With the end of the year rapidly approaching, the holidays have blasted through like a freight train and 2019 will be here in a blink of an eye. Looking at my calendar, I couldn’t believe it was time for a tradition of mine already. On 18 December without fail every year since 2014, I have watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. While this might not be a particularly well kept secret (as I have made articles regarding Haruhi annually during the month of December), I have never really made an article exclusively looking at the film itself. After opening up in one of my previous articles about how much I wanted to try to open up and be more expressive about the anime I cherish, this had to be on my shortlist.
I have shared this story before, so I will be as brief as I can about it. I had a friend back in the mid 2000's (before the time of using Discord or even Skype really) that I kept up with daily and we would talk about nearly everything. The website we used had one of those letter icons that would light up to let you know when there was a new direct message after mashing refresh during a “conversation”. At the time the only anime I was remotely interested in were Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. My friend, however, was definitely up on whatever the new stuff coming out was. He had a particular anime he adored that was airing which was, yep, you guessed it, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. He campaigned hard (and unsuccessfully) for me to watch it too, and went as far as telling me I reminded him of the titular character, Haruhi (I laugh at this notion in hindsight because I understand he meant because of my spirit but the way Kyon describes her makes it sound like an insult). Unfortunately, one morning came after a particularly rough stretch for my friend and he left a message overnight that he was intending on jumping off the roof of a building- and I never heard from him again, so I can only assume his fate.
Years passed, and a pretty nasty knee injury kept me bedridden when I wasn’t at work for most of 2014. I had long gone without watching anime and I was pretty bummed out not having anything to do. From communicating with a new friend online, I ended up watching Haruhi for the first time. I found the series to be incredibly enjoyable however words cannot begin to explain how much sentimental value the memories of my friend brought into how much I cherished this series. I read all of the light novels, manga, and even the spin off(s). The spin-off anime even led me here to AniTAY.
I guess one of the biggest reasons I love The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is simply because the film came out after my friend might have passed. Regardless, I took a lot of importance on watching this masterpiece of a film annually, and 18 December is the best day to choose for it because it plays the most importance with the plot (I will try my best to avoid spoilers throughout this article so I apologize to fans if I am sounding too vague). By watching the film a few mornings ago, I clocked in the fifth year in a row of this tradition. Since 2014, I have been mesmerized every time I’ve followed along the crazy journey of Kyon and his winter nightmare.
When I started to write this, I hated the first few drafts and ended up restarting the whole thing to make sure I got it right, even if it meant not getting it out on 18 December like I wanted. There are just so many thoughts and feelings I have attached to this fim and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just rambling about them. Rather than a play-by-play of the film or a review of sorts, I’d rather just talk about the impact this has had on me as I’ve matured as an adult in several stages of my life. Indeed, this film doesn’t need the visuals that have aged well to be praised nor does it require the jaw-dropping music and writing to be sung about either. Even outsiders I’ve shared this tradition with, such as my best friend, have praised how well this film was paced. With half a decade of history, there is a lot to share about reflection and self-searching as a result.
Without fail, this film manages to rekindle my fire and stir up a mess of emotions for me after every viewing. I thought this year would be different, but there is something about how gentle the song they select for the ending credits that leaves me spacing out for a few minutes (I actually saw the extra clip put in my very first time watching the film because of this). For as well as it is paced, this is a lot to unpack and reflect on, and it doesn’t get any easier with years.
It is probably important to point out here that The Disappearance is not the kind of anime that gets a lot of mileage for people who do not think anime should be taken in an artistic light. I’ve long said that I love dramas and filmmaking (when I first joined AniTAY my intentions were to become a screenwriter) and that anime allows for creative scenes to be done that can carry weight in ways that would be really hard to in live action films. If a live film has a character doing some introspective look at anything, it can be difficult to make it much more than them talking to themselves on screen without it being viewed as “weird” or “trippy”. However with anime...
