Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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Hanamonogatari – 04

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Because Suruga insists, Rouka tells her the full story: how she met Kaiki, who told her about apparitions, and how she acquired her first piece of the devil: her left leg. It once belonged to another girl named Rouka; a high-schooler who her older boyfriend had knocked up, and whose family wanted her to abort it. With this devil’s leg, Rouka-2 almost beat her mother to death, mirroring what happened to Suruga with her arm.

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The day after hugging Rouka-2 and saying she’d take the problem from her, the devil leg had replaced her crippled old one. Rouka has since replaced almost a third of her body with devil parts, and plans to “collect them all” so she can take control of the devil altogether, even though doing so will mean losing all of her body, head to toe. With that heartrendingly bleak goal announced, Rouka says farewell to Suruga, asking her to go out and “do all the human things” she can no longer do.

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That night, Suruga gets a call from Karen who informs her that Rouka committed suicide three years ago, presumably from a combination of her broken leg and her “bad” family situation. Now we’ve reached nadir of Suruga’s arc: she’s been talking with a ghost all this time. Shaken and never more uncertain, Suruga simply goes out and runs. She runs and runs across landscapes until collapsing in an intersection; a crossroads (subtle!). Then a car pulls up and honks at her, and holy shit, it’s Araragi!

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Like Kaiki, Araragi’s appearance couldn’t have been timed better, or be any more awesome. He now has long hair, a resplendent yellow VW New Beetle Suruga can’t help but hilariously gripe about (“What’s with this round car?”), a Shinobu keychain, and a little more life experience behind his belt. But Suruga gradually realizes once they talk that it’s the same old Araragi she’s leaned on, looked up to and missed so dearly. If anyone can help give her the guidance she needs at this point in her story, it’s him. A gorgeous, art-filmy all-night “road-trip” segment ensues.

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Also like Kaiki, Araragi isn’t interested in steering Suruga in a particular direction or in doing her own legwork for her, but he’s much nicer and more caring about it. He helps her realize she’s fee to obey the opinions of Rouka, Kaiki, of her mother if she wants, but she’s just as able to fight those opinions if she’s not convinced. Rather than go along with what those voices have said or done, she decides to strike out on her own path. Araragi asks if she needs any more help, and she says no, which pleases him. Suruga’s back, and she’s going on offense.

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Hanamonogatari – 03

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So, Rouka isn’t just gathering the misfortune of others, but also gathered Suruga’s devilish left arm, and shows it to her in Suruga’s classroom. Then she invites Suruga to join her for some one-on-one basketball, and whatever the extent of her career-ending leg injury, it certainly doesn’t seem to affect her anymore, as she puts up more than a fight against Suruga (who is herself understandably rusty).

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Suruga is still troubled by Rouka’s present existence, and wants to know what she’s been up to these last three years. After she agrees to tell her own story of how she came upon the monkey paw (which is skipped over, since that’s mostly covered in Bakemonogatari), Suruga fights back Rouka’s amorous advances and insists she tell her the story of how she became the Devil Lord. Rouka was always someone who learned to hide the full extent of her talents to avoid being hated by her less talented peers, which is how she became a defensive specialist.

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But once she was injured, people only ever looked down on her, even though she was doing the same to them. She remarks that when she was hospitalized for her leg, she wanted to talk to those as unfortunate and pitiable (if not more) than she was, so she could tell them she understood exactly how they felt (the truth) and that she’d solve it all (a lie), sending them on their way. When her first “client” returned, her problems were indeed gone (though ostensibly more as a result of time), and Rouka’s Collection of Misfortune began from there.

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The basketball match is brief but adds a welcome touch of action to what is essentially another long monologue with occasional commentary by Suruga, but that doesn’t mean the setting of that conversation is any less visually interesting. I especially dig the very upscale gymnasium with way more markings than it needs, and the court of is made up of the kind of wood you’d find in the Kia K900. Rouka’s appeal to Suruga’s bisexuality is also good continuity. But the fact remains, Rouka has only told half of her story. The other half centers on how she started gathering parts of the devil – a story she warns doesn’t have a happy ending.

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Hanamonogatari – 02

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This act begins with unbridled elation, as Suruga almost revels in the fact her regular human arm is back. She goes for a giddy run on a beautiful day, and the very air she breathes seems to smell better. But the new arm totally throws off the balance she had achieved with the hairy one, which tempers the elation somewhat. She’s initially happy by the fact the arm is gone, but now she’s troubled by how it might’ve happened.

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Suruga may not be the most classically bright of the Monogatari cast, but even she’s able to connect the dots between her arm and her encounter with Rouka. But her sources say the Devil Lord has ceased operations and disappeared, so Suruga heads to the train station to search for her out of town. There, she comes afoul of a wan but impeccably dressed and magnificently bearded Kaiki Deishuu. And as I for one am aware, adding Kaiki to the mix always makes things better.

