Time for New Year’s and then back to school as the next term begins. Will there be major aftereffects from Yuki’s confession at Christmastime? We’ll see.
Story/Art: PUYO (manga story and art), Nagaru Tanigawa (Original Story), Noizi Ito (Character design)
Lettering: Abigail Blackman
What They Say:
The heart-stirring ordeals of Christmastime are over. Kyon and Yuki are more conscious of each other than ever, but even now, there’s a strange distance between them. As the shrine visits of the new year end and the cold days of school start anew, Yuki finally follows her fortunes…and her heart.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Returning to this franchise after the somewhat disappointing anime adaptation, this latest volume reminds me of the reasons why the manga is, in many ways, better. In terms of content, it’s not that it’s revolutionary in any way whatsoever. The cast of characters we know so well go on their New Year’s shrine visits (the last volume took things up to Christmas, so this is the natural progression). The romance between Yuki and Kyon continues to slowly simmer on the back burner while our minds are diverted more by the comedy of Haruhi, who demands to play the part of a shrine maiden on New Year’s and gets to do so thanks to the connections of Tsuruya-san, who joins her in working the fortune and charm concession stand at the shrine (Mikuru is there too, but apparently gets a much more high profile role in the ceremonies).
There follows the beginning of the new school term with a return to normal routine for the Literature Club while the third-years among them (Tsuruya-san and Mikuru) turn their attentions to entrance exams for college. Asakura challenges Kyon to improve his diet, so she starts making meals for him, spurring Yuki to wish to learn how to cook. The upshot of it all is that Asakura finally learns about Yuki and Kyon making themselves a couple, something that Koizumi had already figured out and informed Haruhi of (at her very insistent urging, of course). Those expecting swift progress will not find that as this is the slowest moving romance possible. Yuki catching a cold provides a chance to re-summarize what little romantic progression there has been so far.
So much for the “story.” That’s not what the appeal of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is, at least, that’s not what gives it its quirky charm. It’s seeing these characters whom we think we know so well from the main story of the Haruhi novels acting in familiar, yet distinctly different, ways. To put it in food terms, it’s a bit like substituting something different for the usual ketchup one might put on a hamburger, whether it be mustard or a touch of tabasco sauce to liven it up…or just give it a very different flavor. And this is where reactions to it will, naturally, vary, just as people can have very particular tastes in food.
A much more playful (and less maliciously knife-wielding) Asakura, a cute, demure and loving Yuki, a much more subdued (and perhaps, yes, melancholic) Haruhi, and a far less snide, but alternatively relaxed, Kyon is what Puyo’s alternate reality manga has to offer. It is these “What if…?” personalities which are the draw of the series. Not the events, which are largely your standard bits of “slice of life” material common to so many other manga (and done much better in many cases). This is where I personally think the anime adaptation erred greatly. They attempted to make it as much about the events, which is to try to shoehorn in the overall feel of the Haruhi anime into this world…which simply won’t work, or at least won’t work too well.
For me, there are degrees to which these versions of the personalities are actually much more attractive. While I enjoy the acerbic perspective of the main universe Kyon, there is no need for that in this world, largely because Haruhi is not the controlled nuclear explosion inside a powerful containment field that she is in her own novels and its anime adaptation. The more subdued and, maybe, sad Haruhi is a much more interesting character. Without the silly prospect of her moodiness destroying life and the universe as we know it, she can explore emotions like sadness and disappointment that the main universe version must actively be stopped from experiencing, lest she destroy the world. When you think about it that way, the Haruhi Suzumiya of the main world is doomed to be emotionally stunted for the entire run of her fictional life. Since the alternative is doomsday for everyone else. This Haruhi does not have to inhabit that small world.
One can argue that domestic Ryouko and demure Yuki are boring, but is the exaggeratedly psychotic Asakura and leadenly robotic Yuki of the main world really much more interesting? Not less “cool” or “amazing” in their ways, but “interesting?” Real life may be boring, the events of this alternate world may be boring, but oddly, there is room for the characters in this reality to have a much deeper personal experience. I’m not saying that all the characters here have greater depth or complexity than their main universe counterparts, but they do at least have the room to grow and explore. Think about the main story versions: of them, perhaps only Yuki has experienced any real change, though it’s easy to do that since she started from so very little. This Yuki is also rather limited and may have grown less, but many of the other characters, most of all Haruhi and Ryouko, have been able to show more interesting sides of themselves at times. The potential exists as well for the others. That potential may never be realized in any meaningful way, but at least it’s there.
The romance could use a kick in the rear, however.
After the major revelation over Christmas, where Yuki declared her love for Kyon and it was reciprocated, one could expect major fallout from it…but don’t count on it. The romance is very much on a slow track. Instead, it’s more slice of life antics, though we do see that Yuki and Kyon, in their halting ways, do want to be closer.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: B+
Package Rating: B+
Age Rating: Older Teen–LV
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: November 17th, 2015