It’s been a while since I last wrote about Monogatari - over 4 months in fact. Hopefully I can get through the back half of the second season quicker. Hanamonogatari follows the apparent convention the earlier stories established - instead of featuring main character Koyomi Araragi, each entry focuses on one of the supporting players and builds upon their earlier appearances in the first season. This time, in Suruga Devil we follow Suruga Kanbaru, whom I had previously referred to as “comedy lesbian” due to her frequent nakedness and combative-but-eventually-good-natured relationship with Araragi. Here, we see Kanbaru in a far more serious light as she is more introspective than previous stories would have had us believe.
My fellow AniTAY contributor Dilkokoro wrote a fascinating and personal examination of this story last year, which I cannot hope to equal, so I won’t even attempt that. I would suggest anyone interested in the deeper meanings in this story go check it out. This is one of Dil’s favourite pieces of media. I’m afraid that for me it is the opposite. This is so far the least interesting Monogatari segment to me, and I guess this is because I have a hard time empathising with Kanbaru. I do not find her an interesting character, in fact I find her extremely irritating. Hanamonogatari did little to endear her to me. One of the reasons it has taken me so long to pick my Monogatari reviews back up was because I found Hanamonogatari so insufferably boring that I dreaded returning to it to write about it. I could have skipped on to the other stories in the second season as they were broadcast first, but I’m watching these in novel publication order. For reasons unknown to me, Hanamonogatari was delayed and released later as an OVA rather than broadcast on television with the rest of the season.
I did not realise that Kanbaru was an orphan - perhaps this had been mentioned before and I hadn’t paid enough attention? Turns out that the large, traditional Japanese home in which she spends much of her time naked while surrounded by huge piles of messily stacked boys-love novels, belongs to her paternal grandparents after her mother and father were killed some years previously in a car accident. I suppose that does allow for some degree of pathos. Families in Monogatari are but mere concepts though - parents very rarely feature in the stories. Even Araragi’s mother appeared only once, and even then we didn’t see her whole face. Araragi’s sisters are fairly prominent, though mainly to provide an off-colour focus to his creepy sexual sister-fixations. Hanekawa’s “parents” were not even related to her and although they were the source of much of her trauma, were treated as obstacles as opposed to being characters in their own right. Senjogahara’s dad appears in shadow during a car scene with the apparent sole purpose of making her and Araragi’s first date as awkward as possible.
So here, Kanbaru’s mother exists only as a negative memory. She remembers her mother telling her that she was weak and that her life would be difficult, that if she couldn’t be a medicine then at least be a poison - otherwise she’d be nothing more insipid than water. That’s a pretty bizarre thing to say to to your child, and unsurprisingly that screwed her up something rotten. Kanbaru threw herself into sports to try and become as strong as possible, though when her left arm became possessed by the monkey demon she had to give up the thing that gave her life meaning. At the beginning of this story, she’s still haunted by her previous actions - attacking Araragi with the intent to kill him, driven by jealousy of his relationship with Senjogahara. She sleeps with her hairy, deformed arm taped to a doorpost so that it can’t possess her and drag her out on night-time rampages.
In my last review of Kabukimonogatari, I picked out new character Ougi Oshino as a likely oddity/aberration/apparition. Here, she appears as a he. To be honest, even Ougi doesn’t seem entirely sure what he/she is meant to be presenting as. I get the impression that Ougi’s main drive in life is to fuck with people’s minds. His/her main purpose seems to be to point Kanbaru in the direction of the plot - a schoolgirl has set themselves up as “Lord Devil” (Akuma-sama in the original Japanese). At first Kanbaru fears this is something that she’s been doing unawares whilst possessed by her monkey demon arm, but it turns out that her formal basketball rival Rouka Numachi is the culprit.
Rouka makes an interesting mirror to Kanbaru - they’re both sporty tomboyish types who had to give up their beloved sports due to injury. In fact Rouka lost a prestigious scholarship due to her stress fracture and was told she’d never walk without a crutch or plaster cast again. (As a doctor, I find this very improbable, but let’s not gripe...) Kanbaru detests her possessed arm and is terrified of the bad things it makes her do. Rouka almost seems to relish playing the “bad guy” and taking on the evils of the world. Rouka’s bravado and “evil” self-portrayal only hide the fact that she is deeply troubled by the suffering of others and does what she can to relieve them of their problems, even if she recognises that there is very little she can practically do. She’s like a supernatural agony aunt, encouraging people to keep going while their problems sort themselves out or if the problems are insurmountable, she signposts them to the appropriate authorities. What she does is a little weird, but isn’t harming anyone.
What is more concerning about Rouka though, is her odd collection. She’s collecting mummified pieces of the monkey demon that has possessed Kanbaru, with the intention of actually transforming herself into a full demon, for reasons I wasn’t entirely clear on. Her left leg which had been fractured was replaced with a hairy demon limb, technically that could allow her to return to basketball if she had wanted to (all bandaged up I suppose.) Rouka randomly gropes Kanbaru’s chest and in doing so, steals Kanbaru’s curse, setting her free and returning her limb to normal.
Kanbaru’s joy at becoming whole again is infectious, as she bursts into a sprint and realises that she’s now unbalanced without the heavy demon arm and falls to the ground, injuring herself, crying with relief that her scraped, bloody arm is her own. She remains uneasy about this though, and throughout the rest of the story continues to wear bandages on her arm, as if she’s scared the black demon fur could grow back at any minute. Or perhaps she doesn’t want to explain the situation to anyone. She decides to seek Rouka out for answers.
