We have reached the final, six-episode arc in the second full season of Monogatari, and the focus is mainly on two protagonists. Hitagi Senjogahara has been largely neglected as a character for a very long time, her relationship with Koyomi remaining a private matter that the viewers are not privy to, so her involvement is not before time, and is independent of Koyomi. In an attempt to sort out the problem of Nadeko, which reached a crisis point in Otorimonogatari, and save the lives of Koyomi and Shinobu, Hitagi enlists the help of Kaiki. He has only been an occasional character up to this point, but he is the main player in this arc, and we experience events from his perspective.
This is not the first time we have had a main, focal character who is not Koyomi. We started this season with an arc like that, with Nekomonogatari (White) told largely from the perspective of Tsubasa, while we were pretty much inside Nadeko’s head for Otorimonogatari. But this feels very different because Kaiki has previously been an antagonist, creating some of the problems that Koyomi and his friends have had to face. A show that can take an antagonist and use that character as the hero this effectively is an indication of some remarkably clever writing. The brilliance of this show is also indicated by the fact that Koyomi is almost entirely absent from the first and final arcs of the season, and it doesn’t matter. Everyone will have their favourite characters, and personally I enjoy the arcs that feature Koyomi and Shinobu strongly, but there is such a range of strong characters in this show that having entire arcs go by without them still works. Shinobu isn’t in this finale arc at all, and Koyomi has little more than a cameo appearance. Kaiki is our temporary hero, helped along the way by Hitagi, Tsubasa and Yotsugi.
I have to admit to being just slightly disappointed because this breaks all the rules of drama and it’s difficult to do that without leaving the viewer feeling a little bit cheated. By the end of Otorimonogatari it was clear that Nadeko was too strong for Koyomi and Shinobu, having become a snake god, and they had been thoroughly defeated. The laws of drama would normally dictate that the finale should feature a rematch to turn the tables, but instead the climax to this season is a battle of intelligence between Nadeko and Kaiki. Both of them seem to underestimate the other, and there are some great twists and turns along the way. It almost felt like watching a mystery story unfolding, with Kaiki taking on a detective role and trying to find some kind of a chink in Nadeko’s emotional armour and understand what makes her tick. That’s not an easy task, with an enemy who was emotionally closed off even before she abandoned her humanity, and didn’t seem to genuinely love anyone or anything, but the key to the problem is a secret hidden in her bedroom. The solution for Kaiki combines the mundane with a deep exploration of psychology, in a way that only Monogatari can do.
Looking at Monogatari: Second Season as a whole, it is an incredible collection of episodes, but it is not flawless. The pacing is slightly off, thanks to the understandable choice of giving the first and final arcs the most episodes, but in terms of the stories each arc is telling those are the two that drag on a bit and could have done with being shortened to three or four episodes each. In contrast, Kabukimonogatari in particular feels rushed, and explores an idea and a different world that could probably have filled a whole season. It also feels like a show where the writers don’t quite understand where their strengths lie, and as much as Tsubasa and Hitagi are more than capable of carrying the narrative, and in any other show would be exceptional focal characters, they are unlikely to ever be quite as interesting or as fun to watch as Koyomi, Shinobu or Mayoi, all of whom are relegated to mid-season adventures rather than the opening to the season (surely a time for bringing in new fans) and the big finale arc. As always, this is a show that requires a little patience, but the rewards for that patience are frequently sublime.
We will return to the world of Monogatari in a few weeks, when we look at the mini-series Tsukimonogatari. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Tsukimonogatari