Now that I’ve progressed past the three Kizumonogatari prequel movies (reviews here, here and here), it’s time for me to finally start my odyssey through the “second season” of Studio Shaft’s and director Akiyuki Shinbou’s anime adaptation of NisiOisin’s Monogatari light novel series. Other AniTAY contributors more “in the know” (though perhaps only further mired in Monogatari-induced perversion than I am) suggested that this collection of stories is the best the series has to offer. In that case, I am looking forwards to more tales of oddness, bizarre conversations and uncountable head tilts.
First up - more cat-girls! This is the third outing for Tsubasa Hanekawa’s aberration, the Sawari Neko (cursed cat). The first was Tsubasa Cat from Bakemonogatari volume 2 (reviewed here) and the second was Tsubasa Family from Nekomonogatari (Black) (reviewed here). This further 5-episode story is titled Tsubasa Tiger and Tsubasa Hanekawa is not only the primary female focus, she is in fact the protagonist. Usual main character Koyomi Araragi is absent for almost its entirety, unusual so far for a Monogatari story. Most other entries examine his relationship with one of the many female cast members. Now we get to see the female characters interact with each other without the camera being led by Araragi’s wandering eye. Does it make any difference to the famous fan-service? Does it hell. Also if this was Monogatari’s attempt to pass the Bechdel test, then it fails miserably. Many of the female characters’ interactions revolve around the absent Araragi, though at least he’s not their sole focus of conversation.
The first episode begins with Hanekawa awakening in her futon which is laid out in the hallway of her house. As we know from previous episodes, she does not even have a bedroom to call her own. Nor does she interact much with the people “she should call her parents” but who are not biologically related to her. They do not treat her like family, they eat apart and live their lives separately. Because they at least provide her with a roof over her head, she does not complain. Hanekawa puts up with a lot of crap - that’s both her strength and her ultimate failing. Nekomonogatari (White) interrogates this aspect of her character until it hurts.
Hanekawa bumps into Mayoi Hachikuji when leaving her house, and for once the elementary school-aged ghost goes unobjectified. Her scene is very short but she gives the first hint that this will be an unusual Monogatari story - Araragi has disappeared. Mayoi’s manifestation is also a hint that Hanekawa does not want to reach her destination, as Mayoi only tends to appear in such situations. In this context it’s likely that Hanekawa doesn’t want to return home at the end of the day. She also meets a random enormous pink tiger on the way to school. As one tends to do in the very strange, empty and psychedelically-coloured city in which Hanekawa and Araragi reside.
Later, her house proceeds to burn down in mysterious circumstances and due to her difficult family circumstances decides anything is better than staying wherever her “parents” are staying. She’s too proud (or shy or totally disregarding of her own needs) to ask anyone for help, so she ends up staying the night in the abandoned cram school. Interestingly, the room she chooses is full of the roots of the bizarre tree that grows on the roof of the school. Any viewer of the second Kizumonogatari film knows that this tree erupted from Araragi during his climactic face off against vampire hunter Guillotinecutter. Therefore Hanekawa lays down to sleep amongst the remnants of Araragi’s discarded body parts. That’s a bit creepy.
Hanekawa is shaken awake and slapped repeatedly by Hitagi Senjogahara, Araragi’s girlfriend who he helped free of a crab apparition way back in the series’ first broadcast arc. She remains a somewhat spiky, snappy character. Senjogahara it seems has turned the city upside down looking for the Hanekawa, fearing the worst for the currently homeless girl. I’m not entirely sure what Senjogahara’s motivation for this was, other than perhaps she really is a good person inside? She drags Hanekawa back to her own tiny half-built apartment, makes her miss school and they proceed to shower and sleep together.
So any hope I had of the bizarre fan-service taking a rest was dashed by Senjogahara’s inexplicable behaviour in the second episode. I... don’t... get... what... she... was... up... to... here... Hanekawa seems to put up with whatever situation she is faced with, and it seems that Senjogahara wanted to have some fun with her, I guess? Wet, soapy naked fun? Yeah, the shower scene is intimately depicted with voluptuously animated breasts being kneaded and scrubbed. No nipples here. Because there are hands obscuring and squidging them. After this they retire to share Senjogahara’s futon, at which Hanekawa expresses reservations. Senjogahara reassures her that “she won’t lay a finger on her”. Well why should she feel the need, when her wandering hands have already fully explored, groped and soaped her captive’s body? I guess she doesn’t have to worry about Araragi being jealous, he’d probably spew a geyser-styled anime nosebleed at the very concept of these two girls showering together.
