Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen

I haven’t read any of the Monogatari novels, but I have seen the events of Kizumonogatari before—in extremely condensed form, in the cold open of Bakemonogatari way back in July of 2009.

That immediate Tsubasa upskirt, followed a dark, bloody, brutal, prologue was one hell of an introduction to the agony and ecstasy of the Monogatari Series. Ever since, I’d hoped we’d get a proper telling of those intense events. Seven-plus years (and a hell of a lot of Monogataris) later, we finally get that story; in the form of a three-part film, no less.

Right off the bat, I have to say the franchise has never looked or sounded better: Shaft and co-directors Oishi Tatsuya and Shinbo Akiyuki pull out all the visual and auditory stops to really give this story the weight (sorry Hitagi) and grandeur it deserves. Familiar buildings and vistas are given a bit of a makeover with no expense spared.

We start with that upskirt from the very beginning of Bakemonogatari, in which Araragi Koyomi happens to catch a good long look at the lacey undergarments of one Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Rather than react the way your typical anime character would after such an incident, Tsubasa laughs it off and discovers that it’s very easy—and fun—to talk with Koyomi, despite the fact he’s a loner-by-choice with no friends.

By the end of their encounter, she’s given him her contact info and declared herself his friend. Tsubasa’s friendly down-to-earth manner is infectious, and Koyomi is over the moon by his encounter, and gets so excited he ends up racing to the adult bookstore.

While talking with Tsubasa, she informs Koyomi of rumors going around town about a hauntingly beautiful blonde woman with piercing gaze. That prepares us for when he discovers a very long trail of blood that leads him deeper and deeper into a deserted subway station that feels like a descent into the underworld.

With Kubrickian precision, a marvelous tension is built up as signs of a horrendous struggle mar the otherwise pristine metal, tile, glass, and white of the station. And then he finds her: our favorite super-vampire, Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, lying in a pile of her own blood, relieved of her limbs, and near death.

She beseeches, or actually more like commands Koyomi to give him her blood to save her—all of it will probably do—but the kid is understandably terrified beyond rational thought, and his first instinct is to run the fuck away screaming, even as she too screams and pleads for help.

Eventually, however, the thing we all knew was coming occurs: Koyomi has a change of heart, and decides to head back down and offer his blood, which he believes to mean his life, to the vampire, hoping to earn the right to have a next life that isn’t so horribly fucked up.

But that’s just the thing: his life doesn’t end; his ‘clock’ starts right back up in a revamped-for-film, more impressive than ever abandoned cram school. Beside him is a dozing little blonde girl who isn’t ready to wake up yet.

Koyomi steps outside, and we return to the dramatic cold open of the film in which he’s set ablaze. I thought at the time it was just a nightmare, but no, his flesh actually bursts into flames upon exposure to the sun, but is continually regenerated.

Kiss-shot runs out and brings him back inside, and warns him not to go out during the day now that he’s an immortal vampire, and her second and newest servant.

As Koyomi points out, she’s no longer as “mature” as she was when they met, but it’s to be expected: Koyomi’s blood alone was not enough to fully restore her; she must be content with her smaller form. And while she’s been reduced in size, her personality is as big and imperious as ever.

Kiss-shot has little power remaining, and so must rely on Koyomi to destroy her enemies: three specialist vampire hunters whom she initially underestimated and allowed to attack her all at once. She believes if Koyomi takes them on one-by-one it should be a simple matter.

Of course, Kiss-shot’s perspective is somewhat skewed by the fact she’s over 500 years old and did things like jump from Antarctica to Japan over three centuries before the Meiji Restoration. If Koyomi can pull it off and get Kiss-shot’s limbs back, she promises she’ll turn him back into a human.

Unfortunately, when Koyomi first encounters these three hunters: Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter, not only does he have no idea how to fight the extremely tough customers, they come at him all at once just like they did Kiss-shot.

All Koyomi can do is crumple into a ball and wait for another inevitable end, but the universe ain’t done with him yet, because one particularly badass dude stops all three specialists in their tracks at once.

We know this guy, even if Koyomi hadn’t yet been introduced: he’s Oshino Meme, who describes himself as a keeper of “balance” between the worlds of humans and oddities (AKA monsters).

In this instance, at least, maintaining the balance means helping Koyomi and Kiss-shot get her limbs back so she can return to full strength and restore Koyomi’s humanity. And so off we go!

There’s a unique exhilaration in watching earlier versions of characters I’ve known for years meeting for the very first time, particularly a Koyomi who is new to all this oddity stuff and extremely out of his depth.

Prequels are notoriously tricky to pull off, but if the first of three parts is any indication, with a neat balance of levity and gravitas, Kizumonogatari is one of the rare ones that succeeds and excels; actually more powerful and engaging for arriving so long after the series it precedes.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 12

And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish for there never being any witches. This pisses off Incubator, but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is, no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time the heroine is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The naked space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, I can count it among my favorite anime series due to its highly original and entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.750