Zoku Owarimonogatari – 01 – Through the Loo(Koyomi)ng Glass

The long-awaited “epilogue” to Shinbou Akiyuki’s venerable Monogatari Series premiered in theaters last Fall. The movie can be cleanly split into six episodes. Here’s the RABUJOI review of the first, with more to come, on the 10-year anniversary of Bakemonogatari’s first episode. You can view a Big Board of the complete Monogatari anime saga in the order of when events occur here.—R.S.

It’s March 16, 2007 – just two days after the events of Owarimonogatari, and Araragi Koyomi has graduated from high school and has not yet been admitted to his college of choice. It’s a kind of purgatory he’s never experienced. From grade to middle to high school, he’d always known for sure what came next, whether he was a vampire or not. Now it’s all up in the air.

It’s not surprising for someone with such a murky view of the future to turn his gaze inward, thus undertaking a new adventure (or oddity): a mirror universe. Going into this movie (which I’ll be reviewing in six parts) I had no idea what to expect from these “bonus levels” or “lost levels,” but as a self-avowed Trekkie, exploring alternate realities is always a ton of fun and I’m glad to see Monogatari employ the device.

Aside from the familiar setting of his house being literally reversed, Koyomi starts to notice everyone’s a bit…alternate: Karen is short instead of tall; Tsukihi’s yukata is reversed; Yotsugi is extremely expressive. They’re all fun reflections the significance of which rely not only on the audience having pored over the previous ninety-seven episodes of Monogatari, but also having thoroughly enjoyed said poring, as I am on record as having done.

The most entertaining of alternate characters to date has to be Hachikuji Mayoi, the recently-installed town god whom Araragi visits to get some answers when Shinobu won’t respond to his summons. At first Mayoi doesn’t show when he presents an offering of aluminum 1-yen coins, two claps, and a prayer. But that’s because she’s stalking him.

Unlike the 10-year-old Mayoi who has been the victim of numerous Perverted Araragi Attacks™, Mirror Mayoi is 21; Koyomi’s senpai and onee-chan, and the hunter, not the hunted. Turnabout is certainly fair play, as Koyomi is the unconsenting recipient of wholly inappropriate verbal and physical manhandling. After her ambush, she helps him determine that the mirror world is a moment from his world that branched off, with some elements that have reversed and others that haven’t.

Drawing from the utilization of the temple’s torii as a time-portal back to 1995, Mayoi suggests that Koyomi attempt to return to his world by the same means. That means employing the unique talents of one former Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade to open the gate for him, even though her being a vampire means she has no counterpart in the mirror universe.

He just needs a way to convey that idea to Shinobu, who may be back in her prime if they’re truly separated. He suddenly recalls the cypress bath in Kanbaru’s house as a potential means to contact her. As the start to a new mystery box out of which Koyomi must think and network his way, Zoku is a welcome new addition to the mythos. Voice actors, art, design, and particularly Haneoka Kei’s pulsing soundtrack are all in top form. I can’t wait to see where this bonus stage goes.

Tsukimonogatari – 04 (Fin)

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Before they sneak into the temple where Tadatsuru is keeping the girls, Koyomi and Ononoki are met by Oshino Ouji, who reminds him what her ‘uncle’ said: “All you can do is save yourself on your own”…even though Koyomi following through on that would mean he’d be open for extermination.

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Ononoki surmises out of earshot that Ouji is the mastermind and ‘final boss’ that requested Tadatsuru’s extermination services. I’m not sure what to make of that since I’m still a bit fuzzy on who or what Ouji is, but in response, in the finale, Ononoki makes clear who and what she is, in spite of herself.

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Taking what Ouji said about ‘keeping things proper’, Ononoki lists all of the things she is that make her unproper: apparition, shikigami, corpse, tsukumo-gami. She also, seemingly intentionally, deepens the significance of what could have been a simple matter of saving three girls from a hermit without being detecting, because while the girls will be safe, the basic problem of Tadatsuru being after him would remain.

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That’s…just…gorgeous Winter environs.

 

She also tells the story of how she came to be: Kagenui, Kaiki, Oshino and Tadatsuru all collaborated on her production, which was “something like a Summer research project by bored college students”.

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The trouble came afterward when Tadatsuru and Kagenui fought over who would have ownership over her. Kagenui won, because Ononoki chose her. Ononoki can therefore say, and be technically correct, that she was the one who causes a rift between the two, even if she was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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So many easter eggs…

 

Ononoki mentions this heretofore untold story because she wants Koyomi to know that he can offer her to Tadatsuru in exchange for the girls. In other words, she’d give up her life to save him from spending his.

