Zoku Owarimonogatari – 06 (Fin) – Twenty Percent Interest

As is usually the case when involving Oshino Ougi, there’s a sinister aura to the “ghost classroom” where Koyomi finds her; like the last level of a game that may well end up kicking your ass because you’re under-leveled. That Ougi is wearing Koyomi’s boy’s uniform actually adds both to the sense of unique occasion and ominousness.

But if Monogatari has taught us anything, especially from the likes of Shinobu and Ononoki, it’s not to tell a book by its cover. This isn’t going to be a battleground, because Ougi isn’t Koyomi’s enemy. Ougi is Koyomi, and vice-versa. Case in point: the only reason their uniforms are swapped is because she thought it would be a funny prank.

Rather than a battle of fists or magic, this will be place where these two sides of Koyomi take the various pieces he’s collected in this mirror world and start to fit them together. Ougi starts with the easiest, most obvious, and yes, most cliched hypothesis: It was all a dream. Not just the mirror world, but all of Koyomi’s dealings with everyone thus far.

When Koyomi says if it was all a dream, he’ll consider it a happy one, wake up, stretch, and live out the day in a good mood. She withdraws this rather uninteresting theory relatively quickly, but answers him directly about being his double, not the Koyomi of the mirror world. She came to the world with him and helped him along the way, such as asking Black Hanekawa to save him.

She did this in part because Koyomi’s best interests are her best interests, but also because despite all her glaring and teasing, but because she is truly grateful to him for saving her from the darkness. That’s a tidy segue into the reflection rate of mirrors, with which Koyomi is already familiar thanks to Sodachi, who said that most mirrors only reflect 80 percent of the light.

The 20 percent that isn’t can be said to be absorbed, or erased, or executed. In any case, it goes into the darkness; into nothingness. Until that morning when Koyomi noticed his reflection had suddenly stopped moving. Koyomi didn’t pass through the mirror into a new world; he pulled a mirror world out of the mirror, saving the 20 percent of light that would have been lost—utilizing his innate mastery of all oddity qualities.

As has been established earlier, this world doesn’t really make sense as a reflection of Koyomi’s original world because the people in it aren’t mirror images, but other sides of who they fundamentally were, are, or could be. Here Koyomi learns why those other sides are what they are.

Gaen Izuko’s bitter memories created Gaen Tooe. Hanekawa’s regret about leaving town created her mini-me. Shinobu and Ononoki regained the humanity they lost. Koyomi’s regrets, and those of everyone else, that they either forgot or wanted to forget or pretend never existed, came back in this world. They gained their lost twenty percent back.

Ougi mentions that this isn’t something to be undone with the snap of fingers; Koyomi and everyone else actually experienced what it was like to regain that percentage, for good and ill, and will carry it with them from now on, even if they all revert back to the people they were before the mirror world was pulled out.

Perhaps most poignantly, the mirror world proved to Ougi—and any potential specialist who might place a target on her back—that there was value in Koyomi saving her from the darkness. That the darkness itself was wrong to think she had no reason to exist. In this mirror world, Ougi was Koyomi’s fail-safe. Without her, this story might’ve ended under the fist of the Rainy Devil.

In part as thanks for that, Ougi presents Koyomi with a zero-reflection, 100-percent absorption rate mirror, or a “slice of darkness” he’s to offer to Mayoi at the Shrine of the Polar Snake. There, at that focal point of the town, it will absorb the twenty percent of light he pulled out of the mirror, restoring the world to its previous state. But again, the “reminder” everyone got of that light—of their almost-forgotten regrets—will remain. With that, Ougi leaps out the window, her work there done.

Back home, Koyomi gets a knock at the door. It’s his girlfriend, Senjougahara Hitagi, trying out a new, adorable look that isn’t based on Hanekawa’s style. Her late arrival provides the perfect capper for a wonderful epilogue that explores how far Koyomi has come, and how he fears not knowing where to go from there.

He explains his last two days to Hitagi, about how after losing his title as high school student he looked in the mirror and summoned his regrets. Mind you, those myriad regrets weren’t all resolved to his or anyone’s satisfaction; they were simply remembered, faced, and acknowledged, which enables him to step towards the future a little more informed, so that he might hopefully avoid actions that will create more regrets.

In this regard, Hitagi’s total absence from the mirror world makes sense: Where she’s concerned, Koyomi has no regrets, and it’s reasonable to assume neither does she where he’s concerned. Koyomi creates a microcosm of his occasional hesitation when the two come to a crosswalk, where he used to stress about whether to lead with his right or left foot when the crossing light signals “go.”

Hitagi has a wonderfully Hitagi response to that: just plant both feet and take a leap, which is exactly what she does after taking Koyomi’s hand. Then Araragi Koyomi delivers a  stirring final monologue: “The long-continued story having come to its end, I remember my memories, leave my business unfinished, and leaving ample aftertaste and black space, towards the next story, we take a leap.”

Whew. It’s been quite a ride, leaping from one story, one oddity to the other over ten years and one hundred and three episodes containing many more individual chapters. I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to declare Monogatari, when taken as a whole, to be the most rich and satisfying collections of anime I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a series that has demanded time, patience, and at times, a certain twisted sense of humor, or tolerance for same. It’s downright bittersweet to think the book of Araragi & Co. has finally closed for good. But I’m glad I took the leap. Or should I say, a huge, joystick-pushing, lake-obliterating jump.

