In an alternate universe, shy, awkward Yuki Nagato attempts to court her crush, Kyon, with the help of her best friend and neighbor, the perky and indomitable Ryoko Asakura. Together, the trio defends their high school literature club from extermination…and from the pestering of their over-the-top classmate Tsuruya and her friend and minion Mikuru.
As a fan of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, I won't hesitate to watch or read (or at least plan to) anything related to that series. Of course, that includes this spin-off, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. I read a few volumes of the manga and loved it, so when this anime was announced, my excitement was only doubled! However, I admit that I also had my concerns, as Kyoto Animation, the studio that worked on the original anime, didn't work on the spin-off. As it aired, I found that it wasn't received that well, either. However, that doesn't change the fact that I still
really enjoyed The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan.
Okay, so does anyone remember The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya? This anime takes place in the alternate world from that movie, where everything is normal and there is no aliens, time travelers, or espers whatsoever. Yuki Nagato is a shy girl who is nothing like the Yuki Nagato we all know and love. This Yuki is a member of the Literature Club, along with Ryoko Asakura and Kyon. Yuki also happens to have a crush on Kyon. Basically, the anime follows Yuki as she goes through her everyday life with the Literature Club and her feelings for Kyon develops.
As you can see, a majority of the characters have changed. As I've said before, Yuki is now a really shy girl, and Kyon is kinder in comparison to the original. Ryoko Asakura is also different from the original; she acts as more of a motherly or a sisterly figure to Yuki. I wasn't really a fan of her in the original anime, and I'm guessing other Haruhi fans can understand why. However, that's not to say everyone's completely different. Mikuru still retains her character from the original series (which is a good thing, as I LOVED her in the original series), and Haruhi is still as fun of a character as ever. Even so, even the characters whose personalities have changed were still fun to watch, although I can't deny that they're still not the same as the ones we know and love.
The story is a good one, with lots of comedy and drama. The story is especially great in episodes 10-13, where the Yuki Nagato we all know and love is shown to us. The animation, I admit, is not as good as in the original series. What do you expect, though? It wasn't Kyoto Animation that did the animation this time; instead, it was Satelight. As a result, the animation is more bright and more cutesy, and it takes a while to get used to. It's not bad animation at all, though; in fact, Satelight did a good job with the animation. The voice actors also did a great job at reprising their roles, as expected. The OP and ED are great, too; I could listen to them on repeat without getting bored!
Let's face it, everyone; The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is NOT a Haruhi Season 3. However, it's still a really, really, REALLY enjoyable anime. If anyone liked Yuki Nagato from The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and want to see more of her, this anime is PERFECT for you. It's given me even the tiniest of hopes that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya will get an actual third season!
While I've never been much of a fan of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise, I can still say, at the very least, that I admired the off-kilter charm it had and understood the appeal that others would find in its self-aware meta-humor. It was quirky, upbeat and had a trademark style of doing things that were uniquely its own. By itself, that might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but when placed through a filter with the countless other school slice-of-life titles produced after its inception, it becomes more apparent why it gained its popularity. Despite the anime industry being saturated with these dime-a-dozen titles
every year, the Haruhi franchise still manages to stay relevant by being one of the few to tinker with the formula in inventive ways. And like most things tend to, it had its fair share of detestable moments as well (8 x ∞), but regardless of that, it still had a distinct identity that couldn't be found elsewhere. It's something you don't necessarily have to like, but you can still appreciate it for what it did.
Unfortunately, I can't offer the same accolades to its spin-off Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu ( The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan). A "Spin"-off is supposed to take elements of its predecessor and add a new "spin" to it. In other words, it's supposed to do things differently from the status quo of the original series but still maintain aspects of it that connect it back to the parent story. While it was certainly "different" and a departure from the usual hijinks of the SOS Brigade, it had none of the charm or inherent value found in the parent story. In fact, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is the exact opposite of what I saw admirable about the main story in the first place. It's a spin-off indistinguishable from the mass produced yearly offerings that I thought Haruhi never fell victim to. It's a title that got caught in the trappings of its genre's tropes, which automatically makes it a title that many would not speak of or forget altogether in the long run. The premise that it had wasn't bad, but the actual product that we were given was far from satisfactory.
