Zoku Owarimonogatari – 04 – A Disaster Visited Upon a Fragile World

Meeting the Heart-Under-Blade of this world is not what Araragi expected. Before he knows it, he feels compelled not only to bend the knee, but admonish himself in his thoughts whenever he says anything to her, culminating in him getting suicidal thoughts. Turns out that’s what happens with anyone (other than Ononoki) in her presence; her glory is just too great for any mortal to behold.

But in their short time together, Shinobu tells him a great many things he hadn’t considered, like the very real possibility he’s not the “victim” of this incident, as he has thusfar assumed, but a negative influence on her world, throwing it and everyone inhabiting it out of balance. Basically, he has to return to his world, and is on the right path, but he won’t be able to do it alone; he’ll need aid.

When Ononoki lists all of the qualifications required for said aid, a part of me hoped Senjougahara Hitagi’s name would come up—perhaps she’s a specialist in this world?—but the answer is the most obvious: Ononoki herself.

After his encounter with Shinobu, Koyomi immediately starts to notice the so-far subtle effect his presence in this world is having on those closest to him, particularly Sodachi. But while Tsukihi is giving him a compulsory face wash, he spots the other Koyomi in the reflection of the water in the sink.

After contemplating the possibility his own home might be the gate back to his world, Ononoki brings up an alternative plan: simply learn to live here and let the world change him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps his influence is only negative because he’s fighting the reality of this place; “giving up”, so to speak, could reverse the direction of influence.

Koyomi tables this idea, as he’s not sure it’s even achievable – even if he outwardly goes along with everything, there’s still his subconscious to consider, not to mention he has too much to do in that world to leave it now.

So instead it’s off to Kanbaru’s. Ononoki is supremely confident she can hold the Rainy Devil off indefinitely, and certainly as long as Koyomi needs to do. When simply looking in the reflection of the cypress bath nets no result, he strips and takes a bath.

That’s when Kanbaru’s mother Gaen Tooe enters and demands to know who he is before she ends him. No empty threat, but between the Rainy Devil and Tooe, Koyomi’s Araragi Charm will hopefully be more effective on the latter.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 03 – A Blurry Reflection

Having met nearly everyone in this “mirror world”, Koyomi takes stock of the different ways the people he knows have changed, and acknowledges that this is far from simply a matter of left becoming right, or even right becoming wrong.

Black Hanekawa is his Tsubasa’s alter ego. Rainy Devil’s hatred lurks within his Kanbaru. The happiness of her alternate dwells deep within his Sodachi. Kuchinawa is an inseparable part of Nadeko.

These seemingly different or opposite people are really much the people he knows as the people he knows, only in his world these are the sides hidden, suppressed, lurking beneath the everyday surface, for good and/or ill. As Mayoi has him consider where his alternate might be, he contemplates Oshino Ougi being in his world while he’s here.

But Mayoi also tells him to sleep on it, and take what opportunities might come. To Koyomi’s surprise, Sodachi is his bunkmate, and after lights-out offers some sleepy insight into mirrors—which typically only reflect about 80% of the light that hits them. The rest is absorbed, meaning the only way to truly see ourselves is to see a “blurry reflection”, something less than 100% the reverse of what you put into it.

That opportunity Mayoi mentioned might come comes in the form of Ononoki, but there’s something different about her, which is to say there’s something the same about the way she’s supposed to be. Her expressions and emotion and tone are all back to normal.

She reports that when she saw Koyomi’s reaction to her as she was (including not removing her “bottoms” as is supposedly his alternate’s dirty habit), she essentially rebooted and updated her personality—something among all the others she’s uniquely equipped to do.

Ononoki tells Koyomi she’s arranged to have the former Kiss-shot meet with him, and takes him on a journey to see her. I say journey when it’s more of a dazzling odyssey. As she lets the withering insults of her twisted personality fly freely, the surroundings of their trip to Shinobu fluctuate between dreamy hyper-realism to intricate 8-bit nostalgia.

Very few shows excel better at distracting you from long conversations with diverse dynamic visuals and eclectic music. This culminates in the most lavish setting yet: a classic Disney-style castle at the site where Koyomi expects the cram school to be; which he assumed might not have been destroyed by the Tiger like it was last Summer in his world.

