* Note: This may seem obvious to most but I feel like I should state this anyway: Do not watch this unless you have watched the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Story: While the first season revolves around Kyon discovering the world of aliens, time travelers, vespers, and Haruhi, who is the driving force behind all of this and state of the world in general, this movie makes a complete 180 (or 360?). One day, Haruhi disappears as does all the supernatural aspects surrounding her. The characters in the SOS Brigade still exist but they are no longer supernatural beings but average students and Kyon is the only one to know what life in the past was really like.
This alternate take with how life could have been like without Haruhi Suzumiya and her inherent powers was most fascinating to witness. Throughout the movie, there was twist after twist so nothing was ever completely straightforward but then again nothing was too far reaching and implausible to accept. Even though the supernatural elements are supposed to have disappeared, they thankfully have not completely vanished retaining the feel of Melancholy. The story propels forward with intelligent dialogue, well-pacing, and realistic character development so the story consistently entertains with a deeply well-thought out and moving plot without dragging.
However what made this movie so great was not the supernatural aspects but the character development and underlying themes brought forth from the whole situation. Though Kyon complains daily about the troubles (surreal and not) Haruhi brings upon his life, does he really prefer an average, non-science-fiction-type life without her and the others or maybe deep down he actually enjoys life with her? Maybe our lives are not the best and certainly not ideal, but how willing are we to give up everything we know and secretly care for in hopes of a starkly contrasting life. The movie beautifully and poignantly tells the tale from Kyon’s point of being difficulty forced to deal with what he really wants and having to be the main one to take action as opposed to relying on the others to accomplish his goals.
Animation: Beautiful as expected for Kyoto Animations. The character designs and background scenery were clean and vibrant. Everything was richly detailed and beautifully colored. Movement was fluid, graceful, and on many occasions flowed with this aura of uncertainty and surrealism. The vivid expressions and attention to minor facial details heightened the atmosphere. Of course, the animation for the supernatural aspects was wonderfully done, showcasing just how extravagant but not over-the-top the animation can be. Overall, beautiful and rich in detail so I was quite impressed.
Sound: Another factor besides the plot that was in stark contrast to the first season. As opposed to being generic and forgettable, the sound actually stood out in a beautiful and moving manner. The scores were mostly lovely piano accompaniments that heightened the scenes, allowing the feelings of the character or the atmosphere of the situation to exude out and fill up the screen without words. The pieces were serene, dramatic, suspenseful, or lively, depending on the mood of the scene. Definitely a soundtrack to check out even without having viewed the movie because honestly the music was just gorgeous.
Characters: Here was yet one other factor that allowed the movie to be an improvement against the first season. The characters who most developed were Kyon and Nagato.
Kyon was my favorite part from the original series. He was realistic, sarcastic with dry wit, and had a refreshingly unique and comical take on the situation he faced. This movie allowed him to be further developed showing how he had difficulty coping with an alternate world. His personality and sense of purpose shone throughout the movie, allowing for reasonably well-paced development in his character, taking him from being an average student to one who was unique and relatable.
Nagato did not remain the stoic entity she did in the original series and seeing her progression was intriguing and genuine and felt gradual and almost tangible. I’ll briefly mention that I enjoyed the layer of depth added to Koizumi. Hearing him admit how he perceives Kyon shows just that just because he seems to have an ideal life, something important was clearly lacking for him while in addition, adding a layer between the bond Haruhi feels for Kyon. That brief moment of vulnerability was a beautiful yet subtle touch that might not have resounded to most but that stuck out to me personally.
Overall: This movie was a beautiful progression from the original anime series. The plot realistically deals with the issue of how one must cope when everything they knew has been taken away. The overall arching theme of appreciating what one has and not taking life for granted at first subtly lingered in the background and then grew until it burst through towards the wonderful and endearing conclusion. This movie is a definite must-see for those who enjoyed the anime. Even those who did not enjoy the series might be pleasant surprised at how the movie blossomed in a way even the series did not. As for those who have yet to have seen anime, watch it just to see and appreciate the movie.