Friday 10 April 2015

First Impressions: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

A few years ago you couldn't escape The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Arguably the first big-hitter for now renowned studio Kyoto Animation, the light novel turned anime series proved a worldwide hit - spawning both a second season and feature film. But after nearly six years without any Haruhi in our lives, the franchise is back with a brand new spinoff series entitled The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan. However this time things are a little bit different. As well as animation duties being handed over to Satelight, this alternate reality series doesn't have a Haruhi Suzumiya in sight. And if like me you enjoyed the original series but couldn't stand the lead character, that doesn't sound like a bad thing at all.

Expanding on the alternate universe first seen in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, this series reimagines the near-emotionless alien Yuki Nagato as a shy and clumsy schoolgirl. With Haruhi having gone to a different school the SOS club was never formed, and so Yuki spends her time with her friends Kyon (whom she has a crush on) and Ryoko Asakura as part of the Literary Club. As Christmas steadily approaches, Yuki becomes determined to hold a Christmas party to celebrate the others joining to keep her club together. Whilst hunting for a turkey, the threesome bump into fellow students Mikuru Asahina and Tsuruya - leading to a challenge being laid down between Yuki and Mikuru for one of Tsuruya's turkeys.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya introduced the idea that over time Yuki Nagato had developed emotions, eventually leading her to wish for a world where she would be able to live a normal life as a normal girl. After a glimpse of said world in the film itself, here we get a proper look at the normality Yuki eventually desired. As such to say Yuki’s personality has undergone a transformation would be an understatement, with her showing more emotion and facial expression in the first minute of this than she did in all two seasons plus movie of Haruhi. While some fans will surely call this a “butchering” of her character or similar nonsense, it’s best to simply this Yuki as a completely different character. Parallel worlds have always been one of my favourite sci-fi/fantasy concepts, as it’s always interesting to see the difference in characters without the limits of established canon. And there’s definitely room in this world for an adorable, dorky and clumsy Yuki too.

That isn’t to say Yuki-chan is completely unfamiliar territory though. Kyon’s still got his sarcastic wit and Mikuru is as oblivious as ever, so longtime Haruhi fans will feel right at home with those two even with this change in setting. The series is also a chance to explore some of the lesser players in the franchise too – namely Ryoko and Tsuruya. Sure the two had their moments in the proper series (the latter character even getting her on comedy shorts spinoff), but nowhere near the exposure this episode suggests they’ll have here. Funnily enough Ryoko even manages to fill the Haruhi-shaped void left in her absence, only the toned down mannerism and attitude make her much less of a chore to watch.

Of course there was no way this series was going to go without seeing Haruhi at all, with the character making a very brief cameo at the very beginning of the episode. It's framed as a pretty important moment, but ultimately doesn't actually lead to anything - which is exactly as it should be. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of her either, but with the outcome of this AU already covered in Disappearance I don't expect the cameos to be much bigger than the one we saw here. Which would work nicely actually - spotting her in crowd scenes, Haruhi always showing up without actually being part of things. Those are the kind of cameos I can get behind. There's a whole lot of the wider Haruhi-verse to draw on for references and homages (Kyon's line about Ryoko being dangerous with a knife for example), and it'll be interesting to see how the show is able to sneak them in in this more down to Earth setting.

If this first episode is anything to go by The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan won't exactly be treading new ground, but it will at the very least be a fun experience. Prepare yourself for Haruhi’s slice-of-life side of things sans the weirdness and polarizing main character, and that’s exactly what you’ll receive.

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