Review for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
With so much anime being upgraded to Blu-ray of late, it's made my life as a reviewer a fair bit easier, allowing for some judicious cut and paste of some previous reviews. While the presentation changes, the actual content doesn't. Alas, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya isn't a title that gets an upgrade to high definition in the UK, a fact that has had many fans gnashing their teeth in frustration. After all, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was the flagship title in a year of Haruhi. People could take or leave the Haruhi-chan shorts, while the second series of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya came with its own Endless Eight baggage which turned off more fans than it excited. People were willing to put up with all this, because The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, the much lauded feature film adaptation of the hit anime franchise was coming to the UK. It was initially meant to be released last summer, along with the series, but got delayed until November 2011. Then Manga Entertainment discovered that the Blu-ray mastered for the UK wouldn't play in UK PS3s, which meant that the whole kit and caboodle had to be remastered from the ground up, pushing back the release to February this year. And then this February they announced that the cost of said remastering was so prohibitive, that the UK Blu-ray was cancelled...
That's the most anticipated anime feature film of the last few years, released in the UK on DVD only. Admittedly it was a decent DVD, but a film of this magnitude needs an HD presentation. Unfortunately Bandai, who released the movie in the US, lock their Blu-rays to Region A. Fortunately, Madman Entertainment have released it in Australia on Region B, and the first thing I did when that cancellation was announced, was place an order down under. Anything in italics is a cut and paste from my original review.
One of the peculiarities of the Japanese education system is the emphasis on extra-curricular activity. It's practically expected that students take part in some sort of interest outside of lessons, to foster individual or team development, and encourage initiative. The dropouts who go home at the end of the school day are the exception rather than the rule. It's a little factette worth noting when watching any anime set in a school environment, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in particular, as it focuses on a rather peculiar set of dropouts. The anime is based on a set of novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, and is told from the point of view of a boy starting high school. Kyon like many other young teens had a brief flirtation with the paranormal, the extra-terrestrial and the just plain weird, but now that he is starting high school he has put such juvenile pursuits behind him. But then, on the first day of school he winds up sat in front of the class cutie, Haruhi Suzumiya, who promptly makes a statement when introducing herself, that unless they are aliens, espers or time travellers, that no one should bother her. The students who came up to high school with her tell Kyon that she has always been the eccentric, and that befriending her would take more energy than it is worth. Then Kyon, on his umpteenth attempt to make conversation tells a rather sullen and withdrawn Haruhi that she should just start her own club.
Suddenly she's energised and enthused, and Kyon has a new role in life, that of Haruhi's lackey. "The Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade" is born, the SOS Brigade for short, and they soon find a headquarters for the club. But school regulations state that an after school group needs a minimum of five members. Fortunately the clubroom comes with the sole member of the otherwise graduated Literature club, Yuki Nagato, a rather introverted girl who always has her nose in a book. Next comes Mikuru Asahina, a timid young thing who's pleasing on the eye in Kyon's opinion, but who Haruhi sees as her personal plaything. Of course the oddest students of all according to Haruhi are exchange students, with mysterious pasts and hidden abilities. The first such student that arrives at school gets press-ganged by Haruhi, and with Itsuki Koizumi, the Brigade has its mandatory five members. And so the search for weird phenomenon, time travellers, espers and aliens, begins. But no one in the SOS Brigade is exactly as they seem, and odd things start to happen around Haruhi Suzumiya.
That was the description most apt for the two TV series. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is adapted from the fourth light novel, and takes place after the series; so all events that happen in those 28 episodes are past when this movie starts.
December 16th… Winter's chill makes it extremely difficult for Kyon to escape the covers in the morning, but knowing what is most likely awaiting him at school doesn't make it any easier. SOS Brigade Leader Haruhi Suzumiya has a hyper event planned, a Christmas party to end all Christmas parties, and it's all hands to deck to prepare for the big event. That means lackey Kyon of course.
December 17th… That cold is biting, but no less than the knowledge of what Haruhi expects from him. But, maybe donning a reindeer outfit won't be so bad, as long as Mikuru is wearing that cute Santa outfit. Classmate Taniguchi won't be attending the party though, he's gone and done the impossible and gotten a date.
December 18th… It's a good thing that his sister is a sadist that enjoys dragging him out of bed, or Kyon would never get out from under the covers. Today, more than ever he wishes he hadn't woken up. Going to school, he learns that Taniguchi doesn't have a date, he has cold. In fact the whole school is coming down with the sniffles. And there isn't going to be a Christmas Party for the SOS Brigade. There isn't an SOS Brigade. There isn't a Haruhi Suzumiya! Instead, sitting behind him in class is Ryoko Asakura, the same Asakura that vanished after trying to kill him back in spring; only she's a normal school girl again. There's no Class 9 in the school, and no Itsuki Koizumi. Mikuru Asahina has no idea who he is, has no idea what time travel is, and when Kyon tries to press her, is quickly convinced that he's a creep. In desperation he heads for the Brigade headquarters, only to find that it's still the Literature Club, and solitary in the corner behind a book is Yuki Nagato. This isn't the Yuki Nagato he knows, This Yuki is a shy, easily flustered girl, hiding behind her glasses, and even more, nursing something of a crush on Kyon. The SOS Brigade never existed, and the world is suddenly normal again. The question isn't how to change things back; the question is whether Kyon actually wants to change it back?
