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 pastentries 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.
We’re done with the portmanteaus, no more Bakemono or Nisemono, just Monogatari Second Season. It’s a bit of a misnomer really considering we’re thirty episodes deep already with ONAs scattered about like confetti and a series chronology that’s increasingly difficult to cohere into a straightforward story. Straightforwardness is not what you get with the Monogatari franchise though, which is both in its favour and to its detriment; however more than any of the previous series - the watershed Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari then Nekomonogatari - this is what everything has been building up to.
this isn’t just fan-service, this is Shinbo x SHAFT fanservice
Not in terms of story mind you, it’s still the dialogue-heavy, supernatural-affliction scaffolding that has driven the plot from the outset. Certainly not in terms of characters either with the return of just about every female lead barring Suruga and barely a handful of new additions, some of which are difficult to tell apart from already established cast members. No, the build up has been there to tear down and put back together, to lay bare the characters and tropes that, to a certain extent, the franchise has built around itself.
[email protected] ([email protected]) is very SHAFT. A useless description as everything the studio produces is by definition very SHAFT, but as an adjective it encapsulates the studio's infamous approach: an unwavering confidence in delivery, a devotion to pop-culture and often a production led by designers rather than artists and script writers rather than story. In the pantheon of its shows then, Sasami-san has far less protracted banter than Bakemonogatari but a stronger narrative than Tsukuyomi.
But it's still inescapably SHAFT, and it may be the tired old man in me, but I really wish it wasn't.
time travelling golems and family members repeatedly rising from the underworld
As a modern take on the the collage of stories from Japan's spiritual history it's fascinating and barrels through the often mercurial Shinto "religion" with its rich pool of deities and paraphernalia, from Amaterasu to Kagusutchi. This isn't however My-HiME's naming of super-powered critters, or the sword naming scheme of innumerable JRPGs, but a fresh story with these multifarious gods and demons set in modern day and all its trappings. Coupled with a dreamy pastel art-style and animation that shoots precipitously from "we'll fix this in the Blu-ray release" to "three animators died producing this" and all the pieces are in place for a must-watch bonanza.
Medaka Box, despite sounding like the more amenable sister of Pandora's Box, is proof positive that you need a strong director to make the most of sharp writing. Coming from the same pen as Bakemono and Nisemonogatari it's hard to believe the protracted, laborious dialogue here could ever be transformed into the wit that his other two animated series showed.
By and large it's the same type of banter just presented by who has to be one of GAINAX's most uninspired directors - the one behind such meteoric duds as He Is My Master (shudder) and This Ugly Yet Beautiful World.
Nisemonogatari is a very understanding series. It understands the difference between pornography and eroticism is a fine line and gyrates provocatively on the latter side. It understands that by emasculating the protagonist and slavishly worshipping the otherwise entirely female cast it champions misandry over feminism. It understands family members transcend the commonly held notions of love and hate and that often reason and logic don't apply. It also understands, and this is crucial, that as a phenomenon, the Monogatari franchise (including Bakemonogatari before and the upcoming Kizumonogatari film) are fleeting. And damned if it isn't going to burn magnesium bright while it can.
inspires slavish devotion and cultish adoration because it has passion circulating in its veins
All the pieces from Bakemonogatari are in place here: art and animation that sucker-punch the retinas, banter that strafes wit and tedium and a supernatural affliction story framework for support. Like Akiyuki Shinbo's previous role as director with studio SHAFT the production is, sometimes pompous, but always slick and confident and plays strongly to the intended audience. Specifically, eroticism for otaku. Not the flesh markets that series like Queen's Blade, Yosuga no Sora or Ladies versus Butlers are, but understanding how to titillate rather than satiate and the confidence to put the story on hold for an episode to indulge in this.