Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 21 – Tragic Creatures

It’s always best to know about an enemy before they do bad shit and get killed for it, so Demon Slayer’s penchant for having the lives of demons flash before their eyes as their heads turn to ash isn’t the best approach for engendering sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, Rui’s origin story is a sad one, especially how he misunderstood his parents’ intentions and how Muzan manipulated him, and I like how Tanjirou doesn’t apologize for sympathizing with demons who feel guilt and regret in their final moments, which Rui clearly does.

It’s less a matter of the content of Rui’s backstory and more a matter of timing. Call it Mount Nagatumo fatigue, but when Giyuu hacked Rui’s head off, I was ready to move on to other things. The episode, however wasn’t, and quite a bit of melodrama ensues.

Once Rui is gone, it’s basically cleanup time on the mountain, which is where the Kakushi come in. The unsung heroes of the Demon Slayer Corps, they provide a support role, treating injured frontline slayers like Zenitsu and Inosuke (who may now be facing a crisis of confidence) as well as the near-victims of the demons.

No sooner does Rui burn away than Shinobu swoop in to kill the only other demon in play: Nezuko. Of course, she’s not aware that Nezuko is different, and has been conditioned not to harm humans. She’s simply following her edict to slay demons, and when Giyuu stops her, she sites both the rules and repeatedly tells Giyuu that no one likes him.

Tanjirou and Nezuko makes a run for it, but they’re soon caught by Shinobu’s sister, who was part of the Final Selection and sports a very sweet boot-and-cape ensemble. Nezuko is able to get away and shrink herself to make for a smaller target, while Giyuu catches Shinobu and the pair prepare to fight each other seriously.

Thankfully, Crows from HQ provide fresh orders: they are to take both Tanjirou and Nezuko into custody and deliver them to HQ. That means for the time being, Nezuko lives. When Tanjirou wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by the Hashira (i.e. elite slayers).

Looking at these guys I couldn’t help but think of Soul Society’s Gotei 13 from Bleach, whose captains were a similarly eclectic, eccentric bunch who heavily personalized their shinigami uniforms. I look forward to meeting these weirdos and learning more about the Corps, while sincerely hoping the higher-ups don’t push for Nezuko’s execution or separation from her brother…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 20 – Arachnofamilia

It sure looked like Tanjirou beheaded Rui last week with his Hinokami Kagura Breathing, but alas; in the moment before Tanjirou’s strike hit Rui severed his own head with his threads, and soon reattaches it. He’s mad as hell, and Tanjirou is totally spent, but it’s okay that he can’t lift his hand, because Tomioka Giyuu arrives to finish Rui off with ease, using an eleventh form of Water Breathing.

From there we cut to the lone surviving member of the spider family, the elder sister, and we learn about how Rui built his family. Turns out all his family members were really weak demons with whom he shared his power—which also gave them the same spidery aesthetic. He used their fear to draw them in, an punished and even killed those who didn’t shape up.

The present-day sister once had an older sister who tired of Rui’s pointless charade, and vowed to run away, telling only her sister so she could join her. However, our present-day sister betrayed the other by leading her straight to Rui, who tortured her and strung her up to be burned away by the morning sun.

Back when Tanjirou saw Rui cutting his “sister’s” face, we didn’t know what was going on, but Sister’s face reverted out of fear once Mother and Brother were killed. It’s her first screw-up, but it isn’t her last. That honor goes to when she encases Murata in one of her yarn balls, which fills with digestive fluid that will liquify his clothes and eventually, him.

Murata is saved by one Kochou Shinobu, fresh off of curing Zenitsu. When Sister insists Rui made her kill the scant five people she’s killed, Shinobu has proof she’s lying, as she saw over a dozen of the yarn balls in which Murata is stuck, and estimates the Sister has eaten up to eighty humans. Shinobu agrees to be her “friend”, but only after she’s faced proper punishment for the people she’s killed.

