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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Tsukimonogatari – 04 (Fin)

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

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

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

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That’s…just…gorgeous Winter environs.

 

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

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

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So many easter eggs…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8_ses

Tsukimonogatari – 03

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

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

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

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Shinobu and Kagenui with their ‘bring it on’ faces

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Tsukimonogatari – 01 & 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Koimonogatari – 02

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Kaiki agrees to do the job for ¥100,000 and travels to Naoetsu to begin his investigation, starting at Nadeko’s home. Her parents answer his questions and let him examine Nadeko’s room, but won’t let him into a closet she told them not to open. He then visits the Shrine and deposits a ¥10,000 offering, and a grateful Nadeko to burst out to greet and thank him. She cheerfully confirms her eventually intention to kill Koyomi, Shinobu, and Senjougahara, and calls Kaiki her “first adherent.” Kaiki plays along and hands her a cat’s cradle, offering to come back periodically to teach her different patterns.

In retrospect, we really liked how this arc started out so simply, taking its time with the conversation between Kaiki and Senjougahara at Okinawa airport that gets things going. From Kaiki refusing Senjougahara’s offer to sell her body to make up the difference in his fee, Senjougahara coyly asking if she can borrow plane fare home from the cash she just paid Kaiki, the funny drawings in his notebook, and his plane’s emphatic touchdown on the snowy tarmac; many details lend the start of his mission a sense of solemn occasion, and with good reason: this is for all the marbles. If he fails, most of the show’s cast is toast. Therefore every stage of his involvement in this arc is treated with deft care and contemplation. He’s Kaiki Deishu—He solves problems.

That being said Kaiki plays more the role of a detective than a cleaner, utilizing his effortless powers of deception to gather intel on the target. We’re privy to what he thinks in response to what he sees and hears around him, as is typical of the spotlight character in a Monogatari arc. Perhaps feeling the weight of his responsibility in spite of himself, he visits Nadeko almost right away, against his better judgement, to find someone who is every bit the cute airhead everyone believed her to be as a human. Only now she has creepy snakes for hair and talks about all the good times she had with Koyomi and promises to kill the shit out of him in the same breath. Kaiki gives her a cat’s cradle as he intends to build one of deception around her. But deceiving a god—even a young, spoiled, deluded one—will be no mean feat.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Onimonogatari – 04

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Gaen Izuko agrees to help Koyomi if he and Suruga help her with a task once his “case is closed.” She tells him the darkness has come to punish Mayoi for lying about still being around and being a “ghost of a ghost”, and not performing her duty an oddity to make people lost. Because Koyomi and Ononoki are lost, the darkness doesn’t attack, but they can’t remain lost forever. Content with the time she got to spend with Koyomi, she decides to pass away willingly, after confessing to loving him. Four months later Koyomi recounts his tale to Ougi, who tells him of her job: which is identical to that of the darkness.

Excuse us, there’s something in our eyes! In all seriousness, that was one sudden, poignant, moving close to Koyomi’s sometimes-inappropriate, always complex but ultimately warm relationship with Hachikuji Matoi. We didn’t really expect something like this, even though the events involving the darkness definitely hinted that Matoi was its likely target. We like how Izuko’s explanations tie Shinobu’s story with Mayoi’s present situation, for while they couldn’t be more different as oddities go, both of them were visited by the darkness for the same reason: because they were “lying”—or merely failing to address misunderstandings—about their existence.

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The power of Mayoi’s farewell is based in the rich history between her and Koyomi. After Senjougahara, she was the first oddity he came across, establishing the general formula of the initial Suruga, Nadeko, and Tsubasa arcs that followed. For those who have watched this series in order, we first met Mayoi nearly four years ago (seven for the novel-readers). Koyomi even tried to bring her back to life by saving her in the past, almost destroying the present in the process. Turns out his bittersweet goodbye to that alternate-timeline grown Mayoi presaged the even more bittersweet goodbye here. Also, Mayoi’s seiyu Kato Emiri provides a moving yet understated performance.

