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.

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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.

Owarimonogatari S2 – 01

Owarimonogatari is back, and promises to inch ever closer to the endgame of the sprawling story of Araragi Koyomi and the town “where a white snake once reigned.”

At some point after the “hell” he went through over spring break, Araragi Koyomi visits Gaen Izuko at the North Shirahebi Shrine…and she murders him. He wakes up to find none other than Hachikuji Mayoi (her usual age) there to greet him.

After his customary hug (this one being one of the more elaborate and extreme ones) and a lot of inappropriate contact, Mayoi punishes him with her signature pit bull-like chomp. She informs him of what’s going on: he’s dead and currently in real hell (specifically in Avici, the lowest form of hell, due to his vampirism).

Mayoi is in hell because both her parents outlived her, and so spends eternity stacking up stones by the riverbank. Especially for a little kid, she’s remarkably calm and fine with this, with a “that’s the way things go” attitude.

They then commence an epic, trippy ascent up through the layers of hell so that Koyomi can meet someone. He’s shown all of the moments that preceded his making key decisions in his life, from finding Shinobu to catching Senjougahara to everything else; and the recurring reaction is that if given an opportunity to return to those moments, he wouldn’t change a thing.

His only exception is the incident with Nadeko, but Mayoi assures him he’s being overly tough on himself for not being omnipotent, which no one is.

The long, reminicing journey finally brings him to another iteration of the Shirahebi shrine, where Tadatsuru Teori is waiting for him. It turns out Gaen Izuko’s murder was far from random, but part of a larger plan to exorcise Koyomi of his vampirism. Sending him to hell was merely a side effect.

Teori presents Koyomi with a white snake-like rope back to the world of the living where he belongs, and when he returns, he will no longer be a vampire, which if you as me is huge.

Koyomi worries if he’s really the most worthy person to be resurrected, and Mayoi, punches it into him that of course he is: he loves to be alive, and cherishes his girls and has done far too much for them to simply accept death and a life in hell.

Koyomi turns Mayoi’s own positive vibes onto her, grabbing her at the last minute to drag her back into the living world with him, which she doesn’t seem to have expected, but Izuko is nevertheless pleased he did. Izuko, by the way, is on the cusp of being killed by Shinobu until Koyomi returns; clearly the vampire wasn’t pleased about the stunt the specialist pulled on her master.

Teori also informed Koyomi of the person who requested he exterminate him: Oshino Ougi. Izuko leaves Koyomi, Shinobu and the resurrected Mayoi alone, looking forward to the “battles to come” where she hopes to enjoy a slight advantage.

In the meantime, after a mad, psychedelic metaphysical odyssey through the underworld, Koyomi heads off next for something as mundane as his college entrance exams. 

Bloodivores – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: 30 years ago, a vaccine for a virus caused some people to become vampires. After hundred of cases, the courts continue to hold the company accountable and the ‘Bloodvores’ are protesting. Also, occasionally attacking people for their blood.

Meanwhile, a group of Orphan Bloodvores rob a bank and are framed for 15 murders they did not commit. One of the kids is the sun of the director of BST, a commando group that deals with bloodvores (usually by beating them over the head with clubs) but he has daddy issues.

After a mock trial, the kids are driven away and shot by BST goons, but obvious not killed because they are the main characters…

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Bloodivores is almost so bad it’s funny but the animation is so poor I can not recommend watching it. Character movements are slow, filled with pauses, poorly framed (usually too close), and everything looks generic. 3D vehicle assets and backgrounds look like they were purchased from other shows or asset databases.

What almost works is how oblivious Bloodivores is of its try-hard terrible nature. Things like the TV News piece on ‘The Historical Side Effect Problem of Medicine,’ to the techno-babble about servers and a computer literally blink ‘hack,’ to the 90’s cool tench coats and broodie bad boys, Bloodivores perfectly captures a 8 year old’s sense of cool.

There’s even a scene where a tank slowly moves to block a tunnel exit… except, when it is revealed from the TV helecopter’s view above, the tunnel opens onto a tightly walled road. Meaning, there was no space for the tank to have moved from to block the road and no thought put into this show at all!

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The Verdict: judging from next week’s preview, our kid vampires will be joining a secret group of monster-clean suicide squad style and face nightmares the government is too lazy and or corrupt to deal with. Also, probably something backstory related to the protagonist’s mom.

