Kabukimonogatari is the second story in Monogatari Second Season, and can be summarised as: What if Back to the Future Part II, but Monogatari? This is not a bad thing, as I am one of those weirdos for whom that darkness-tinged and narratively complex middle film is the best part of that cinematic trilogy. Tragedy-infused time-travel shenanigans are like catnip to me, hence my enduring love of Steins;Gate and other such mind-bending material.
DETAILED SPOILERS FOLLOW
This story appears to (at least initially) occur contemporaneously with the previous story - Nekomonogatari (White) - reviewed here. In that chapter, main character Koyomi Araragi was conspicuously absent. Kabukimonogatari is about what he got up to while Hanekawa battled her tiger demons elsewhere. While the sub-title of the story (Mayoi Jiangshi) would suggest a predominantly Mayoi Hachikuji-based adventure, little vampire cherub Shinobu receives the vast majority of screentime and hence character development. Though before that, we meet another addition to Araragi’s collection of strange acquaintances.
Ougi Oshino is introduced in the first episode during a conversation with Araragi on the school stairwell. There is immediately something “off” about her. I say “her” because she’s voiced by a female, but there’s something oddly androgynous about her and her eyes give me the creeps - empty black orbs. And she smirks like she knows something and isn’t about to share it. They chat about traffic lights and danger and risk and then that’s it. No explanation of who or what she is. Considering Shinobu also takes the name Oshino (presumably from wandering occult specialist Meme Oshino), this suggests that Ougi is probably some form of apparition. I’ll be keeping my eye on Ougi, while studiously avoiding spoilers if I can.
Yotsugi Ononoki randomly appears in the first episode too, for a chat and an ice cream. I still love her character design - so quirky and cute. I’m not sure what purpose she plays here other than to highlight parallels between hers, Aragagi’s and Mayoi’s situations as apparitions, no longer quite human, all beyond death. She also says she’s been summoned back to the city for some reason, so it looks like something else is happening in the background. I got the same impression from the previous story with the appearance of Gaen and Episode. With this series’ approach to non-linear storytelling, I expect all will be eventually explained.
At home, Araragi chats with Shinobu who reminds him he’s not completed his summer assignments and school restarts tomorrow. Araragi panics and asks Shinobu if there is a way she can time travel. She’s a blood sucking monstrosity who regularly flouts the laws of physics anyway, so of course she can. They go to the shrine (same place that Nadeko murdered all those snakes way back in Bakemonogatari) and using the pent up spiritual energy stored there, Shinobu opens a Big Black Portal to the past. In order for Araragi to gain more time to finish his summer homework, they step through. Surely nothing can possibly go wrong?
They find themselves 11-and-a-bit years earlier than expected. Shinobu glimpses a 6-year-old Araragi and displays the same kind of behaviour Araragi usually does around Mayoi and has to be forcibly restrained from doing something she might be arrested for. I breathed a sigh of relief for Kid Araragi that his older self held the monster back. They also meet an ickle Hanekawa who seems as bookish as her older self. Of course Araragi acts like a total creep towards her and is hilariously directed towards the local police station when he asks her for directions. He has decided to save Mayoi Hachikuji’s life - by some quirk of fate they’ve arrived the day before she’s due to die (in a road accident, on Mother’s Day, on the way to visit her mother) and he intends to save her.
In order to remain conspicuous/indulge his schoolgirl fantasy, Araragi ages-up Shibou and makes her dress in school uniform. This seems to provide little purpose as she’s straight back to normal in the next scene. I guess we have to pander to the little-schoolgirl-Shinobu-fetishists too.
They do eventually find a still-living Mayoi at the same park they met at 11 years in the future. She’s lost, staring at a map. In a totally avoidable but completely expected way, Araragi freaks her out by sneaking up on her and flipping up her skirt like a sex pest. Why this boy has not yet been arrested for child molestation yet, I’ll never know. I still don’t find this funny. Do people really get off seeing on little-girl-knickers? Is this really just played as a joke? If so, it’s getting so one-note and tiresome and makes me hate Araragi as a main character. Remember this isn’t ghost Mayoi who is 20+ years old in the body of a little girl. This is a real little girl. This is not ok.
So anyway, terrified, she runs from the paedophilic freak, almost gets run over and Araragi saves her. She doesn’t realise he’s the same disgusting nonce-boy she’s running from and thanks him. Araragi and Shinobu happily return to the future, good deed completed. The end. Everything is wonderul now. Except it isn’t. Araragi becomes an Omega-man style apocalypse survivor in an empty, desolate world where everyone he knows and loves is dead. That’s what you get for molesting little girls. Because of Shinobu and Araragi’s actions in the past, the world has ended. Well... kind of. The people are still sort of there, but now only come out at night and seem... not quite themselves.