One of the biggest things that The Disappearance has going for it is just how creative it gets with the shots and, further, the imagery attached to these sequences. As someone who has read the light novel this originated from, it is hard to seperate Kyoto Animation’s vision accompanying Kyon’s constant monologuing from the text itself. This is critical because if the entire film would have simply had Kyon moping around, talking to himself, it would be nowhere near as enjoyable. There are active “camera shots” so to speak showing other characters and memories he has that hit home his train of thought while saying whatever it is he is saying. Scenes like where Kyon is talking to Koizumi as a train is going by and Koizumi murmurs to himself are super artistic and I love the use of the train to mask the moment of jealousy that ultimately only serves as a red herring (albeit one that gives a little more revealing light to how Koizumi might feel about Kyon).
Every visual flare the studio can pull off is thrown with the kitchen sink in the apex of the journey where Kyon has to come to grips with why he has made the decision(s) he has and basically adjust everything he thinks and values relating to the SOS Brigade. It is so over the top, yet it works perfectly in place because of the way this anime is put together. Everyone knows this scene, but I’m still going to link it:
To the four people who just scoffed at the dub clip, this is definitely one of the best dubs of the 2000's and Crispin Freeman as Kyon single handedly makes all of the monologuing bearable for me. Even my best friend who loves subs over dubs said she really liked this dub (that is saying something because I can rarely get a dub viewing out of her). With the title being what it is, we obviously don’t see much of Wendee Lee as Haruhi, but everyone from the original show is back on board for this film and all bring their little quirks that make for amazing cast chemistry (I noticed this time through in particular the little expressions the cast make in response to one another really brings the whole thing together better in the clubroom scenes).
My undying love for dubs aside, the scene above has changed its impact on me over the course of the last five years. At first I thought it was fitting for a woman who was in my life for a really long time, then it turned into something I used to remind myself why I was still in the career I was doing, a few years later it became this surreal commentary on my depression and condition. This time through though? I’ve struggled to really pinpoint the meaning it has on me now that I am on steadier waters than I was the last few years. Before I saw how Kyon didn’t bother to look at the people around him and what they were going through as a wake-up call that I was moping around too much, but I have long learned my lesson there. The part where Kyon is resisting his own foot stomping him down into the desk still feels really applicable to me, and the way there is a visual representation for everyone’s inner conflict really feels like a universal thing to relate to.
No, rather this time I found myself drawn to a different character and storyline in the film. The pivotal moment in the plot where Kyon learns that Nagato was the one who changed everything is such a great twist and it even surprised my friend watching with me (she was bright enough to basically call the entire plot of Madoka Magica halfway through the first film). As the audience learns, Nagato was simply tired and had worked up feelings about everything that Haruhi had subjected the SOS Brigade to. Furthermore, as the film is wrapping up, Nagatoo refers to these feelings as “malfunctions” and is incredibly critical of herself, stating the possibility for it all to happen again.
This time around I found myself pulled into that line of thinking because I’ve had that kind of year really. While I’ve achieved a lot and made leaps with things like depression, I have also been driven to change some things in ways that were very unlike me. Believe it or not, I’m not as social as I am online and when I’m in public I’m definitely not one to make a scene. I won’t lie for the sake of making a comparison to a character and say I’m like Nagato at all but I definitely don’t share what I’m thinking or feeling with people like I should, so that much I have related to. Like those “malfunctions”, without sharing those details it builds into problems and I’ve lost weeks of productivity and overall health because I let it work me up. What is worse, however, is that those same “malfunctions” left me very critical of myself in ways I know in hindsight I shouldn’t have been. All I wanted was for something to be my life, and I was really blinded by that for a few months. It didn’t work, and it left me broken for a bit. The problem was that I kept telling myself it wasn’t acceptable to be broken over it and didn’t give myself the slack to be human and work through the feelings attached to it.
There is a really valuable moral in this film to be found in that it is natural for people to want things in their lives, and that it is acceptable to be hurt or bothered that you can’t have them. The way Kyon speaks to Nagato to let her know this might not spell that message out clearly, but that is my takeaway from it.
So, after five years of watching this film, I find new things to love about it every year. I’m nowhere near on the anime viewing level as our other staffers here (in fact this was the first anime I watched since July). Haruhi will always be a franchise that I have a ton of sentimental value with, but I do think it is worth viewing for anyone, especially the film.
Do you have any anime viewing traditions?