At first this season feels like an odd backwards step for the Monogatari franchise. We begin with a prequel to Bakemonogatari, with Koyomi and Tsubasa investigating a minor mystery concerning a shrine in their school’s gardens. It all seems oddly low key and irrelevant, and by the second episode, which concerns Hitagi and Koyomi investigating flowers, the season was already trying my patience. I shouldn’t have worried.
The season progresses through a year of Koyomi’s life, pretty much one month at a time, with each episode featuring a different girl in his life. By the third episode I was already enjoying the series a whole lot more, with the chance to see the sadly departed Mayoi again, and the mystery she brings to Koyomi is actually quite a clever one when the explanation is revealed, concerning how a demonic shape appears in a park sandbox every night. The next couple of episodes are fairly disposable ones, featuring Suruga and then Nadeko. All these episodes are typically dialogue-heavy, which any Monogatari fan will be expecting anyway, but however insignificant the stories might seem there is always a nostalgia kick to be had by revisiting an earlier time in Koyomi’s life, helped by the reuse of old opening title sequences.
After a couple of episodes centring on the fire sisters, who are always fun to watch, we get a rare treat with the very creepy Ougi as the centre of attention, followed by a bit of light relief with Shinobu having a contest with Koyomi over who gets to eat some doughnuts. The tenth episode was my favourite, but then I am biased because the feature character is Yotsugi, who I think is a genius creation on the part of the writer and animators. This episode really illustrates the quality of the animation for this particular season, with frequent shots panning around Yotsugi, which are beautifully fluid and really bring the character to life.
The final two episodes are a very different proposition to the rest of the season, so before I get to those I just want to talk in general terms about this particular run of Monogatari. So what we have here is a collection of side stories. Manga readers will be familiar with those. After a certain number of chapters in a manga series, you often get a bonus story that is separate from the main narrative. It can be tangential to what has gone before, or can be an entirely separate interlude with familiar characters. It’s often a chance for a breather, but also to enjoy being in the company of characters we like and get to know them a bit better. That’s exactly what this season does, for ten of the twelve episodes. Is a very slick show, aided by the fact that the characters are all established, the animators know exactly what they are doing with them all by now, and also the running time for each episode is only about half the length of most anime episodes. At about 12 minutes each, if you don’t take the title sequences into account, and with 12 episodes in total, there is a strong sense of time passing during one year, and as we get towards the end of the series that makes for a tonal shift, because Koyomi knows that his days are numbered. There is a strong sense of impending finality to his story, and that’s where the stunning final two episodes come in.
The two focal characters are Yozuru and Gaen, probably the two most enigmatic people in Koyomi’s life. I won’t spoil what happens, but I’ll just say that if you find this season relatively disposable, you are going to want to watch the last two episodes, because they reach a climax with a moment the entire franchise has been building up to, and it’s remarkably quick and brutal when it happens. Just when you think this show can’t get any more inventive, there is a coda at the end that offers up a huge plot twist and the promise of great things to come. It will make fans of one particular character very happy indeed.
With the swish of a sword we go from side stories, which you can take or leave, to a moment around which the whole show pivots. Then again, Monogatari has rarely been a series that concerned itself with following the usual narrative patterns. It’s far more weird and wonderful than that. RP
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