bosch) is an esper.

This bizarre trio hasn’t congregated around Haruhi by coincidence. They know she possesses staggering powers, powers she’s fortunately unaware of. If anything upsets her, dark gashes haunted by ghostly giants appear in the space-time fabric. The existence of the Earth and perhaps the entire universe depends on Haruhi’s whims. Nagato, Asahina and Koizumi work frantically to keep her entertained and happy. But the burden of her constant demands, requests, tantrums, adventures, expeditions and expenditures falls on the one “normal” member of the group: Kyon (Crispin Freeman), the put-upon de facto narrator.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya began as series of popular novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, which are available in English. The series was animated in first in 2006, then continued in 2009. The theatrical feature The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya came out in 2010.

Winter vacation is approaching during a bitterly cold December. Haruhi decides the Brigade should throw a Christmas party. She plans on cooking hotpot, regardless of school rules. True to form, Kyon goes along her plans, buying tinsel and grumbling about being ill-used and overworked.

A few days before the party, Kyon arrives at school and discovers Haruhi isn’t in her desk. When he asks his classmates where she is, no one remembers her ever being in their class. Koizumi is nowhere to found; Asahina and Nagato don’t recognize him.

Confused and frightened, Kyon tries to sort what’s going on. He gradually begins to piece together elements of this altered reality. A somewhat more normal version of Haruhi attends a classy prep school nearby, as does Koizumi. This Koizumi has no psi powers. Nor, apparently, does Haruhi.

Kyon isn’t sure if he’s been transported to a parallel world or if the world he knew changed overnight. As he rummages through the old club room of the SOS Brigade, he comes across the first clues left for him by the original Nagato—the genius, not the quiet girl who sits and reads. If he can decode the mysterious hints Nagato prepared, Kyon may be able to restore the world to its proper disorder. But deciphering those keys and returning the world to the state he knew proves as complicated and risky as resolving similar space/time distortions in Steins;Gate.

As the voice of Kyon, Freeman has to carry the story of Disappearance to an even greater degree than he did in the broadcast series, and he gives an impressive performance. The more complex story requires him to dig deeper into his character. Under his own cross-examination, Kyon is forced to admit that the calmer, normal world he’s yearned for is horrendously dull. Despite all the problems and hassles and demands, he misses Haruhi. Without her, the world feels pallid and drab, as if it had been painted beige.

Working from a screenplay by Fumihiko Shimo, executive director Tatsuya Ishihara (who worked on both Melancholy series) and director Yasuhiro Takemoto succeed in preserving the elements that made Haruhi Suzumiya a fan favorite, while expanding the world and finding new aspects of the familiar characters. At almost two and a half hours, Disappearance feels a bit longer than it needs to be and suffers from multiple endings (a problem that’s dogged recent animated features from many countries). But it’s sure to please fans of the original series.

This Blu-ray/DVD set includes numerous extras. A film of a research trip to an aging Tokyo hospital cleverly juxtaposes the live action footage of the site with the animated adaptation. Another short captures the two directors correcting minor visual errors—which would have been caught by checking in an American studio—and discussing the placement of sound effects with the editors and technicians.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Movie
Funimation: $34.98 three discs, Blu-ray and DVD

Jerry Beck

Jerry Beck

Writer, cartoon producer and author of more than 15 books on animation history. A former studio exec with Nickelodeon and Disney; currently on the faculty at both CalArts in Valencia and Woodbury University in Burbank.
Jerry Beck
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  • Too Many Cooks

    What prompted a review of this movie years after the fact? Was there a re-release?

  • Steve Brandon

    6 months late and I’m not the guy you were asking but, yes, there was a re-release from Funimation. Before that, the only North American release of the film was from Bandai Entertainment, and was only in stores for a very short amount of time before Bandai pulled out of the US anime market as a distributor entirely, so the disk was long out-of-print and fetched high amounts on eBay. (I was lucky enough to get a copy of the Bandai release while it was still in stores, though I wasn’t tempted to sell my copy.)

    Not that there’s anything wrong with reviews that revisit older movies whether there’s a new home video release or not.