No thanks

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SERVAMP – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shirota Mahiru, 15, likes simple things, hates troublesome things, after being orphaned his uncle becomes the “someone” to raise him, and leads him to take in a stray black cat he names Kuro that turns out to be a vampire, whom he forms a Servant-Vampire (“Servamp”) contract with to save his friends.

First of all, Shirota Mahiru is a liar. If he really hated troublesome things, he wouldn’t have saved the cat, and not regretted not taking it in. Instead, he did the one thing that would make the most trouble for him, having to take care of a pet where before he didn’t have one.

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That aside, Shirota Mahiru is also a composite of several dozen shounen heroes I’ve already seen before, which is problematic. Of course his mom got wasted in a car accident and of course he’s great at housework and would make a great wife and of course he gets saddled with an odd-couple partner.

This color-by-numbers slog continues with the expected personality-clashing slapstick, right up until things get serious when one of Mahiru’s friends seemingly loses all of his blood at once when attacked by the vampires a friend told them might be lurking around. As for why vampires exist in this world, well…they just do, ’cause.

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Speaking of “of course”, of course the bad guy is a loopy flamboyant dude in a white suit and top hat who slurs his words as he raves and swears because oooh, he’s such a Craaayzee Vampire Villain Dude! And what do you know, when Kuro (most inventive name for a character EVER) sees Mahiru put his life on the line to save his friends, he springs into action and kills (well, wounds) the crazy vamp, completing their contract and ensuring similar battles in the future.

Count me out of this yawn (and, I might mention, sausage) factory. I’m rating this niche appeal…you know, for the kind of viewer who just isn’t interested in watching something they’ve never seen a hundred times before. Because that would be too troublesome.

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Owarimonogatari – 12 (Fin)

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Yeesh, I’m running out of shows to watch, fast! With the conclusion of Owarimonogatari (which I thought was ending next week for some reason), Only One Punch Man remains on my Fall list. And like Asterisk and RKC, the main event of this finale is a duel; this one between Araragi and Shinobu’s first minion. Before he steps into a battle that might end in his death, he gives his girlfriend a call, and she knows and says all the right things she should.

She saw Kanbaru’s feelings early on as a burden, but wants to be someone able to tolerate and bear that weight, as part of her wider self-improvement kick that also includes becoming Araragi’s bride. When they exchange “I love yous”, I really felt the love and the committment these two have to each other.

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When Araragi arrives for the duel at the designated spot, the First is somewhat incredulous about Shinobu’s commitment to Araragi, for allowing him to show up in such a “weak state.” Izuko sets the rules: they’ll stand back to back on either side of a non-lethal electrified kendo sword, take ten steps, then turn around, and the first to score a hit on the other wins, regardless of who gets the sword first.

A wrench is thrown into the works when Tsubasa sends Araragi a pic, and Izuko throws further wrenches into the works by saying both Tsubasa and Senjogahara are in potential danger and require Araragi’s immediate attention (I’m a bit fuzzy on all the past series but I do remember a Nekomonogatari running at the same time as this).

Basically, she sees it as finally making him choose a girl once and for all: Shinobu, Tsubasa, or Senjogahara. Araragi…stays put. He delegates the duty of checking in on the others to Kanbaru, who is only too happy to oblige. Of course, we know she’s already helped immensely by beating Shinobu in an argument.

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Speaking of Shinobu, she seems to revise Izuko’s duel by splitting the non-lethal sword in two and replacing it with Kokoro-watari, making this a duel to the death again. Araragi, who had faith in the other girls not to hold it against him for staying put, and knowing he won’t get to the sword in time, lets the first take it, then affixes a talisman to his suit. He may not have “hit” him, but he did “touch” him before he was touched, making him the winner. Also, that talisman turns the First into jelly.

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Araragi prepares to put the suffering First out of his misery, but he’s stopped by Shinobu, finally meeting the re—and now re-de-assembled first minion, whom she calls Seishirou, face to face (his face is the only recognizable bit left), just as Kanbaru pleaded with her to do. Rather than let her second minion kill her first, she apologizes to Seishirou and says goodbye properly, with a firm rejection: she likes someone else now. She dumps Seishirou…then eats him.

And that’s that. Or so Araragi recounts to Oshino Ougi in his room. In this epilogue we’re finally aware that all this time Araragi has been narrating this arc to Ougi, listening with relish.

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Strangely, Ougi wonders if Shinobu really at all of Seishirou, including his suit of armor; the titular “Shinobu Mail.” Araragi is pretty sure she did, but doesn’t seem 100% certain, and that little bit of uncertainty is a thread Ougi seems eager to pull on, pondering whether Izuko used the armor to forge another Kokoro-watari (and shorter Yume-watari) leaving Araragi with Seishirou’s last name, Shishirui.