The episode also brought into focus another corner of the world of oddities: the cold, logical order punishing any who stray from their appointed roles. The epilogue also suggested to us that the amorphous darkness also has corporeal form in Oshino Ougi, which would explain not only why she looks so weird, but also her penchant for composing life lessons from the observations of others. We’ll miss Mayoi, as Koyomi will, but we understand why she had to go, and she did so the best way she could. Koyomi wanted to be her hero, but this time his foe was utterly beyond him, and couldn’t even properly be called a foe. It was simply an inviolable force of nature, righting wrongs and ending things that must end.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Onimonogatari – 03

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After Shinobu’s monologue, Ononoki reveals she’s been there the whole time, listening. She and Shinobu argue until Mayoi comes to and Koyomi assaults her, earning the ire of all three girls. Ononoki suggests they ask Gaen Izuko for answers. Just then, the “darkness” reappears; Koyomi and Mayoi grab onto Ononoki, who uses Unlimited Rulebook to escape. They end up in the mountains, and Koyomi gradually realizes he and Shinobu are no longer connected. His shadow mixed with the darkness, severing their link and reducing the power of both. With few other options, they search for a working phone, and at the first house find Gaen Izuko.

Since next week will feature the “person who knows everything”, it’s likely we’ll learn more about the “darkness” that’s been chasing Koyomi, Shinobu, and Mayoi, and has now managed to snatch Shinobu away. But at the moment, despite Shinobu’s masterpiece of a monologue last week, we still know very little about it. It’s not an oddity, so neither Shinobu nor Koyomi have any kind of edge over it. We also know it has the ability to snatch the likes of Shinobu from Koyomi’s shadow, suggesting that could’ve been it’s aim all along. But perhaps Shinobu’s story presented another clue: Shinobu was only able to grab the hand and wrist of her companion from the darkness, and then used them to bring him back as her minion, who later offed himself.

But what if the rest of his body remained in that darkness, right up to the point it briefly merged Koyomi’s shadow and tore Shinobu away? Again, it’s probably silly for someone who didn’t read the source to make wild guesses just a week before they may well be revealed, but we thought we’d hazard a guess, since what we’re suggesting makes a little bit of sense. But of course, when talking about something as abstract and nebulous as this “darkness”, which suddenly appears without warning and scares the shit out of everyone, over-conjecturing things may prove a waste of time. At any rate, the idea of Shinobu being separated from Koyomi is an unsettling one regardless of circumstances, now that we know more about who and what she is.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Onimonogatari – 02

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Shinobu tells Koyomi the tale of her first visit to Japan more than 400 years ago. She literally “jumped” from Antarctica – where she had been residing previously – into a lake in Japan, which destroyed the lake but brought rain to an arid region, whose inhabitants revered her as a god. It was then that she met the “original apparition killer”, who wielded the demon-killing “Kokoro-watari” and the shorter “Yume-watari”, which restored them.

Trouble arose when as a result of her presence, which drew apparitions and negative energy to the region, which humans eventually deserted. Shortly thereafter, the “darkness” arrived, consuming three quarters of Shinobu’s body and nearly all of the apparition killer. She escaped to Antarctica with his hand and wrist, and drank its blood to restore him as her minion. Furious she had made him a vampire, he disavowed her and committed suicide by burning up in the sunlight. She swore never to make another minion.

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In the last episode we remarked that Oshino Shinobu is unlike any other entity inhabiting the Monogatari Series, due to her sheer longevity, scale of experience, and moral complexity. Thus, we knew that when we delved deeper into her past, it would be something to behold; and so it was. A bold, indulgent, tantalizingly unique approach is utilized in visualizing Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade’s epic tale. It unfolds as one continuous right-to-left scroll of stunningly gorgeous illustrations, interrupted only by the occasional cut to Shinobu and Koyomi in the present, and accompanied by a stirring, austere ambient score.