Swapping the supernatural shenanigans and one-off adventures with a rom-com narrative, the story of Nagato Yuki-chan sees the titular character Nagato try to confess her love to Kyon, only for her attempts to end without fruition, and then they repeat the cycle by the next episode. There you go, that's literally it. For the 1st 10-episodes, what we're essentially given is your typical "would they or wouldn't they" scenario where every moment is ruined by the love interest in question or by a side character popping up at the most inconvenient time. In between these moments, they insert a lot of padding and fluff in the form of slice-of-life segments. This includes everything from your cliched bathhouse/hot spring episode, to your group field trips. If you've seen enough school SoL anime titles before, this is just a patch job of all the overused setups, with the only difference being that the characters are from the Haruhi universe. I feel like there isn't a need to spell out the obvious here but just in case it isn't already clear enough, this is G-E-N-E-R-I-C. But like I said, it was the 1st 10 episodes that followed this monotonous cycle, after that point, the show took an unexpected turn and introduced a plot twist that brought with it much needed character drama, but I'll save that information for the spoiler section for those who haven't seen the spin-off yet.
The story of Nagato Yuki-chan may have had good intentions, but the humdrum way it went about presenting it topped with the overused scenarios made it a tedious watch very quickly. It tossed in an unexpected twist for good measure, but by then, the damage was already done.
The art and animation of Nagato Yuki-chan were, for the lack of a better word, basic. This can also mark the 1st real point of contention for fans of the franchise as they altered all the original character designs that helped to distinguish the cast into moe ladened ones that make them appear painfully generic. Change isn't a bad thing per say, but when the change is a downgrade from unique character design to xerox copies, that change can be very jarring. Their "spunk" was gone. The quality downsizing didn't stop there, as there was also a lack of detail placed in any given background. Even the unique shot compositions were no longer present. This may have been the result of another studio handling the show, as Satelight took the reins from Kyoani in its inception; a choice that might have been the first big mistake. With no proper use of lighting, no attempts at unique camera angles, inept understanding of color theory and no real distinguishable atmosphere developed, the switch in studios was one that really put a damper on a show that was already holding on at the end of the proverbial rope. The only credit I can offer is that they were able to capture the right tone for the latter half of the show.
As if to add insult to injury, a majority of the cast felt alienated from the prior installments. Not only did they look generic but now even their personality is bleached. They were either rewritten or regressed in dimension, and some were also reduced to being used as nothing more than background decoration. Thankfully, some maintained their personality, like Haruhi and Asahina, but even then, they were all watered down versions of their former self. Nagato and Kyon took the lead roles in the story, and while Kyon still had his sharp whit about him, it was toned down quite a bit. His personality was altered to fit a more optimistic portrayal, which in turn erased the "person of reason" that he was always known for into a character that didn't quite fit the mold. It's okay if they wanted his personality to reflect better the more lighthearted tone the show was going for but his pessimistic outlook is as much of a signature of the franchise as is the yellow ribbons as much of a trademark style of Haruhi. Getting rid of it is like getting rid of a big chunk of what makes the character stand out.
Koizumi isn't even given any screen time and felt like he was only being placed the show as a carryover and nothing more. Same can be said about Asahina's involvement. They were both there to fill in their roles but was never given any time dedicated to them. A majority of the cast was underutilized or not even relevant at all. Perhaps the most significant change is that of Nagato's, and quite frank, it's the most grating. While the intention was for her to be an alternative story-line version to that of the movie, her personality makes a complete 180 if compared to the original and his grossly exaggerated if compared to the movie version. She's no longer the stoic, calculating Nagato but a shy hyperactive moe-blob with a pension for food and video games. It's a huge juxtaposition from who she was and one I couldn't buy into.
The cast as a whole was quite unappealing, and none of them was endearing or fleshed out. They were all husks of their former selves.
The soundtrack was forgettable. None of it ever grips you and remained as background noise. I can't recall anything special about it, as none of it stood out. The only time there was any visible effort came with the piano ballads towards the latter half, but even that was run-of-the-mill for what it was intended to do. The opening and ending themes were skippable, with the opening being a typical J-pop song and the ending a somber downtempo one. The voice actors were all fine, the only standout that comes to mind was that of Tomokazu Sugita's, who played Kyon. His monologs were always a nice touch and through it, provided insight into the situations the characters found themselves in.
(skip to the enjoyment and overall section to avoid spoilers)
So the big reveal that the show hits you with is that the old stoic Nagato from the main series randomly commandeered the body of the new Nagato of this spin-off, and while it was indeed an interesting twist..., HOW and WHY does this happen?