They soon realise that something in this timeline led to Shinobu (as former identity Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade) to lose control and turn everyone in the world into failed minion/vampire/zombie/shadow monster things. Shinobu’s distress at this realisation is pretty affecting. It seems the only thing keeping Shinobu from destroying the world in the original timeline was her binding to Araragi. When he was killed by Tsubasa-cat in this new reality, their connection was severed, her powers returned and she went crazy. All because when she ran off in a jealous sulk (during the events of Nekomonogatari: Black), little ghost Mayoi wasn’t there to find her, and she wasn’t able to return to save Araragi from Hanekawa’s rampaging cat apparition.
So what’s the best thing to do when you find yourself trapped in a world empty of all living humans, hunted by formless shadow-monsters and and self-flagellating due to the crushing guilt of knowing everything was your fault? Have a fireworks party. Why not? Fireworks are pretty and mood-lifting in a way that hungry, shambling death-entities are not. Their impromptu pyrotechnic display attracts the attention of another survivor - would you have guessed it, but a grown-up Mayoi Hachikuji. Looks like Araragi did really save her - at the expense of basically everyone else. Meme Oshino, Yozuru and Kaiki seem to have survived too and have been fighting back against the insane Kiss-shot who tried to commit suicide but failed.
We unfortunately don’t get to spend much time with adult Hachikuji (though she refers to Araragi and Shinobu as kids!) as she hands a letter from Oshino with instructions for how Araragi can return to his own timeline - and pointedly not how to fix this one. Apparently he can’t fix this timeline, just skip tracks to another. That’s pretty bleak, but at least Mayoi will live on somewhere, I guess?
Araragi and Shinobu return to the shrine, resigned to fight a battle to the death with the full-powered Kiss-shot but in a reversal of expected story progression it turns out Kiss-shot wants to die anyway. She cries tears of blood in regret and lets little Shinobu drain her blood. There is no climactic blood-drenched battle scene. You’ll need to watch Kizumonogatari for that. The hope is that with Kiss-shot gone, all the altered humans will return to normal.
At the end, everything more or less returns to normal, they return to a world where Shinobu has not destroyed society and Mayoi Hachikuji is still dead. Araragi asks her if she’s happy being dead, and Mayoi, in an oddly heartwarming scene, admits that even though dying and not seeing her mother was awful, she’s been dead longer than she’s been alive and that’s what gave her the chance to meet Araragi. Even if he constantly molests her. She gets her own back by throwing him up and down in the air and threatening to lick him. Okay then...
Overall this was a pretty decent 4-episode story. The usual Monogatari production features are there - bright contrasting colour schemes with plenty of clean, straight lines, fast cuts and lengthy conversations. Due to the relative lack of violence and overt sexual content, this is the first Monogatari release to be rated at BBFC 12. The only objectionable material relates to the aforementioned inappropriate behaviour of Araragi towards minors. You could never get away with this in a live action show, so why it is such a feature of an animated production I’ll never know. It’s not funny and remains my major sticking point with Monogatari and why I can never show it to any of my friends or family. This is a shame, as so much else about the show is so positive. I love that Araragi and Shinobu’s relationship is developed and their dependence on each other explored and clarified. Now Araragi realises he musn’t let himself get killed, or Shinobu will destroy the world. No pressure there, then, I also love how Mayoi has come to accept her situation, helped by Araragi’s friendship. I just wish he treated her more like a little sister. Hang on, not like how he treats his actual sisters. Ok, scrap that idea.
The time travel plot was a little underdeveloped, but I guess we don’t come to Monogatari for hard sci-fi concepts or twisty-turny time shenanigans. Kabukimonogatari is a very simple story, but it is well told and in the end it is more about the journey of the characters than clever-clever causality contortions or predestination paradoxes. The earlier comparison I made to Back to the Future is really only skin-deep.
Next time I’ll be looking at Hanamonogatari, which although was not broadcast next, was originally supposed to be. It was the next published novel after Kabukimonogatari. In terms of chronicity... let’s not go there. The more I watch this show, the more I realise that the timeline is insane, everyone has a different opinion of the best way to watch it. I’m going with publication order, as best I can. Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Format: PAL Region 2 DVD/Region B Blu-ray
Writer: Akiyuki Shinbou, Fuyahi Tou
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Classification: BBFC 12
Distributor: MVM Entertainment
Original Japanese TV Broadcast: August 17th 2013 - September 7th 3 2013)
UK DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: 22 December 2014
Runtime: 96 minutes