The feats she performs therein – from jumping from Antarctica and becoming a god in Japan to creating her minion out of a desire not to be alone only to be rejected – transcend anything anyone else has done in the series. Not bad for a character who didn’t say a single word in all of Bakemonogatari. Just as Shinobu is an unprecedented entity in the series, this episode was unprecedented in its audacity and elegance. Essentially, this episode was one of the most engrossing, transcendent infodumps we’ve ever seen. We found it to be a work of profound creativity, skill, and workmanship, and an instant classic – hence earning our highest rating. Call us crazy if you must.

Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Onimonogatari – 01

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Hachikuji Mayoi accompanies Koyomi to his house to retrieve her backpack, but just when they’re about to go to lunch, they both witness a strange orb of “darkness” approaching them. Koyomi and Mayoi jump on his bike and he speeds away, but the darkness gives chase. Ononoki Yotsugi assists by flying them to the abandoned cram school, asking only a kiss in return. When Shinobu wakes up, she tells Koyomi the orb he saw is something she’d dealt with before, over 400 years ago, and that if not dealt with properly, could bring the town to ruin.

The arcs of this season of Monogatari have not unfolded chronologically, so after taking us right to the precipice of Koyomi and Co.’s rematch of Sengoku Nadeko in the last arc, it rewinds to just after the end of the arc before it, when Koyomi and Shinobu had returned from their time-travelling adventures. While we kinda wanted to see what would happen next – and the ‘to be continued” at least teased that we may – we’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, Monogatari has another story to tell. If measured only by the amount of action that took place within it, this was one of the slighter episodes of the second season, not counting the three recap episodes.

But Monogatari arcs always start out this way; stage-setting; piece arrangement. Koyomi’s usual, seemingly uncontrollable depraved behavior towards Mayoi finds a vehicle – literally – in the bicycle chase, during which Mayoi does whatever he orders her to do in the name of safety. But that’s just window dressing. The meat of the story to come once again involves Shinobu, and why not? She’s by far the oldest character, having lived so long we’ve still barely scratched the surface of that long and eventful life, so we’re intrigued to see her account of what transpired four centuries ago, long before any of Koyomi’s exploits.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • This arc takes place at the same time as Nekomonogatari (Shiro), the first arc of the second season. Makes sense, since Koyomi was absent for pretty much all of that.
  • Ononoki admires good muscles, like Matsuoka Gou from Free.
  • We’re not so sure Senjougahara would take kindly to Koyomi kissing not one but two girls in this episode (though one is technically a shikigami and the other a vampire).

Otorimonogatari – 04

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Koyomi orders Nadeko to put the talisman down, but she swallows it instead, reviving the serpant god with her body as its vessel. Fast-forward to the shrine, where Nadeko quickly dispatches Koyomi and Shinobu. She converses with the serpent – i.e. herself – about how she came to be in this situation. When she’s about to kill Koyomi, Senjougahara calls his phone. Nadeko answers and agrees to a half-year truce before killing her, Shinobu, and Koyomi, in that order. The episodes ends with a “trailer” for the battle that takes place in half a year, with Nadeko taking on Koyomi, Senjougahara, Shinobu, Kanbaru, and Hanekawa.

Monogatari likes to mess with our expectations. After an arc about time travel, Nadeko’s story starts at the climax, when she’s about to kill pretty much everyone we know and then, who knows, chill at that shrine for a few millenia. Things come full circle this week, but instead of a conventional resolution, the arc lobs another curveball. Most of this episode is simply Nadeko, in the moments just prior to her final victory, reflecting on how she got here. Koyomi and Shinobu just lie there bleeding as she talks to herself, and in the end, none of the contemplation really matters. She was just lost in thought.

Except that it does, because that amount of time she was ruminating ended up delaying Koyomi’s death just long enough to allow Senjougahara to call and postpone Nadeko’s plans. Had she not called, Nadeko would have killed Koyomi before killing Shinobu, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone (see last arc). And then the series switches gears again with that bizarre post-credits trailer, presented by Nadeko, who, at least from her own perspective, has that final boss battle in the bag. But that confidence might be premature. After all, she gave the enemy a half-year to prepare for her.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)