The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 6

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

In my last review of this title, I seemed somewhat grumpy. The manga had gotten to a place that seemed ideal to wrap up, but trundled past and kept going anyway, with any love confessions quietly brushed under the carpet. I have no doubt that, with the main manga having ended in Japan, and no light novels or anime on the horizon, there is strong impetus to keep the remaining cash-cow spinoffs running. That said, I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the last, as Puyo settles in to do what he does best: take the Haruhi characters, soften them and give them alternate traits without quite turning them into another person, and write as many heartwarming, smile-inducing scenes as possible.

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I had discussed Kyon’s confession (and Yuki not hearing it) last time, and while I’m annoyed he backed off, I’m pleased to see that his experience with the alternate Nagato has affected him. He can’t pretend to go out with Sasaki, even if it’s to help her deal with a guy that’s being too forward, because it wouldn’t be right to Nagato’s feelings. Not the Nagato he knows, but the alternate Nagato. This is very Kyon, and nice to see in a series which lacks his sarcastic inner monologue and thus sometimes has him be more of a cipher than necessary. As for Sasaki, like the rest of the female cast, she seems to be aware she loves Kyon but unwilling to admit it directly. You get the sense that the ‘date me to fend off my admirer’ plan was a bit of a ruse.

Possibly the funniest moment in the series involves Mikuru, another character who’s been reduced to a minor role in this spinoff due to the AU. Here she sees Nagato trying to decide what to do about Kyon seemingly having a better choice in Sasaki, and plays up the part of the wise older student, telling Yuki that jealousy is a perfectly valid feeling to have. That said, when Yuki asks how best to approach Kyon, Mikuru gradually falls apart, as it’s clear she has little to no experience in that area either. (Yuki and Mikuru in this series are somewhat defined by the friendship they have with more extroverted, pushy people who spur them on.) Mikuru being a “failure as a sempai” is hilarious, and Yuki’s response to this is sweet.

Haruhi spends most of the volume on the edges, as she’s pissed off at Kyon and Yuki for not letting her do a band with the literature club. Interesting, the ENOZ thing happened at last year’s cultural festival, where Haruhi was just a visitor, only with Tsuruya playing the brilliant guitarist. Even more interestingly, she gets Mikuru to willingly join the band on tambourine for this year (Mikuru is less shell-shocked by Haruhi here, even if she still has confidence issues). This all leads up to the last scene in the book, though, where Haruhi goes to get Ryoko to make sure she attends the concert. Ryouko snarks on her bunny outfit, but the important thing is Haruhi willingly thanking her for taking care of getting the band on the schedule, and Ryouko saying she did it as a friend, not as a class rep. (Also, ship tease out the wazoo, but that’s just me.)

I haven’t even gotten into all the tiny little Haruhi refs buried in here (I wonder if the Endless Eight joke was in the original Japanese…), or the fact that of COURSE Kuyou is at Haruhi and Sasaki’s school in this AU, and of COURSE she’s meek and shy just like Yuki is, and of COURSE she has an adorable meet cute with Taniguchi. This is not exactly a series to read if you want surprise, or, if I’m being honest, depth. But it’s got a good heart, which is pretty much its entire reason for being, and in that respect fulfills the reader’s needs. Haruhi fans should be pleased once more.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 5

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

So when does one choose to end a cash cow? Particularly if the cash cow is a spinoff of an even bigger cash cow whose author seems to have dwindled down to 2 books a decade? Well, the answer is that you don’t – you need to keep the audience interested in these characters for as long as you possibly can, and if the main Suzumiya Haruhi series is on hiatus while its author deals with trying to wrap yup the monster he’s created, and the manga has to end as it can’t make up new Main Storyline stuff – well then, you keep the spinoffs going for as long as they are able.

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(For the record, I have generally assumed that when dealing with spinoff titles like these, the main plot is being created by the artist, with the writer only signing off on suggestions and censoring plots he wants to handle himself. Thus I assume that Puyo is in charge of both this and the Haruhi-chan manga, but I could be wrong.)