Koyomi reacts to what he deems a stupid offer by doing something stupid: flipping Ononoki’s skirt…then holding it in a flipped-up state.

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The message he means to convey with his sexual harassment is that Koyomi doesn’t value his own life above hers, even if she’d be fine with him doing so. Ononoki concedes, then offers to kill Tadatsuru herself. He balks at that too, worried she’d lose whatever humanity she had gained in the time he’s known her. She even suggests he could get away with the girls by giving Tadatsuru Shinobu, knowing Koyomi wouldn’t go for that either.

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Ultimately, she makes Koyomi let go of her skirt, and she agrees to go by his original plan where he acts as a decoy and stalls Tadatsuru while she swings around back and rescues the girls, leaving him on his own. It’s a plan we see Ononoki will unilaterally tweak once in motion; again asserting her humanity.

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Tadatsuru himself…well, he’s a bit underwhelming, aside from being an origami folder par excellence. He seems impatient with Koyomi’s banter, but he’s also in no hurry to kill him.

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In fact, Tadatsuru simply sits there above an offertory box as he and Koyomi chat, giving Ononoki the time she needs to sneak up behind him and cast Unlimited Rulebook at point-blank range, killing him. It’s something he almost expected, even requesting she do it with “human compassion” and deliver her catchphrase, “I said, with a posed look.”

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So Ononoki ends up a killer, albeit one who acted on her own, against his wishes. She also quite likely saved his life and that of the girls, and Koyomi and Shinobu didn’t have to use any power. But it occurs to Koyomi that, all along, this was meant to drive a wedge between him and Ononoki.

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After the girls are safe and sound, Koyomi pays a visit to Senjougahara, who reminds him with a chocolate to the mouth that it’s Valentine’s Day. He informs her of his present state, and she essentially shrugs it off: as long as she can see him with her eyes (and he does see himself reflected in them), why should he care about being seen in mirrors? If anything comes of it, he won’t have to deal with it alone.

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Back home, Tsukimonogatari exploits one last sequence of Koyomi walking in on his half-naked sisters, who ‘coincidentally’ won Ononoki on the crane game earlier that day. To counter the objective of creating a fissure in Ononoki and Koyomi’s relationship, Gaen and Kagenui decided the best thing to do would be for Ononoki to move in with Koyomi and become even closer and ‘more intimate’ until the town stabilizes.

This, of course, creates an entirely different kind of tension, which may not be as serious as losing one’s humanity or being targeted for extermination by specialists, but a tension all the same: that of yet another girl in Koyomi’s life, competing for his time and affections, when he already has plenty.

But to put it another way, Ononoki is one more girl to protect him so he won’t have to vamp up…and the only one with UNLIMITED RULEBOOK!

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Tsukimonogatari – 03

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Oh, right…there’s another reason Koyomi probably shouldn’t let himself become a full vampire. As vampires are kind of the head honchos of apparitions, it will fall to Kagenui to destroy him, a duty she will not hesitate in carrying out. Even Ononoki, who considers Koyomi a friend, would be forced to turn on him.

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Ononoki doesn’t want this, and so asks Koyomi to promise he won’t use his vampire powers anymore. Koyomi promises, but Ononoki detects his uncertainty.

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It’s one thing to promise when nothing is on the line, but if Senjougahara or Hanekawa or his sisters were in mortal danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to break that promise and use all his power to save them, consequences be damned. The thing is, Kagenui is making the consequences to this very likely scenario quite clear: she and Ononoki will kill him.

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Shinobu and Kagenui with their ‘bring it on’ faces

 

Shinobu weighs in on the discussion, saying once Koyomi is dead she’ll be fully released, and will waste no time exacting her revenge upon Koyomi’s killer. The two stare each other down, and suddenly, the conversation looks like it’s about to turn into some kind of duel.

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“In the name of the moon…I will punish you!”

 

The cooler heads—Ononoki and Koyomi—talk their partners down. It’s a great way to underline just how tenuously close Koyomi is to the boundary between human and apparition; between friend and target. But, as Ononoki says, they’re not at that point yet; not all is lost.