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Zoku Owarimonogatari – 05 – A Clockwork Araragi

Koyomi finds himself face-to-face with Kanbaru’s late mother Gaen Tooe in all her glory, but unlike Princess Kiss-Shot, being in her presence too long doesn’t make him suicidal. It’s a rare thing indeed for Koyomi to converse in such an intimate setting with an adult woman—again, Shinobu excluded—a cougar, if you will, made more strange by the fact she’s not even alive on Koyomi’s side.

Her frisky teasing and facial features remind him of Kanbaru, but there’s a decided sharp edge to her, quite becoming of a mother who left a monkey’s paw to her daughter—which was really a part of herself she split off. I like her leitmotif, which includes a cello, like her contemporary, Kaiki Deishu.

Tooe’s first piece of advice to a very nervous and confused Koyomi trying to figure out what’s going on is this: “knowing and not knowing don’t matter.” As proof, she infers just about everything about Koyomi’s situation and the state of his world, even though she entered the bath knowing nothing.

Tooe also underscores the necessity of properly facing your other side, as she and Izuko did, and as Suruga will have to do one day (referencing Hanamonogatari, which chronologically takes place a month after Zoku). Face it and acknowledge it not as a rival or blood enemy, but a partner, be it light or dark.

She also tells Koyomi to tell Suruga when he sees her next that her mother told her “don’t be like me.” She then mysteriously vanishes, leaving nothing but scratch marks on Koyomi’s back reading “Naoetsu High.”

When Dr. Ononoki inspects Koyomi’s back when they meet back up, the marks are gone, but Koyomi still thinks his old high school should be his next destination. Ononoki decides they’ll split up; she’ll visit Shinobu again to see if she’ll say anything else she might’ve wanted to say to Koyomi but couldn’t due tot he time limit.

Then she’ll search for Black Hanekawa to try to learn why she saved Koyomi from the Rainy Devil. Both tasks are designed specifically so she can avoid accompanying Koyomi to Naoetsu High, suggesting that while Koyomi’s influence has changed her personality and viewpoint, there’s still an innate part of her that is of this world, which understands Koyomi ultimately has to figure this out on his own.

To blend in at Naoetsu, Koyomi heads home to change into his uniform, only to discover it’s a girl’s uniform. One that, when he puts it on, actually fits pretty well. It would seem, then, that Koyomi’s theory about his other side in this world being Ougi was correct; for one thing, Ougi’s uniform is very baggy, as if it was meant for someone with a larger build—like Koyomi.

As he cross dresses without hesitation and rides his bike to school once more, Koyomi is extrmely cognizant of the fact that while he may have influenced a bit here and there in this world, it’s already starting to influence him, changing him into Ougi, which would mean Araragi Koyomi as we know him would cease to exist.

Meanwhile, after a fruitless visit to Shinobu’s, Ononoki finds Hanekawa hanging out with Mayoi and Kuchinawa…only it’s not Black Hanekawa, it’s Mini Hanekawa. Mayoi explains Hanekawa has many other sides, including her younger self. They’re all toasting the approaching end of this story, wherein this entire alternate world is revealed as nothing but the “product of a grand misunderstanding.”

That end is imminent because Koyomi is drawing closer and closer to noticing and facing his other side, Oshino Ougi. Strolling down the corridors of his old school, it doesn’t take him long to figure out, as Tooe thought he would, which part of that school meant the most to him – the classroom isolated from time and space.

It’s here where he finds Ougi, who has been waiting a very long time for him to show up. If that first episode of Owarimonogatari was the beginning of the end, and Koyomi saving Ougi at the end of Ougi Dark the end of the end, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the end of the epilogue, where no doubt Koyomi will suss out why this world exists, why he’s here, and how to return home—where he may be between titles, but at least the Karens are tall and the Surugas aren’t homicidal.

Koyomimonogatari – 01

Koyomi Stone is the first in a 12-episode miniseries of short stories involving Araragi Koyomi and all the other various characters in his orbit. First up is Hanekawa Tsubasa, whose dealings with Koyomi pre-date his girlfriend Senjougahara’s. Tsubasa presents him with a mystery of a stone in a shrine and asks him to report it to Oshino to see if it’s an oddity.

Oshino’s reply is for Koyomi and Tsubasa to study the high school’s curriculum. Tsubasa picks up on the clue and deduces the stone was once on its own until someone was about to toss their failed woodworking project into the nearby garbage, but placed the stone in it instead.

As a result, both objects changed: the stone became something that resembled an object of worship, and the failed house became a successful shrine. With the case closed, Koyomi remembers it was he who built the crappy house and put the stone in it; he later tosses the house and discovers the stone is really just a hunk of concrete.

The usual Monogatari style is all there to be seen and heard, adding weight to an otherwise slight and superfluous mystery, while the shorter runtime makes for easy watching.

Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen

Araragi Koyomi has beaten Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotinecutter with relative ease, and secured his master Kiss-Shot’s four extremities.
This third movie isn’t about that mission; that’s over now. It’s about everything that comes after, and how we get to Kiss-Shot being at full power to the greatly diminished state in which we were introduced to her in 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot promised Koyomi she’d make him a human if he got her arms and legs back, and while Oshino was meant to be Koyomi’s fourth opponent—he in possession of Kiss-Shot’s heart—he is satisfied that the balance has been restored. He not only surrenders the heart, but forgives Koyomi’s 5 million in debt before taking off.

