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
Karen interrupts her brother’s studying to show him a new look, wearing Tsukihi’s clothes. She knows he knows Kanbaru, but Araragi won’t introduce her to her unless she wins a “game” involing him brushing her teeth. It goes a bit far, and Tsukihi walks in on them and isn’t pleased. When she storms off, they continue the game.
Nisemonogatari reaches new heights of creepy sibling interactions, specifically Koyomi enjoying brushing Karen’s teeth – and Karen enjoying him brush her teeth – a bit too much. We can expect Koyomi to act like this: he’s been interacting like this with girls – particularly younger ones – all season. And he’s part vampire, making him literally not entirely human. But what, we wonder, is Karen’s issue? On second thought, eh, perhaps it would be best if we just not wonder and simply move on, shall we? Tsukihi comes in and breaks it up, only for them to get right back to it when she leaves.
Clearly Akiyuki Shinbo does not have any particular qualms about dealing with these kinds of issues. If there is a taboo to be exploited, he’ll put it right up in our face, as close and intimate as possible, not skimping on a single facial expression or sound of enjoyment, while staying right on the edge. Indeed, this was perhaps the weirdest -and wrongest – tooth-brushing session we’ve ever witnessed. Tsukihi seemed to concur.
Araragi managed to sap away half of Karen’s illness into his own part-vampire body, and her condition improves, but only slightly. While walking to Senjougahara’s house, he meets Hachikuji, who notes his paleness and seriousness stemming from his current problems and discourages him from straying from what makes him Araragi. Senjougahara is sharpening pencils, preparing to meet with Kaiki and punish him to settle her past. Now already involved because of his sisters, Araragi insists they go together, if only to prevent Gahara from committing a crime that will get her imprisoned. Gahara agrees, if Araragi will grant a yet-to-be-disclosed request of hers. They part ways to rest up, and Shinobu appears and offers her assistance in a roundabout way. When he gets home, Karen is gone.
And so we edge ever closer to a confrontation with Kaiki, the gloomy man who has managed to inflict harm on Karen, Senjougahara, and her family, as it turns out, as she also blames him for her parents getting divorced. She rightly doubts Araragi’s strong anti-hypocrisy style involving healthy dollops of “right” will have much effect on Kaiki’s straight-up Evil, but his declaration of love and desire to protect her is too cool and manly for her to ignore, and so she won’t protest his participation. The last-minute addition of Shinobu – who cannot disobey him – should give Team Araragi a fighting chance – surely more of one than Karen, who faced Kaiki with naught but principles and moralizing – and lost.
This episode had some more clever incidental setting quirks, like Araragi chasing Hachikuji across the globe when she tells him he’s gotten boring and lost the only part of what made him interesting (the sexual harassment). Senjougahara’s sharp pencils are appropriately scary, and all the sculptures the pencils make and unmake throughout their disscussion serve as visual aids as well as Senjougahara’s power. That the episode ended with Karen going missing from her bed raises the urgency for some kind of standoff, and we’re really looking forward to finding out how exactly Araragi, his tsundere girlfriend, and a vampire will be dealing with Kaiki and saving Karen.
Hanekawa tells Araragi how Karen caught the bee oddity. She met with Kaiki, whom Hanekawa tracked down, to confront him about selling charms to middle schoolers, and to punch and kick him. However, after demoralizing her with his motives and worldview, he touches her on the forehead, delivering the bee. Back in the present, Hanekawa urges him to solve the dilemma that night, as he must return to his studies tomorrow. Wiping down Karen’s sweat, Araragi realizes (and it’s confirmed by Shinobu) he can cure Karen by transferring the bee poison to himself – via a kiss.
In the series’ usual stage play-like format, this episode presents the opposing positions of Karen Araragi and the con man Kaiki in no uncertain terms. Karen is a girl of strong principles and, to hear her tell it, the “blood of justice” courses through her veins, urging her to oppose, confront, and punish evil like Kaiki, who takes a Gordon Gekko-like “Greed is Good” stance. To him, filling his bank account with the bounty of evil deeds is no different from Karen filling her heart with good deeds. They are two sides of the same coin…and his worldview isn’t too far removed from that of wild nature – which exploits weakness without compassion and puts the self above all else.
