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One thing I've noticed over the past year due to visiting some anime-centric websites is that the US has a lot to learn when it comes to marketing. Sure, people here complain about over-consumerism and how companies will feed that impulse by branding everything in sight. This means that if there's a disney movie out, you can be sure that not only will there be a slew of merchandising available at Toys R Us featuring the characters but you'll also find that there's a McDonalds happy meal toy with it, a version of that movie 'on Ice', infinite soundtracks and direct to video sequels on cds/dvds, and dozens of other things besides. All of that might be true but it's a teeny tiny, and laughably insignificant, slice of what the Japanese have managed. Just the other day I read something where they were selling little bottles of apple juice marked with a particular anime girl's picture in a container meant to look like a specimen bottle. The bottle came along with a paper cup with writing and hash marks that made it look like one you use to collect urine samples. I shit you not. Specific anime characters from popular franchises grace the packaging of the weirdest and most nonsensical crap, ranging from packages of pickled turnips to toilet scrub brushes. Maybe it's simply that hot properties are more fleeting there and you have to make your money while you can, even if that means approving anything and everything that puts some yen into your pockets.



When you consider that that level of marketing is the norm, you pretty much take for granted that there must be heaps of more prosaic tie-ins as well. If there's a successful tv show, you can all but guarantee that there will be OVAs and movies to follow. The thing is, the company knows they have their audience hooked and often these media attempts leave a lot to be desired much like the more nonsensical marketing tie-ins. Anime movies in general have left a lot to be desired in my experience. I've watched around a half dozen Naruto movies, 3 Bleach movies, 2 Ranma movies, and a bunch of others which I can't name off the top of my head. What they've all had in common is that none were truly excellent, though a couple were entertaining enough. That's all changed with the Haruhi Suzumiya movie.



To start with, this film was _3 hours_ long, which is just unheard of nowadays. I was forced to watch a translated cam version of the movie since it's still out in theaters in Japan but even then it was possible to see the quality and requisite time and effort that must've gone into it. This might certainly explain why Kyoto Animation was so late with a second season to the anime since it must've taken a herculean amount of effort to get this movie out.

I went into this not expecting much and was pleasantly surprised at every turn. The plot was gripping and the pacing excellent. At no point in the three hours did I feel the urge to 'look at my watch', which may just be a miracle given my past track record. The story was good enough that it's almost a shame that it's tied to a particular franchise rather than being a stand alone. You really do need some background information to understand what's going on, but that pre-requisite will almost mean that some people will decide to pass on it.

Part of what I really liked about the movie is that the surprise twist really caught me unawares. I hadn't read into the plot of the film before I decided to watch it so it was one of those few times where I went into something completely blind and I never saw the shocker moment coming.


The plot is basically like this:

The narrator Kyon wakes up one day and everything is slightly different from the way they were yesterday. Facts don't synch up quite right and this becomes more extreme when classmates who shouldn't be there, are, and those who should, aren't. Most notably, Haruhi Suzumiya has vanished and those friends in the SOS Brigade who he met because of her no longer recognize him. Cue a lot of crazed running around and mental frothing at the mouth as he desperately tries to figure out what's going on. Not only do his old friends claim not to know him, they're now also normal high school students rather than being aliens and time travelers and ESPers. It's as if he'd finally gotten his wish and was at last able to live a normal life without the craziness that Haruhi had brought to the table. Cue the classic adage of being careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

The rest of the plot unfolds and it's discovered that someone stole Haruhi's reality warping powers and used them to turn the world into something normal without paranormal oddities that go bump in the night. Kyon is the only person who actually remembers the way the world used to be and is given a chance and a choice to change it back to the way it was.

What really surprised me is the unveiling of the 'villain' who had caused all of this. I assumed it'd be some new monster-of-the-week bad guy from one of the shadowy organizations running around but it turns out it was actually Yuki, a member of the SoS brigade. In the old world she had been an alien android of sorts, sent to passively observe from the sidelines. She was the only one who remembered all 15,000-someodd iterations of Endless Eight and personally I think that's what caused her to blow her gasket in the end. In the movie they chalked it up to her developing emotions or some programming error in her system, but I can't help to think she must've just been tired as hell and wanted to just have a normal life. Her new world persona was still the sole member of the literary club, so painfully shy and obviously lonely that she tried to befriend Kyon even when he was acting like a psycho, desperate to figure out what was going on. Hell, new-Yuki was so Moe that it was practically off the scale. If you can watch the movie without wanting to hug her character into oblivion, you're a colder person than I am and that's saying something.

Anyway, when she changed the world she left Kyon with his memories and gave him the choice to try to change it back. She trusted his judgment and thought that he was tired of all the craziness too, having suffered almost as much from Haruhi's whims and the insanity she unwittingly caused. In the end, this was the only part of the movie I really found fault with. It seemed sort of selfish of Kyon to just pick the old world because he realized that's what he himself preferred. I couldn't help but think of poor Yuki and those 600 years stuck in Endless Eight watching the same damn 2 weeks go by over and over again. The thing is, that was only a minor hiccup considering what could go wrong if Haruhi's powers really went out of control and the least of that is the destruction of reality. It just didn't seem right to subject the world to that sort of danger just because one guy wants a little more excitement in his life. Of course, if he had stayed in the new world there wouldn't be much of a series left would there? I did read how they started a spin-off manga set in that new world with Yuki as the main character. It may sound idiotic but that actually cheers me up a bit and I hope that things work out for her.

Sometimes I think I might be getting as soft in the head as those Otakus who celebrate the birthdays of anime characters.

Anyway, I think that this is the best anime movie I've seen hands down so far. I imagine it'll only be better once it comes out on dvd/blueray and I manage to snag a copy that isn't tilted at a 10 degree angle and has people walking past the screen.

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