So, will Kiss-Shot keep up her end of the bargain she struck with Koyomi? She’s certainly happy to be in her 26-year-old form; giddy, even. They meet on the roof of the cram school and talk simply like two old chums.

Kiss-Shot tells Koyomi about her first servant, whom she lost to suicide (she tells him more about this during Onimonogatari), and pulls Kokoro-watari, a memento from that time, out of her body.

After watching Kiss-Shot frolick on the roof, Koyomi realizes he’s a bit hungry, so volunteers to pick up some snacks at the local 7-Eleven while Kiss-Shot ‘prepares’ to restore his humanity.

Upon his return, he discovers the nature of that preparation: Kiss-Shot graphically devouring Guillotinecutter, then wondering where Koyomi’s “mobile snack”, i.e. Hanekawa is.

It’s a devastating revelation to Koyomi that yeah, when Kiss-Shot is talking about food she’s talking about humans. She feeds on humans, and he not only saved her life, but restored her to full power. As he rages in the gym equipment room, blaming himself for Guillotinecutter’s death, Hanekawa pays him a visit.

As far as Koyomi’s concerned, he doesn’t deserve to get his humanity back after everything he’s done. He doesn’t even deserve to live, and certainly doesn’t want to live to the point where he sees Tsubasa as food. He’s already disgusted with the fact that the three hunters he defeated were on the side of justice.

Tsubasa, not surprisingly, has his back when he doesn’t have his own. She’s made her selfishness known to Koyomi, and she wants to see him next term, so he can’t die. Besides, throwing away all he’s accomplished thus far would just be running away. Even if he eats her, she’s fine with it, because she wouldn’t call someone a friend unless she’s willing to die for them, no matter the reason.

No, pointing the blame on and killing himself isn’t the right path for Koyomi. Not when he’s the only one who has a chance against a Full Power Kiss-Shot. Knowing he has to go up against her, Koyomi asks, for the first time ever, if he can touch Tsubasa’s boobs, in order to “build up his tolerance” for Kiss-Shot’s own substantial bust.

That attempt goes bust, however, when Tsubasa is more than willing to let him fondle her boobs and even take her maidenhood if he likes, but he chickens out and instead gives her a weak shoulder massage.

Hitagi may end up being Koyomi’s beloved, but there can be no doubt who his best friend is after watching these movies. Because all this takes place before he even meets Hitagi, Tsubasa is free to be the one and only girl, and thus one hell of a best one.

Alright, no more fooling around, it’s time to fight his master Kiss-Shot, who makes one hell of a fiery, explosive entrance in the stadium, the venue of their duel. Kiss-Shot know realizes she was insensitive in being so casual about how she took her meal. With that in mind, she asks him to return to her side, but of course he can’t, because she ate someone.

Koyomi saved her life, and won back her limbs, because she was weak. Once she was no longer weak, and Koyomi saw what she was capable of, he essentially woke up from the spell he had been under. At an impasse, they begin to go at it.

Because they’re both immortal, quick-healing vampires, it’s an absolutely bonkers fight, with heads and limbs flying all over the place, oftentimes sprouting back up before the old parts faded away. But as bloody and brutal as it is, the fight is a stalemate, with neither party able to inflict lasting damage on the other.

Once again unable to stay away when her friend is in need, Tsubasa tells Koyomi something isn’t right, and it’s something everyone but Koyomi would have realize by now: Kiss-Shot wants to be killed; it’s the only way for Koyomi to get his humanity back.

When Kiss-Shot tries to lash out at the interfering Tsubasa, Koyomi (or rather, his head and some neckbones) latch on to Kiss-Shot’s neck, and he starts sucking her blood, a lot of it, until fully half of it is gone, leaving her shriveled and powerless.

But he doesn’t want Kiss-Shot to die.

Instead, he wants everyone to get what they want; everyone to be satisfied. So he calls out to Oshino, whom he knows is watching, and hires him (for five million) to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will change the fact that it’s impossible for everyone to be satisfied.

So instead, Oshino, true to his nature of attaining balance everywhere he can, proposes a way for everyone to be dissatisfied in equal measure. Kiss-Shot can live on as pseudo-vampire mimicking a human, robbed of all her power and dependent on Koyomi to survive.

Koyomi, meanwhile, will become a pseudo-human mimicking a vampire; and both will continue to live, and the risk to humanity will be greatly reduced, but not completely eliminated. Koyomi won’t let Kiss-Shot die, so he takes the deal.

Fast-forward to August and the beginning of a new term for Koyomi and Tsubasa. He still heals quickly for a human, but not nearly as quickly as he was. He also views the world differently now that he can walk in the sun again, something Tsubasa thinks is very positive.

Koyomi pays a visit to Oshino at the cram school to give what’s left of Kiss-Shot some of his blood. On the roof, Oshino characterizes the situation thusly:

What you remember of a vampire eating someone…is like the disillusionment of watching a cute cat devour a live mouse.

And here you are, having chosen to keep your own little vampire like a pet.

You’ve dulled its fangs, pulled out its claws, crushed its throat and neutered it, right?

You, who was once treated as a pet, are getting back at your former master by treating her as one…not a moving tale, is it?