Hanekawa spends the rest of the day and the next night with Senjogahara. During this time, Senjogahara begins the interrogation of Hanekawa’s personality by observing the way she prepares food - entirely without seasoning. She concludes from this that Hanekawa has no motivation to improve things for herself - why bother making food taste better when she can cope with its blandness? Why bother improving her home life when she can just muddle on through the way she does? Why does she never ask for help for herself but is always willing to give help to others? For once these long conversation scenes does not feel superfluous - they inform the progression of the story and also brings us deeper into Hanekawa’s internal life. What it tells us about Senjogahara I’m less sure. She’s used more like a plot device than an actual character. It seems the author changes her motivations and actions based on story whim, I find it difficult to get a handle on her. Perhaps that’s the point.
Throughout the story, scene changes are marked with Monogatari’s trademark insert cards. In this case there are chapter numbers and Hanekawa herself comments on when these numbers jump forward. This happens during the time that the cat apparition takes over her body. Previously this happened in times of stress, and initially she blames it on her house burning down. Senjogahara is a light sleeper so catches cat-Hanekawa in the middle of the night when she returns from wherever it is that cat-girls go in the small hours. Their first introduction is sweet and it’s clear that cat-Hanekawa means her no harm, even expressing concern that they shouldn’t shake hands because of her “always-on energy-drain”. Once Mr Senjogahara returns, it’s no longer practical for Hanekawa to stay in the household. Senjogahara manipulates Araragi’s little sister Karen into taking Hanekawa instead, in a funny scene where she needles at Karen’s self-important “defender of justice” persona. So Hanekawa then stays in the Araragi household, in Araragi’s bed, in his absence.
Whilst there, cat-Hanekawa takes time to converse with shrunken-vampire-girl Shinobu and make sexy poses on Araragi’s bedroom furniture. They discover that 1) Upside-Down Shinobu is still Best Shinobu and 2) the cram school building that Hanekawa slept at a couple of days previously has now also burned to the ground. A pattern is emerging...
During an impromptu card game with Araragi’s sisters Tsukihi and Karen, it transpires that they both have boyfriends but their brother refuses to meet either as he’d rather live in denial about their existence. This is weird. Then when Hanekawa asks them what their boyfriends are like, the answer “Just like Big Brother” is even more weird. What sort of parents brought up these pseudo-incestuous siblings? Turns out they’re both police officers. I suppose they can keep things in the family when they arrest their son for perversion.
Anyway, Hanekawa does get to meet Araragi’s mother - and we as viewers get a chance to see what her face looks like. Though her full body and face are never in the frame at the same time. They have a fairly uncomfortable-sounding conversation where Mrs Araragi comes off initially as something of a bitch - she states that Hanekawa can never consider the Araragis to be her replacement family, because she should work on mending relationships with her own family, to take some responsibility for the situation she is in. On one hand, she has a point - Hanekawa’s passivity does her no favours. On the other hand, her “parents” are utter dicks who fail to provide for her both physically and emotionally. I think Mrs Araragi spoke from a place of concern though, despite the apparent harshness of her words.
On her way to school, Hanekawa encounters Episode, one of the three Vampire Hunters who faced off against Araragi in Kizumonogatari. She’s understandably flustered as last time they met, he launched a massive crucifix at her and disembowelled her. She was saved only by Araragi’s Magic Blood. He seems to mean her no harm and admits that as he’s only 6 years old, he can be a bit awkward. I’m not sure what the backstory is there, nor what he’s doing back in the city. Perhaps that will be explained later.