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Kagenui seems intent on keeping her phone as far away from her as possible, one of her many character quirks

 

After briefly getting into why Kagenui specializes in immortal apparitions, during which time she mentions that there’s at least one other specialist like her who does so, but is a hermit he needn’t concern himself with, when Gaen calls her on the phone. Kagenui relays to Koyomi that he should rush to Kanbaru’s house without delay.

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There, they find Kanbaru and his sisters gone, and a string of paper cranes left as a message, perhaps symbolizing Tsukihi (who was a phoenix). Already, Koyomi is finding it tough to even withstand the environmental extremes of riding Ononoki as she performs Unlimited Rulebook; unable as he is to tap into his vampowers.

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The group ends up somewhere more…abstract, where Kagenui informs Koyomi that the one who took the girls is Tadatsuru Teori (apparently a very trigonometric name in Japanese), a dollmaster and the very hermit she was talking about before Gaen called. However, she doesn’t think the girls are in any particular danger yet, as she believes Tadatsuru is only using them to get to Koyomi and Shinobu. Unlike Kagenui, Tadatsuru isn’t held back by someone like Gaen. He’s operating under a different rulebook.

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Far less static than some other Monogataris, we get a nice incidental snowball battle between Shinobu and Ononoki as the others yap

 

So, just when Koyomi learns that he can no longer use his powers, that hypothetical but highly likely scenario of him using his vampowers instinctively to save those he loves, which would lead to his demise, is quickly becoming a reality. At this point, Koyomi becomes rather resigned to his fate as a matter of the universe ‘calling in all his tabs at once’; something he can accept without complaint considering how much he used his vampowers in the past. Regardless of intentions, he knew was always going to exact some kind of price for that power.

Kagenui, in almost a supporting tone, warns him not to get ‘drowned’ in the why of what is happening. Forget divine punishment; maybe Tadatsuru just planned the whole thing to get his hands on him and Shinobu, and chose this specific because he knew Koyomi would be neutralized. Thus, Koyomi must rely on Kagenui and Ononoki a bit more than he usually would in order to save the girls.

Perhaps it is possible after all for a powerless, reliant Koyomi to exist. Never mind; knowing the alternative, it has to be possible…or he’s a goner. We’ll find out in the final installment.

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Tsukimonogatari – 01 & 02

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Happy New Year! I trust everyone has arrived at 2015. Welcome to the Winter season, which begins with Tsukimonogatari, a four-part TV movie that gets off to a frankly sluggish start…but then again, this is Monogatari we’re talking about…it will tell its story as leisurely and roundabout as it wishes, and you’re going to sit there and like it. Or you won’t, and will simply stop watching.

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I’m assuming you’re reading this review because you do like the franchise and, like me, will sit there and like it. However, I should mention that I planned to write separate reviews for each of the four parts, but found the first part too much of a head in need of a body to write just about it. It was an introduction; an easing back into Monogatari’s Bath of Quasi-Incest.

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After a brief (for this franchise) monologue about the nature of reality, unreality, and how Yotsugi and all the apparitions we’ve seen thus far fit into the picture (basically, they only exist because of humans), Koyomi is bathing Tsukihi and notices he has no reflection in the mirror, which would mean he is either becoming or has become a full vampire.

He summons Shinobu from his shadow, who suggests he consult with a specialist, namely Ononogi Yotsugi. That means finding her master Kagenui. Fortunately, Gaen Izuko texts him with a time and place he can find both…Monogatari does throw in a shortcut occasionally!

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Not unreasonably concerned that exposure to such characters—and/or indeed his own self in this unstable and still un-diagnosed state—could be detrimental to his sisters’ well-being, Koyomi asks Tsukihi to go with Karen to Kanbaru’s and crash there until further notice.

This 365-degree scene in which he is hugging his topless little sister as the potentially fatal sunlight seeps through the blinds, shows that the franchise is keen to maintain its usual visual flair. Also encouraging: the incidental sidenote and color cards have been totally redesigned, which freshens up the proceedings.

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Tsukimonogatari also has an air of timeliness to it, and not just because there’s snow on the ground in its world and it’s airing in January. Halfway through this latest Monogatari installment, the chill of Winter has come not just to Koyomi’s adolescence (as he nears college), but perhaps his very humanity. The loss of the former is all but inevitable, but the loss of the latter may not quite written in stone.

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Acquiring the counsel of Ononoki Yotsugi means literally acquiring her—as in winning her—in a crane game at a dreamlike fun fair. There’s a playfulness to making Koyomi jump through a hoop or two to get to the person he wants to talk to.