The plot twist had no buildup, no foreshadowing but just came out of nowhere with no explanation and then it went away just as quickly with no proper reasoning behind it. Honestly, it felt like it was a cheap ploy only there to break the monotony of the basic rom-com and in a desperate attempt to salvage viewer interest. The character drama that arose from it was nice, as it spiced things up, but with it simply popping up and then going away without consequence or reason, it just brought more questions than it helped with the overall show. Not to mention that even the stoic Nagato was reduced to acting silly and "kawaii" after the reveal, which defeated the whole purpose of her being introduced in the plot twist, to begin with. I don't know if they meant to use this as a chance to leave the story open-ended for a continuation or not, but it happened far too late into the story to matter, and everything was only brought back to the status quo by the time the series ended.
***End of Spoilers*****
I'm not going to mince my words here; I hated this spin-off. Every bit of me wanted to drop it, and the only reason I didn't is my OCD-like mentality towards finishing titles. It was bland, overly sentimental and a waste of effort.
Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu is not only a stain on the Haruhi's name but one that manages to lose all the charm and wit the franchise is known for. It's a cash grab nobody wanted nor needed, and the only thing it honestly shares with Haruhi is the characters and familiar namesake. With that said, if you're an avid fan of the franchise, then I suggest keeping your expectations low, as it doesn't contain the same trademarks you'd expect from the series. And if you've been impartial towards the series thus far, then stay clear from this one or prepare yourself for a cringe-inducing experience.
What is the point of a spin-off that revolves around a former side character anyway? Well, common knowledge would suggest that it is a chance to explore different aspects of an already familiar concept by pushing a character that used to be just another part of an ensemble into the spotlight and building a show around him or her. Thus, let us answer the most important question of this review right off the bat: Do I think that Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu (or Yuki-chan as I'll be calling it from here on out) is a good spin-off? No, absolutely
not. Why? Because it fails to capture the charm of the original characters and doesn't bring anything new to the table.
But before we get into the real meat of this (spoiler free) review, some background information on the series and my history with it. Yuki-chan, based on the Manga of the same name, is a spin-off to the massively popular Suzumiya Haruhi series, which I have read in its entirety, or, to be more specific, to Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu, which was adapted into an anime movie back in 2010. A movie that I'd easily count as one of my favourites of all time. While I'm quite fond of the series as a whole, eight anime episodes that we'll never speak off again excluded, this entry certainly does hold a special place in my anime loving heart. So sufficed to say that I was excited when I heard that we'd be getting a spin-off anime centered around the character of Nagato, the Nagato from the Disappearance movie no less. I liked her a lot, so I thought it would be a good idea. So, here we are, five years and a major downgrade in animation later and what can I say about my feelings towards the newest entry into the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise? Well, it definitely was a good idea in concept. It was the execution that was lacking.
First things first, now that I've already mentioned the animation, let us talk about the art. The best way I could possibly describe the overall art style is „okay“. It's decent, but pretty unremarkable. Now, what could be a bother for some people are the new designs. Some characters look vastly different from how they looked in the KyoAni series from 2006, the worst offender being Kyon, who bears very little resemblance to his Haruhi series counter part. I can't say that I'm a fan of the new designs or the colour palette for that matter, which uses to much white for my personal taste, but I can't call it bad either, just very bland. Now the animation itself is very fluid, as you would expect it to be from a studio like Satelight, there are few hiccups and the production is solid in general. There are also some parts in the second half of the show (episodes ten to 13) where the animation is used in some interesting ways, but I wouldn't say that it's particularly outstanding. Overall we are left with some decent, but hardly impressive art.
The same can be said about the OST and sound in general, even though I have reason to be a little more positive here. The soundtrack includes lots of different songs, some of them decent, others hardly memorable or unrecognizable. The part where the OST really shines, again, is in episodes 10 to 13, where they decided to insert some actually quite powerful piano and violin pieces that work well in creating the mood the series tries to convey in those episodes. Now the definite highlight in regards to sound has to be the voice acting, which is without a question top notch. Seeing Aya Hirano return to her signature role as Haruhi is enough reason to watch the show, at least for a fan like me. Speaking of Aya Hirano: She also performs the opening theme in combination with the voice actresses behind Nagato, Asahina and Asakura. And while their energetic performance is certainly a joy to hear, the opening song itself is actually sort of forgettable. Now, the same can't be said about the emotional ending theme, which I personally thought of as a great way to close an episode, especially during the more powerful episodes within the later half of the series.
Seeing how I've already talked about the presentation in length, let us get to what you (hopefully) want to hear about: The content of the series itself.