This volume really reads like the author was intending to wrap it up here. Yuki and her AU counterpart have a talk in her mind, after which she’s back to normal with no memories of what happened before… which is a bit of a pain to Kyon and Ryouko. Luckily it’s summer vacation and Haruhi returns to drag everyone through a series of fun activities. You can see Puyo starting to wrap things up. Haruhi reveals how things changed for her 3 years prior, and shows how she developed in a different, slightly more sedate direction due to Kyon’s unthinking response. There’s a sense she';s moving on from him here. Likewise, Kyon manages to resolve the awkwardness he feels around Nagato, and we finally get to the big confession…

…except there are fireworks, so she doesn’t hear him. And he immediately pulls back, noting that it’s OK if he said it, and now they can go back to their happy carefree days. We then move on to a slight homework arc, and return to the school for the 2nd half of the year, which features Haruhi trying to figure out how to inveigle herself into the culture festival despite not going to that school, and the return of a very familiar face.

Yes, if you write a spinoff featuring the most popular Haruhi character in a starring role, it makes sense to bring in the big breakout character of the last few years as well. So Sasaki’s back. What will her return mean for the relationship between Yuki and Kyon? Probably not a lot, to be honest. But it will at least keep it dragged out for another couple of volumes, which is all Kadokawa asks, really.

I really do enjoy this title. I wish the art rose above mediocre, but given the popularity of Attack on Titan, mediocre art is not a big setback anymore. Puyo specializes in quiet, introspective emotional moments, and the humor here is gentle and mild – it’s probably to contrast with the Haruhi-chan 4-koma he also writes. But I simply can never get out of my head the fact that this is a cash grab for a large anime franchise, and the addition of Sasaki and pullback from an obvious ending do nothing to assuage my worries in that regard. As always, recommended for Haruhi fans.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 4

By Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo. Released in Japan as “Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

This volume of Nagato Yuki-chan is pretty much impossible to review without spoiling the major plot twist that happens in the first chapter, be warned.

So, when we last left Yuki, she was about to be hit by a car, ending our cute little AU spinoff before it really began. Luckily, it doesn’t do major physical damage. That said, there’s something… odd about Yuki after the accident, which Ryouko, being the perfect best friend and oneesama, figures out right off the bat. Yuki seems more serious, speaks more precisely, isn’t a giant goofball, and acts more like another Nagato Yuki that readers may be far more familiar with. Yes, that’s right, this series that is an AU spinoff of a movie where Kyon crossed over into a world where Yuki was a shy adorable human is now crossing back over with the canon and dealing with a very different Nagato.

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Please note that nowhere in the actual text does it say this. Indeed, there’s very little ‘explanation’ given at all. Yuki has an alternate personality due to the accident, which acts much like Nagato from the main Haruhi series, and everything resolves at the end of the volume with a similar lack of explanation – her mind re-orients itself and Nagato essentially says goodbye. Indeed, some may argue it’s not the canon Nagato due to the amount of emotions shown by this version – ranging from embarrassment at her stomach growling to a full-on body blush when Ryouko suggests that she may be in love with Kyon. But then again, Nagato in canon is an alien whose emotional growth is deliberately stunted by her masters. Here, she’s in a real human body and has no such tethers. So dealing with these feelings makes sense.

More to the point, Ryouko and Kyon’s reactions to this new Nagato are pitch perfect (Haruhi and Koizumi are conveniently absent for tests, so this book is pretty much just Kyon, Nagato and Ryouko). They’re both worried about what’s happened to Yuki, but both instinctively realize – even if Kyon’s much better at expressing it – that this Nagato is also her own person and shouldn’t just be treated as a clone or as if she’s “taken over” Yuki’s body. (Ryouko worries even more than usual here – also, great meta-joke about her saying she’ll just stab Kyon to relieve her stress.) There is a lack of conflict here that in most series would serve to make things rather boring – but this is the light and fluffy Suzumiya Haruhi spinoff, so it makes sense that there’s no accusations or attempts to return Yuki to her head – just calm acceptance, patience, and watching Nagato grow as a character of her own – to the point that she also falls head over heels for Kyon.

I’m not sure what the fallout from all this will be – whether Yuki will have memories of the time she spent as Nagato (it seems unlikely from what little we see) or whether Kyon will be able to deal with a love confession that wasn’t really – but I will admit that this volume really is a major step forward by Puyo, and the best in the series. Which is still light and frothy, but now deals with its characters on a level equal to its source.