It’s been almost 3 months since my last Monongatari review, so let me begin with an apology and a reassurance that (ab)normal service will resume shortly. A month-long delay in this particular volume’s UK release certainly didn’t help though! Before I move onto season 2, I will complete my reviews of the Kizumonogatari (Wound Story) trilogy of movies - prequels that fill in main character Koyomi Araragi’s backstory.
Part 1 : Tekketsu (reviewed here) was very much an exercise in scene-setting with little action or plot progression. Part 2: Nekketsu (Hot Blood) is a different beast altogether. When we left the newly-vampirised Araragi at the end of the last movie, he was gearing up to fight three fearsome vampire hunters to regain the severed limbs of his sire, she of the snappy-moniker, Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade. His motivation for undertaking this terrifying task - Kiss-shot’s promise to restore his humanity should he be successful.
What Nekketsu amounts to is basically “Monogatari - Shonen Tournament Edition.” Araragi has 3 bad guys to fight. He does so. The End. We could stop the review right there and that would be a 90% accurate description. Thankfully, there is a bit more to it than that. Studio Shaft’s obligatory spectacular production design is present and correct - I can see why the original Japanese theatrical release arrived years later than planned.
For an art form based on “moving pictures”, anime can often appear disappointingly static, with cost-saving measures like limited animation and inert backgrounds. For this movie, throw all of those assumptions out of the window. Nekketsu’s camera moves constantly around its photorealistic 3D CG backdrops, while the (presumably stylistically deliberate) contrasting traditional 2D anime characters move fluidly even during the extended dialogue scenes.
As is common to all Monogatari stories, only the main characters appear on screen. Their city seems lonely and empty without peripheral or incidental people. Including the three antagonists, there are only seven individuals depicted in this odd contrasted way. The bright, flat colours of their skin and clothing clash markedly with their far more subdued, hyperreal surroundings. With a lesser production studio’s work, I’d criticise them for clumsy composition, but this is Shaft. I expect everything they do has some reasoning behind it. The action scenes - of which there are plenty this time - do benefit from excellent clarity of motion and choreography - at no time was I confused as to what was happening on screen. Sometimes I found the characters’ interaction with 3D scenery objects to be less than convincing, but perhaps this was a stylistic choice?
Araragi’s first fight is with towering meat lump Dramaturgy, a full vampire who appears animalistic and extremely threatening. He chases Araragi through the school, throwing him through windows and ripping off both his arms. This is where Araragi discovers just how broken his innate healing skills are when he spontaneously grows both arms back. His strategy for beating Dramaturgy hinges on him recognising that his regeneration powers are unusual for vampires - Dramaturgy will not heal anywhere near as quickly from damage. Their battle is tense and exciting. Special mention must go to the poor animators who must have sacrificed their sanity depicting every rain splash off of the characters’ bodies.
Bout 2 is against Episode, a blonde cackling half-vampire. Why is he a half vampire? Why does he carry an enormous cross? Why does he cackle like a madman, a sea of fire erupting behind him every time he throws his cross? These questions are never answered. Once again Araragi must use his intelligence to beat his overwhelmingly powerful opponent, this time assisted by his bosomy friend Tsubasa Hanekawa, who is unfortunately eviscerated during the fight.
Tsubasa gets better after Araragi heals her with his magic blood, only for her to get captured by his third opponent - the human Guillotine Cutter. This scene is barely even a fight, Araragi realises he must give up every shred of his humanity to save his friend. Somehow this manifests as him growing tree branches out of his arms... Eh? Perhaps that scene is better explained in the book? Anyway it explains where the tree on the cram school roof in the TV series came from. Araragi... grew it. Okayyyyy....
Interspersed between the fight scenes are the obligatory lengthy dialogues. These are on the whole more restrained than the often episode-length indulgences from the TV series though. Araragi deepens his friendship with Tsubasa, who... gives him her panties. Araragi is not grossed out by this like a normal person would be, but we’ve already established that he’s a perv. What Hanekawa thinks she is doing by encouraging this behaviour is anyone’s guess.
Their friendship is sweet - Araragi comes off as very awkward. I’m not sure how much of this is down to his pre-vampiric personality or whether he acts stand-offish to try and push Hanekawa away in order to protect her. They do seem to be very into one another, so it seems somewhat odd that he ends up dating another woman not long after this story concludes. Hanekawa plays an interesting role - not just a confidante, her input lets him beat at least one of his opponents. She does also end up - twice - as a damsel in distress for him to save though. She seems to understand Araragi despite barely knowing him - she eventually sees through even his calculated, apparently cruel attempts to drive her away.
Araragi’s other main female interaction is with the kiddie-fied Kiss-shot. What a delight she is. I could fill this entire review with images of her funny expressions. When Araragi returns one of her stolen legs she stuffs the entire thing into her mouth like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon. It seems so out of place next to the GRIMDARK VIOLENCE but it is also extremely funny.
Kiss-shot develops from kiddie to young adolescent to young adult throughout the film as Araragi returns her missing parts and she ingests them. Adolescent Kiss-shot is haughty and ballerina-like. She also sleeps a lot. Young adult form is graceful and beautiful. We don’t get to see her full return to glory - that’s been kept until the concluding film. Also the way she retrieves previously lost memories - bloodily - has to be seen to be believed. Despite her character being the cause of all of the surrounding carnage and violence, her presence brings most of the lightness and humour in the film, other than Araragi’s irritating pervy antics.
Overall I enjoyed Kizumonogatari Part 2 significantly more than its predecessor. The direction and pacing was tighter with much less wasted time. The fight scenes were kinetic, visceral and drove the story forwards. Even the prolonged dialogue scenes had a purpose within the story rather than marking time. If I could describe this movie in US genre terms, I’d say that if Quentin Tarantino had directed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it might have ended up something like this. I’ve already got my mucky paws on Part 3: Reiketsu, so expect my review of that very soon. I’m looking forwards to watching the conclusion of this bloody tale.
Kizumonogatari: Nekketsu Collector’s Edition Blu-ray
Directors: Tatsuya Oishi, Akiyuki Shinbou
Based on the light novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Classification: BBFC 18
UK Blu-ray Release Date: August 5th 2019
Japanese Theatrical Release: August 19th 2016
Runtime: 68 minutes