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.

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…

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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Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hanamonogatari – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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