Well, it was, and is, most definitely a moving tale, but I prefer Koyomi’s more poetic way of characterizing it:

We, who hurt each other so terribly, will sit here licking each others wounds. We damaged goods will seek the other out in comfort.

If you are to die tomorrow, I’m fine with my life ending then as well.

But if you want to live for me for one more day, I’ll go on living with you today as well.

And thus begins a tale of kindred bound by their scars.

Soaked in red and written in black, a story of blood.

One of which I’ll never speak.

Our very own, precious as it is, story of scars.

And I have no intention of reciting it to anyone.

It’s not just a beautiful way to end this fantastically epic prequel trilogy, but an artfully powerfully-stated mission statement for all of the stories in the Monogatari Series that follow chronologically. It’s inspired me to re-watch Nekomonogatari (Kuro) and then Bakemonogatari from the beginning, with a new appreciation for where Koyomi has been, andthanks to the recently completed Owarimonogatari—where he’s going.

Finally, major kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi, Horie Yui, and Sakamoto Maaya; all three elevated these movies that much more with their layered, engaging performances.

Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu-hen

Just because Araragi Koyomi is a vampire doesn’t mean he has the slightest idea what he’s doing, so in preparation for his fight with Dramaturgy—a fellow vampire, and vampire hunter—he bones up on both Aikido and baseball.

One thing Koyomi knows for sure is that the battle, and indeed his presence in general, is no place for a human, in particular the lovely Hanekawa Tsubasa, who shows up at the place where he’s to fight.

Koyomi decides to get rid of her—for her own sake—in the most expeditious way possible: by cruelly deleting her contact on his phone, demanding she stop following him, and basically telling her to piss off.

Dramaturgy is a kick-ass name for a vampire hunter, and Dramaturgy himself is terrifying to behold in his sheer size, speed, and purposefulness. Koyomi tries an Aikido approach, and loses his left arm in the first blow. Ovetaken by pain and horror, he runs away screaming.

But he forgets himself, quite literally: as the subordinate of Heart-Under-Blade, he can instantly regenerate his limbs, and so does so, then switches to a baseball approach until he beans Dramaturgy straight in the eye with some cheese.

To Koyomi’s shock, this is enough to get Drama to concede their duel and surrender Kiss-Shot’s leg. After all, he’s just a regular vampire, not of her lineage; he can’t regenerate nearly as quickly as she, and by extension Koyomi. The moment Koyomi figured that out, he’d lost.

In the immediate aftermath of his fist victory, Tsubasa emerges from her hiding spot; she’d watched the entire battle and wants to know what the hell just happened. Koyomi starts off with his ‘none of your business’ business, continuing to say mean things he doesn’t mean, even telling Tsubasa he only cared about her body, and asking her to show him her panties again.

But Tsubasa does show him her panties, because it’s what she wants to do, and knows that the Koyomi she knows wouldn’t have said such hurtful things unless he was trying to protect her. He sees right through his mean guy act, and the real Koyomi emerges, contrite and appreciative of her friendship.

Back at the cram school, Kiss-Shot is presented with her leg, and devours it, much to Koyomi’s shock. While she digests, Koyomi and Oshino give her some privacy, during which time Oshino explains how by methodically taking her limbs, her three (now two) hunters also managed to take her vampirism and all the abilities it entails.

Koyomi isn’t 100% trusting that Kiss-Shot will fulfill her end of the bargain by making him human again, and Oshino rightfully calls him an ingrate for it. If you can’t trust the person you saved your life, who can you trust?

When he goes back inside, he finds that Kiss-Shot has morphed from a young girl to a teenager. Somewhat creeped out by his reactions, she hides behind the lectern and sticks out her tongue at him.

Koyomi’s next opponent is Episode, a half-vampire filled with hate for his vampire side because it keeps him from truly fitting into either the vampire or human worlds. But before that, Koyomi introduces Tsubasa to (a soundly dozing) Kiss-Shot, thus sating her curiosity.

Tsubasa blames herself for somehow summoning vampires by simply bringing them up in conversation, and laments she can’t do more to help her friend, but Koyomi assures her that bringing him fresh clothes and moral support is more than enough.

Tsubasa also gets a measure of revenge by caressing Koyomi’s shirtless, suddenly much-more-built (as a result of his vampirism) body, which turns her on enough to make her a little uncomfortable when he gets too close to thank her. Still, before departing, she promises she’ll continue to support him in any way she can.

As with Dramaturgy, Koyomi’s battle with Episode doesn’t start out so well for him, as Episode is able to teleport from place to place in a blink of an eye, making him hard to target, not to mention his massive cross which he heaves at Koyomi like a projectile.

Tsubasa appears to help Koyomi out with a vital tip—Episode is turning himself into fog—but gets caught in the cross-er-cross, and she gets a nasty disembowling wound to her side, a most gutwrenching and upsetting sight to behold, for both me and Koyomi.

Seeing her urge Koyomi to keep fighting even as she bleeds out motivates him to stop going easy on Episode, and he flies to a nearby stadium to kick up a tremendous amount of dust in order to scatter the fog, which is only water, after all.

Once he has Episode in his clutches, he recalls flashes of holding the dying Tsubasa in his hands, and those hands tighten around Episode’s throat. He’d have killed him if not for Oshino stepping in to stop him, warning that he’ll “lose his humanity” if he carried out the execution.

