Spanning back to January of last year, the blockbuster NISIOISIN novel KIZUMONOGATARI-Wound Tale was adapted into a movie trilogy. Like the rest of the Monogatari franchise, animation studio Shaft took up the difficult task of adapting a work known for exposition and a hellish scenario for the main character. In a very rare opportunity, I was able to join a few of my fellow AniTAY writers in Atlanta, GA a couple of weekends ago to see the final part of the trilogy.
There are minor spoilers ahead, but per my usual policy, they aren’t anything you can’t already see in a trailer or read in an official preview.
With exception to the epics that rank high on anyone’s list, generally it is a mixed bag on what you will be getting in multi-part adaptions of a single work. By good graces, there is beefy material to work with in multiple volumes enriched with details. Most of the time, however, there is either just enough to get by with or a glaring need for more content to last sometimes even a single film, let alone two or three. The light novel KIZUMONOGATARI-Wound Tale tapes in at 354 pages, leaving ideally 118 pages to work with for each film evenly. Less than shockingly granted the risks Shaft loves to take with their direction, the films were chunked into interesting portions to tell the story of Koyomi Araragi’s living nightmare- the first film covered the prologue and first challenge, the second knocked out the largest amount of the three with the second and third challenges, with the third film coming in with the apex of the story and conclusion. If I were to do a page count for the material covered in each film off of loose memory, it would roughly be 130/150/74. While the text covered is lopsided, the first two were unique treats that felt paced wonderfully even as they went against what the sheet music was telling it to play. Obviously, this finale was no different.
As a stand-alone film, Reiketsu-hen passes everything from the eye test from its stunning visuals to the heaviest parts of the source material’s narrative chosen to be adapted. As I mentioned earlier, a big fear of mine going into the film was whether or not there would be enough story to actually fill the listed eighty-three minute run time. The main conflict in Araragi retrieving the limbs of the vampire he saved at the cost of his humanity, Kiss-Shot-Acerola-Orion-Heart-Underblade, has been accomplished and the promise of becoming human again drives him to restore Kiss-Shot’s strength. Things obviously don’t go as planned, and Araragi is burdened with deciding how to handle his miscalculation. The remaining story could easily be made into two jam-packed episode length specials (Shaft has made entire story volumes into double length episode one-offs), but the time dedicated to emphasizing scenes and taking things slower really hits all of the high notes for the conclusion. Only once did I look down at my watch and wonder what time it was (only for a reason I’ll explain later)- the film did such a great job pulling the audience into the methodically paced climax.
Perhaps the best asset for this could be found in the mending of the jaw-dropping background aesthetics and flawless shots. To call the animation in this film “beautiful as always” would be an insult to just how great it looked- as the shots became progressively more unique and challenging through conversations, the art was in a sprint race to outshine. What should have just been a brief mention of a later NISIOISN story amazingly accompanied the short reminising of the three hundred year old vampire in full detail. Somehow, a story that stands on its own at 120 pages fits perfectly concise in a two minute span without so much as a single detail illustrated. As for the shots themselves, there were bits that brought out the more memorable points of the story in very splendorous fashion. One shot in particular that stands out as a favorite was a breathtaking view of the city’s sundown as Araragi and Kiss-Shot laugh over the simple joys of a conversation after a hectic time. It is made all the more effective with contrast in horrific shots such as Kiss-Shot bloodily eating a man and Araragi dropping bags of snacks, vomiting in sight of the scene.
Unfortunately, much like the rest of the Monogatari franchise, there are some brutally unbearable elements in the story I could really have done without. With the understanding that it is strictly objective, Monogatari could be so much more without being littered in its excessively centric ecchi scenes and random story implication to them. Remember how I mentioned checking my watch? I decided since I knew where in the film the ecchi scene would be, I would turn the whole thing into an experiment of sorts. Rarely do I get to watch anime with more than a group of four or five, so seeing an (unexpectedly) full theater really set the perfect place for testing how many people actually liked the scene. Clocking in at fourteen minutes, there was one scene between two characters in a gym storage shed that had little to no purpose in the story (which is uncommon for NISIOISN’s other stories in Monogatari franchise). As the scene dragged on and on, it was roughly 50/50 on how many people were laughing and how many were just checking their phones or rolling their eyes. Of those half? Around three fourths of them were laughing out of disappointment or as a defense mechanism from the absurdity. Seeing one of our writers visibly saddened by the sight made me lose my breath laughing so hard, but the lack of any other emotion besides disappointment for being pulled from an engrossing narrative really epitomized the experience of Monogatari. As I would wager correctly when I asked him about it after the film, he agreed completely with the sentiment that it made the whole experience as regrettable while the other parts made it worthwhile to see.
Overall I think that this film is worth seeing it and its prerequisites at least once for the beautiful score composed by Kousaki Satoru, the visuals that will leave you in awe, and the fantastic writing. It can all be surmised with the final resolution being a horrific combination of writing, music, and visuals that goes a long distance in spelling out a fate worse than death. My aversion to ecchi aside, I actually thought the worst part of the whole film was just how high my standards are going to revert to now that I have seen how great the movie budget Monogatari looks. Once early Bakemonogatari character models were introduced in the final moments of the film with stunning detailed, it made me long for a re-imagining or future installment in the same fashion. At this point, I can’t honestly say I can recommend Monogatari to anyone without knowing how much they can be selective in what they enjoy from a series, but Kizumonogatari is just too beautiful to pass up.