The most important thing first: This is not a season three to the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise, so don't expect to see that going in. The connections to the main series are few and mostly just appear as random references. Thinking about the time line and how the two series connect would only hurt your head, this is obviously not exactly the same world that the Disappearance movie took place in, so I'd suggest that you just try to enjoy the series as what it is trying to be for the most part: A moe Slice of Life RomCom.
Now when I label a series as a moe Slice of Life, that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are a lot of moe shows that I personally enjoy, so I wasn't opposed to the idea of this show being an entry into this particular genre. The problem is that Yuki-chan isn't a very good moe show. Why is that? Well, I think that the characters just don't work very well in this kind of setting. This might be because instead of writing characters that work within the story you are aiming for, this story was written around preexisting characters, trying to somehow fit all of them in and altering them in the process (more on that when I get to the characters section of this review). This is a fairly common problem when it comes to spin-offs and it definitely shows here. The result of that is that most of the Slice of Life parts of the show are pretty boring, at least that's how I felt about them. The romance portions aren't very strong either, I'll get more into the why when I talk about Kyon's character, and the romantic plot itself ends up going exactly where you expected it to go: Absolutely nowhere. That being said, the first half of the show serves another purpose, which it fulfills quite nicely: It sets up contrast.
Even without going into spoilers it can be said that episode 10 presents a huge change in both tone and pace. Yuki-chan almost feels like a completely different series between the episodes 10 and 13. The focus is shifted and instead of silly shenanigans, we get serious character drama, at least for the most part. It is definitely a risky move and one that can go both ways. Some might say that those episodes are far too heavy for the lighthearted tone the show had so far and that they didn't enjoy it as a result. Nevertheless, this part of the series was the one that I personally liked the most. Not only were the music and visuals the best this show had to offer, but the drama actually felt genuine and there was some pretty good character development taking place. It showed some of the potential that a series centered around Nagato could have.
The last three episodes unfortunately go back to what is more or less the old formula that dominated the first half of the show. Which is a shame considering how good those few episodes in between were. Furthermore, the show decides to end on a note that I can hardly call satisfying, especially when it comes to the main romance. But it's not like it's a bad ending either. It didn't leave a sour taste in my mouth and my reaction to the series was more along the lines of „okay, that's over then, I guess“ than it was me being angry. It basically just played out like I expected it to at this point.
Now that we've talked about the story and made plenty of references to characters and their development., let us talk about them proper. The one new member to the main cast is Ryouko Asakura, who only had a small role in the Haruhi series. She basically takes up the role as Nagato's older sister in that she is the caring but overbearing friend. I can't say that I enjoyed her a lot, she was mostly just boring to me, but the references to her character from the main series made me chuckle at times. Other than that most of the supporting characters keep their signature traits from the main series. Asahina and Koizumi have very little screen time in this rendition and lose a lot of their charm in the process, but most of their signature traits are still there and they aren't bad or annoying by any means. I unfortunately can't say the same about our three central characters, who suffer from bad framing and presentation.
Kyon probably got the biggest downgrade. The transition from main character and narrator into love interest didn't suit him well. His interactions with Nagato are mostly boring, their relationship isn't anything special and it doesn't bring out the good parts that the character is known and loved for. Add to that the questionable change in design and you might spend the first few episodes wondering if this is even the same character. That being said, this does change for the better when Haruhi shows up.
Haruhi doesn't enter the show until episode three but she certainly dominates it from this point onward until she disappears for a while later on. She is still her energetic self that people have come to either passionately love or hate over the years. Now my problem with her goes back to the problem of framing. She can be very annoying. In the original series this was less of a problem since we experience the entirety of the show from Kyon's point of view, who makes the her insane actions a lot more bearable by just taking none of her shit. Observing her from a more objective point and without the constant sarcastic comments to contradict her, Haruhi can come across as nothing more than a bratty and annoying ditz, which I think is a shame, because there is a lot more to her than that. Now, that is not to say that she's all bad, far from it. The comedic banter between Haruhi and Kyon is certainly the highlight of the first half of the show, even though it isn't written as well as it was in the original, and it's what kept me watching throughout.
