For many, this new Suzumiya Haruhi property has huge shoes to fill. It picks up in a place where the Disappearance film (one of the longest, but best, anime films ever made, IMO) briefly spent time, namely the alternate universe where Haruhi never assembled the SOS brigade and where Nagato Yuki wasn’t a stoic alien but a shy bookish human girl.
Therefore, technically a spin-off. This Nagato Yuki doesn’t share much beyond her looks with the Nagato Yuki of the original series(s). This isn’t even a KyoAni production, but rather the work of Satelight. It’s also more of a conventional romantic comedy, nearly devoid of metaphysical, supernatural elements, and the focus will be not on what’s going on with this universe, but what’s going on inside Yuki’s human heart.
As a moderate-core fan of the Haruhi franchise, I viewed this opening salvo of Yuki-chan not as a safe or cynical dilution of a storied brand, but as another demonstration by that brand’s creators that Haruhi herself and the supernatural trappings weren’t all that endeared us to the series. Placing its solid characters in a less magical setting, while leaving the former main heroine out, gives them a new place to shine, and shine they do!
That being said, Yuki-chan still has moments of playfulness, with Asakura still exhibiting qualities that could be described, but perhaps she’s really only very athletic and multi-talented. Comparisons to Haruhi’s de facto KyoAni rom-com successor, Chu2Koi, are inevitable, and like that solid franchise, Yuki-chan doesn’t forget to show off now and again, whether it’s a bold punctuating gesture or more subtle, intricate details in the presentation.
One other advantage Yuki-chan has out of the gate is its built-in lived-in world. Sure, it’s not the exact world we know and love, and in fact, it was specifically portrayed as the wrong world in the film, but the same gang is on hand (save Haruhi) and the same locales as well, with all the differences you’d expect considering the changes to the universe. Asakura is a mom-like protector/mentor figure for Yuki, rather than her hard-headed back-up and rival.
And in a world without Haruhi, Yuki is free to explore her feelings for Kyon and the best way to express them…and vice-versa. Kyon can sometimes miss the point of things like keeping the lit club going, or the significance of having a Christmas party in said clubroom, but his value to bringing Yuki out of her shell can’t be overstated.
Overall, Kyon comes of as his usual kind, perceptive self, always willingly to call out the quirkiness of his peers (mostly in his head), but also devoted to Yuki and willing to go at her pace, which much like Rikka and Yuuta, isn’t that different from his pace. In this way, after mishaps like Kyon seeing Yuki’s belly, things can be patched up between the two while waiting for the dryer.
With it firmly established the Lit Club consists only of Yuki, Kyon, and Asakura, the introduction of Asahina and Tsuruya is a little…clunky. The conceit that Tsuruya has the Christmas turkey Yuki is hell-bent on serving for the party, and that she must duel Asahina in various random challenges for said turkey, is a bit random.
The randomness continues when Asakura and Tsuruya hijack the duel and the episode with an increasingly elaborate, over-the-top antics, which end in stalemate and the two becoming friends. Then again, the fact they shoved Yuki out of the frame so easily speaks to work that lies ahead for Yuki to more strongly assert herself in the show that bears her name, both for Kyon, and for the audience.
I’m guessing some among that audience are understandably dubious, but I’m not among them. Unless there’s going to be some twist in which this universe suddenly changes, or everyone’s superpowers manifest, it’s probably appropriate to proclaim “Nagato Yuki is dead; Long Live Nagato Yuki-chan.” I’ve definitely room this Spring for a pleasant conventional shy girl rom-com with KyoAni (er, Satelight) flair. Your mileage may vary.
- I liked that little Iron Chef moment, where Kyon chose to bite the pepper not like the Chairman, but like…Kyon.
- Let’s just sit back and admire the fact that Asakura managed to get through this entire episode without stabbing Kyon! She deserves a mincemeat croquette.
- There’s also something very amusing about the way Asakura snatches up Yuki as if she were a ragdoll.
- I also liked the fact that Yuki wanted snow in the classroom for the party, but Kyon insists she settle for the fact that her name means snow. A technicality, but a good one!
- She also seems to have a very nuptual aesthetic in mind, what with the five-layer cake and white dress. Perhaps Kyon should just give in and get her a ring for Christmas?