Araragi exits his room to find a traditionally-dressed Ononoki, who scolds him for not coming up with merits for being with Shinobu instead of the Seishirou; or for believing “nobody becomes happy” when he’s her minion, something he still believes because of the misfortune that could be brought on everyone, including Shinobu herself.

Ononoki doesn’t want him being content with putting up with misfortune, but “aiming for the happy ending.” Embracing misfortune is negligent and not trying to become happy is cowardly, in her mind.

In Araragi’s final sililoquy, he remains unconvinced anyone is happy, but is comforted that there’s still plenty of time ahead of everyone. As the first demonstrated quite forcefully with his four-century-long suicide, given enough time, anything is possible, including happiness.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 12 (Fin)

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AW eschews its OP to allow for some final moments between the Urzaiz sisters and the pair of Ayato and Julis before the big battle, and they were appreciated. This is the final episode for some time, so rushing right into the battle would have seemed too rote. No, this is more than a good-guys/bad-guys battle. Both sides have honorable reasons to fight, and all four are characters I’ve come to like.

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But once those moments are over, AW gets right down to business with a long and epic battle packed with powerful moves and counter-moves. And yet it’s a very personal fight, between pairs of people who could otherwise be friends but for the fact they’re in the way of each others’ goals. I particularly liked Irene shooting down Ayato wondering out loud if she’s “doing this the right way”, i.e. draining her sister dry to keep up.

Ayato and Julis broke bread with these two. They heard the sisters’ story, so Ayato knows why Irene is doing this, and why Priscilla is letting her, and she doesn’t want to hear him questioning her now. This is for all the marbles; no time for half-measures.

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But it becomes clear that Irene’s earnest and pure desire to protect her sister at all costs is being exploited by her Ogre Lux Gravi-sheath, and as the battle progresses it transforms her more and more into an overpowered demon. And yet, a measure of the real Irene remains, trying to hold back so she doesn’t harm the one person she never wants harm to come to. She just needs a little help.

She gets it as the battle comes to a furious climax, with Ayato pulling out all the stops with his dwindling time with Ser Veresta. He wrests Gravi-sheath from the berserk Irene and shatters it, winning the battle. Before being defeated, Irene grasped at the light of his powering up, as if yearning for a source of power less corrupting than the sheath. Well, she won’t have to worry about that now!

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It’s a brilliant victory for Ayato, but it incurs a cost as well. He may not have to suck his sisters’ blood, but the seal his own sister placed on him is activated before he’s able to leave the arena. The cameras capture what happens when he fights for more than five minutes, and all the rival schools lick their chops at the opportunity to fight him. Even knowing this vulnerability, they realize it still won’t be an easy fight…but they’re glad for the opportunity for a proper challenge…and those challenges will come next season.

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By the time Priscilla wakes up, Irene is totally over losing the sheath—shit happens, right? No point crying over spilled milk (or shatted Ogre Luxes). Pris is just glad the weapon that made her sister scary is gone, and Dirk content not to reprimand Irene, though he won’t be paying her debt down any since she lost. That doesn’t matter to Priscilla: from now on, she’s not just going to hang back while her sister protects her; she’s going to become stronger and fight by her side. I hope we get to see that next season, too.

As for Ayato and Julis, when Ayato, barely able to move, still insists he’ll keep his promise to have her back, Julis takes his face in her hands and tells him she’ll have his back too. Like the Urzaiz sisters, the two of them are stronger when both are pulling their weight, and I have no doubt in Julis’ capability to pull hard. Unfortunately their would-be kiss is interrupted when Saya, Kirin, and Claudia enter, but hey, when you have a harem, you gotta make sure the doors are locked!

Finally, in the post-credits teaser (and the show wisely stuck to its “Waiting for the Rain” ED, the best of the Fall), a man picks up Haruka’s bloodied glasses, saying she’s made him fall behind on his plans so far, but now…IT’S TIME. For what, we’ll just have to tune in next season and find out. If it’s lifting the seal she placed on Ayato, well, Ayato may be in for more suffering. He’s never had more people gunning for him, but he’s also never had more people who have his back.

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Owarimonogatari – 11

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Araragi’s meeting with the First One is cordial, but becomes increasingly tense when he learns what his predecessor wants: for him to “break up” with Kiss-shot. Now that he’s back in the picture, he wants to go to her, make amends, and take his place by her side, while regaining the sword he “lent” her.