Oshino also extracts an extra fee of three million yen in exchange for the key to saving Tsubasa, which Koyomi could have figured out for himself but for the fact he’s panicking—he cuts himself open and pours his vampire blood all over her, and she is immediately healed and wakes up.

Koyomi is so happy to see her alive and okay, he foregoes bashfulness regarding her torn uniform and cuddles with her a little longer. Kiss-Shot gets her other leg back, and upon re-absorbing it, morphs into a young adult, having very nearly recovered her immortality, but still unable to use any vampire abilities.

Last up, Guillotinecutter: neither a vampire nor a half-vampire, he’s merely a human, if a particularly well-built human. Rather than professionalism or hatred, he fights for faith, and his ability to exorcise vampires means Koyomi will have to be both extra-careful and extra-ruthless. In fact, Kiss-Shot suggests the only way to beat him is for Koyomi to abandon the humanity to which he’s been trying so hard to cling.

Before this third and final fight, Koyomi meets with Tsubasa once more, this time in the wheat(?) fields that surround the cram school. She provides sandwiches, (which he doesn’t eat since he’s a vampire) Coca-Cola (with a refreshing taste even vampires can’t refuse), and more moral suppport.

Koyomi tells her once more to stay away from him for her own safety, especially now. When she got hurt, he thinks it hurt him more than if it were him getting hurt. He’s recoving Kiss-Shot’s limbs so she’ll restore him to being a human, but he won’t sacrifice Tsubasa for that goal, and thinks Tsubasa is being too selfless, too bright for the likes of him.

Tsubasa reiterates that she’s not doing what’s good or right, but what she wants to do, no more, no less. Indeed, she sees herself as being selfish, self-centered, deceitful and stubborn, but she won’t apologize for any of it. But if there’s nothing more she can do for him regarding his current mission, she’s willing to step back.

To that, Koyomi tells her there is one more thing she can do: Wait for him. Wait until after Spring Break when they’re back in school, and be someone he can have fun talking with again. Koyomi says this romantically enough to literally make Tsubasa surrender her panties, with the implied promise that he’ll give them back when next they meet.

Koyomi, being pervy, isn’t super-committal about that last part, but he does want to see her again, so he’ll likely give them up when the time comes. With that, they part ways.

Unfortunately, when he faces Guillotinecutter, the priest immediately takes Tsubasa hostage and threatens to kill her if Koyomi challenges him. Tsubasa, of course, urges Koyomi to carry out his mission and not to worry about her, but there’s no way he can’t.

But as Kiss-Shot said, the only way Koyomi can defeat Guillotinecutter without killing Tsubasa is by going further than he went in his battles with Episode and Dramaturgy; beyond the point where Oshino stopped him. He has to be utterly inhuman in his strength, speed, and ability.

And so he does: Transforming his arms into vine-like tree limbs, he plucks Tsubasa from Guillotinecutter and crucifies him. Tsubasa is safe in those tree-like arms, and Kiss-Shot’s arms would seem to be free…but can Araragi Koyomi, Human recover from what he had to do? It’s left to the third and final film to decide.

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.

Owarimonogatari – 12 (Fin)

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Yeesh, I’m running out of shows to watch, fast! With the conclusion of Owarimonogatari (which I thought was ending next week for some reason), Only One Punch Man remains on my Fall list. And like Asterisk and RKC, the main event of this finale is a duel; this one between Araragi and Shinobu’s first minion. Before he steps into a battle that might end in his death, he gives his girlfriend a call, and she knows and says all the right things she should.

She saw Kanbaru’s feelings early on as a burden, but wants to be someone able to tolerate and bear that weight, as part of her wider self-improvement kick that also includes becoming Araragi’s bride. When they exchange “I love yous”, I really felt the love and the committment these two have to each other.

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When Araragi arrives for the duel at the designated spot, the First is somewhat incredulous about Shinobu’s commitment to Araragi, for allowing him to show up in such a “weak state.” Izuko sets the rules: they’ll stand back to back on either side of a non-lethal electrified kendo sword, take ten steps, then turn around, and the first to score a hit on the other wins, regardless of who gets the sword first.

A wrench is thrown into the works when Tsubasa sends Araragi a pic, and Izuko throws further wrenches into the works by saying both Tsubasa and Senjogahara are in potential danger and require Araragi’s immediate attention (I’m a bit fuzzy on all the past series but I do remember a Nekomonogatari running at the same time as this).

Basically, she sees it as finally making him choose a girl once and for all: Shinobu, Tsubasa, or Senjogahara. Araragi…stays put. He delegates the duty of checking in on the others to Kanbaru, who is only too happy to oblige. Of course, we know she’s already helped immensely by beating Shinobu in an argument.

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Speaking of Shinobu, she seems to revise Izuko’s duel by splitting the non-lethal sword in two and replacing it with Kokoro-watari, making this a duel to the death again. Araragi, who had faith in the other girls not to hold it against him for staying put, and knowing he won’t get to the sword in time, lets the first take it, then affixes a talisman to his suit. He may not have “hit” him, but he did “touch” him before he was touched, making him the winner. Also, that talisman turns the First into jelly.

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Araragi prepares to put the suffering First out of his misery, but he’s stopped by Shinobu, finally meeting the re—and now re-de-assembled first minion, whom she calls Seishirou, face to face (his face is the only recognizable bit left), just as Kanbaru pleaded with her to do. Rather than let her second minion kill her first, she apologizes to Seishirou and says goodbye properly, with a firm rejection: she likes someone else now. She dumps Seishirou…then eats him.