As he and Ononoki let themselves into the magnificent edifice and walk through its vast moonlight-bathed halls, he contemplates what kind of person Shinobu might be. Did the other Koyomi never meet her bleeding to death in the subway, and never made a pact to save her life and made him a vampire? Is she Full-Power, Non-Former Kiss-shot and all the rest?

Well, once he enters her ethereal bedchamber, spots her silhouette, and hears her old-fashioned, polite salutations, it dawns on him: she’s not a vampire at all; she’s human. Judging from her castle, perhaps she still goes by the name Princess Rola?

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 02 – Relax and Enjoy

Koyomi knows the story of Kanbaru Suruga’s bath sometimes reflecting the image of the person you’ll end up with someday. He’s not sure that means he’ll be able to use it to return to his world or contact Shinobu, but he thought he’d give it a try—and meet a Suruga who might not be lewd, masochistic, or immodest.

Turns out she’s none of those things. Instead, she’s the Rainy Devil: pure rage, hatred, and pain. He can’t get anywhere near the bath, and is only rescued from the devil’s wrath by Mirror Tsubasa, who is simply Black Hanekawa. She warns him not to go back to the bath without a specialist, but that makes two consecutive friends of his who are the oddity versions of themselves in this world.

If Suruga’s Mirror self is a nightmare, Mirror Oikura Sodachi is a good dream, or rather a “good ending” version of the character, who moved in with the Araragi family when she was in grade school and is now something of a third sister to Koyomi, and thus extremely affectionate towards him. Still, as happy and blessed as she feels, a part of her can’t help but wonder…is it all a lie?

If you were to ask Mirror Nadeko, AKA Kuchinawa-san, the answer is no—and Koyomi gets to ask her, thanks to Big Sis Mayoi inviting her predecessor to the shrine to help him work through his predicament. Mayoi also tells Koyomi to loosen up and enjoy himself, and she starts imbibing bottle after bottle of sake.

Kuchinawa knows about mirrors; the root of the Japanese word for mirror is “serpent’s eye”, and mirrors were first used as a holy instrument, not to reflect an image, but to reflect its truth. Put simply, each and every person Koyomi has met so far is no less the real person as the ones he knows in his own world.

The mirror he finds himself in doesn’t just flip them left-to-right, but shows the other side of those people. That explains why Tsukihi is the same; she has no other sides. If this world is, as he previously considered, the product of an oddity that exists for a reason, perhaps the key to dealing with that oddity (if that’s what it is) is to be exposed to and accept these other sides as equally valid…

Kabukimonogatari – 03

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Koyomi and Shinobu return to the present to find it in ruins, and the last newspaper reads June 15th. They’re unable to use the shrine to travel through time, and are surrounded by zombies. They retreat into the sky and wait for the dawn, then return to Koyomi’s home. Shinobu deduces that saving Mayoi meant Koyomi never met her.

As a result, Black Hanekawa killed him, and he never retrieved Shinobu after she ran away. Released from his servitude, Shinobu’s full power was unleashed and she turned the entire world into vampires before committing suicide, turning them into zombies. After lighting fireworks in hopes of luring survivors, they are again surrounded by zombies.

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Upon first laying eyes on the bleak, lifeless, eerily beautiful new world Koyomi and Shinobu created by saving Mayoi, our first thought was that we’d want to leave as quickly as possible. Besides being straight up creepy and full of friggin’ vampire zombies, we’d also feel a crushing depression from the knowledge that this just wasn’t right and it was our fault, which would negate any possible appeal of having the world – and Costco! – all to ourselves.

