The second season of Monogatari continues with Kabukimonogatari, a four-episode arc. If Nekomonogatari (White), which proceeded it, felt like there was not enough story to stretch to five episodes, this is quite the opposite. A complex butterfly effect plot is packed into four episodes, and it’s hugely exciting from beginning to end.
In the first episode Koyomi and Shinobu decide to travel back into the past. This is no problem for Shinobu, because there isn’t much she can’t do with her supernatural powers, but she aims for one day into the past and ends up going back eleven years. This gives Koyomi the opportunity to change the past by saving the life of his friend Mayoi, so she will no longer die on Mothers’ Day and will not have to be a ghost. Shinobu thinks that destiny cannot be changed, so it’s a fool’s errand, but Koyomi raises the very valid point that if fate reasserts itself and Mayoi just gets killed the next day, or the day after, at least she would not have to die on Mothers’ Day. It looks for one horrible moment like Koyomi will accidentally cause the accident that killed Mayoi rather than prevent it (this arc keeps us guessing), but he does end up saving her, and returns to the present day with Shinobu. They arrive in a post-apocalyptic world, with the human race apparently wiped out and zombies roaming the streets.
This inevitably invites a guessing game for the viewer. How could that have happened? Shinobu immediately dismisses the idea that Mayoi was significant enough to cause an apocalypse. The answer is absolutely ingenious and more than a little mind-bending. It is also drip-fed to us over the course of a couple of episodes, so just when I thought I had figured it out I realised I hadn’t yet grasped the whole picture. I found the explanation enormously clever, and while I can’t pretend to be an expert on the theoretical science of time travel, it all made perfect sense to me.
If there’s one fault I have with this arc, it’s over far too quickly. I wanted to spend so much more time in this alternate world. A few people have survived, one of whom is Mayoi, whom Koyomi and Shinobu eventually meet in her adult form, the person she could have been. It’s a big moment, and Mayoi is, if anything, an even better character as an adult than she is as a child, so it was a shame to be in her company for such a short time. The post-apocalyptic world is also visually stunning and feels incredibly dangerous, despite the powers and survival abilities of the two main characters.
There is one moment I have to mention, because it feels wrong to turn a blind eye to these matters. Viewers of this series will have already sat through a couple of scenes in previous arcs where Koyomi’s attitude to younger characters seems perverted. When he happens to meet Tsubasa as a young girl, his reaction is played for laughs but might be uncomfortable for viewers who take it too seriously, which I don’t think is the intention, but let’s just assume something that ameliorates this particular flavour of comedy is lost in translation and leave it at that.
Nicely balancing against that is Koyomi’s relationship with Shinobu. Back in Nisemonogatari, I mentioned how a controversial bath scene with Koyomi and Shinobu naked together illustrates beautifully their entirely comfortable relationship with each other, living as a combined entity, with Shinobu always with Koyomi, either in person or in his shadow. Their relationship throughout this arc is a thing of great beauty: completely wholesome and at times visually paternal, with Koyomi carrying Shinobu around like a child who has got a bit heavy for being carried, and later cuddling her while they talk about their predicament, with his protective arms around the ancient vampire in the body of a child who lives in his shadow, as if that’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s bizarrely heart-warming, but if there’s one thing this arc illustrates more than anything else it’s how much Shinobu has changed by being in Koyomi’s company. For reasons I can’t go into without spoiling the cause of the apocalypse, Shinobu realises she is very different to the person she used to be, and she has become a much, much better person. That, I think, is this show’s greatest strength: the way it examines how much somebody can change thanks to the company they keep. Shinobu arrived in this series as a great character. Now, she’s magnificent. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Hanamonogatari