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I also like that it takes about a dozen rounds (and probably a couple thousand yen) to finally nudge her into the chute of victory (rather than lifting her, which the crane is too weak for). Once free, Ononoki presents her master Kagenui, who appears where Shinobu had been.

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In a tangled ruin/forest that feels simultaneously cold and cozy, Kagenui inspects Koyomi’s healed foot and has Ononoki bite it for analysis, which ends up confirming his fear that he is on the road to becoming a vamp for good.

Just to make it clear to him, Kagenui breaks a couple of his fingers, which he heals just by thinking happy (and slightly dirty) thoughts. With the disease thus deduced, Koyomi asks how he can fix this predicament, which is when Ononoki drops the hammer on him: there is no way to reverse his condition. She uses the word impossible for emphasis…not a word often used—or meant—on Monogatari.

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Kagenui counters that while the watermelon cannot be put together as it was, the progression to vampirism can be slowed or even arrested completely, but only if Koyomi stops relying on his vampire powers.

That’s a tall order, considering he’s used them liberally, at times non-stop, in all of his dealings with the other oddities. They’ve not only meant the difference between his life and death, but the difference between saving and not saving all those girls, including his beloved sisters.

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Which brings me back to what Tsukihi said back in the bath, aboth how Koyomi needs to stop worrying about keeping his town in balance and carrying everything on his shoulders, and start seriously worrying about himself and his future.

The thing is, an Araragi Koyomi who refrains from using his powers ceases to be the Araragi Koyomi he, they, and we know. So here, at the beginning of the end, he must choose: to remain the Koyomi he always was, but turn into a vampire, or give up his powers and become a dull, normal, adult Koyomi, incapable of saving anyone; staying above the fray; going to college.

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Nekomonogatari: Shiro – 04

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Hanekawa wakes up in Koyomi’s room and finds a white hair, a sign she’s becoming the sawari neko again. As she leaves for the day, Koyomi’s mom tells her she’s welcome as a guest, but the Araragis can’t replace her family, and she has to stop averting her eyes. While out, Hanekawa runs into the half-vampire Mr. Episode, who has come at the behest of Oshino Meme‘s senpai, and a woman named Gaen Izuko, neither of whom can help her with her tiger problem, which Gaen says Hanekawa will call “Kako.”

After visitng the burnt-down cram school and researching “kako” in the library, Hanekawa talks with Senjougahara on the phone about it. Senjougahara points out that both of the places where Hanekawa has spent the night burned down in sequence, and if the trend continues the Senjougahara and Araragi houses will be next. She returns to the Araragis and plays cards with the Fire Sisters while they discuss fire, passion, justice, anger, and it dawns on her that envy is the reason for her predicament. She starts to write a letter to Black Hanekawa.

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Up until this episode, Hanekawa has been lost and aimless; drifting from friend’s house to friend’s house, her life on hold as she contemplates exactly what’s going on. Well, half of her is, anyway. She’s also torn in two, and the second half, “Black Hanekawa” is once again acting as her stress valve. But all of her interactions this week convince her that it’s time to stop the drifting and depending on others and her other half to help her. This tiger problem needs to be nipped in the bud, lest the house fires continue.

The Araragi matriarch (her face obscured) is the first of the people in the episode who tell Hanekawa it’s time to face her problem, which by the end she believes to be jealousy. But jealousy of what? That Senjougahara has Koyomi, to be sure.That he has a stable, loving home and family. That Black Hanekawa remembers her, but not vice versa. Even that the Fire Sisters live with such certainty (and have boyfriends). We’ll soon see how she plans to deal with all this jealousy, which could involve possibly never seeing Koyomi again.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • From Hanekawa’s perspective the story skips from chapter 26 to chapter 52, doubtless a most worrisome gap in time during which any number of things could’ve gone down.
  • The Araragis eat dinner together every morning, something, like the parents, we’ve oddly never seen. More proof that we only see glimpses of these characters’ lives, not the whole picture. Another example is the Fire Sisters’ BFs. 
  • Between the sugar cubes and the paper cranes, Senjougahara possesses  some rather obsessive (and, where Koyomi is concerne, possessive) qualities, no?
  • The cameos of Mr. Episode and Gaen Izuko didn’t mean anything for us, having not reach the source material. They also seem quite useless, though the story requires that they be so, in Hanekawa’s case.

