Goodbyes are always difficult. As a kid I loved when my aunt and uncle visited for the weekend and would cry when they left, even though I knew it wouldn’t be long until I saw them again. That separation really hurt, though. Why couldn’t they just stay? As a child I couldn’t understand that people had jobs and responsibilities, things that meant their lives couldn’t revolve around me. This second season of Monogatari has been teaching viewers that the lives of its characters do not all revolve around Koyomi Araragi - and now Araragi himself is brought up to speed in devastating fashion.
I’ve mentioned the somewhat tortured chronology of this season before, and I am following original author NisiOisin’s light novel publication order. Whereas season 1 was mostly linear (apart from the final part Nekomonogatari: Black which acted as a prequel, plus the three endlessly delayed Kizumonogatari movies which were a prequel even to that), the second season is all over the place. We began with Nekomonogatari: White then Kabukimonogatari, which occurred contemporaneously (if stories that involve time travel can at all be referred to as such) with one another in August of Araragi’s senior high school year, jumped forwards eight months to the April after graduation for Hanamonogatari, then back to October for Otorimonogatari. Now with Onimonogatari we go back again to August because this story takes place the moment Kabukimonogatari ends, after Araragi and Shinobu return from the alternative timeline and reunite with the ghost version of Mayoi Hachikuji, but before the conclusion of Nekomonogatari: White. Convoluted, yes?
I am not entirely sure why NisiOisin constructed his story in this way. Perhaps he has terminal literary ADD and can’t stick to one plotline at a time, or perhaps this is part of some intricately constructed multi-layered temporal puzzle box? I don’t buy it. It seems haphazard and unfocused, like he’s probably writing about whatever the hell he feels like at the time. And that’s fine, I guess, but it does demand a lot of attention from the viewer and I’m not entirely convinced that a series like Monogatari really deserves nor adequately rewards such attention. Is this a franchise with anything particularly profound to say or is it merely a complex confection that is entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling? It’s certainly always interesting from a stylistic point of view, the deceptively simple characters reveal underlying complexities and grow with time, and NisiOisin clearly enjoys subverting expectations. But is it all worth it?
To answer that question I must consider who could I recommend this series as a whole to? Anime fans, obviously, but even then its appeal is a niche within a niche. Given the bizarre series naming scheme that defies easy purchasing and consumption without the aid of a wiki, the chaotic structure, the opaque storytelling, endless ephemeral conversations and extremely problematic fanservice, the best one can say in recommendation is “this series is fun, but...” And we’ll get to the biggest “but” in a moment. Onimonogatari is Monogatari at its most conflicted. It wants to tell a heartfelt, interesting story about identity, purpose and loss but gets dragged down into the mire by the author’s persistent fascination with off-colour fanservice involving minors. No matter how much I enjoy the other parts of this show, I just could not recommend this to anyone I know, and that makes me sad. When discussing this with my eldest son, he suggested perhaps they could make a “family-friendly PG-13 edit”. I advised him that there would be almost nothing left, so deep is the rot.
For a story with the subtitle “Shinobu Time”, it sure takes a long time to get to the point, for it’s not until the second episode that we start to learn about Shinobu’s backstory from 400 years ago when she was still the all-powerful “apparition-hunter” vampire Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade. (I wonder when they will get around to explaining that bizarre mouthful of a name?) Normally, Monogatari’s opening songs are sung by whichever actress voices that arc’s female focus character. Not so with Onimonogatari, which instead begins with a portentous, atmospheric chant that does seem a little out of place except for in the second episode. Apparently, Shinobu’s voice actress, although she is also a singer, declines to ever sing “in character”. Uh... whatever.
The first episode begins with little lost wandering ghost Mayoi Hachikuji admonishing Araragi for attempting to alter the timeline by preventing her death 11 years ago. Turns out she’s pretty happy as a ghost - she’s been dead longer than she was alive, and despite her protestations otherwise seems to enjoy hanging out with Araragi the pervert boy. Their chat about the difference between slugs and snails is cute but pointless and is cut short as they are chased by... something. Something terrifying but indescribable, invisible. Panicked, Araragi pedals his bike as fast as he can to seek safety.
They bump into Yotsugi Ononogi: snappily dressed, green-haired 12-year-old corpse girl who seems otherwise unengaged enough to assist our fleeing duo, and with a flick of her finger launches them into the air and improbably lands them at the old abandoned cram school in which Meme Oshino used to reside. (It’s not yet been destroyed by Tsubasa Hanekawa in this time period.) With the incomprehensible darkness/nothingness/whatever gone for now, Araragi wonders if it is because it was unable to track them following Yotsugi’s superhuman jump. With Hachikuji unconscious (can ghosts even get knocked out?), Yotsugi somewhat awkwardly complements Araragi on his physique and surprises him by stealing a kiss. His subsequent excitement draws out the previously slumbering Shinobu from within his shadow and when she learns of the dark entity chasing Araragi, starts to relate some of her past history.