Hanekawa also encounters someone whose existence has been hinted at in the past - former classmate of Memo Oshino, Kaiki Deishuu and Yozuru Kagenui - Izuko Gaen. She seems to have a familial link with Suruga Kanbaru, as Gaen was her previous surname. I also recall Kaiki lurking around the front door of her house muttering about “the Gaen child” way back in Nisemonogatari. I haven’t read ahead for spoilers so I don’t know yet what the significance of any of this is, but this entire scene seems to exist purely as foreshadowing. Like many of the other characters before her, Gaen also sticks the boot into Hanekawa’s personality, claiming that she “knows nothing”, a direct counterpoint to Araragi’s frequent statement that Hanekawa “knows everything” and even contradicting Hanekawa’s usual response “I only know what I know.” This encounter seems to leave Hanekawa shaken.
Eventually, Hanekawa gets the message that something needs to change and for her to take responsibility for her own feelings. She accepts that the cat apparition is a manifestation of her own personality, her way of separating stress from herself in order that she does not need to change. The tiger apparition is another aspect of her personality - that of her negative emotions, primarily jealousy, and it all comes back to Araragi. She loves him but he does not love her back. In a kind-of-sweet-but-also-hella-creepy scene, she rolls around on his bed and wears his clothes so that she leaves her lingering scent behind so that he cannot forget her. She writes a letter for her cat-self to read, and sets out to resolve the pyromaniac tiger situation. The tiger has been the one setting fire to the places she has slept, and Senjogahara’s place is next on the conflagration agenda.
There follows the climactic fight that closes off this arc: cat-girl versus PMT-From-Hell Pink Tiger of Fiery Death. They duel over the incomplete shell of Senjogahara’s abode - a flimsy construction of scaffolding and girders. The story does not allow Hanekawa to forge her own independent destiny, however. When she is almost overwhelmed by the sheer strength of the pink tiger, Araragi himself makes a late appearance, wielding his oversized sword that this time is effective in neutralising Hanekawa’s rampaging id monster. He does bring some closure to Hanekawa’s feelings though. She is finally able to admit to his face that he loves her, even though she knows he cannot reciprocate her feelings - she has accepting the risk of being hurt, of accepting the negative emotions such a rejection might bring. He rejects her gently, and affirms that - yes - he loves Senjogahara more.
Araragi displays more adult decision-making and emotional intelligence than he has so far shown in the entire series with his actions here. He realises he cannot have his cake and eat it, he cannot continue to string Hanekawa along. He remains completely faithful to his girlfriend while treating his very faithful friend with the respect she deserves. This scene was particularly effective. Hanekawa does not get what she most desperately wants, but she gets exactly what she needs - a sense of closure, and hopefully she will be able to move on from this point forwards.
Hanekawa’s change manifests in two important ways - first with her appearance - she now sports a tiger-striped two-tone hair colouration, and secondly in that she demands a room of her own in her “parents” new rental home. Finally, she is able to prioritise her own needs and become a properly functioning human being. I found this particular character arc very satisfying, and I appreciate Hanekawa far more than I did before. I found her Kizumonogatari personality to be too much of a “goody-two-shoes”, and that seems very deliberate on the part of the author. I hope some of the other characters will also benefit from similarly deep examination and challenge as the series progresses.
Overall, Nekomonogatari (White) was a more balanced than average Monogatari installment. There wasn’t a huge amount of action, but the usual lengthy conversations drove the plot more than expected, and I enjoyed the thoughtful examination of the characters and their motivations. The design remained impeccable with some excellent cuts of animation and striking scenery. Even if a particular scene is pedestrian in content, the execution almost never is. Such imaginative presentation succeeds in preventing boredom during those prolonged dialogue scenes. A lesser production studio would likely struggle to make this series even half as watchable as it has been so far. I’m looking forwards to watching the next installment - Kabukimonogatari (Mayoi Jiangshi) - which looks like it deals with time-travel. I’m always a sucker for a good time travel story. See you next time!
Format: PAL Region 2 DVD/Region B Blu-ray
Writer: Akiyuki Shinbou
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Classification: BBFC 18
Distributor: MVM Entertainment
Original Japanese TV Broadcast: July 6th 2013 - August 3 2013)
UK DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: 24 Nov. 2014
Runtime: 120 minutes