Nekomonogatari: Shiro – 03

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Senjougahara tells Hanekawa she can’t “survive in the wild” because she’s too “white,” or being “dull in the shadows.” Kanbaru Suruga receives a text from Araragi asking her to meet him at the cram school. Senjougahara’s father returns, so she convinces the Fire Sisters Karen and Tsukihi to allow Hanekawa to stay with them for the time being. She sleeps in Araragi’s room, but she wakes up in the form of Black Hanekawa. Oshino Shinobu chats with her there, and Hanekawa tells her about Araragi’s whereabouts, asks about the Tiger oddity, and offers her a ride. When they arrive at the cram school, it is burned to the ground.

Something that we’ve been noticing about this new -Monogatari series is just how leisurely it is with the progression of events, and how indulgent it is with the characters pouring out all of their feelings and observations in between those events. In the first episode, Hanekawa meets the tiger oddity. In the second, she moves in with Senjougahara, who meets her alter-ego. In this episode she moves in with the Fire Sisters and her alter-ego meets Shinobu. That’s a pretty sparse amount of activity compared with other Summer series that stuff their episodes to the gills with events. Monogatari definitely operates under its own set of rules at its own pace, and makes no apologies for its meandering ways. It lives in the in between; for the journey, not the destination.

Much of that journey is philosophical, and you’ll either tire quickly of the verbose conversations flying around, or you’ll get immersed in them and in the small worlds that are built around them. Through the sparse sequence of events, Hanekawa has been drawing closer and closer to Araragi and the secret mission he’s involved in. And now we have a second burnt-down building, which just happened to be Hanekawa’s first place of refuge after her house burned, and a key locale in the Monogatari saga. It’s sudden loss is a huge deal, as is Shinobu’s suggestion that Araragi will surely get himself killed without her aid. But despite how close Hanekawa is getting, until they actually show him, we’re not going to assume he’ll ever appear in this arc at all.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • We love how low-key Senjougahara’s dad is. He puts on an apron, puts the kettle on, then vanishes.
  • Senjougahara and Hanekawa may sport short hair, but Tsukihi is rocking hair as long as she is tall; Kanbaru has also grown her hair out.
  • We see a lot of the Araragi family’s impeccable, ultramodern home, complete with cathedral-like bathroom.
  • The Araragis’ parents are police officers!
  • Don’t know if this is the first episode with it, but we noticed a “Chinaberry” (ouchi) frame for the first time. Nice color!
  • Vampires must not have a problem with blood rushing to their heads, ’cause Shinobu’s hanging from the ceiling a long time.
  • Love the quick-cutting scenes to simply show Black Hanekawa is leaping great bounds across town.

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 03

 

One night, Koyomi sneaks into Hanekawa’s house, but is horrified to learn that not one of its six rooms belongs to her, and flees in terror. He convinces his sisters not to act on the rumors of a monster cat roaming town and stay home, and pays another visit to Oshino, who has lost twenty times to the curse cat, which is far stronger than it usually would be because it chose to assimilate Hanekawa. Koyomi goes to school and encounters the cat there, who tells him she’s helping her master relieve stress, and to leave her be until it’s all gone. Koyomi, realizing that will never happen, realizes he likes Hanekawa to the point he would die for her.

Things get really intense in this segment, as we learn more about the cursed cat who has possessed Hanekawa, tore Koyomi’s arm off, and is terrorizing citizens. A traditional legend of the cursed cat is told by Oshino (through use of a very nicely-illustrated picture scroll): the moral of the story is there is no human who is 100% virtuous. Every human life is a balance of light and dark, and one cannot exist without the other. The curse cat was merely the catalyst for Hanekawa Tsubasa to finally unleash her long-repressed dark side, after accumulating monumental amounts of stress from her horrid parents.

Not only has Hanekawa given the curse cat levels of power and strategy it could previously only dream of (normally being a weak, low-level oddity), but the manner in which Hanekawa buried it makes it feel like it owes her a debt, and so has a vested interest in letting Hanekawa attack people as a “stress-buster”. Of course, the source of that stress will only replenish it after a time, causing a vicious cycle. Koyomi points this out, and the cat doesn’t really care. So letting the cat be and doing nothing isn’t really an option, especially considering Koyomi truly cares for Hanekawa, more now than he ever thought possible. He can’t let the cat have her forever, nor can he let Oshino kill her.


Rating: 9 (Superior)