And that’s that. Or so Araragi recounts to Oshino Ougi in his room. In this epilogue we’re finally aware that all this time Araragi has been narrating this arc to Ougi, listening with relish.

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Strangely, Ougi wonders if Shinobu really at all of Seishirou, including his suit of armor; the titular “Shinobu Mail.” Araragi is pretty sure she did, but doesn’t seem 100% certain, and that little bit of uncertainty is a thread Ougi seems eager to pull on, pondering whether Izuko used the armor to forge another Kokoro-watari (and shorter Yume-watari) leaving Araragi with Seishirou’s last name, Shishirui.

Araragi exits his room to find a traditionally-dressed Ononoki, who scolds him for not coming up with merits for being with Shinobu instead of the Seishirou; or for believing “nobody becomes happy” when he’s her minion, something he still believes because of the misfortune that could be brought on everyone, including Shinobu herself.

Ononoki doesn’t want him being content with putting up with misfortune, but “aiming for the happy ending.” Embracing misfortune is negligent and not trying to become happy is cowardly, in her mind.

In Araragi’s final sililoquy, he remains unconvinced anyone is happy, but is comforted that there’s still plenty of time ahead of everyone. As the first demonstrated quite forcefully with his four-century-long suicide, given enough time, anything is possible, including happiness.

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Owarimonogatari – 11

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Araragi’s meeting with the First One is cordial, but becomes increasingly tense when he learns what his predecessor wants: for him to “break up” with Kiss-shot. Now that he’s back in the picture, he wants to go to her, make amends, and take his place by her side, while regaining the sword he “lent” her.

Araragi, believing this a legitimate parlay, almost takes a sip from a poisoned sports drink the First gave him, which is all Araragi needs to know: the First wants him out of the picture, one way or another. The negotiations are only a formality, and Araragi isn’t able to come up with any cinvincing benefits for the First to stand down and let him remain Shinobu’s minion.

Izuko arrives with Gaen Episode to save Araragi, but negotiations are over: it will come down to a duel between Araragi and the First, with the specialists working out the details.

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Araragi got nowhere, but when he returns to the shrine, he sees Shinobu sitting on a supine Kanbaru, telling her if she apologizes for what she said, she’ll be forgiven with no harm done. But Kanbaru is defiant, and she’ll repeat those words over and over until they stick: it’s up to Shinobu herself to face the First and settle things one way or another, not Isuko’s or Araragi’s or anyone else’s.

For much of the argument that ensues, Shinobu’s little hand tightens menacingly across Kanbaru’s head as she reproaches a lowly baby human for daring to say she knows the slightest thing about the situaion. She thinks Kanbaru is being silly; that nothing can be gained, only lost, by personally confronting her former master.

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Furthermore, it’s an insult to her present master. Basically, Shinobu only wants one minion—Araragi—and will accept no arrangements in which she has two. It goes on like this for some time, but Kanbaru remains unblinking and forthright in her belief that Shinobu is wrong. It doesn’t matter how much fancy archaic terminology she uses or excuses she offers, Kanbaru thinks she’s covering for her fear of what facing the First will affect her.

But Kanbaru is able to wear down Shinobu because she can relate to the First as the “second choice”, because she herself wasn’t Araragi’s, Senjougahara was. Shinobu rejects her comparisons with human relationships, but runs out of ammo when Kanbaru tells her every possibility she can think of is preferable to doing and saying nothing, even if she or the first are killed in the process…or even if she ends up choosing the First over the Second. The ball is in her court.

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It isn’t that the duel between the First and Second isn’t still on—it is, and it will take place in the school courtyard—but when Shinobu eventually gets over the fact she soundly lost an argument to a girl nearly five centuries younger than her, she may be able to stop the boys from fighting over her. Note that if you strip away all the vampire stuff, this is about a pushy, needy old ex-boyfriend wanting to get back with his girl, but the girl having moved on with a new man.

Meanwhile, Kanbaru continues to lie on the ground where Shinobu left her, with a slight cut on her head from where she squeezed her, and Araragi delivers her BL novels and bra. Kanbaru, not unreasonably wants to be rewarded by her upperclassman for the service she provided for Araragi—doing what he probably couldn’t have done (again, because he’s not the “un-chosen one” the way she and the First are). Whether it’s by him feeding her as she reads, or him putting her bra on while she reads, it’s all good for her.

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Owarimonogatari – 10

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No show is better at stylishly embellishing otherwise static conversations—that’s really most of Monogatari in the first place—but unlike Sodachi Lost arc, I’m nevertheless starting to feel some exposition fatigue.

Gaen Izuko takes a seemingly very long time to explain how the ashes of Shinobu’s first minion gathered here and formed the raw material to create all the apparitions Araragi has encountered. The first was drawn to the second, and at the shrine where apparitions are most likely to gather, they did.

Shinobu, who initially wanted to visit Fujiyama, was instead redirected to the place where the first and second minions were. This all created a perfect storm for apparitions, which in turn drew specialists like Meme, Kagenui, and Kaiki. Izuko pooled their investigations and sent Yotsugi to “clean up the ashes”, but she failed because of the proximity of Araragi and Shinobu to the shrine.

