Listening to: Furefure Mirai – Hokkō Bungei-bu Onagokai (The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan OP)
This review is free of major spoilers, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the show in question.
“This is the story of a somewhat shy, bookish girl.”
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (hereafter referred to as “Nagato” for the sake of convenience) is the latest spin-off of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I’ll call “Melancholy,” and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I’ll call “Disappearance,” are the other two animated features). As far as the franchise goes, it’s a bit of an oddball–rather ironic, seeing as it’s the only installment of the animated canon that doesn’t center around aliens, time travelers, espers, and other supernatural elements. This review is somewhat late in coming–the original airing finished in mid-July, but as a fan of Crispin Freeman and Michelle Ruff, I waited for the dub to complete before my viewing.
In contrast to its predecessors, Nagato is mainly a slice-of-life romantic comedy, focusing around the members of the North High Literary Club. Yuki Nagato, the heroine and president of the Literary Club, has a crush on her best friend Kyon, but is too shy to admit it. Matters between them are further complicated when Haruhi Suzumiya, an energetic and rather domineering student from East High, decides to appoint herself to the Literary Club as well.
Throughout the series, the Literary Club embarks on a series of adventures, from a Christmas party to a vacation in the mountains. As time goes on, Yuki begins to examine her feelings for Kyon more and more, and their friends take notice of it as well.
The cast of Nagato features the same characters as its predecessors, but in this version, they’re significantly different. As the heroine, Yuki is a shy, easily flustered, and quickly distracted girl who could be described as “painfully cute”–a far cry from her emotionless and robotic previous incarnation. Kyon retains quite a bit of his sarcastic tendencies from Melancholy and Disappearance, but since he’s no longer the main viewpoint character (and the new MC has a crush on him), we get to see quite a bit more of his kinder side. The interactions between the pair of them are adorable, especially considering how easily flustered Yuki is.
As for the other characters, each of them is as entertaining and charming as they were in the other shows. I prefer this version of Haruhi to her counterpart: her sociopathic side has been toned down quite a bit, making her much more sympathetic (and consequentially, much funnier). However, the breakout character for this adaptation has to be Ryoko Asakura. Ryoko had only a small part in the other two adaptations, but in this one she’s essentially a third protagonist. She acts as a moderating influence to the rest of the cast, and to Yuki, she’s practically a mother. Turning her from a somewhat disconcerting side character to one of the most enjoyable characters in the show to watch is one of this adaptation’s best points.
As a spin-off of a franchise that was already wildly popular, it’s inevitable that Nagato would include nods to Disappearance and Melancholy. While it’s not completely necessary to have watched both of them before viewing Nagato, I would definitely recommend it–it makes the show ten times as much fun. From Ryoko’s frightening level of expertise with kitchen knives to the episodes parallelling the infamous “Endless Eight,” Nagato is jam-packed with callbacks and references to its predecessors. It’s especially interesting to see how the series brings the characters together: rather than a whim of Haruhi’s reshaping the universe, a series of coincidences puts them into a quite similar situation.
Thematically, Nagato is closest to Disappearance (as if the title hadn’t made that clear enough already). It takes place in a similar alternate universe as the film, and rather than exploring the supernatural elements of the show, it concentrates on the characters. This focus definitely serves it well, and the Literary Club is an interesting change of pace from the antics of the SOS Brigade.
The musical score is written by Tatsuya Kato, and one can find many callbacks to the original series here as well. From a re-instrumentation of Haruhi’s plotting theme music to repeated musical cues in the Endless Eight references, Kato’s score hits all the right points and simultaneously engenders feelings of nostalgia and surprise. (I’ve been practicing for my music dissertation. Can you tell?) Even the opening, performed by the cast of the Japanese dub, has a familiar ring to it, incorporating lyrics from the old series’ most famous closing theme, “Hare Hare Yukai.”
The animation style is markedly different from that of Melancholy and Disappearance; a much more stereotypically “anime” style. The comedic moments are emphasized by the animation style, with super-deformed character moments, over-the-top reactions, and luminescent blushing (LOTS of it) making frequent appearances. In the more serious moments, the animation is generally played straight, though the comedic temperament of the show ensures that rarely lasts too long.
I really loved watching the original Melancholy and Disappearance, and I loved Nagato just as much. If you’re a veteran of the franchise, I definitely recommend picking this series up and giving it a go. And if you’re a novice… well, the beginning is a good place to start, especially if it gets you here.
In order to rate this anime, I crossed over into an alternate universe where aliens, time travelers, and espers really exist. Then I crossed over into an alternate alternate universe where they do. Then I came back and finished the review.
Ruling: 4.5 out of 5
Rating: Funny, heartfelt, and entertaining from start to finish, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is a worthy successor to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and a definite must-watch for fans of the franchise.