The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi does a lot for the popular franchise, giving significant development to its characters, most notably narrator and central protagonist Kyon. The film gives a lot to think about on both intellectual and emotional levels, and I find both my thoughts and feelings on it to be surprisingly intense, so I want to organize them to see if I can give myself some clarity and perhaps insight to others.
Just as a warning, while I am calling this a review, it is going to be EXTREMELY SPOILER-HEAVY.
While the movie opens with the SOS Brigade preparing for a club Christmas party, the story truly begins when Kyon wakes up to a world where Suzumiya Haruhi not only seems to have disappeared, but has never existed in the first place. While we eventually learn that Haruhi wasn’t wiped out of existence and that the timeline had merely been altered so that she was never the center of the universe and had no reality-altering abilities, Kyon is at this point unaware. When everyone tells him that there’s never been a girl named Haruhi in his class, he panics. The world is all wrong. He and Asahina Mikuru never became friends and she isn’t from the future. Koizumi Itsuki (and his entire classroom) have vanished. Perhaps most surprisingly, Nagato Yuki is a just a shy girl who loves books and is afraid to talk to others.
For a guy who’s been through it all, from time travel to fighting extra-dimensional monsters to having a talking cat, it is the loss of Haruhi which delivers the greatest emotional shock to him. Though he was accustomed to lamenting their association, he cannot picture his life without Haruhi. It’s a revelation to both us the audience and to Kyon himself, and so when he finally finds out that Haruhi actually does exist in this world and finally sees her, an incredible joy washes over him completely.
After the initial trouble of Kyon convincing this new Haruhi (who is accompanied by the alternate Koizumi) that they both in fact know each other, you can see their rapport with one another. Much like their first meeting all the way back in episode 1, the two are able to hit it off without even necessarily realizing that it’s happening. Just as Kyon’s entire expression from head to toe changes in the presence of Haruhi, so too does this alternate Haruhi change with Kyon around. It’s clear that this Haruhi had resigned herself to a normal, boring life, but she finds new life in talking with Kyon. While it has somewhat to do with the fact that he’s revealing the truth about her, or at least the original Haruhi, it clearly goes beyond that.
Alone, Kyon was able to piece together some clues as to the truth of this world, but together, they are able to accomplish great things.
Having gathered all of the would-be members of the SOS Brigade, a message from Yuki, the real Yuki, appears, and gives Kyon a decision: either let the world stay as it is, with absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, or take a chance and restore it, with absolutely no guarantee that he would succeed. Seeing the new world as an aberration, Kyon decides to risk it, but the heart of the situation changes when he learns that the real culprit behind the massive alteration of their universe was Yuki herself, who had slowly and gradually developed emotions over time, both positive and negative, and was simply tired of it all.
In the end, Kyon chooses his original world of time travelers, espers, and aliens over the one where everyone can live in relative peace without having to worry about the supernatural. The choice makes sense, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel for the people living in that altered timeline. Perhaps they might not have originally been there, but from their point of view their lives and emotions were real. The alternate Koizumi, the regular, if talented guy who has affections for Haruhi, would no longer exist. The same applies for Mikuru and even Haruhi, who, while vastly preferring a world where she is an omnipotent being unaware of her own might, would still have her life erased.
With Nagato Yuki in particular, who is in this timeline the meek girl that others originally assumed her to be, it was especially heartbreaking to see her go. Not because I prefer one Yuki over the other, and not just because of the human Yuki’s feelings, but because the original Yuki herself, the creation of the Data Integration Thought Entity, felt a genuine wish to cast it all aside and become that shy bookworm. Couched in that human Yuki and the new world around her was the original Yuki’s heartfelt desire, and by denying its existence, Kyon also potentially takes away Nagato’s only chance to live a normal life and, in turn, her potential happiness.
Kyon’s decision is somewhat selfish, but it had to be, and I think as much as he arrives at the conclusion that he would much rather have the SOS Brigade he knows and loves, even though Yuki ultimately gives him the opportunity to make his choice, it still wasn’t easy for him because he sees the truth of Nagato’s feelings in the new timeline. This is clear when he resolves to stop taking a passive role in his life, now truly aware of how much of a burden Nagato (and the others) have to shoulder. Whether it was the “right” decision or not is up to debate, but I find that less important than the fact that Kyon had two choices, and he picked one knowing the consequences.
The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi runs a whopping 2 hours and 40 minutes and manages to stay gripping throughout. It adds a new dimension to the series and is the best that the Haruhi anime has had to offer, but it not only rewards fans of the series but practically requires that you have familiarity with and fondness for Haruhi for it to hit you on the right emotional level. During the ending credits, Yuki’s voice actor sings “Tender Oblivion,” a solemn tune with no musical accompaniment for her voice. I’m not sure whether it was referring to the altered timeline (which could be interpreted as a kind of sweet mercy) or the destruction of the altered timeline as such. Regardless of the exact meaning though, as I listened I could only describe my feelings as melancholic.