This short series in the Monogatari saga runs for just four episodes and focuses on a single arc, adapted from one book in the light novel series. Anyone who has watched a few anime series will have probably picked up pretty quickly that neko means cat, so it will come as no surprise that this is a prequel to the Tsubasa Cat arc from Bakemonogatari. This arc is titled Tsubasa Family, although we only see Tsubasa’s family briefly when their bodies are being dragged along a street.
This is a bit of a tough one to watch at times, because it tells the story of how Tsubasa is being beaten up by her foster father and how that, along with her great intellect, plays into her possession by a “cursed cat”. This is also the story of how Koyomi’s feelings towards Tsubasa deepen, to the point where he is willing to throw away his life for her, but there is an interesting examination of how somebody can have feelings that deep for a person without feeling drawn to them in a romantic way. There are many different shades of love.
As usual for this show there is a lot of talking, so you will need to be a quick reader of subtitles to follow it all, especially if you want to appreciate the visual impact this series has at the same time. The Monogatari franchise has always been a remarkable work of art, not in the traditional sense of attractive vistas, but in its striking images, stark contrasts and occasional bursts of life into impressive full animation after the quieter moments. Those captions with things like the scene numbers keep flashing up on the screen as usual, and I still don’t see much point in all that, but by now you tend to barely even notice them any more.
I found this miniseries a challenge to appreciate, simply because I’m not a fan of the character of Tsubasa, who seems to have been overused so far, in comparison with some more interesting and likeable characters to whom we were introduced in Bakemonogatari. But these four episodes explore her shared backstory with Koyomi very competently, and Tsubasa’s cat form is a representation of beauty and menace, which is both appealing and disturbing to watch. Naturally, we are waiting for the big battle between the two main characters to save Tsubasa, which doesn’t disappoint. It’s as gory as viewers of this show will have come to expect, but also extremely clever, and represents a moment of supreme intelligence, bravery and selflessness from Koyomi. He is a far cry from many anime main characters with their weak personalities, and he is also refreshingly honest about his natural teenage impulses when it comes to the opposite sex, unlike most male leads in anime who tend to act like the pure-hearted victims of circumstance when thrown into contact with girls by luck or misadventure and then do everything possible to avoid progressing any kind of a relationship. Koyomi is much more believable as a teenage boy, even with his special powers and remarkable courage.
But the really interesting character here is obviously Tsubasa Hanekawa, whether you love her or are slightly indifferent towards her, as I have been. As has always been the case so far, her possession is also metaphorically a manifestation of her own inner demons, and is inextricably linked to her emotional state. Much of the fast-paced dialogue is of course philosophising about that and also the nature of Koyomi’s feelings for her. Being healed by someone who truly cares about her is just as important as being healed by his clever trick. There is some indication that Tsubasa’s oddness has provoked her treatment in a house that is definitely not a home, but it is also that troubling, unnatural aspect of her nature that makes her a tough character to truly like as a viewer (I suspect her fans probably like the fanservice she provides as a catgirl in knickers more than the person she is). That brings us uncomfortably close to the feelings of alienation towards her that her abusive foster father felt, but this is never a show that exists to comfort us. It might have happy endings, like most anime, but it certainly challenges the viewer along the way. This arc in particular offers us beauty, danger, and a different kind of love. How very feline. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Nekomonogatari (White)