One night, Koyomi sneaks into Hanekawa’s house, but is horrified to learn that not one of its six rooms belongs to her, and flees in terror. He convinces his sisters not to act on the rumors of a monster cat roaming town and stay home, and pays another visit to Oshino, who has lost twenty times to the curse cat, which is far stronger than it usually would be because it chose to assimilate Hanekawa. Koyomi goes to school and encounters the cat there, who tells him she’s helping her master relieve stress, and to leave her be until it’s all gone. Koyomi, realizing that will never happen, realizes he likes Hanekawa to the point he would die for her.
Things get really intense in this segment, as we learn more about the cursed cat who has possessed Hanekawa, tore Koyomi’s arm off, and is terrorizing citizens. A traditional legend of the cursed cat is told by Oshino (through use of a very nicely-illustrated picture scroll): the moral of the story is there is no human who is 100% virtuous. Every human life is a balance of light and dark, and one cannot exist without the other. The curse cat was merely the catalyst for Hanekawa Tsubasa to finally unleash her long-repressed dark side, after accumulating monumental amounts of stress from her horrid parents.
Not only has Hanekawa given the curse cat levels of power and strategy it could previously only dream of (normally being a weak, low-level oddity), but the manner in which Hanekawa buried it makes it feel like it owes her a debt, and so has a vested interest in letting Hanekawa attack people as a “stress-buster”. Of course, the source of that stress will only replenish it after a time, causing a vicious cycle. Koyomi points this out, and the cat doesn’t really care. So letting the cat be and doing nothing isn’t really an option, especially considering Koyomi truly cares for Hanekawa, more now than he ever thought possible. He can’t let the cat have her forever, nor can he let Oshino kill her.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Koyomi comes to Oshino’s place so Shinobu can feed off him, but she wants donuts first. Koyomi tells Oshino about his encounter with Hanekawa, including when they bury a silver cat with no tail. Oshino takes this as very bad news; he goes to exhume the corpse and tells Koyomi to check on Hanekawa. On his way to her house, Koyomi spots Hanekawa in her underwear, sporting cat ears and carrying the unconscious bodies of her stepparents. The “Curse Cat” has taken over her body, and rips his arm off. He wakes up next to Shinobu, mostly healed. Oshino tells Koyomi to sit back and let a pro take care of the situation from here.
The moments in these Monogatari animes when the oddity is finally revealed are always visceral and chilling, and the Curse Cat’s is no different, suddenly appearing in the background while Koyomi is riding his bike. She moves like a cat, talks like a cat (if cats could talk, that is) and abjures clothing like a cat, and when Koyomi dares speak out of turn, she literally bites his arm clean off, causing a fountain of blood. Koyomi may part-vampire, but he’s still human enough to be killed by this cat.
Since this is a prequel to Bakemonogatari, we’re aware of incidents in which Koyomi has seen the horrors that oddities have wrought: he was turned by an adult Shinobu prior to this, after all. But this case is made more disturbing by the fact Hanekawa is a friend. Just after his better judgement warned him not to meddle in Hanekawa’s family affairs, Oshino tells him there’s nothing he can do to help Hanekawa. After all, Koyomi is still a tourist in the supernatural world, lacking the skill or ability to influence it. Which must be quite frustrating!
Rating: 8 (Great)
Shinobu opens by describing what Tsukihi is – a “Dying Bird” – like a phoenix, but more like a cuckoo that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. Thus Tsukihi is fake and immortal, but ultimately harmless. After leaving Karen to guard Tsukihi, Koyomi and Shinobu go to the cram school to confront Yozuru and Yotsugi, respectively. After much discussion, Yozuru brutally beats Koyomi, but he doesn’t die. Shinobu handily defeats Yotsugi, and a heartfelt declaration of commitment from Koyomi makes Yozuru philosophically conflicted, such that she retreats, content to let Tsukihi live with Koyomi as her mentor. Life returns to normal for the Araragi siblings, and Koyomi promises he’ll let his sisters meet his girlfriend.
One thing we’ve learned from watching several of Akiyuki Shinbo’s works: he doesn’t skimp on endings. He didn’t skimp here. This was an impressive finale, blending bold, fast-paced, dramatic animation and music with lots of smart and intriguing philosophy (Yozuru even breaks out Mencius and Xun Zi), and wrapping up the story nicely by getting to the root of things. Shinobu drinks some Koyomi blood and powers up to her adult size, which is a dead giveaway she means business (Her exchange of taunts with Yotsugi prior to their duel is priceless). Finally, Yozuru proves to be far more flexible than she originally seemed. Rather than having to kill or defeat anyone, Koyomi gets off with a severe beating (he quickly heals from) and a goodbye.
We were expecting a nonfatal outcome, though. Koyomi’s dealings with Oshino and Kaiki, combined with the resolve bourne from his unconditional love of his sisters, lend him the strength to stand up to Yozuru’s verbal sparring and come out the victor, making her forfeit. It’s not surprising she was university buds with Oshino and Kaiki, and it’s neat how the three of them have totally different beliefs when it comes to the value of real versus fake – crucial in the climax. Yozuru believes the real is worth far more. Oshino believes they’re equal. Kaiki believes the fake is worth far more. It really sums up their respective M.O.s. Koyomi seems closest to Oshino on this point: his sister may be a fake, but she has always been his sister and he has always loved her, so it makes no difference to him.