With leaving the city, she bumps into Kaiki, premier pale-faced miserablist and con artist who way back in Nisemonogatari had been lurking around outside Kanbaru’s house, muttering to Araragi about “the Gaen child”. Turns out Kaiki had been close friends with or possibly even in love with Kanbaru’s caustic mother, sister of Izuko Gaen, briefly glimpsed in Nekomonogatari (White). Here, Hanamonogatari starts the second season’s rehabilitation of Kaiki’s character. Previously, I’d commented on how underwhelming a villain he was - a selfish con-man with no real threat behind him. I suspect that portrayal was deliberate by the author as this story reveals some of Kaiki’s hidden depths. For one, he can run really bloody fast without breaking a sweat in a funny scene where Kanbaru tries desperately to run from him. She sprints at full pelt while he jaunts along, easily overtaking the younger athlete.
Kaiki insists on feeding Kanbaru large quantities of freshly-grilled meat and reveals that he has been looking out for her as part of a promise to her mother. He seems to gain nothing from this and although Kanbaru is obviously creeped out by him, she accepts his meal and his business card. It is interesting to see Kaiki acting out of what is probably the closest thing to altruism for him. Kanbaru’s relation to Gaen links her closer to the central plot of the series, to Oshino, Kaiki and the other “oddity specialists”, and I wonder if she has inherited any skills herself? Dil makes an interesting argument in his article about her ability to see certain apparitions, but that does spoil some plot points for the rest of the second season so I won’t discuss it here.
Kaiki admits that he and Rouka have been in contact, specifically about the monkey demon parts so Kanbaru seeks her out to clarify what’s going on. They share their respective stories, play some basketball where the not-at-all-disabled Rouka wipes the floor with Kanbaru, and that seems to be the end of that, odd reunion over and done with. But... Karen Araragi has been doing some digging regarding Rouka at Kanbaru’s request... Turns out that Rouka committed suicide 3 years previously. Kanbaru has been interacting with her wandering ghost, who does not even realise she is dead. Understandably this freaks Kanbaru out and she runs into the country, running and running until exhausted, she collapses onto the road. As a runner myself, I can appreciate the need to get out there and just keep going until the noise in my head disappears.
A car stops before Kanbaru’s supine body, and of course out steps a somewhat older, long-haired Koyomi Araragi who is returning home from College, having left school earlier in the year. Yes, Hanamonogatari is set long after any of the other second season stories, after both Araragi and Senjogahara have graduated from High School and left Kanbaru behind to grow up by herself. Kanbaru expresses disappointment that Araragi isn’t using his iconic bicycle and has “sold out” by using a car... Their discussion encapsulates the themes explored by the story - whether you can truly outrun your problems, or wait for them to improve by themselves. Araragi rejects this, and encourages Kanbaru to seek her own solutions.
This leads to one more confrontation with Rouka. Armed with the monkey demon’s head (probably sent to her by Kaiki), Kanbaru challenges Rouka to another one-on one basketball match, with the intention of claiming all of Rouka’s demon parts, making her confront her post-life situation and releasing her from her wandering curse. The match itself is suitably ethereal, as the court floods with water and the air fills with sparkling spray. It’s a fun denouement that inverts the result (and the sexual tension) of the previous match. Suruga’s creative offense overwhelms Rouka’s defence and Rouka concedes defeat, Kanbaru kneeling over her. Rouka encourages Kanbaru to return to the sports she loves, before she disappears, leaving the various monkey demon bits behind.
In the epilogue, Araragi helps Kanbaru to finally tidy her room and she asks him to cut her hair (but thankfully not to brush her teeth) in order to give her a better style for sports. He’ll feed the demon parts to Shinobu (who apart from a cameo as a keyring design doesn’t appear in this story). I think the main thrust of this arc was about growing up, letting go of the things that hold you back - like other people’s expectations, and learning to manage your own problems without relying on others, running away or procrastinating. That’s a pretty good, deep message for any anime to portray, but in execution I found it overlong, ponderous and a bit unclear in direction.
I’m still not a fan of Kanbaru as a character, and I did find myself missing Araragi (for all his offensive pervertedness). At some points during episodes 3 and 4 I felt my attention wandering to the point I almost fell asleep. That’s never good. I don’t mind anime being confusing, or weird or even offensive so much as being boring. I always watch Monogatari at least twice before writing about it, but watching Hanamonogatari even once was excruciating enough. Forcing myself to watch it a second time felt unfortunately like I had wasted two hours of my life I could have been better engaged in watching something I enjoyed more. Sorry for those of you who loved this arc, but it mostly left me cold and unmoved. I’ll be back again, hopefully with less of a gap in between, to discuss the next part of Monogatari Second Season: Otorimonogatari. That one features Nadeko Sengoku, a character I dislike for different reasons. Hopefully I can be more positive about that one.
Format: PAL Region 2 DVD/Region B Blu-ray
Directors: Tomoyuki Itamura, Akiyuki Shinbou
Writers: Fuyahi Tou, Yukito Kizawa, Munemasa Nakamoto
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Classification: BBFC 15
Distributor: MVM Entertainment
Original Japanese OVA release: 16th August 2014
UK DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: 11th April 2016
Runtime: 120 minutes
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