Araragi, believing this a legitimate parlay, almost takes a sip from a poisoned sports drink the First gave him, which is all Araragi needs to know: the First wants him out of the picture, one way or another. The negotiations are only a formality, and Araragi isn’t able to come up with any cinvincing benefits for the First to stand down and let him remain Shinobu’s minion.

Izuko arrives with Gaen Episode to save Araragi, but negotiations are over: it will come down to a duel between Araragi and the First, with the specialists working out the details.

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Araragi got nowhere, but when he returns to the shrine, he sees Shinobu sitting on a supine Kanbaru, telling her if she apologizes for what she said, she’ll be forgiven with no harm done. But Kanbaru is defiant, and she’ll repeat those words over and over until they stick: it’s up to Shinobu herself to face the First and settle things one way or another, not Isuko’s or Araragi’s or anyone else’s.

For much of the argument that ensues, Shinobu’s little hand tightens menacingly across Kanbaru’s head as she reproaches a lowly baby human for daring to say she knows the slightest thing about the situaion. She thinks Kanbaru is being silly; that nothing can be gained, only lost, by personally confronting her former master.

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Furthermore, it’s an insult to her present master. Basically, Shinobu only wants one minion—Araragi—and will accept no arrangements in which she has two. It goes on like this for some time, but Kanbaru remains unblinking and forthright in her belief that Shinobu is wrong. It doesn’t matter how much fancy archaic terminology she uses or excuses she offers, Kanbaru thinks she’s covering for her fear of what facing the First will affect her.

But Kanbaru is able to wear down Shinobu because she can relate to the First as the “second choice”, because she herself wasn’t Araragi’s, Senjougahara was. Shinobu rejects her comparisons with human relationships, but runs out of ammo when Kanbaru tells her every possibility she can think of is preferable to doing and saying nothing, even if she or the first are killed in the process…or even if she ends up choosing the First over the Second. The ball is in her court.

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It isn’t that the duel between the First and Second isn’t still on—it is, and it will take place in the school courtyard—but when Shinobu eventually gets over the fact she soundly lost an argument to a girl nearly five centuries younger than her, she may be able to stop the boys from fighting over her. Note that if you strip away all the vampire stuff, this is about a pushy, needy old ex-boyfriend wanting to get back with his girl, but the girl having moved on with a new man.

Meanwhile, Kanbaru continues to lie on the ground where Shinobu left her, with a slight cut on her head from where she squeezed her, and Araragi delivers her BL novels and bra. Kanbaru, not unreasonably wants to be rewarded by her upperclassman for the service she provided for Araragi—doing what he probably couldn’t have done (again, because he’s not the “un-chosen one” the way she and the First are). Whether it’s by him feeding her as she reads, or him putting her bra on while she reads, it’s all good for her.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Owarimonogatari – 10

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No show is better at stylishly embellishing otherwise static conversations—that’s really most of Monogatari in the first place—but unlike Sodachi Lost arc, I’m nevertheless starting to feel some exposition fatigue.

Gaen Izuko takes a seemingly very long time to explain how the ashes of Shinobu’s first minion gathered here and formed the raw material to create all the apparitions Araragi has encountered. The first was drawn to the second, and at the shrine where apparitions are most likely to gather, they did.

Shinobu, who initially wanted to visit Fujiyama, was instead redirected to the place where the first and second minions were. This all created a perfect storm for apparitions, which in turn drew specialists like Meme, Kagenui, and Kaiki. Izuko pooled their investigations and sent Yotsugi to “clean up the ashes”, but she failed because of the proximity of Araragi and Shinobu to the shrine.

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With all these naturally attracting things naturally attracting each other, and the first one being drawn to the second, as well as empowered by seeing Shinobu, Izuko wants Araragi to “inheret responsibility.” Dealing with the first is his duty. Yotsugi will be available to help him, along with Shinobu, Kanbaru, and “one more assistant” Izuko needs to pick up, accounting for Yotsugi’s latest report on the swordless samurai.

Izuko then leaves Araragi with some breakfast money and shuffles off to get him, wanting to solve this problem as soon as possible before the first one powers up to a level uncontrollable by all but possibly Kagenui (and Izuko would rather it not come to that, due to the bad blood between them).