Karen tells him there’s something inhuman about him, and she’s right; humans have evolved to balance their selfish primal urges with the good of humanity as a whole, which benefits both parties. Society and civilization could not survive if everyone was like Kaiki. You need some Karens. You also need Hanekawas and Koyomis; who see both sides and can mediate, since nothing Karen or Kaiki say to one another will ever get through – their philosophies are too opposed. Kaiki sees her morality as primitive, but it’s he who is acting like the heartless animal. But the same blood in Karen is also in Koyomi, which is why he’ll put his life on the line to save his little sister.
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.
Araragi Koyomi formally introduces his sisters Karen and Tsukihi. Karen is an aggressive athletic tomboy who, while Tsukihi is even more aggressive, but with a more feminine and innocent outward appearence. Koyomi then pays a visit to Sengoku, who seems to be in an unusually playful mood. When her mother gets home, Koyomi migrates to Kanbaru’s, where he busts in on her naked, then teases her by making the case she’s a more normal girl than she lets on.
Things you’re assured to get lots of in spades (besides kuro color cards) in Nisemonogatari: intense, intimate close-ups, particularly of girls; innovative and often downright raunchy poses by said girls; visually stunning ‘sets’ – I mean, a waterfall of books complete with rainbow? Applause. You’ll also get lines like this: “There’s harder BL on a lower stratum!”, made all the better when spoken with utter conviction by Miyuki Sawashiro. In other words, you get lots of weird, offbeat stuff. This season seems to be kicking up the sexual tension.
This episode further reinforced our perception of this series as an ‘anime play’ – it was mostly one-on-one conversations in fixed settings, after all – first, Sengoku’s house, then on the street with Karen (nimble lil’ minx, her), and finally in the liturature-replete home of Kanbaru. We also like how these familiar characters from Bakemonogatari underwent subtle but effective visual makeovers. The busy, kinetic opening focused on Karen as a bee spirit of sorts. There’s a foreboding to Koyomi’s description of his ‘fire sisters’ – as if there are many out there who believe they’re some kind of heroic duo. He contends his kid sisters merely have vivid imaginations and aren’t above exaggeration.
Senjougahara has Araragi handcuffed in an abandoned cram school, claiming to be protecting him and reiterating her extreme love for him. In a flashback, Araragi’s tutoring is cancelled for the day, so he decides to pay Sengoku a visit. He invites his little sister Tsukihi to join him, but she declines. Before he sets off for Sengoku’s, he bumps into Hachikuji, and debates the pros and cons of telling his family the truth – that he’s a vampire.
“Nisemonogatari” means “impostory”, perhaps suggesting this sequel to Bakemonogatari “ghostory” will not be dealing with horrific ‘oddities’ so much as deception or falsehood. Or it could just be arbitrary. Something to think about. In any case, we were very big fans of Bakemonogatari. This new series continues very much in the same vein, with lots of sprawling postmodern, stage-like settings, lots of quirky camera angles and wide shots and close-ups (including very intimate ones of Senjougahara), lots of clever language-play (the “courage” bit would make Dan Rather proud), and lots of conversation.
Therefore, if you didn’t like the first series, you probably won’t like this one. But we do. This week’s story (the reason for Araragi’s abduction) seemed to come to a screeching halt, but we chalk that up to inaccurate expectations for the narrative. In fact, we were glad Hachikuji had so much to say; Araragi finds he can confide in her like no one else, and she is wise beyond her years – warning him that telling his family about his condition may end up harming them, and that sometimes its best that we simply be content with reality as a stage, and not look beyond the curtain. Hell, both Bake- and Nisemonogatari strike me more as animated plays..with awesome dialogue, costumes and sets.