“Be careful that you don’t fall for me. That would be incestuous.” “I’ve already fallen for you.”
|With the final showdown with Kaiki scheduled, Koyomi had run into a pickle when Karen decided to go off on her own last episode. I promised that this arc finale would be eventful, so without further ado, here we go to Karen Bee part 7!|
Shinobu leads Koyomi right to his sister, who collapsed at a bus stop under a highway overpass while trying to get far away from home. She refuses to come home with him, and thus proceeds the most brutal beatdown Koyomi has received since his dealings with Kanbaru during Suruga Monkey. It gets so bad that it even disturbs Shinobu, who is just trying to get some sleep in his shadow.
Even during their unexpectedly spectacular altercation, the siblings find a way to continue of their conversation about strength and justice. Koyomi drills home home the same point to her, that she may be just, but she lacks strength. And Karen still stubbornly refuses to back down, claiming that she is strong, as evidenced by her complete domination of her brother in fisticuffs.
One of the less severe bits of Karen’s beatdown of Koyomi.
The turning point comes when Koyomi explains exactly what he means by “strength.” That is, he believes that his sisters aren’t strong and calls them “fakes” because they fight for others instead of for themselves. By claiming to fight for the sake of others, they are actually hiding behind them, when they should be finding their own reasons to fight. And Koyomi pulls out the big brother card, saying that his reason for fighting is to protect his little sisters of whom he is so proud. This gets through to Karen, and she lets him go fight Kaiki alone.
Fast forward to that evening, when Koyomi and Hitagi meet Kaiki on a department store roof. Kaiki is as cool as ever, not batting an eye despite being cornered. He tells them straight up that Karen will get better in a few days, and he will return all the money he swindled off of Hitagi’s father. But that’s too easy, isn’t it? Just like us, Hitagi is skeptical of Kaiki’s repentance, but she manages to hold herself back from killing him. As flatly as ever, Kaiki just tells her that he’s no one great, that life isn’t that dramatic, and he’s just following the path of least resistance – and most profit.
As for Araragi’s sister, Kaiki clarifies to him exactly what he did to her: the sting of the Fire-Wreathed Bee is actually a falsehood, a trick of hypnosis that he pulled on her and all the other middle schoolers. Thus given a few days, she and Koyomi both will go back to normal. And this sort of fakery also extends to Kaiki himself, who claims not to know the supernatural; he merely takes advantage of those who believe that they do.
Hitagi gets crabby.
Before Kaiki leaves, he lets slip that back when he was conning Hitagi, she had fallen in love with him, much to Koyomi’s surprise. When Koyomi asks her about it, Hitagi first denies it, but also comments that she would have fallen for anyone who helped her, and that that is why she is so glad that it was Koyomi who saved her in the end. As for the request of hers she alluded to previous episode? Well, she just wants to be “treated gently” tonight :).
In a reversal of the Bakemonogatari tradition of ending each arc with Koyomi being awoken by his sisters, Koyomi goes to their room the next morning to find them sleeping. He leaves them alone, but they’re up quickly, ready to go out and help all the people still suffering from Kaiki’s curses.
As Koyomi calls them, “yuri sisters,” indeed!
And thus ends Karen Bee, the first of the 2 “Fake Stories.” I had eagerly anticipated the events of this episode, mainly for the fight scene that was animated in a distinctly Shaft way. Would you believe me if I said that, excepting the completely over-the-top stuff such as Koyomi being sent flying and the bridge collapsing, the anime was pretty much a blow-for-blow recounting of the scene from the novel, all the fancy throws, spins, feints, and kicks included? Koyomi kept commenting how none of Karen’s moves seemed to come from karate; indeed, he explicitly pointed out that she was using capoeira moves toward the end. As per usual, the adaptation was very different from my expectations. I would have liked for the fight to have gone on a little longer, just to emphasize how much pain Koyomi had to go through in the fight.
His final explanation about justice that got through to Karen came down to the same lesson that’s in countless media about adolescence and growing up: to be strong means to do things for oneself. There is something endearing about children like Karen and Tsukihi who want justice to rule the world – indeed, Koyomi is proud of them for it – but that is ultimately fakery, hiding behind fancy ideals and the desires of others instead of oneself. If you want to mete out justice, you have to want to do it for your own selfish reasons, such as protecting your little sisters, or else you will fail. It’s a classic lesson about pragmatics over idealism.
The really big twist this episode was that the Fire-Wreathed Bee was merely a “fake,” a wholly fabricated psychosomatic disease (Nisio Isin writing about falsifying history?). That took care of Karen’s issue in one fell swoop, though it certainly raised more questions, some of which the show attempted to answer. The main one being, of course, how the heck did a fake curse cause real trouble? If it didn’t exist, how did it transfer over from Karen to Koyomi, and how could Kaiki tell that, even ignoring that he claimed not to believe in the supernatural? In fact, Kaiki continued to display an incredible awareness of the supernatural, being able to tell immediately that Hitagi had regained her weight and that there was someone hiding within Koyomi’s shadow.
Kaiki proved to be a fascinating villain to the very end. Dry and self-deprecating, he was a sociopathic liar, letting no ideals, morals, or pride get in the way of his chase of money. I’m not familiar with his voice actor Shinichiro Miki, his deadpan voice fit perfectly, calm and creepy, without any snark or sarcasm. Of course, the black and red lighting that dominated his scenes and his unchanging facial expression helped as well. Gotta give props to Shaft for adding so much to Kaiki in the process of adapting him from novel to anime.
Perhaps Kaiki was too neutral, which made the resolution of this arc too easy. But this being Nisio’s writing, Kaiki was quick to point this out explicitly and also make the point that real life is rarely dramatic. He just wanted to move on and continue what he was doing, and he saw no reason why Hitagi couldn’t do the same. He and Koyomi had the same sort of cynicism of philosophy that was the core of the latter’s “justice” vs. “strength” argument, which is perhaps why Kaiki kept comparing the two of them. There’s beauty and joy in such a philosophy, but normal humans are always weighed down by their past baggage, and getting rid of them is a constant struggle. We got to see the the continuation of the Hitagi Crab arc, with Hitagi making more progress in freeing herself the bounds of her past.
Hitagi also connects Koyomi and Kaiki in love, which I guess wasn’t too unexpected given the nature of con-men (not that I’m an expert on the subject, but a middle school girl falling for a slick and manipulative older man who can solve all her problems doesn’t seem much of a stretch). It made me remember way back to the Suruga Monkey arc of Bakemonogatari, when Koyomi was asking Tsubasa on the phone about the “Valhalla Combo,” and Tsubasa told him that he shouldn’t dig too deep into his lover’s past.
In the end, the concept of hopeful cynicism seems to be what Nisio keeps hammering with his Monogatari stories. You have to be selfish in order to achieve justice. People who have harmed you have moved on and you will never get vengeance. That may be cynical, but that’s reality, and only once we accept it can we start finding “real” hope in our lives instead of settling for mere “fakes.”
Next episode will be part 1 of Tsukihi Phoenix! Remember, the Fire Sisters come as a pair, so you’ll be seeing plenty – more than you might have ever imagined – of Karen as well!