The title of this miniseries in the Monogatari franchise is a tricky one to translate, with an ambiguity of meaning that is probably beyond the understanding of somebody trying to dip a toe into the Japanese language like me, but our most useful translation is probably “possession story”. This refers to Yotsugi, who is both a possessed doll and a reanimated corpse. She is a fascinating mix of cuteness and slightly disturbing, expressionless inhumanity, and the nature of her existence is important here in comparison to Koyomi, because he is on the verge of becoming an inhuman monster as well.
We have known Koyomi as a sort of half-vampire right from the start of Bakemonogatari, retaining his humanity but with the ability to use vampire powers, particularly rapid healing. When he discovers that he no longer has a reflection, he asks Shinobu for advice and she has a warning for him. He has used his powers so often that he is turning into a full vampire and the process is irreversible. He cannot regain the humanity he has lost, but he can stop it from progressing any further by no longer relying on his supernatural abilities. For somebody who has always used his powers to help save people, regularly risking his own life in the knowledge that he can heal himself, the prospect of having to show restraint and keep out of trouble is not good news. This four-episode arc is about Yotsugi stepping in to show Koyomi what it really means to be a monster, before it’s too late.
Koyomi’s half-hearted resolution to no longer use his powers is put to the test immediately when Suraga and Koyomi’s sisters are all kidnapped. It will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Monogatari that the resolution to this problem is dispensed with quickly in the final episode, with most of the miniseries dedicated to Koyomi talking about his predicament with other characters, mainly Yozuru, who features more in this season than ever before. It will also come as little surprise to Monogatari fans that the lengthy conversation scenes work brilliantly even if some of the wordplay in the original language is lost on us, as these scenes are nearly always a visual treat. This arc takes place against a snowy backdrop, which is a suitable visual metaphor for the coldness of Yotsugi’s true nature, and the coldness that threatens to engulf Koyomi’s soul. There is also a smattering of comedy moments that are funnier than anything we have seen before. During one chat between Koyomi and Yozuru, a battle plays out in the background between old rivals Shinobu and Yotsugi, who have a snowman making contest and then progress to an incredibly violent snowball fight. It was so entertaining that it made the subtitles impossible to follow at the same time, without replaying the scene again.
If you’re a Monogatari fan you will be used to the diversions into the realms of somewhat questionable fanservice in which this show sometimes indulges. This is confined mainly to the opening episode, with Koyomi noticing his lack of reflection at the end of a lengthy sequence where he bathes with one of his younger sisters, soaping her up quite intimately. Elsewhere the fanservice is more restrained, but no less disturbing for it. A long conversation plays out with Koyomi lifting up Yotsugi’s skirt. We never see what he sees, which is unusually restrained for this series, but I actually found it a lot more disturbing than the bath scenes because Yotsugi is clearly troubled by what Koyomi is doing and has to remind him that she is capable of feeling shame, and yet he persists. It plays into a strong theme of this arc: Koyomi is going to have to start growing up a bit soon, and he is resistant to change. Previous arcs have been systematically stripping away his friends from him, and it seems like this one is going to do the same for Yotsugi. In the end, her actions (which are shocking and impressive) are designed to show him what it means to be a monster, and to a certain extent he does lose her because he cannot look at her in the same way again, but on the other hand it looks like the future for Koyomi will actually include Yotsugi on even more of a day-to-day basis. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This show continues to be impressively ambiguous and rarely straightforward. It reminds us that life is messy and friendships, relationships and feelings are rarely simple. It will be fascinating to see where things go from here. Koyomi has often been the saviour of others, putting his life on the line for his friends. If he continues to do that, he will lose himself. The power balance just shifted, and Koyomi’s world suddenly feels a lot more dangerous. RP
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