Then Koyomi and Shinobu do try to leave almost immediately, back to the past where they can possibly fix this, and…they can’t. Another crushing sensation; they’re stuck there, indefinitely. But we won’t be too pessimistic. The night’s always darkest before the dawn; a gorgeous dawn we see when Shinobu launches into the sky with Koyomi, which along with the fireworks show brings some life back into this ruined world they simply must restore.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nekomonogatari: Shiro – 05

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Black Hanekawa reads her mistress’s letter, which boils down to a plea for help, so no one is hurt because of her. Black Hanekawa accepts the plea and confronts the tiger Kako just as she is about to burn down Senjougahara’s house. Kako will hear nothing of returning with Black Hanekawa to their “older sister’s” heart, and Black Hanekawa is only able to delay her for a few minutes. However, that delay enables Araragi to arrive in time to subdue Kako with the Kokoro Watari sword. Hanekawa re-absorbs both Black Hanekawa and Kako, giving her striped hair. She confesses to Araragi, is rejected, and asks her parents for a room of her own in their new house.

As we expected, the last four episodes were all carefully building up to a confrontation between Hanekawa and her wayward “younger sisters.” They were monsters created by her eighteen years of attempting to be as pure, white, perfect, and inoffensive to others as possible. They were pieces of her heart that were shorn off and took on lives of their own. Once those pieces threatened her life and those of her friends, she had to take a stand and decide to go back on those eighteen years of purging imperfection and embrace her humanity; the black and the white. Her heartfelt letter is beautifully rendered with a clever graphic narrative of traveling the world aimlessly, and that letter moves Black Hanekawa to act on her mistress’s behalf. Her other “little sister”, Kako, fueled by envy (not stress), is far more powerful and wild and far less sympathetic.

Kako doesn’t consider Hanekawa family and believes she’s reaping what she’s sown. Whatever she wants but cannot have will be burnt. Black Hanekawa is no match for the tiger, but she doesn’t have to be. Part of the imperfection Hanekawa needed to embrace was the willingness to rely on others besides herself (and Black Hanekawa was just herself). Her attempt to stop Kako was enough to delay Kako just long enough for her love, Araragi, to arrive with a helping hand, aiding her transition to true humanity. The new, bi-color Hanekawa may dye her hair all black to avoid strange looks at school, but she’s no longer averting her eyes. From now on, she’ll confess her love and let herself be hurt and cry, and let herself demand a place in her rightful home. She will accept all the parts of herself, and love all of it.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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: Shiro – 02

Hanekawa Tsubasa, Senjougahara Hitagi

Hanekawa showers with Senjougahara, who shares her futon with her for the night. In the middle of the night she transforms into the sawari neko “Black Hanekawa”, the incarnation of her mistress’s stress and fatigue. She warns the tiger not to harm her mistress, but as Hanekawa has already seen him, he’s already “started to act.” When Black Hanekawa sneaks home, Senjougahara is awake and they formally meet. The next morning the normal Hanekawa is back and prepares a breakfast that is very telling of her personality. Senjougahara asks her if she truly still loves Araragi.

Recent woes like the burning down of her house and the arrival of the tiger oddity have triggered the reawakening of Black Hanekawa, an oddity that is not so much a possession as an alter-ego. When others, including Senjougahara and Araragi, endure hardship, they maintain their fundamental selves. Hanekawa utterly changes hers, and yet her Black side is no less “her” than the side we normally see (as the first Nekomonogatari showed). Theirs would be a symbiotic relationship, if they were actually separate beings, but there’s technically just one: Hanekawa. Confused? C’mon, it’s not that complicated!

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Critiquing the breakfast Hanekawa makes for her, Senjougahara remarks that Hanekawa is the “polar opposite of a picky eater”, whose preferences can’t be called “tastes” because taste is irrelevant as long as the food is edible and nutritious. Going into therapist mode, she uses the breakfast as an example of Hanekawa’s tendency to accept anything and everything that comes her way, loving everything and detesting nothing with her massive heart. But Senjougahara is far pickier in all things, loving some and detesting others, generating a complex and distinct archive of tastes.

She feels those specific tastes drew her to Araragi, but she harbors doubt about Hanekawa feeling the same way. After all, how can Hanekawa still love or have ever loved Araragi, when she loves anything and everything? For all of her hospitality, fooling around in the shower (what was that all about?) and sharing her bed and being cool with her catty alter-ego, Senjougahara remains threatened by Hanekawa’s inscrutable form of love, and bringing her in was an opportunity to size her up fully, both to try to better understand her and, in so many words, dissuade her from the notion of loving Araragi.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)