Hayami Saori voices Shinobu like she would any sweet, friendly, kindhearted young woman, only the words she says are anything but sweet. I’d even say Shinobu relishes the chance to show off her unique Insect Breathing ability, whereas Giyuu is much more stoic and businesslike. You can hardly blame her; both her graceful dance-like movements, her delicate blade, and clouds of butterflies make for a hell of a show.

When the Sister realizes she hasn’t been beheaded, that Shinobu lacks the strength to do so, she believes she still has a chance to gain the upper hand. But she’s wrong, because while Shinobu didn’t behead her, she did poison her with Wisteria, resulting in a slower and arguably more gruesome and painful death. She doesn’t burn to ash, either; she’s simply dead, and Shinobu can’t be bothered to do anything but leave her corpse to rot.

With that, we jump back to Rui’s final moments, when he looks back to how he tried to regain memories of his humanity by creating a pretend family. But by now it’s a bit late to engender any sympathy for the guy, nor his treacherous sister who led her sister to a horrible death.

Unlike Nezuko, who has yet to even accidentally kill a human, these demons have long since forfeited any chance of mercy by preying on untold numbers of humans. They were living on borrowed time, and that ran out when they ended up on the wrong end of Giyuu and Shinobu’s blades.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 19 – The Unseverable Fire

Shinobu praises Zenitsu for holding out administers the antidote to the spider’s poison, Giyuu ties the injured Inosuku up for his own good, and that’s literally it for those four characters. The remaining runtime is spent exclusively on Tanjirou, Rui, and Nezuko, resulting in Demon Slayer’s finest episode to date.

After getting his head cut by Rui’s threads, Tanjirou tries to get close once again, refusing to take back what he said about Rui’s familial bonds being false. Rui reveals he is one of the Twelve Kizuki and unleashes a web of threads, forcing Nezuko to leap out of her box to shield her brother from wounds that would surely kill him.

This changes the entire complexion of the battle, as Tanjirou is no longer on his own, and now that Rui knows that Tanjirou actually does have such an unassailable bond with his sister, he carries her with him even though she’s now a demon. Naturally, Rui wants that kind of bond, but knows no way of attaining it except by stealing Nezuko.

When both Tanjirou and Nezuko protest and fight back, Rui suspends Nezuko in a web of threads that squeeze her limbs so tightly they threaten to slice her into bits, pulling tighter when she won’t settle down until she passes out.

Of course, Tanjirou can’t bear to see his sister so viciously treated—especially under the guise of Rui asserting his newly-established familial “bond” with her. Tanjirou digs deep into his Water Breathing and manages to unleash the Final Form, which is just enough to slice through Rui’s threads.

The only problem is that the threads are not at their maximum strength, and even if they were, they’re not as tough as Rui’s skin. Tanjirou simply cannot spin the water fast enough to be a considerable threat to Rui; worse, the attempt only makes Rui grow tired of the battle, and he strengthens his threads with his own blood to ensure Tanjirou will get sliced.

With Nezuko out cold and those deadly threads about to close around Tanjirou, his life flashes before his eyes, something Shinobu told Zenitsu earlier could be a person’s way of trying to find some way, any way, of delaying death by looking back on one’s life.

In Tanjirou’s case, he looks back to when he and Nezuko were happy little kids, both watching and imitating their father’s Hinokami (fire god) Kagura dance. Despite being frail, their dad was able to dance beautifully in the freezing cold thanks to a specific type of breathing which, along with his distinctive earrings, he vowed to pass to his eldest son.

Tanjirou only remembers that he has inherited Hinokami Kagura Breathing now because he has to; because otherwise death is imminent. Blue water turns to red fire which Tanjirou uses to slash away Rui’s reinforced threads on his way to the demon’s neck. However, he needs one more push, courtesy of a familial bond Rui doesn’t have, and thus could never truly defeat the Kamados.

That bond is expressed when Tanjirou and Nezuko’s mom urges the unconscious Nezuko to wake up, because she has to save her brother. In another first, Nezuko unleashes her own Blood Demon Art, “Exploding Blood”, which is exactly that. Her blood travels along the threads until it reaches Rui just as Tanjirou makes contact with his neck.