As it is the nature with a review like this, a positive point has to be immediately followed by a negative one. So, here's my biggest problem with the series: Nagato herself. As I said in my introduction, I actually really liked the Nagato I saw in the Disappearance movie and I was stoked to get a spin-off focused on her. Problem is: I don't think that I got that. The Nagato we saw in Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu was a shy and introverted girl, who had trouble expressing her emotions. She was a cute and likeable character, because it was a believable portrayal of what Nagato would be like if she was actually human. The Nagato in Yuki-chan is a completely different person. She is basically the (for the lack of better vocabulary) mentally retarded character that you see in a lot of shows from this genre. She gets flustered over everything, constantly acts like a complete idiot, screws up on a regular basis and reacts like a little child. Now I can understand why this was done: To make the series fit better into the moe genre. And I have definitely seen worse characters who fall into this stereotype, but the problem is that changing Nagato's character this much defeats the purpose of the entire series. People came here to watch a series revolving around Yuki Nagato. What they got was a series with a main character who might be named Yuki Nagato and looks similar, but apart from that there are little to no similarities. And that is a huge disappointment. I wanted to see more from the Yuki Nagato that I fell in love with during the Disappearance movie, this airhead on the other hand doesn't interest me one bit. This is a huge disappointment to say the least.
But as with the story, there is also a purpose to Nagato acting this way in the beginning, that being the creation of contrast. In episode ten Nagato's character changes a lot and we see an entirely different side of her. Now, this isn't exactly what I wanted to see either, but it's definitely far closer to what I was hoping for before the series started airing. There is also a good bit of character development for Nagato during this part of the show. By episode 13 I actually liked her quite a bit, so I can't honestly say that she's all bad.
So, in the end, did I enjoy Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu? Not really. The Slice of Life parts are just boring and generic and the good dramatic parts are too few and far between to make up for it. Moreover the characters lack the charm that made them stand out in the first place. Kyon is just straight up boring, Haruhi, while still one of my favourite parts of the show, can be annoying and the titular character is a complete disappointment. In addition, it doesn't really explore a lot of new aspects of the series, which is disappointing seeing how there is so much potential left in the world of Suzumiya Haruhi. Episodes ten to 13 are easily the best of the series because it actually gives us some much needed insight into Nagato's character, which was the purpose of this series in the first place, but it's far from enough for me to call Yuki-chan a good show.
Do I recommend watching Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu? No, not really. It's not a bad watch. While the first part of the show is just sort of boring, it isn't really unbearably bad either and the drama in the later half of the show is actually worth seeing. But I can't really picture a demographic that would really enjoy this series. If the Suzumiya Haruhi series is new to you, then this will be little more than another Slice of Life with some drama aspects to you and there are lots of those out there that do a better job. As a fan of the original series this could easily go both ways. There is the definite possibility that you'll love it just because you get to see your favourite characters on screen again, but the more likely possibility is that you'll dislike it for not having the charm or the strong characters of the original. All in all my conclusion is this: Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu is a mediocre anime on its own and a failure as a spin-off.
Its amazing how slight changes in perspective can cause something that on the surface seemed initially disjointed and disappointing, into an emotional experience that brings a surprising amount of satisfaction.
Like most, I went into the series expecting the enjoyably discordant storyline, animation, and voice acting that the original series and movie had. I was consequently confused by Kyon's noticeably different appearance and a number of other slight visual changes that I shamefully explained away by learning the original studio hadn't worked on it. The first few episodes made it abundantly clear that it was not "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", and finding that out
annoyed me immensely.
However, as I continued to watch the series, I began to recollect parts of the "The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya" in particular Nagato's role in it. As part of that recollection, I finally realized, "Ah... this is Yuki-chan's dream reality" and afterwards everything clicked into place. The visual aberrations weren't unintentional, there was meaning behind the almost cliche variants of this series' characters' personas, and even the series' romcom style, and use of aged animations, was used to create a traditionalized perspective reminiscent of Nagato's preferences that contrasts really well against the unreal and jolting, or Haruhi-like, characteristics of the previous series. With this new perspective, even apparently superficial references to the previous series begin to question which of the two realities (i.e. Haruhi's or Yuki's) is the "truest" one or had the most merit for existing. This issue could only have been seen from the original Yuki's perspective, and was briefly discussed in the movie; bringing it up in this manner in Yuki's reality neatly explains the logic of her actions in the movie while allowing Yuki's own personal wishes and motivations to remain at the forefront.
If you watch this series because you wanted a 3rd season of "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", you'll be disappointed. However if you watch this series because you want to know more about why Nagato did what she did in the "The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya" then I think you'll be pleasantly satisfied, and glad that this series made it to air. Personally speaking, the groundhog hell that Nagato went through in the movie still prevents me from watching it again; watching this series softens that angst and brings even more meaning to the series as whole.