The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan begins peacefully.
In its carefully constructed opening sequence, Nagato Yuki-chan shows that it knows exactly who its target audience is: existing fans of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Beginning with an establishing shot of North High, lingering on the hill that Kyon complains about in the original series, the lockers, and a window scene framing the line-marking machine that Kyon used in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody to aid Haruhi in her message to potential alien life. Finally, there is a close up of the sleeping Yuki Nagato and her glasses, glasses that she loses in the original series following her encounter in Melancholy with Ryoko Asakura.
While Nagato Yuki-chan doesn’t absolutely require its viewer to have watched the previous series, or have read the light novel source material, this opening will indubitably resonate more with a fan. The glasses, the line-marking machine, the hill, they’re all fanservice. This sequence embraces the preexisting Haruhi viewer, welcoming them back to North High.
As a franchise, Haruhi Suzumiya has always played around with framing different narratives – primarily through atypical chronology – relying on the viewer to bring their previous Haruhi experiences along for the ride. However, Nagato Yuki-chan takes this a step further, venturing into the realm of fanworks, where the express purpose of the series is rooted in the desires of the fan.
There are glimpses of this fanservice in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, where a time shift offers protagonist Kyon the chance at a normal life without supernatural phenomena. Haruhi’s titular disappearance is the direct result of the science fiction and supernatural elements of the series, and forces Kyon to choose between a normal life and a life with the Haruhi that he knows. Kyon chooses Haruhi, taking the weird along with the good and the bad. It’s an important choice to the series, and following Kyon’s choice, the narrative shifts again into more science-fiction hijinks.
In this alternate world of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya we meet a different Yuki Nagato. A Yuki Nagato that is not an alien interface – devoid of all but the slightest emotional affectations – but a timid shy girl who blushes as her shaking hand holds an application for the North High Literature Club. This is a bit of fanservice too, a taste of the human Yuki Nagato with the glasses that she had lost and a hapless demeanor. When Kyon makes his choice, he rejects this version of Yuki.
Fanworks are often created in the same vein of the world that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya gives to Kyon, and the viewer by extension. Your favorite characters from the Haruhi series, only slightly different, with a specific narrative focus. The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato-chan takes this one step further, and offers an entire world with the characters known from Haruhi, but without any hint of the supernatural and science fiction elements that made the source material and preceding series a unique offering. In Nagato-chan, we are expected to bring our knowledge of the characters’ other selves, and bask in their return.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan also plays specifically with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as it is the alternate reality in that story that Nagato Yuki-chan uses for its entire premise. The scene above is reminiscent of Kyon and Yuki’s walk at night and also a reminder of when Kyon saw Haruhi for the first time in the alternate timeline of Haruhi Suzumiya. Nagato Yuki-chan teases the viewer with the promise of more Haruhi characters to come, including Haruhi Suzumiya herself as well as Itsuki Koizumi, who we briefly see walking with Haruhi, in addition to their presence in the series’ ending sequence.
Ryoko Asakura’s appearance and role in both productions is also similar. Yuki is presented as a hapless girl whom Ryoko cares for in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and Nagato Yuki-chan. This further cements a Haruhi fan’s emotional connection with the movie, or light novel, by playing with visual shortcuts to remind the viewer of the Disappearance universe. Even the condiment placement on Yuki’s table while the three eat hotpot is similar.
From the opening moments of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan to visual clues scattered throughout its premiere, all signs point to Yuki-chan as a fanwork of the original series and with good reason. The source material itself is a manga spinoff of the original with this exact thought in mind: what if the world of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was the only world for these characters? Gone are Kyon’s monologues, gone are the supernatural and the science fiction. Gone are the majority of the things that made Haruhi Suzumiya, for better or for worse, a smash hit. What’s left is a familiar fanfiction world for a specific subset of viewers within the franchise.