The combined powers of true loving brother and sister successfully decapitate Rui, who never knew what hit him. ufotable pulls out all of the visual and musical stops, from dad’s fluid Kagura dance to the climactic decisive strike. It all plays out like the crescendo of a full-length feature film, complete with epic orchestral score, and transitions into a unique credit sequence with images of the Kamado family united as one.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 18 – Big Bad Spider Daddy

Puppet Mama and Spider Boy were only a warm-up for two of the three remaining members of the Spider Demon Family: Father and Rui. Needless to say they are much tougher customers, which is as it should be; why would the difficulty level go down in a demon gauntlet?

Even with Water Breathing, Tanjirou isn’t able to slice through one of Papa’s arms, and Inosuke inarguably saves his life by parrying the counterattack. Even dropping a huge tree on Papa doesn’t kill him, it only seems to make him mad. As Tanjirou goes flying, he begs Inosuke not to die, but wait for him to make his way back to him.

Zenitsu defeated Spider Boy definitively, but continues to pay the price as the poison starts shutting down his limbs. He’s all but ready to step into the light when a series of butterflies appear before him, followed by Shinobu, one of the two elite Demon Slayers sent to salvage the mission.

Tanjirou manages to cushion his fall with water breathing, but he’s only thrown from the frying pan to the freezer. Due to his strong sense of family and morality, he objects to the Spider Brother Rui apparently punishing his sister by cutting her face with his threads as she cries out in pain. Demon or no, that’s not cool. The Brother doesn’t take well to being told his familial bond with his sister is nothing but a sham.

Rui threatens to carve Tanjirou up, but is momentarily distracted by another Demon Slayer who comes out of nowhere. While claiming to be taking the easiest path to higher ranks (and higher paydays), he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He rushes in without knowing a thing about Rui, who dices him into cubic chunks with his threads.

Finally, we have Inosuke, trying to hold out against Papa Spider. While he briefly starts “using his head” like Tanjirou, he shakes that off and follows his own primal instinct to charge the enemy without fear. He keeps hacking at the arm until he manages to slice through, and Papa flees…but only to molt his own skin, revealing a bigger, tougher, meaner skin beneath it.

Inosuke’s chipped blades shatter when he attempts Beast Breathing, and Papa grabs him by the head and squeezes. Inosuke’s life flashes before his eyes, including when his bloodied mother sent him away to avoid being killed, and the interactions with Tanjirou and Zenitsu which seems to value.

Just before his skull pops (and the foley is pretty ripe) Inosuke is rescued by Giyuu, who cuts off Papa’s arm with one slash and defeats him with a single elegant Water Breathing Form. It’s a pretty convincing and awesome demonstration of just how much more powerful Giyuu is than Tanjirou, Zenitsu, or Inosuke.

Inosuke is safe, and so too is Zenitsu, but Tanjirou is still out there on his own against Rui, and we get a cliffhanger of Rui’s vicious thread cutting straight through Tanjirou’s sword on a collision course with his face. It’s a big forest, so it could take a while for help to arrive. Could the sister demon be an unlikely ally to Tanjirou? And what about his own sister—when will she pop out of her box?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 10 – In Pursuit of the Perfect Pudding

This week begins with the beautifully mundane morning, in which we see Kokkoro, Pecorine and Karyl waking up in their own personalized rooms, and then everyone has breakfast before splitting off for various errands. Pecorine goes shopping, Kokkoro and Yuuki deliver some squid to the Chef, and Karyl stays home to rest. You’d think this would be a pretty good chance to meet with her boss again, but the episode doesn’t go in that direction.

Instead, Kokkoro and Yuuki find that the chef has been cursed by a ghost to make pudding all night, every night. Because of his latent ability, Yuuki can see the ghost when no one else can, and learns from her friend Shinobu that her name is Miyako. She’s sore about the chef putting bugs on her pudding—hence the curse—but the stoic Shinobu is more interested in Yuuki.

