This past weekend, me, my friend, and her brother had managed to marathon the entirety of Mawaru Penguindrum in two nights. The rewatch was memorable – Penguindrum is one of my favorite shows, and I was happy to share it with a friend who was expanding her own palette of anime for the first time. After we finished the last episode, we quietly sat in the theater room, pondering the ending. My friend was the first to speak.
“Well, that was great, but I want to recreate my own happy ending.”
Her brother turned to her, appalled. “But that would defeat the point!”
“So what?” She looked at him and shrugged. “It was a good ending, but I want everyone to be happy.”
“That makes no sense, he retorted. “The ending has to follow the structure of the story. If it diverted from that, there would be no point in it existing.” The two continued to argue back and forth, but it had me thinking – was there anything wrong with making ‘what if’ scenarios?
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is, by all intents and purposes, a fanfiction. It is set in an alternate reality than that of its original story, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, focusing on a large ‘what if’: if Kyon had chosen the world that Nagato had made for him and her, what would happen? Would they be happier? Would Nagato be happier? What would Kyon be like, and how would their relationship transform?
As Emily writes, Nagato Yuki-chan functions like a fanfiction in that it expects its audience to have seen The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya/Haruhi Suzumiya series. Unlike stories which are spin offs which may explain the backstory of other characters or prequel/sequel OVAs, Nagato Yuki-chan strictly resides in an alternate universe with slightly changed characters. There are no definitive introductions to these characters, nor an elaborate explanation of the setting – we are dropped right into this new world where Nagato is a more shy, emotionally expressive character, and her best friends are Kyon and Ryoko Asakura. Whereas in the original series, Nagato is forced to default to a painstakingly slow development of becoming self aware and expressing herself, here, in the alternate reality, she rapidly changes to an almost completely different persona.This is the Nagato that is ‘happy’, that finds her love, and shares a true and valuable friendship with Asakura.
We could ask ourselves – is there a point to this story? Are we gaining any narrative progression from the creation of this series? The answer is no. The main character of the Haruhi Suzumiya series is Haruhi, and here, we only get a mere glance of her, as a callback to the mother story. Nothing about the appearance of espers, ghosts, or aliens is explained, and the continuing struggle to deal with Haruhi’s antics has vanished. In its place is a large ‘what if’ scenario – the what if of Nagato’s regular life as a schoolgirl.
What is the point of ‘what if ‘ scenarios if they don’t progress the story in any meaningful, logical way? After all, ‘what if ‘scenarios are ultimately created to satisfy our need for our own desires. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan arose out of a need to see Nagato as a happier person, and that happiness is driven by the idea that Nagato is only happy if she has a fulfilled life with solid relationships and a potential love interest. It is a selfish, personal mistake that one could presume facetious and aimless; a simple wish of a consumer to make what he or she wants out of the media he or she consumes.
Canon is not made necessarily just for the consumers; it is not confined to their Word of God powers, and that media functions always as a two way communication between the people who consume it and the people that make it. After all, aren’t fictional stories in one sense made to appeal to our desires? Aren’t they too, a form of ‘fanfiction’ that are based off the artists’ experiences and point of views? The idea that an author’s work strictly remains his or hers contributes to the idea of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art and culture; of us devaluing ourselves as people who enjoy these works but have no right to interfere or make a personal experience out of the material that the artist has created. It recycles institutionalized notions of power existing to those who are ‘worthy’ of having it and considers those who have little to none as incapable people. And so, it leaves us with nothing, rendering us as helpless fans, limited to only watching and never being able to act on our own desires.
But here’s the thing. As a fan and as a consumer, we have the power – even more freedom than Word of God themselves – to take this culture and make it ours. We can insert the personal desires we’ve always wanted reflected in canonical structures but have never had the opportunity or ability to do so due to social stigmas or safe methods of consumption instilled in media. Want the representation you never got the chance to see? You can create your own. Want to focus on a minor arc that you felt had potential but was never truly realized? You can extend that arc yourself. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan takes a look at one of the lesser valued characters in a show and dedicates its time to making her the main character. Fanfiction gives us the greatest dream – to make our dreams and wishes a reality. That may be selfish, may be narratively pointless, and may be completely facetious, but it gives a tangible, expressive power that continuously pushes against the notions of who and what decides is culture and makes it individual and unique.
Maybe The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan doesn’t have narrative progression in the way canon decides it. But it remains a powerful symbol that fanfiction, in whatever shape or form, can be realized. The fact that it exists in animated form not only speaks about how consumers have the power to make fanfiction a canon of its own, but spread that power to create fanfiction to other consumers. It’s inspiring, wonderful, and I’m personally very glad that the show exists because of this.