Fireball

A review of the Kizumonogatari anime films

It’s finally finished. It feels like I’ve been hearing about the Kizumonogatari movie since I finished watching the first TV anime, Bakemonogatari. In my reviews of past entries in its tangled timeline I was a lot more glowing in my praise than I remembered; but somewhere along the way I didn’t so much lose patience so much as lose interest in continuing with the franchise. I think it was somewhere around the first tranche of episodes for Owarimonogatari.

Kizumonogatari (Scarstory or Woundstory depending on your translator) however is narratively the first story in the now 23 light novel saga so its adaptation holds the potential for newcomers to be introduced to the franchise without its eight years of baggage. A trilogy of movies then, each around an hour long, telling the story of eternal straight man Koyomi Araragi’s first meeting with the mercurial vampire Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, class president Tsubasa Hanekawa and oddity specialist Meme Oshino.

The most striking element of all the films are their visual fidelity, both in terms of its universally superb character animation but also the pin-sharp rendered backgrounds that crisply sparkle with every sunset and car headlight that is cast upon them. A step up from the TV series that favoured art house abstraction over fine detail. Yes those hard cuts to monocolour text frames are still present, but far less obnoxiously used here, or perhaps I’m just desensitised to them now.

Regardless, everything from schoolyard strolls to visceral fights look stunning if not a little washed out, which means when the plot takes one of its frequent dives into the deviant, the squick and squirm is all the more tangible. Underwear plays an absurdly huge part in Araragi’s story and with only the pneumatically proportioned Hanekawa to provide, the results are… well, just don’t watch any of the films on public transport. The borderline sexually aberrant behaviour that’s on display is on par with other entries in the series though so if newcomers choose to continue watching, they won’t be discombobulated when a toothbrush stops being so innocent.

At the end of the day this is a big-budget, SHAFT × Akiyuki Shinbo production split into three, meaning when it comes to the narrative, every film is baggy and overwrought. The entire story could have been comfortably condensed into a single, standard length film, but then it wouldn’t be Monogatari. Like the other arcs, Kizumonogatari has a point to be made, but author Nisi Oisin will take the most circuitous route to that point. You’ll get to know everything about that point - the neighbourhood, all the back roads, weather, GDP - on this malfunctioning GPS ride towards the story’s final destination. It likely took an immense amount of restraint for the author not to finish the light novel with “but it was the Kizumonogatari’s we made along the way” so familiar are we with the point by the end of it.

That’s not to say the films, both on their own and as a trilogy, aren’t superb fun. They have a great sense of humour with sight-gags and wordplay aplenty, and without the acerbic and exhausting Senjougahara around, the huge swathes of each film dedicated to Hanekawa and Araragi talking feel like playful banter rather than intellectual survival. Even the fight scenes, vicious and gory in equal measure, often devolve into slapstick, taking the edge off the ultraviolence on display.

More than any other entry in the franchise though, Kizumonogatari feels indulgent. This is a franchise that has enjoyed immense popularity both for the light novels and the numerous anime series so it makes sense that money would be spent on it. Too often though it feels like the staff is luxuriating in the comfort that the series has earned. There’s the graceful pirouette of Kiss-Shot as she revels in her newly aged (but still prepubescent, natch) body, the flock of animated crows that scatter as Araragi approaches, the wince-inducing bounce of any movement by Hanekawa, the mock helicopter camera shots with rotor whine and all. At times it feels like the music doesn’t know how to keep up, surging from electronic menace through to piano melody and child-like chants in short order.

In a sense then it is the perfect adaptation of the light novel. The films are as visually and sonically indulgent as the novel is verbose, spending as it does several pages describing underwear or how the protagonist wants to become a plant. The adaptation hits all the same story beats but the action is slicker and the internal monologue thankfully absent.

And therein lies the essence of what gives Monogatari its style and personality. Certainly not to everyone’s taste its greatest flaw seems to lie in the desire to say something meaningful but getting bogged down by the menial. After so long then that style has become humdrum and routine and too easy is it to now see those trivialities in between the flair and trickery.

Perhaps the greatest praise I can give the Kizumonogatari film trilogy then is to say that if you liked the TV series, you’ll like this, and conversely, if you liked this, you’ll like the TV series. For a while at least.