Shinobu and Miyako lead Yuuki and Kokkoro to the hall of their guild, Diabolos, which is a giant castle in disrepair. Twin demon girls guard the way, but Shinobu assures them she’s brought outsiders for a good reason. Their master, the vampire Illya Orstein, has a problem: ever since losing a legendary battle against men, elves, and beasts, her power has diminished, and upon exiting her crystal coffin, she shrinks into a cute but highly irritable loli.

When even her bat minions attack her, lil’ Illya is scooped up by Yuuki, and the contact restores her original voluptuous form. At this point Illya gets way ahead of herself, bringing her minions to heel and vowing to continue her plans to take over the world. Unfortunately for her, the effect of Yuuki’s contact is only temporary, and she’s back to chibi form within  minutes.

More important to Miyako, however, is that in saving Illya, Yuuki dropped and smashed an entire basketfull of her beloved pudding. As retribution, she follows Yuuki and Kokkoro all the way home (with Shinobu) and vows to curse them until they (along with a spooked Karyl) make her the perfect pudding. None of the three are up to the task, and Miyako starts to lose her temper.

Pecorine spends the day serving as impromptu poster girl at the produce stall of her friend’s formidable mother. She attracts a lot of business, and the mother comments that Peco’s parents must be proud of the strong dependable woman she’s become. That, along with something she overhears about Eustania, are some of the first times we see Pecorine operating at anything other than Maximum Ebullience…for a couple moments you could even call her expression gloomy.

But Peco comes home to a more immediate emergency than any potential family trouble she might have: Karyl, Kokkoro, and Yuuki have been transformed into puddings. They’re taking it pretty well, but Miyako is seconds from eating them when Peco offers to make her the Best Pudding Ever. She does so, and Miyako is not only appeased, but almost passes on the afterlife, so satisfied she is that she won’t find a better pudding on her travels.

When Peco tells her the pudding has a bug base, Miyako vomits it all up, and her ascension is abruptly cancelled. As Shinobu carries her ill ghost friend home, the others wonder what ever happened with Yuuki. Turns out when no one was looking, Miyako ate him. He appears in the night sky to say goodbye, only to amend that by announcing he’s back after the credits once Miyako vomits him up. So all’s well that ends well! Now who wants pudding?

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!

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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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Sakura Trick – 08

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The two stories this week share a theme of assumptions based insufficient information. The first, in which Yuu gets the idea she and Haruka are getting married right away, turns out to be wrong. While it’s not her fault the phone connection was bad, she let her imagination get ahead of itself, bypassing simple logical hurdles like the fact Haruka didn’t even propose. But while it turns out to be someone else’s wedding, both Yuu and Haruka revel vicariously in the ceremonies.

Like Yuu assuming they were geting married just like that, Haruka assumes that because her dad doesn’t want “some guy off the street” marrying his daughter, it means he’ll be fine with her marrying a girl, when that very well might not be the case. But as is made clear when they can’t resist kissing and are nearly caught by Haruka’s mom, while their assumptions may be unrealistic (or at least premature), their passion for one another is very real indeed, and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that the couple hits the first legitimate bump in their relationship, which is explored in the second half. Here, Mitsuki assumes that Yuu and Haruka are acting far more distant towards each other than usual.

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This assumption turns out to be right; even if Mitsuki isn’t yet aware of the depth of Yuu and Haruka’s love, she knows the two aren’t squared away, so she decides to help them make up at the Christmas illuminations. But even when Mitsuki gets the two alone together (getting herself separated from everyone else in the process), Haruka and Yuu are still reticent and tentative, like we’ve never seen before. Each is afraid of letting their passion take over and go too far too fast with the other, harming what they have.

