If you missed its European premiere in Scotland back in October, and you simply can't wait until Manga Entertainment's UK DVD and Blu-Ray release next year, fear not - there's still a way for you to enjoy The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, courtesy of Yen Press' translation of this fourth in Nagaru Tanigawa's series of light novels.
Rather seasonally, this particular novel opens around a week before Christmas, as our normal eyes and ears for the book Kyon finds himself exasperated as per usual with SOS Brigade leader Haruhi as she takes it upon herself to plan and prepare for the brigade's Christmas festivities. Everything seems set for an exhausting Christmas of trying to keep the imagination of this girl with the ability to change the world on a whim in check - until Haruhi herself vanishes, as per the title of the novel. This isn't just any normal disappearance however, as Kyon finds himself to be the only constant in an otherwise very changed world where one school classroom has disappeared entirely while Nagato and Asahina are stripped of their powers. In short, Kyon is left all alone, shorn of the SOS Brigade and Haruhi's meddling in a decidedly normal world.
This leaves us with a pretty hefty premise for the remainder of the novel to get into, as we get to see whether Kyon's continual acerbic wit over the past three books was the result of genuine frustration with his increasingly bizarre and eventful life or simply a facade to hide the fact that he was actually having a whole lot of fun. From despairing at his new situation, Kyon finds that he holds the future in his hands once again as the first clue as to how to restore the world he once knew falls into his hands, kicking off an ever-more complex adventure involving both Kyon's new life and time travelling back to happier, simpler times as he seeks to prevent whatever occurrence changed everything in the first place.
Although robbing this book of its titular character for large chunks of its narrative might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya actually blossoms somewhat without Haruhi herself at the centre of its chaos, instead allowing the franchise's other "sub-heroines" to get more of a look-in, while also giving Kyon himself room to breathe as an actual character rather than simply a long-suffering narrator. Yuki Nagato in particular gets the treatment she arguably deserves as this book progresses, fleshing her character out as more than just the "quiet, monotone girl" cliché she too often occupies, and even Mikuru Asahina gets to enjoy an outing away from her normal, clumsy self courtesy of the reintroduction of her adult iteration.
Of course, Haruhi's presence isn't entirely absent from the book, and it's still her over-the-top personality and its frequent clashes with Kyon's biting comebacks that light up this novel when it comes to providing comic relief. Such moments are measured and used carefully however, as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is simply having way too much fun with its characters and premise to stop and crack jokes a lot of the time. Indeed, both the pacing and plot of this novel prove to be extremely accomplished in building a simple, easy to read and understand tale that is nonetheless a lot more complicated "under the hood" - you'd be well-advised not to think about the time travel elements of the story lest you end up with an almighty headache, for starters.
In terms of making the most of its premise and characters, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is arguably the franchise's strongest novel to date - it is perhaps a little deeper and darker than previous instalments, but this stands it in good stead without ever losing any of the fun and magic of those earlier books. New fans of Haruhi will still need to go back and read the other books (or watch both seasons of the anime series) to fully appreciate this outing, but if you're otherwise up-to-date on the world of Miss Suzumiya this is an absolute must-have purchase that demonstrates ably exactly why this franchise has such enduring popularity.