Endings are tricky things to get right, and few anime series even run long enough to get to the point of concluding their stories. Strictly speaking this is not quite an ending, for reasons we will discuss later, but it certainly feels like one, and it functions as a conclusion to everything that has happened up to this point. It’s so coherent that it feels like this ending was planned from the start; if it wasn’t, then it’s a remarkable exercise in drawing together a huge amount of plot threads and bringing them all to a climax at once, in a way that links them all together. Even seemingly throwaway, background plot developments such as Hanakawa’s globe-trotting ends up being essential to what happens at the end.
After the side-steps of the first season of Owarimonogatari, we finally pick up where Koyomimonogatari left off, with Koyomi dead and meeting Mayoi in the underworld. We are presented with a surreal visual treat while the two of them travel through hell. Immediately the writer starts engaging with his big themes of the season: Koyomi’s past actions, his self-doubt, and his uncertain future. To a certain extent this arc inevitably undermines the beautiful, bittersweet ending to Mayoi’s story in Onimonogatari. It had to. But I’m not complaining because we got Mayoi back again, and the point where Koyomi decides she is more important than following any rules or the danger that saving her could pose to himself or anyone else is one of those rare moments when you are watching television and want to punch the air in celebration. Importantly, this season doesn’t just reverse what happened to Mayoi. It moves her story forwards and finds a better resolution that is the work of genius.
The two arcs that conclude the season make up one coherent story between them, albeit with a fairly disposable episode that sees Koyomi going on a date with Senjougahara, which retreads some old ground (which isn’t in itself inappropriate for a concluding season like this). There is a central mystery to solve, which is the nature of Ougi’s existence, and it would appear that she poses a threat to Koyomi, the newly restored Shinobu and Mayoi in particular. With just one episode to go, Koyomi reveals exactly who Ougi is, and it’s a hugely surprising and very clever moment. Her story is resolved in the way that all Koyomi’s adventures have been resolved: with Koyomi risking his life to put somebody else before himself, and worry about the consequences when they happen. The way he has always put others first has been a major contributing factor to the success of his character. So many anime shows with mostly female casts have insipid, uninspiring male leads, but Koyomi is that rare beast in anime: a hero who actually deserves all the attention he gets, while questioning his own self-worth. He is a strong contender for the best main character in any anime series. But his constant willingness to sacrifice himself has always been linked to something approaching self-loathing, and that finally gets resolved here in a remarkably clever way.
Nearly all the major characters up to this point have an important part to play in the end of Koyomi’s adolescence. That’s the way the story is framed, and it’s the perfect way to approach an ending to a long-running story. After all, the transition from childhood to adulthood also feels like the end of a long-running story, but also represents the start of something new. Koyomi’s relationships with most of the girls in his life are re-examined, questioned, and restated, which is important with him moving into his adulthood and his girlfriend looking likely to become his wife in the fullness of time. It’s to the credit of the writer that jealousy has never played much of a role in this show, and instead Koyomi is allowed to love more than one girl in his life, but in different ways. In particular, the way Koyomi and Shinobu are soul mates has never been made clearer than here, with her restored to her adult, deadly dangerous form and still completely devoted to her “master”. The best part of an episode goes by with Shinobu’s arms wrapped protectively around Koyomi and it’s the most natural thing in the world at that point. It matters not one jot that it’s not his girlfriend who is embracing him, or that Mayoi is there too, a girl whose love for Koyomi has been acknowledged and is reciprocated. The writing is more mature than that. It’s just not an issue at all. What a refreshing change from the massed ranks of harem anime series which either fail to conclude or have to end up with a crowd of losers in love and just one winner. Ironically for a show where the main character has often engaged in sexually charged behaviour, we reach a conclusion where love means so much more than anything physical. The show has grown up with the characters.
Almost inevitably for a long-running, successful show, an ending becomes a pause instead. The light novels have continued long after this point, and we have one final anime season to watch, which looks at what happens after an ending. By offering us a coda season, Monogatari continues to reflect life, which is rarely punctuated by tidy endings. There’s always a what-happens-next. RP