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With all these naturally attracting things naturally attracting each other, and the first one being drawn to the second, as well as empowered by seeing Shinobu, Izuko wants Araragi to “inheret responsibility.” Dealing with the first is his duty. Yotsugi will be available to help him, along with Shinobu, Kanbaru, and “one more assistant” Izuko needs to pick up, accounting for Yotsugi’s latest report on the swordless samurai.

Izuko then leaves Araragi with some breakfast money and shuffles off to get him, wanting to solve this problem as soon as possible before the first one powers up to a level uncontrollable by all but possibly Kagenui (and Izuko would rather it not come to that, due to the bad blood between them).

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Araragi instead uses the money to buy some BL light novels for Kanbaru (though not a bra). Kanbaru and Araragi’s discussion of the 21-novel series is more than a little meta-, since the Monogatari series is about that size but unlike  Brutal Garcon Huff Huffs a Half-Blood Boy!, they all have pretty vague titles like “Ghostory” or “Endstory.”

The episode then delves into observational comedy, laying out the dilemma a young man faces when purchasing possibly embarrassing content from a bookstore. He tries to both hide the BL and disprove the rumors he’s into lolitas by snatching up some “mature ladies” magazines (both of which feature a woman who looks a lot like Izuko!) but the employees still end up laughing at him.

Then, just when our guards were down, Araragi bumps into a smallish kid with long black hair who looks like he could be around fifteen, and talks with a higher-pitched version of Araragi’s voice. It’s the other one, and Izuko was right: the two minions are extremely drawn to each other. We’ll see how their next encounter goes.

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Owarimonogatari – 09

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After escaping the trap of the snail by going over the rooftops, Koyomi and Kanbaru encounter a crab-monkey hybrid. Once they deal with it (and as a fellow left-hander I feel for Kanbaru mixing up directions), snakes emerge, which Shinobu grabs, then lends Kokoro-watari to Koyomi to finish the demi-apparition off. All of the animals that afflicted Koyomi’s girls are coming back, and all seemingly in service of the samurai.

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After lying under Shinobu as she swings—revealing a small sticker with Gaen’s location, the shrine—Koyomi heads there with Kanbaru and Shinobu. When Koyomi describes what the samurai was after (and imitates his laugh all too perfectly, another clue as to who he is), Shinobu is incredulous. The minion she created, from whom she took Kokoro-watari…she watched him burn up in the sun and die 400 years ago.

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He can’t be back, she insists; This is all some kind of lie or trick. But when they meet up with Gaen Izuko (introducing herself as Oshino Izuko to Kanbaru and Shinobu, who seem to buy it), and Koyomi tells her everything that happened, Izuko disputes Shinobu’s assertion the first minion is dead.

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While her scenes are primarily exposition, she inhabits a variety of interesting environments as she provides it, eventually whipping out “game pieces” of all the Monogatari characters. She makes connections between the first minion and Koyomi, the second minion, and describes coincidences that weren’t coincidences, like the fact that the first five animal apparitions infected five of his female friends, and later phoenixes and cats and tigers.

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She then takes things all the way back to four centuries ago, glossing over Shinobu’s story (because Shinobu already told it, and beautifully so) and focusing on the first minion, who became so after Shinobu drank his blood. He came to loathe what he had become, but that loathing couldn’t change the fact that his immortality was such that even burning up in the sun would not kill him, only disperse him into a cloud of ash.

Over 400 years, exposed to the elements and through trial-and-error, the first minion resurrected, not necessarily because he wanted to but because that’s just what happened. And the final reveal, that the minion was finally successful in coalescing fifteen years ago, leads us to wonder if he’s someone Koyomi already knows…the fifteen-year-old Oshino Ougi, for instance.

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Owarimonogatari – 08

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After Ononoki Yotsugi saves Araragi and Kanbaru, Araragi asks if he can take Kanbaru home because she needn’t get involved. But Yotsugi isn’t okay with that. Not only did Araragi promise her master Gaen Izuko that he’d bring Kanbaru to meet her, but by not only touching but punching the suit of armor, Kanbaru is already inextricably involved. Taking her home wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for her safety. Yotsugi drives this point home by pressing her bare foot into Araragi’s face, which is a weird way to admonish someone!

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So Araragi carries Kanbaru to the aforementioned rendezvous point. When she comes to, Kanbaru is so excited about being carried she locks her arms and legs around her upperclassman, demanding to remain on his back. But then she notices they’re going the wrong way, and after an hour, Araragi can’t find the right way.

Either due to the samurai or some other apparition (like the one that affected him and Mayoi), they’ve become lost. Araragi calls Gaen, but she just tells him to figure it out on his own, otherwise he’s of no use to her. Harsh! Anyway, it’s his cute, reliable, and above all extremely athletic underclassmen who bails them out of the situation by climbing a telephone pole and charting a route that doesn’t rely on conventional paths.

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Due to the delay and detour, they don’t get to the rendezvous at the park until three in the morning, and Gaen is nowhere to be seen. Again, Kanbaru comes in handy quickly combing the park. She doesn’t find Gaen, but she does find Shinobu sleeping under a swing. She wakes up and tells Araragi she’s there because Oshino’s master (Gaen) intends to restore their (Shinobu and Araragi’s) pairing.

She also bears the marks of some kind of recent battle, which she says isn’t quite over yet. Sure enough, a figure starts to draw near to their position, silhouetted by the rising sun (or some other light)…a menacing figure with a giant crab claw. This has been some night!