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Araragi instead uses the money to buy some BL light novels for Kanbaru (though not a bra). Kanbaru and Araragi’s discussion of the 21-novel series is more than a little meta-, since the Monogatari series is about that size but unlike  Brutal Garcon Huff Huffs a Half-Blood Boy!, they all have pretty vague titles like “Ghostory” or “Endstory.”

The episode then delves into observational comedy, laying out the dilemma a young man faces when purchasing possibly embarrassing content from a bookstore. He tries to both hide the BL and disprove the rumors he’s into lolitas by snatching up some “mature ladies” magazines (both of which feature a woman who looks a lot like Izuko!) but the employees still end up laughing at him.

Then, just when our guards were down, Araragi bumps into a smallish kid with long black hair who looks like he could be around fifteen, and talks with a higher-pitched version of Araragi’s voice. It’s the other one, and Izuko was right: the two minions are extremely drawn to each other. We’ll see how their next encounter goes.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 10

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Ernesta keeps from Aldy that Rimsy is his limiter, indicating we haven’t seen the limits of his power yet. And while Ayato and Julis walk to Saya and Kirin’s match, they encounter Irene Urzaiz whaling on some nobodies before she turns her attention to Ayato. Her very polite sister Priscilla bails him out this time, but message received: Ayato has yet another powerful opponent gunning for him.

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While I’m sure Saya and Kirin are looking forward to a fight with Allekant’s puppets, this week’s opponents are no sweat, and Ayato and Julis don’t even arrive until the match is long over, when they walk in on a nude Saya is trying in vain to grab a nude Kirin’s boobs.

After another ridiculously quick and easy match against two dolls from Queenvail, Julis (who defeated “Non-Sugar” all by herself) suggests she and Ayato have lunch, then presents the sandwiches she made, then hints at Ayato to reward her fairly by patting her head too, something Ayato didn’t know she wanted.

It’s a cute little scene that underscores how far behind Stella and Ikki these two are in the romance department. Then again every couple has their own pace and rhythms.

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They’re also merely spectators for this week’s main event between Lester and Irene, who we see in action for the first time. Lester and his partner try using the same tired old strategy against Irene: keep moving and wait for her gas-guzzling Ogre Lux to drain her dry.

But that fails when she uses gravity magic that renders Randy unconscious, then sucks the blood of her partner Priscilla to regenerate her power and assault Lester into submission. A Vampire Girl with gravity magic? Pretty sweet combo right there that’s sure to cause headaches for our wonder duo.

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Owarimonogatari – 09

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After escaping the trap of the snail by going over the rooftops, Koyomi and Kanbaru encounter a crab-monkey hybrid. Once they deal with it (and as a fellow left-hander I feel for Kanbaru mixing up directions), snakes emerge, which Shinobu grabs, then lends Kokoro-watari to Koyomi to finish the demi-apparition off. All of the animals that afflicted Koyomi’s girls are coming back, and all seemingly in service of the samurai.

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After lying under Shinobu as she swings—revealing a small sticker with Gaen’s location, the shrine—Koyomi heads there with Kanbaru and Shinobu. When Koyomi describes what the samurai was after (and imitates his laugh all too perfectly, another clue as to who he is), Shinobu is incredulous. The minion she created, from whom she took Kokoro-watari…she watched him burn up in the sun and die 400 years ago.

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He can’t be back, she insists; This is all some kind of lie or trick. But when they meet up with Gaen Izuko (introducing herself as Oshino Izuko to Kanbaru and Shinobu, who seem to buy it), and Koyomi tells her everything that happened, Izuko disputes Shinobu’s assertion the first minion is dead.

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While her scenes are primarily exposition, she inhabits a variety of interesting environments as she provides it, eventually whipping out “game pieces” of all the Monogatari characters. She makes connections between the first minion and Koyomi, the second minion, and describes coincidences that weren’t coincidences, like the fact that the first five animal apparitions infected five of his female friends, and later phoenixes and cats and tigers.

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She then takes things all the way back to four centuries ago, glossing over Shinobu’s story (because Shinobu already told it, and beautifully so) and focusing on the first minion, who became so after Shinobu drank his blood. He came to loathe what he had become, but that loathing couldn’t change the fact that his immortality was such that even burning up in the sun would not kill him, only disperse him into a cloud of ash.

Over 400 years, exposed to the elements and through trial-and-error, the first minion resurrected, not necessarily because he wanted to but because that’s just what happened. And the final reveal, that the minion was finally successful in coalescing fifteen years ago, leads us to wonder if he’s someone Koyomi already knows…the fifteen-year-old Oshino Ougi, for instance.

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