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There’s a dark, predatory air to Kaiki early on as he chases Suruga throughout the station and outside into the streets. This reinforces all of the bad things her senpais have said about the man. They told her to run if she ever encountered him, and she does, not having any other information to work with. That changes when Kaiki, grabbing her by the scruff of her shirt like a helpless kitten, cordially offers to treat her to a cup of tea.

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That tea turns into an all-out sumptuous korean bbq feast. Who among those who include meat in their diet wouldn’t be elated at being in her shoes here? As Kaiki grills the succulent cuts of meat and organs and serves her, Kanbaru’s opinion on him becomes muddled. Moreso, when he states his business with her, it reveals a humanity she’d heretofore thought impossible for her senpais’ nemesis: Kaiki loved and admired Suruga’s biological mother, and promised to look after her daughter.

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To that end he gives her his card and tells her to contact him if she’s ever in a pinch, even though he admits its probably if she doesn’t. He also tells her to expect a “collector” to come and take her mummified monkey paw. That merges this present encounter with Rouka’s, leading Suruga to ask the simple question that wason all our minds form the start: how Kaiki knew Suruga would be at the station. He says the collector told him…a girl named Numachi Rouka.

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That’s not an unexpected twist, considering we certainly weren’t done with Rouka in this series, but still nicely staged. The atmosphere of the elaborate yet intimate korean bbq (contrasting with the huge open space where Suruga met Rouka), and the vaguely paternal way in which Kaiki seems to be upholding his promise to Suruga’s mom again shows us his softer side. But he isn’t about to tell Suruga everything. It’s up to her to investigate further.

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Hanamonogatari – 01

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Hanamonogatari was released all at once and as such can be enjoyed as a single movie-length feature, but we decided to split our review into its five distinct acts. -Ed.

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Of all the interesting characters in Monogatari, one of my favorites has always been Kanbaru Suruga. For one thing, in such a talky series her seiyu Sawashiro Miyuki gets plenty to say. But her character has been underutilized as late, only appearing in cameos in the last few shows since the Bakemonogatari arc. Hanamonogatari corrects that with one fell swoop. This is her show.

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Interestingly, she herself seems a bit nervous about this fact. Chronologically, the events of this arc are the latest we’ve seen yet. All those who have been high schoolers knows the sense of loneliness that can come when your upperclassmen—your senpai—graduate and move on to other things. Kanbaru is particularly lonely and drifting, since she’ll later admit she largely defined her character through Araragi and Senjougahara, to senpai she loved dearly.

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Having done awful things in a trance before as a result of her “devil arm” affliction, when Suruga hears rumors at school about a mysterious person who “solves problems”, she almost immediately suspects she could be this Devil Lord, especially since she’s been having strange dreams in which her mother lectures her on numerous philosophical points.

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Suruga finds this Devil Lord (thanks to Karen), and is surprised to find it’s her old basketball rival, Numachi Rouka (voiced by Asumi Kana in her Monogatari debut). The site of their meetingis pretty damn dreamlike too; a vast, salt flat-like space populated by stairs that go nowhere, various construction vehicles that change position and pattern, and not much else. Rouka had to retire from basketball after a leg injury in junior high, and now she’s…hangin’ around, answering requests for help.

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Rouka makes her case to her old nemesis (Rouka played “swamping” defense while Suruga was an offensive ace): she doesn’t actually meddle in the lives of those who request her help. She merely listens, then agrees to take away all their worries and misfortunes. This practice leads to a high “success rate” that increases with time, since in the end, Rouka believes it’s time that solves most of her clients’ problems. Still, she makes it a point to collect the letters and recordings of misfortune, and that collection has become vast.

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Suruga can’t really endorse what Rouka is doing, but she can’t really condemn it, either. Rouka gropes her breast for an uncomfortable amount of time, but Suruga ultimately decides to do nothing and goes home, doubtless relieved someone else is the Devil Lord. Then, the next morning, Suruga wakes up as she always does (in the nude in her vast room furnished by a bed and mountains of books), and finally finds her nail clipper, only to realize her devil arm is gone.

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It would seem Rouka was being a lot more literal when she said she would “take away other’s misfortune.” Suruga’s arm has definitely been that, as she nearly beat someone to death with it once (not just someone; Araragi) and it keeps her from playing basketball. A suddenly normal-armed Suruga is definitely an intriguing hook to lure us back into the Monogatari universe. It’s as talky and philosophical as ever, but also just as pretty with its whimsical environments an detailed close-ups.

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