But while they were worrying about that, they were harming what they have anyway. Yuu remembers and repurposes her sister’s words of advice (which regarded a platonic relationship), and the two figure it out. They learn they’d been harboring the same concerns, as hearts that are destined to come together are wont to do. Hearts that are new to this kind of love can lead them to ache—as running around and doing physical stuff without stretching taxes the muscles and lungs—but Haruka and Yuu are resolved to soldier through it.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

 

Sakura Trick – 07

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Leave it to an earnest, uncynical show like Sakura Trick to be upfront about the fact that half of this episode would be heavy on the fanservice. That being said, it wasn’t merely a showcase of the casts’ T&A, and the venue of the swimsuit-donning was carefully chosen so as to create some uncharacteristic tension and drama, however slight and fleeting.

Kotone’s little sister Shinobu has always resented Shizuku for stealing Kotone’s attention away from her, something that started when Shizuku first showed up. She decides to put her foot down and insist Kotone return home. When she makes this demand, both Kotone and Shizuku seem to wait for the other to do something, but it’s Haruka and Mitsuki who end up acting; the latter calling for a race to settle matters, which Shizuku ends up winning, returning us to the status quo. Like we said: fleeting.

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The second half involves Yuu wanting a new scarf, and even when Shizuku shows up wearing the scarf she wants, which was the last one at the store, Yuu still wants the scarf she wants. It’s the kind of puerile selfishness Yuu knows she can get away with with Shizuka, because for the most part Shizuka loves doting on her. When we first heard “shopping” we immediately thought: “Well, they’re obviously going to end up making out in the dressing room.” That doesn’t happen per se, but Yuu does end up kissing Shizuka as an accompanying reflex to her happiness over finding an even cuter scarf.

In fact, Haruka and Yuu have gotten so used to making out, they even do so while Kotone and Shizuku are in the room; fortunately they’re very unobservant and/or don’t care. They also steal a long underwater kiss in Kotone’s pool. The show may have blown temporary clouds over Kotone and Shizuku, but it was nothing but clear blue skies for Haruka and Yuu. And as we’ve oft repeated, that’s not such a bad thing.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 04 (Fin)

Shinbou lends Koyomi the oddity-killing sword Heartspan with which to challenge Hanekawa. Koyomi tricks her into coming to him by sending her an SOS text, using her better nature to draw her to him. He proceeds to tell her how he knows her personality has been intact the whole time and she’s been conscious of her actions. He tells her he’ll carry her stress for her, and even die for her. She slices him in half, but the oddity is injured as he his Heartspan inside him. Shinobu appears, heals him, swallows the sword and feeds on Hanekawa, drawing out the curse cat. Hanekawa loses all memory of the last nine days, and Koyomi decides he’s not in love with her, and will await someone else to fall for.

Whew, talk about an epic showdown, even by Monogatari standards. Sure, this final fourth of the Curse Cat arc is mostly talk, but pertinent, substantive talk. And the action that does take place is more visceral than ever, with Koyomi getting literally halved. We were hoping Koyomi would have some kind of plan going into his battle with Hanekawa Curse Cat, and he did, from the way he effortlessly summoned her (using her kindness against her) to the way he hid his trump card (swallowing a big-ass sword). Shinobu’s appearance  in which he scolds him then schools him on how to properly use it, was also deliciously awesome. (We also learn how she gets that helmet). Prior to the battle, Oshino tries to get Koyomi to understand: Hanekawa isn’t faultness in all this; in fact, he believes her entire situation is all her fault.

She lives every minute of every day in a flawless state of kindness and benevolence, he isn’t surprised her very-flawed parents couldn’t stand to live with her. (Koyomi even wonders if “family” is like an oddity to her.) But Koyomi doesn’t blame Hanekawa for being true to herself, even if it ends up hurting herself or others. After all, like the dead cat in the road, he was also an object of potential pity and sympathy as a recently-turned vampire whom Hanekawa saved, cared for, and taught him how to feel for others, without the slightest hint of pity or sympathy for him. She treated them as equals. And he’ll always be grateful for that, even if he and she will never be lovers. One other note: we like how the end of this miniseries butts right up against the very beginning of Bakemonogatari when Koyomi catches Senjougahara. Things seem primed to get right back down to business. We love endings that are also beginnings.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 02

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)

Nisemonogatari – 11 (Fin)

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.


Rating: 4