Episode 2 of Onimonogatari may be the most visually experimental episode of the entire series so far, as it is mostly told via the medium of a lengthy single scrolling image that in itself is a fantastic work of art. 400 years ago, Shinobu (when she was still Kiss-shot) hung around in Antarctica “for the aurora”, ultimately deciding to leave due to the lack of people. (Oddities/apparitions like vampires need to be around people so that the stories and beliefs generated about them sustain their existence.) She finds herself in Japan, mistakenly revered as a god after she accidentally saves a village from drought and famine. Finding this comfortable life agreeable, she associates with a warrior who hunts apparitions and joins him on multiple occasions to help with this. Unfortunately living a dishonest life has consequences and the darkness chasing Araragi chased Shinobu 400 years ago and devoured all of her worshippers. We learn later that this happened because of her lie - she never corrected her believers that she was no god - so a manifestation of primal law snatched their lives away. She escaped only by returning to Antarctica and reverting to life as a vampire. Due to loneliness she revived her dead apparition-killer friend as a minion but he did not take it well, committing suicide by plunging himself into the sun’s rays, much as Araragi accidentally did in Kizumonogatari.
Sad story completed, Onimonogatari cannot help itself but to revert back to paedophilic “comedy” where Araragi not only surprises Shinobu with an unwelcome kiss but also repeatedly molests the newly awakened Mayoi Hachikuji. These extended scenes are painful, especially considering the tonal whiplash experienced after the serious, sad story Shinobu had just shared. The first time these scenes appeared it was merely uncomfortably light-hearted nonsense - some people may have found it funny but I did not. Now it just looks like the author needs a chemical castration injection so he can get on with telling his story without gross child-groping interludes.
Anyway, the creepy nothingness/darkness thing appears and once again they must rely on Yutsugi’s powers to escape. Araragi finds himself up a random mountain with Hachikuji unconscious once more, tended to by Yotsugi but without Shinobu (who instead has gone to interact with the other characters in the concurrent Nekomonogatari: Black.) Eventually they find cell reception and Yotsugi sends a message to her “sister” Yozuru requesting help. Instead, they stumble upon a house in which they find Izuko Gaen, aunt of Suruga Kanbaru.
I don’t quite get what Gaen’s deal is. Although outwardly she appears to be on the side of the angels, with constant rainbows and apparently helpful demeanour, she seems hyper-focused on her own goals and will use whatever situations arise to her benefit. We only ever see one eye because of the way she wears her baseball cap and that makes her seem shady to me. I guess she was an associate of both Kaiki and Oshino. She charms Araragi and gives him an overly-familiar nickname in a way that made my skin crawl. She also makes Araragi promise to 1) introduce her to her own niece, Kanbaru, 2) lie about her identity, 3) help (along with Kanbaru and her monkey arm) with some unspecified problem. Now there’s not enough time left in the season to explore what this plot is about, so I assume that’s something that’ll come up in the third season. Anyway, Araragi agrees and Gaen explains that the Darkness isn’t after either he or Shinobu, as he’d suspected. No - it’s after Hachikuji.
After dropping this bombshell, Gaen buggers off to wherever it is she comes from, leaving Araragi and Hachikuji to come to the awful realisation that it is finally time for her to move on to the next life. It seems that ever since Araragi and Senjogahara helped her find the location of her mother’s house way back in Bakemogatari, because she was no longer lost and does not wish to make anyone else lost she is not doing her job as the “lost cow” apparition. Much like when Shinobu pretended to be a god, Hachikuji is acting as something she is not, and the only way to stop the Darkness annihilating her is to revert to her original identity or disappear. Araragi pleads with her to stay with him, he even offers to give up 20 years of his life to wander, lost with her. Hachikuji can’t ask him to do this, and they agonise over saying goodbye. Finally, in an almost cute if it wasn’t still creepy way, Yotsugi hauls Hachikuji up onto her shoulders so her face can be level with Araragi’s to give him a goodbye kiss.
Ok, by this point I was a molten heap. I did not expect anything in Monogatari to actually make me feel something. It really sells how much these two characters love one another. Hachikuji states that even though she wandered the earth alone for 11 years, the past 3 months she’d spent with Araragi made it all worthwhile. I’m even tearing up recounting this now. I didn’t want Hachikuji to leave, no matter how much I hated her creepy interactions with pervert-boy. The story does not give her an easy way out though - and the ending is appropriately bittersweet and heartbreaking.
Jump forwards 4 months and Araragi recounts the story of Hachikuji’s disappearance to creepy dead-eyed Ougi Oshino. Araragi is clearly suspicious of Ougi, as is Shinobu who suspects Ougi is an apparition of some kind. Araragi has told no-one else that Hachikuji’s gone, meaning he’s held onto this pain alone, living and acting as if she was still around. What Ougi will do with this information will be interesting, and again I expect this plot line will be explored further in the third season.
As should be obvious, I have mixed feelings about this particular arc. I loved the Shinobu flashback and found Hachikuji’s final goodbye to be very affecting. The rest of it though... So much uncomfortable barn-door paedophilic scenes and off-colour humour that spoils the whole story. Such high highs and low lows seem to be integral to Monogatari’s identity and I cannot recommend it without making apologies for those lows. Perhaps the next arc, Koimonogatari, the final part of Second Season will be easier to wholeheartedly recommend.
Format: PAL Region 2 DVD/Region B Blu-ray
Directors: Tomoyuki Itamura, Akiyuki Shinbou
Writer: Akiyuki Shinbou
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Classification: BBFC 15
Distributor: MVM Entertainment
Original Japanese TV Broadcast: October 26th - November 16th 2013
UK DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: 16th March 2015
Runtime: 96 minutes
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