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer presented at 1080p. This disc is the US Bandai release cloned for Region B and lacks even the Madman logo at the start of the disc. The UK DVD was a very nice PAL disc. The Blu-ray blows it away. The image quality is breathtaking throughout. It's clear, sharp, the animation is smooth, and there are no compression artefacts, no aliasing, no digital banding, and absolutely no indication that this film is anything other than what was originally put to 'celluloid'.
The detail in the film is amazing and on the Blu-ray you can see subtleties to the backgrounds that were wholly absent on the DVD. The practice nets when Taniguchi and Kyon have such fine detail to them that I was astounded that the animators went so far as to replicate it. What also appeals is the effect that mood and lighting have on the film. There's a subtly different palette of colours used once reality alters, it's almost subliminal, but there is a duller, less lively outlook to the world, colours are subdued, and there's a slightly darker feel to proceedings. Of course on Blu-ray, colour representation by far exceeds what DVD is capable of, and the richness of the world designs, the warmth and atmosphere of the film is much enhanced. The animation is excellent, the characters are realistically animated, and quieter, introspective moments contrast well with the big 'action' scenes. The film is the world of Haruhi Suzumiya at its most detailed, most striking, and given the quality of the original television series, that's really saying something.
The audio comes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles (in a nice legible yellow font), and a signs only track. Again, the DVD was good; the Blu-ray is in a whole other world. I stuck with the original Japanese for the duration, and I did note that the overall volume was a little low, but that's easily remedied. Once I had the audio where I wanted it, I could fully appreciate the clarity of the surround, the fidelity of the audio, and the very subtle creation of atmosphere and placement of effects. The music also comes across with greater vibrancy, and I truly appreciated the sweeping orchestral score, and the selection of classical pieces this time around. It really brings out the epic nature of the movie, and sets it apart from the television series that precedes it.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 2-disc collection which comes packaged in the standard Blu-ray case, with one disc on a central hinged panel. The sleeve art has a poster image of Yuki Nagato on the inside.
The Blu-ray disc is a clone of the Bandai disc, complete with FBI warning, and over a minute of skippable logos before you get to the animated menu screen. The only extras on this disc are three trailers, the HD trailer for Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer and SD trailers for K-ON!, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
The extras disc is the exact same DVD that was released with the UK DVD, down to the same off-centre buzzing noise that it makes in my player...
Location Hunting "Kounan Hospital" lasts 10 minutes and sees the crew, accompanied by voice actor Minoru Shiraishi (Taniguchi) visiting the hospital that inspired one of the key locations in the film. As they explore the building, the screen pops up picture in picture clips from the film for you to compare and contrast.
Behind the Scenes: BGM Recording at Victor Studio, Australia lasts 16 minutes. First we get to see pianist Seiji Honda finding the tempo that best suits the filmmakers for his rendition of a classical piece of music. Then we shift to Australia where the film's score is recorded.
Stage Greetings at Tokyo Shinjuku Wald 9, Ikebukuro Cinema Sunshine lasts 64 minutes. The voice cast and crew of the film appear on stage at one of the cinemas where the film premiered to greet the audience and speak about their experiences. Then they move to another cinema and go through the whole process again. As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of repetition in what they have to say.
You may feel a little concern then at the Stage Greeting at Kyoto: Kyoto Cinema featurette, but this time, it's the animation directors and producer on stage, not the actors and directors, so the Q & A session here covers different topics. It's shorter too at just 17 minutes.
Behind The Scenes: Cutting, Dubbing, Video Editing lasts 29 minutes, and follows the film being put together at various stages. There is an early look at editing taking place at the storyboard stage. It's cheaper to edit a film before it's animated. The dubbing shows the final sound mix being put together, and Video Editing looks at the credit sequences being created, as well as some last minute fixes and changes to various scenes.
Theme Song "Yasashii Boukyaku" PV Making lasts 26 minutes, and sees Yuki's voice actress, Minori Chihara on location as she shoots the video for the theme song, as well as doing the photoshoot for the CD cover. Surprisingly enough, there isn't much actual music to be had in this featurette.
The disc concludes with the Theatrical Trailer, the Teasers, the Commercials and the TV Spots for the movie.