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Owarimonogatari – 07

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With Sodachi’s arc completed, we rewind a couple months to before Araragi met Oshino Ougi in the first episode. Araragi has Kanbaru Suruga to meet him at the cram school. Kanbaru is her usual bright, cheerful, sexually aggressive self (she assumes she was summoned so Araragi can take her virginity, and she arrives braless).

Sawashiro Miyuki knows this character through and through and really sinks her teeth into her portrayal of a girl we haven’t seen in some time and, frankly, missed. Noting her pre-Hanamonogatari long hair, it fascinates me how Araragi’s girls seem to swap hairstyles through time.

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Things couldn’t be more affable as Araragi struggles to tell Kanbaru the real reason for their meeting: to ask her if she’ll help him out with something, and to go to another rendezvous point to meet someone. Flirting and clever wordplay ensues, but then the two hear some loud noises, and a giant suit of samurai armor enters the classroom.

Kanbaru wastes no time tossing Araragi aside and charging at the armor, but every time she touches it, it grows stronger and she grows weaker, until she passes out from an energy drain, something Araragi knows to be a vampire power. The transition in atmosphere from happy and playful to dark and dangerous is nicely handled. It’s also the first time in a while Araragi is up against a physical threat, unless you count Oikura’s slaps.

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With Kanbaru down, Araragi steps up to the plate, but there isn’t much he can do and the armor starts to choke the life out of him. Kanbaru prepares to sacrifice herself for her beloved senpai, despite his wanting her to run, there’s no way she will. The impasse is broken by pink flames that surround the armor, which Kanbaru believes are the work of Hanekawa.

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The armor retreats, but Araragi and Kanbaru are stuck in the burning building. Kanbaru asks him to take her virginity before she dies, but Araragi shoots that idea down, as he has a better idea: try not to die, by jumping out a window together. That somewhat reckless action is preempted by an explosion that extinguishes the fire: an explosion caused by one Ononoki Yotsugi, whom we last saw in Tsukimonogatari (which also takes place after this episode).

This episode got off to a slow-ish start that was mitigated by the return of Kanbaru, then became a tense test of Araragi and Kanbaru’s mutual devotion to each other, which they naturally aced. And with the title of “Shinobu Mail” and the armor demanding Kiss-shot (AKA Shinobu Oshino) return the sword she borrowed from him centuries ago, I imagine the blonde vampire herself will be making an appearance before all’s said and done.

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Owarimonogatari – 06

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When it’s time to solve the mystery of how Oikura’s mom disappeared from a locked room, it’s not surprise that Ougi shows up to cramp Hanekawa’s style. For someone whose face is essentially a mask, she sure doesn’t mask her contempt for Hanekawa and her large boobs, which she feels are exclusively responsible for stealing Araragi away from her.

As usual, I’m not sure how much of what Ougi says is serious and comes from her heart, because I’m still not sure she has a heart, and isn’t some kind of strange construct or apparition, in contrast to all the flesh-and-blood girls in Araragi’s life. She says all the things a jealous underclassmen who likes him would say…but does she really mean them?

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I hope we’ll find out later. In the meantime, we have an arc to conclude! And conclude it does, with Hanekawa answering Ougi’s challenge and coming to the same conclusion as to what happened to Oikura’s mom. That leaves Araragi as the only one yet to realize the truth…and it’s a truth Hanekawa would rather Oikura never be told and never know for the rest of her days, not matter what immediate benefit could arise from telling her.

Still, she agrees with Ougi that it’s something Araragi must figure out for himself and make his own choice. They start offering subtle hints, and he keeps coming to the wrong conclusions, so they give him less subtle hints (over forty of them!) until he’s finally got it: Oikura’s mother starved herself to death, and for two years, Oikura took care of a corpse, until it eventually decomposed into nothing recognizable, giving the impression she disappeared, while she actually “evaporated”, like boiling water.

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It is indeed an awful truth, and one Araragi and the other have no idea how Oikura will react to. But Araragi decides he’s going to tell her. He’s through looking past/overlooking Oikura, as he has for the last six years, as she overlooked her dead mother for two. He’s going to see her, look her straight in the eye, and tell her the truth. It’s a long walk back to his apartment, and the sequence of camera shots in the intensifying sunset make that walk a beautiful occasion.

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Oikura takes the news far better than Araragi expected. More importantly, learning the truth (or perhaps, having it confirmed by someone else) made it that more real, and that much more releasing. Turns out Oikura is moving to a smaller municipal condo, and transferring out of Naoetsu High. But she went back to her class anyway when she knew Tetsujo was on leave, hoping something might change. In the end, Oikura is smiling, but not demonically, before the bright sunset. And the brightness isn’t hurting her.

Now that things avoided have been remembered, things at a standstill can move again. Because what was done with the truth was more important than discovering it, Ougi later concedes this particular case was her loss, also admitting she was wrong that Araragi would turn tail and run like he had in the past. But helping Oikura find change helped him to change too.

Oikura visited Senjougahara and they made up, and she left to start her new life. But not before taping an envelope under Araragi’s desk. This time, it had something in it: several pages. What exactly it was is kept a mystery (which I like), but whatever it is gives Araragi a laugh, so I like to think it’s a reversal of the message the earlier empty envelope sent.

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