Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be returning to one of the series that actually started my anime writing career, way back when I was just making rambling reddit posts. That’s right, it’s time to check out Zoku Owarimonogatari, the as-of-now final piece in the vast Monogatari tapestry.
Monogatari has been one of my favorite series ever since 2013’s Second Season blew my mind, offering a richness of characterization and purposefulness of visual storytelling that basically no other series can match. In fact, as far as character writing goes, I consider it and Evangelion to be the peak works of the medium, exploring the nuances of identity formation and interpersonal relations with a subtlety, sharpness, and compassion that puts them in the running with the great works of film and literature. Frankly, if Monogatari weren’t so good, I’m not sure I’d be writing about anime right now – it was the brilliance of this show’s characters that provoked in me a need to write about these stories, and it was the positive response to that writing that gave me the encouragement to keep going.
This franchise embodies that particular alchemy that is most resonant to me in anime, that combination of deep-dive character studies, doggedly humanist themes, and visual synthesis of both that first electrified me as a teenager, back when Evangelion became my favorite work of art. It is a rare and beautiful thing, a harnessing of animation’s infinite aesthetic potential, as well as anime’s often deeply personal priorities, in order to make the raw clay of human nature viscerally felt and transcendently visualized. Though I can certainly appreciate visual splendor, I will always be a writer at heart, and Isin is one of the greatest authors to lend his pen to animation. His work has had a profound impact on my aesthetic sensibilities and life more generally, and it all started with Bakemonogatari.
All that said, in my view, the greater arc of the Monogatari franchise was essentially concluded by Owarimonogatari Second Season. As such, I’m expecting this to be more of a victory lap than an essential addition to the canon, and have preemptively forgiven it for its presumably extraneous nature. Of course, “extraneous Monogatari” is still one of the best writers to touch anime riffing on his masterpiece, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty to savor in this encore performance. For perhaps the very last time, let’s dive into the world of Monogatari!
Ah, that familiar “Chapter 1.” Monogatari makes no effort to hide its origins, and is better for it – after all, Tatsuya Oishi’s Bakemonogatari was already a mixed media buffet in the first place. Holism or naturalism of aesthetics have never been among the franchise’s priorities; why should they be, in a story that’s all about how we personally construct the world around us out of our own psychological assumptions?
HAH! Oh god I love this franchise so much. The very first thing we open with is Araragi admitting that his story is over, and that there’s nothing left to add to it. Oh my god, I missed Isin so goddamn much. It is so delightful to be in conversation with a writer as sharp, self-aware, and self-critical as this
Yeah, he almost apologizes for this existing at all, while literally running down the book covers of all the personal stories we’ve finished
“Their bonus levels, or perhaps their lost levels. However, that’s no reason to think less of them.” Trust in Isin to basically presage his own victory lap with the same apology I opened my analysis with
The opening song puts an echo on Araragi’s voice, emphasizing how these stories are “echoes” of the actual narrative, alternative threads
“Koyomi Reverse.” Even the music sounds like it’s playing backwards, being fed back into a tape loop
And ah, this familiar, austere, utterly unreal background aesthetic. Home
We pick up with Araragi after high school graduation, on the first day his sisters no longer shake him awake
Araragi acknowledges this as the first time in his life when his path forward is uncertain
I suppose this show has a bit of an inherent advantage in that it can just lean entirely on Isin’s prose, while the screen is less “animated” than an interesting shadow puppet slide show. Having abandoned any semblance of moment-to-moment reality right from the first season, it can portray any sequence of events as cut-paper theater, flashes of color, or whatever it wishes without disrupting the “integrity” or “reality” of the illusion. There is no illusion, Araragi is talking directly to you, he’s already admitted we’re in supplementary materials
I suppose that might be maddening for people who’re accustomed to a certain degree of standard execution in relaying animated drama, but goddamn is that ever not me. Now I just want to watch Katanagatari again
It’s also clear that this portion is adapting chapters almost word-by-word, as opposed to the often rapid cuts between chapters of prior segments. As a result, Araragi’s self-effacing humor comes through more consistently