This is simultaneously a very easy, and a rather difficult review to write. The nature of the story of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is such that discussing it any more than just superficially invites spoilers, and this is a film that you definitely do not want spoiled. It's a film that you want to discover for yourselves, a film that you want to embrace the wonder of, and experience again and again, without preconception, and without any external opinion. On the other hand, it's remarkably easy to just say that it is the best film, anime or otherwise, that I have seen this year, and that you really don't need to hesitate in buying it.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. This isn't a stand-alone movie, although it will probably work on a lesser level that way. But you really need to have seen the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series first to really appreciate it. You'll need to see Season 1 to get an idea of the Haruhi-verse and some idea of the characters. You'll also need to see Season 2 because the events of the Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody Episode play a major part in the film. The film also gives Endless Eight a point. I'll never really be comfortable watching Endless Eight, the series of eight episodes that repeat the same events over and over again as the SOS Brigade find themselves in a never ending time-loop of mundanity. But at least watching this film, I can see the point of them, given Yuki's character development in the film. If buying the film forces you to watch the 28 episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, then so be it. You'll only be investing in some of the best-animated television around, at least in the case of season 1.
The obvious event in the film is the titular disappearance. That isn't the problem that you might expect, as the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise has always been the story of the narrator, Kyon, not Haruhi herself. She is a hyperactive force of nature, a deus ex machina given human form, whose sheer overwhelming existence puts the characters around her through various trials and tribulations. Her whims and desires can alter the fabric of reality itself, and dealing with those events is what the episodes of Melancholy have all been about. All of a sudden, she's absent from the world, and her absence is as much driver of events as is her presence, and the film becomes the story of Kyon trying deal with this tectonic shift in his perceptions.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya does move the story and the characters onwards, which is what is most appealing about the film, the exploration of something new. Most obvious is the character growth in Kyon, who all of a sudden finds that his reality has been altered, that the constant bugbear in his life has vanished, has never even existed, and the world has gone back to normality. There is the initial shock to the event, the instinctive need to fix things, but it's only as the story progresses that he realises the choice that he has. Ever since Haruhi drafted him into the SOS Brigade, he's been the reluctant observer, the outraged cynic, the guy always complaining internally at Haruhi's shocking excesses, and adding his world-weary commentary to whatever bizarre events unfold. He's always seen himself as on the outside looking in. Now with the world finally back to normal, he no longer has anything to complain about, and if he so chooses he can have that normal existence again. At the same time, he begins to realise just what a major part of his life the SOS Brigade is, and how much of a difference Haruhi's presence makes. If he should choose to restore the world, then he has to accept that he is no longer just an outsider, an observer, but that he is an active member of Haruhi's clique, and that he'll have to be responsible for his actions.
On the other hand, there is Yuki's character, the quiet, logical, and unearthly alien construct in the SOS Brigade. She's a girl of few words, a stoic demeanour that slowly begins to develop a personality the longer that she stays around Haruhi and Kyon. Except all of a sudden she's just a shy little girl who's fond of reading, and finds it difficult to socialise. What's more, she's also nursing something of a crush on Kyon. While the world may have changed, the people in it markedly different from the way that Kyon remembers, for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, the alternate Yuki's character growth is intertwined with the way that the alien Yuki develops in the series, and shy Yuki is a curious, what-if reflection of the other. If there were one reason why Kyon would most want to keep the altered world, it would be seeing the utterly human side of Yuki.
Of course the other characters play a part too, with Mikuru's shy, vulnerable demeanour unchanged from before, even though she's wary of Kyon's bizarre behaviour. Koizumi turns out to be just as arrogant and annoying as before, while Haruhi learns just how much she needs and relies on Kyon. The film ends on a really positive and uplifting note that makes me desperate for more Haruhi anime.
I want to tell you about all the best bits in the film, but that too would invite spoilers, and blister my typing fingers as there are so many of them. There were moments in this film I felt like cheering, had a stupid grin on my face, or was immersed in the perfection of the moment. This is the best of Haruhi Suzumiya yet put to animation. I can't tell you exactly how good it is, as that would entail telling you why, which would spoil the fun of discovering it for yourself. I will tell you though that this movie makes me feel like some sort of weird anime Tellytubby, as I just want to watch it again… again, again!
The first time I watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, I went into it relatively blind, hyped up by the appreciative noise around it, but ignoring all of the reviews, and I loved it. Since then, I have read a few of the reviews, including some of the critical ones. The film is for fans of the series and is comparatively inaccessible to fresh viewers. The film is too long. The film caters to fans of the novel it is adapted from by not even editing out the unnecessary minutiae of the plot. The film even cheats viewers of its denouement. Objectively I can say that all of this is true. Subjectively however, I don't care. I simply love every frame of this movie, and I love that it's such a love letter to the fans, especially after the troll-age that was Endless Eight. I love that it is so long. I love that it focuses on the minutiae, because all that trivial minutiae informs the characters that are so important to the Haruhi Suzumiya story. I even love the denouement, as it is so in character with the story that no other conclusion would be as acceptable. I even love that without the PAL speed-up this Blu-ray is 4% longer, as I get to spend more time with the characters.
The decision is obvious. If you are a fan of Haruhi Suzumiya, and you have a Blu-ray player, you just have to import this disc. Manga Entertainment's DVD release is fine; technically it's one of their strongest releases. But in comparison to that DVD though, this Blu-ray is in a completely different dimension.