Koyomi takes Shinobu to Mister Donut, where they bump into Kaiki he learns that Yozuru and Yosugi are a onmyouji/shikigami pair specializing in immortal creatures. Initially he suspects they’re after them, but when he arrives at his house, Yozuru and Yosugi are ringing the doorbell. When Tsukihi answers the door, Yosugi slices the top half of her off, killing her instantly. Koyomi lashes out in rage, but when Yozuru tells him to look at Tsukihi again, her body has completely regenerated. Yozuru tells him she’s not his real sister, she’s an evil phoenix taking human form. Shinobu convinces them to leave, but they’ll be back tomorrow to finish the job, and they’ll eliminate anyone who gets in their way.
This arc is called “Tsukihi Phoenix.” A pair of eccentric ladies were looking for Oshino’s lair. This week Tsukihi tells Koyomi her justice is “fake.” When a Koyomi strips her down, he notices no scars (that last bit in the now requisite Sister-Grope-of-the-Week). Our mamas ain’t raised no fools. Tsukihi has an oddity; it’s an immortal phoenix, and the lady pair is here to deal with her. In fact, Yozuru seems amused that Koyomi would think they’re after either him or Shinobu; he’s only part-vampire, and Shinobu has lost most of her powers (though we like how they temporarily withdrew out of respect for her fame, or infamy as it were.)
Karen is AWOL this week; potentially having horrible things done to her by Kanbaru. But Karen was apparently victim to hypnosis administered by a con man that made her believe she was possessed by a bee. Tsukihi’s situation seems different, in that this is a real oddity being hunted by real ghostbusters. Running won’t work, as they’re pros and no one to be trifled with – Yotsugi’s vicious halving assault on Tsukihi is proof of that. Will Koyomi be able to talk them out of killing his sister? Can’t they just bring the real Tsukihi back…if she ever existed??
Car Cameo: A motorcade of white 1960s-era Nissan Fairlady roadsters (we’re guessing ’63 1500s) – ubiquitous in Bakemonogatari – drive by while Koyomi bikes home with Shinobu
Araragi comes home to find Hanekawa and Tsukihi caring for Karen, who has fallen victim to some kind of malady. When he takes a bath, Shinobu appears andstarts talking. She was the one who freed him from his cuffs. According to Oshino, Karen has anoddity called the Wreathe Fire Bee, which causes intense fever and eventually death. Shinobu muses about how long Araragi might live; his vampire side may make him outlive everyone he loves. But he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it. Curing Karen is the priority.
First of all, mad props to the production design (or the anime equivalent of such): Araragi’s house could put many an Architectural Digest cover home to shame with its avant garde, eclectic design. The bathroom in particular is simply nuts – a massive vault with church-like stained glass windows, whirlygigs, and a floor covered in a thin layer of water. Araragi’s room would make Alex DeLarge weep, with its trippy carpet and huge zeppelin model the camera actually flies through during a conversation for no reason. Seriously, who does that? Who cares; it’s awesome. Architecture aside, there’s some major game afoot: Araragi’s dear bigger little sister Karen is very ill thanks to the sting of a supernatural bee, and Kaiki may be responsible.
If that weren’t enough excitement, a very chatty Shinobu of all people appears out of the blue to counsel Araragi, in a lengthy, somewhat risqué scene. One must remember that despite her looks Shinobu is four centuries old (c0mplete with ‘haughty’, old-style manner of speaking), and not a girl at all, but a vampire, and Araragi’s shadow. While they play it as yet another girl teasing Araragi, this relationship is a lot different and deeper than all the others, even Senjougahara’s. Veteran seiyu Maaya Sakamoto adds a haunting, aloof venerability to the vampirette. We’re curious to see if and how they’ll work together, and how Karen will be saved.
Araragi leaves Kanbaru’s house after helping her clean her room, and meets an “ill-omened” man in a funeral suit named Kaiki who somewhat reminds him of Oshino. He then bumps into Senjougahara on the street, who is angry to see him slacking off, and also warns him she’ll kill him if his playing around with the other girls goes a step too far. When he mentions Kaiki to her, he kidnaps him and chains and cuffs him to a chair in the cram school. When Tsukihi texts him needing help, he breaks his chains, and redies to leave. Then Senjougahara recieves a strange call from Hanekawa.
This week a new character comes into play, and we return to the scene in the cram school with Araragi tied up “for his own protection.” It’s very interesting and telling that she does this when she hears about Kaiki, who just happens to be the first of five con men Senjougahara herself went to see about her weight crab oddity before meeting Araragi and Oshino. Kaiki certainly sounds like Oshino, so we’re not taking it as a mere coincidence. We’re also not familiar with any of the light novel source material, nor the upcoming prequel called Kizumonogatari which features this “Guillotine Cutter” guy Araragi mentions in his thoughts. We do find it entertaining that this series can leap from various girls flirting with Araragi to his girlfriend unleashing wave after wave of crushing verbal abuse to Serious Plot Shit.
Senjougahara clearly has some kind of problem she’s hiding from Araragi (again, for his protection) and it involves Hanekawa, Kaiki, and/or both. As for what Tsukihi’s problem could be, there are two possibilities: either the younger Fire Sister sent out a false alarm and is merely toying with him, or she is in legitimate danger. Araragi’s vampire status makes him a potential force to be reckoned with, particularly if you threaten those he holds most dear. We haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going to happen next, but striking close-ups of the beautiful Senjougahara continue to impress as always.