And “Koyomi Reflection” emerges at last, as his face remains in the mirror when he walks away. Seems like a fine metaphor for the experiences he’s currently feeling – as he just explained, he’s reached the first point in his life where he’s no longer certain what “Koyomi Araragi” really means, and thus his own reflection is distant from him
Wonderful distortion effects as he gets drawn into the mirror, drawing on the natural kinship between a mirror and the reflection of a still pool of water
Araragi believes he was just half-asleep, but we can see the orientation of his bathroom has flipped. He’s inside the mirror
Karen appears, though her voice is distorted. And she’s naked, which I’ve long since accepted as the bargain this production made allowing it to be this smart and literate yet somehow also profitable
Yotsugi appears, but she’s acting far more like Yozuru in both posture and expression. She immediately breaks the fourth wall, of course, nitpicking about how the “doll master” was supposed to obey the same don’t-touch-the-ground rules as Yozuru
Oh my god why is Yotsugi making these faces, please stop it. Apparently the mirror-reflection of emotionless Yotsugi is this horrible cat-face person
She has nothing but textual critiques, now lambasting Isin himself about how the last scene of last season didn’t naturally segue into Hanamonogatari. I’m reminded of when I reached the end of Eccentric Family’s first season, wondering how they’d square the professor’s ethos, and then he outright admitted that this was “defeat, ideological defeat!”
Shinobu refuses to wake up. Shinobu’s sleepiness is one of Isin’s most convenient dramatic devices – she’s so powerful that she can often resolve conflicts the moment she arrives, thus, the sleepiness
“It’s hard to think of anything I haven’t relied on her for.” Damn straight
Oh my god. Now Araragi’s own internal monologue is roasting him, as he applauds himself for coming up with like a quarter of the idea Kaiki used to resolve Hitagi End
Goddamn Hitagi End. This show really is something special – one of the weird, brilliant gems you’d only find in anime
Holy shit, it’s adult Hachikuji, and she’s beating the shit out of Araragi in her delight at seeing him. Wonderful content
At last, vengeance is earned, as Mayoi subjects Araragi to every bit of his usual abuse
Mayoi has gleefully embraced the condescending Onee-san persona, and it suits her very well
Mayoi describes the situation as “everyone’s been reversed in some way,” which is a generous read of their various differences, but we’ll run with it
“It stands to reason Shinobu won’t show up, because vampires don’t appear in mirrors.” Oh Isin, you self-satisfied little bastard, that is too cute by half
Araragi actually had thought of this mirror conclusion before, but had dismissed it as too silly to be considered. And now that Mayoi raises it, he’s genuinely mad at Isin
The rules are just all kinds of messy here in mirror-world, as Mayoi explains. Everything here is a contradiction, and so contradictions like the simultaneous existence and non-existence of Shinobu aren’t such a big deal
Araragi posits that because his reflection in the mirror was still, this world is just a reflection of a moment in time, with no past or future
With the puddles all around reflecting the blue sky in a loud evocation of this arc’s theme, the shrine has never looked more bright or inviting. Mayoi really cleaned up the place
Even Mayoi acknowledges what a broken deus-ex-machina Shinobu is. For all this show’s focus on strange paranormal mysteries, the solution is always either obvious or based on some emotional breakthrough – which, in turn, is part of why I love it so much. I find mysteries with purely mechanical solutions totally uninteresting, since I’m into stories for characters and themes, while Monogotari constantly raises mysteries only to reveal that they’re actually about characters and themes after all
I also appreciate this story’s oddly common-sense approach to fantastical scenarios. If Shinobu isn’t here in this world, then simply have her open the portal from the other side!
God damn is it nice to see this cast and this world again! As expected, this story doesn’t feel essential in the slightest – but even Isin acknowledged that first thing, encouraging us to just enjoy some additional adventures with this wonderfully realized crew. And with the current pace of adaptation, it is quite easy to do that, letting Isin’s rambling prose and SHAFT’s familiar aesthetic serve as a warm blanket of wit and comfort. Also, adult Mayoi is always fantastic, and seeing Araragi get his comeuppance is precisely the sort of indulgent riff I was hoping for. I’m sure there’ll be more poignant moments ahead, but for now, I’m happy just to be back enjoying this strange and delightful world.
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