Nagato Yuki no shoushitsu
After over two weeks straight of not doing much of anything but work, last week-end was a welcome break full of otaku activities: anison karaoke, Nanoha the movie 1st and shopping for Okada Kou's new book Chuugakusei nikki on Saturday, followed by a Sunshine Creation full of Hideyoshi doujinshi and Suzumiya Haruhi no shoushitsu on Sunday. Nanoha in particular was pure joy, and though it took me several, erm, sittings to finish it (it's just too useable), I can also tell you that Chuugakusei nikki is spectacular.
On the other hand, the Haruhi movie (known in English as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, or was it Vanishment instead?) was a bit of a disappointment for me. Since impression posts I've read about it seemed to range from contented to ecstatic, I might as well try and explain why. This shouldn't spoil anything if you're familiar with the Shoushitsu storyline; I haven't read the novels myself, but the adaptation was reportedly quite faithful.
I really don't have any complaint about KyoAni's work, mind you. The production values were expectedly high, the writing was sharp, with occasional witty references that didn't look forced, the pacing was brisk but easy to follow, and the whole movie was gripping enough that, for almost three hours, I could forget about the horrible placement of my seat and the long time since the guy on my left presumably last had had a shower. Technically speaking, this was a better movie than Nanoha by a significant margin. And yet, I didn't like it.
More precisely, I didn't like the story at all, and what it did with Nagato as a character. Though I may not quite register as an outright Nagato fanboy, she's by far my favorite SOS Dan member, and I like what she represents—quiet intelligence, cold cuteness, paucity of speech but not of thought, meganekko (ok, scratch that one, damn you Kyon), wisdom and strength, a good taste in SF... She's pretty much what I describe as my type of girl when people ask and I don't want them to call the police just yet. So yeah, as far as this franchise, I'm definitely a Yukiist and as such I find it hard to enjoy the movie plotline. I'd heard before that Shoushitsu was one part of the story where Nagato particularly shines, and this only made the disappointment worse.
Basically, Shoushitsu is the story of Nagato's Pinocchio complex. She wishes to turn into a “real girl” (well, she does a little more than wish) and everything goes wrong. I can accept that. I can accept that even her could go out and do something stupid and arguably selfish. Great intelligence doesn't always come with great emotional maturity (for obvious reasons in her case), though it does often come with tedious social expectations of collectedness (I'm reminded of Toradora!'s Kitamura somehow), which is why I can also accept that what she did was so shocking (I was shocked, to be honest, and refused to believe that she was the “culprit” until the actual revelation), even though one would hardly blink an eye at Haruhi doing the same. But beyond that, things get harder to swallow.
For one thing, Shoushitsu marks in some sense the triumph of Haruhiism over Yukiism canon-wise. Not only does Kyon put his sarcasms aside and actively embrace Haruhiism while showing little sympathy for Nagato (his words of gratitude and praise, “she saved my life: how can I not like her” and whatnot, all refer to her as a powerful being, not as a human-like friend and even less as a love interest), but the entire world seems to do the same. I mean, Haruhi disappears and all of a sudden, everyone's life turns bleak, people fall ill and forlorn grey clouds cover the sky? We all know what the “SO” in SOS Dan stands for, but that's a bit too literal for me.
But more importantly, I'm concerned with what it means for Nagato to become a “real girl” in this story. It is best summed up by Mature Mikuru's comment just after the world has changed. Kyon, wielding his bizarre weapon, tries to convince a terrified Alternate Nagato to put things back in order herself so he doesn't have to shoot. Mikuru tells him that it's no use. “This Nagato has no power whatsoever: she's just a normal girl.” So, there you go. True Nagato has superior intellect; Alternate Nagato is bookish but not too bright. True Nagato is terse; Alternate Nagato is just coy. True Nagato is strong; Alternate Nagato is a wimp.
Is that what it means to be a normal girl, Tanigawa? Sheepish harmlessness? So much for Haruhi's relatively ironic take on gender stereotypes. Or perhaps this Alternate Nagato, inferior in almost every way to the original (glasses being one of the few exceptions), is what True Nagato figured would suit Kyon's tastes? And by audience surrogate isomorphism, what the author figured would please his male readers? Either option is pretty aggravating.
Even more aggravating, however, is the fact that this all works. Alternate Nagato, for all her shortcomings as a decent human being, is so cute it hurts. Her fearfulness, her blushes, her desperate yearning for affection, the way she holds onto Kyon's sleeve—some of the most potent and irresistible forced moe in years. I certainly had the warm and fuzzy feeling, mixed with anger at falling for this imposture. And it doesn't stop there. We have to sit through Kyon's ultimate rejection of Alternate Nagato and her heartwrenching emotional breakdown. Which all comes after an Eva-like introspective dilemma where he decides for Haruhi and the red pill. Implying that we, Yukiists, would rather take the blue pill and Alternate Nagato's shallow infatuation.
It's not just the screenwriting that is Eva-like here. The whole setting is basically a reprise of what Anno did with Ayanami fifteen years ago: manufacture a female being that his audience of introverts would grow to love, and expose his bag of tricks in the end while taking sadistic pleasure in destroying his puppet in front of them. Shoushitsu has the same general structure, only worse. Here, we know that Alternate Nagato is “fake” from the get-go, she is even more of a weakly moe archetype than Ayanami was, and yet we still find her loveable. In Eva, both the setup and the “destruction” can be ascribed to Gendou's sick mind, whereas in Shoushitsu, the setup is of True Nagato's making and the destruction is carried out by audience stand-in Kyon, so that you don't even have a bad guy to blame.
That's probably what it boils down to. I didn't like the mind game that was Evangelion, and was not amused in Shoushitsu playing the same tricks and upping the ante.