She’s back in Black!
|It’s funny, exactly 365 days ago, I (with help from the team of Kyo, Fosh, and Kara) made my very first post here, our first impressions on the then-new sequel to Shaft‘s 2009 smash hit Bakemonogatari, based on Nisio Isin‘s novel of the same name. And here I am now presenting its surprise prequel, which snuck up on us like its namesake, having been announced just a month prior to its release on New Year’s Eve. Nekomonogatari (Black) is actually an adaptation of the 1st half of the book following Nisemonogatari, the prequel portion titled Tsubasa Family. With 4 episodes released back-to-back-to-back-to-back, this turned out more like a movie than a TV series, which was just fine for this single self-contained straightforward (as much as one from this series can be, anyway) story.|
|It feels like forever since Nisemonogatari first came out (I guess it’s been a year, thanks for the info, lvlln xD), but I’m glad we didn’t have to wait as long for Nekomonogatari as we did between Nisemono and Bakemono. Shaft just keeps getting faster at these things (or maybe they’ve realized that this and Madoka is where they make all of their money). Anyways, like lvlln said, this felt way more like a movie than 4 episodes, but I rather liked the smooth, movie-like flow to the plot between episodes that was caused because of that.|
lvlln // For me, the -Monogatari franchise has always been about the sublime audiovisual experience it provides. It’s become famous for its unique clean and abstract imagery, combined with background music provided by Satoru Kosaki often to create stunning results. Yet every time I watch this series, I have to remind myself that the series is even more visually creative than I remembered it. Not content with just looking pretty, the series plays fast and loose with its art styles, borrowing heavily from other media such as Tsukihi crashing through a wall in Looney Tunes-esque fashion. Nekomonogatari (Black) carries on that -Monogatari “look,” combining gorgeous sceneries with an irreverent, almost careless attitude towards visual consistency. This is an anime built around talking, and and the visual tricks go a long way to make the series’s conversations fun to watch.
Shinobu Not-yet-named-Shinobu’s transformation into a Powerpuff Girl is pretty famous already, and the opening conversation between Koyomi and Tsukihi made judicious use of clever style shifts, including an extended segment that aped the next-episode-preview segments of the other series.
In 2009, Shaft needed such tricks to make up for their well known production issues, but the animation in Nekomonogatari shows that Shaft is able to stand toe to toe with almost anyone in the industry on a techincal level. The brief bursts of action were all as fluid as they needed to be, even if not as spectacular as one would expect from, say, a Kyoto Animation work. As per usual, the number of jaw-dropping shots was too high to list. I especially loved the chaos of light and shadow during Koyomi’s first arm-losing encounter with Black Hanekawa and in his run through the Hanekawa home. The climax was a joy to watch, a beautiful combination of Shaft’s visual flairs and great animation.
lvlln // From the infamous opening panty shot of Bakemonogatari, this series has been known for its gratuitous fanservice, yet I don’t think it was until the lolicon and incest themed scenes in Nisemonogatari that people truly took notice of it. Nekomonogatari (Black) was predictably filled with it while also integrating the fanservice into the main plot better than ever before. Several early scenes were used both to excite the loins and to set up plot points that would be invoked at critical parts later on. The opening bedroom conversation between Tsukihi and Koyomi served as an important introduction to Koyomi’s feelings for Tsubasa and on friendship in general, which were the main themes in this story. That scene was actually compressed compared to in the book, a pleasant surprise from a franchise that has been keeping its adaptation faithful to a fault. Even if that meant that we missed out on white underwear, “reverse tsundere,” and foot licking. At least the breast groping depiction didn’t disappoint.
That same episode featured an amusing walk-and-talk with the injured Tsubasa in which Koyomi stressed out over what he would make her do before landing on licking under her bandage – which he was too chicken to carry out (a recurring theme when it comes to their relationship, as some fans will know). This was important setup for not-yet-named-Shinobu’s appearance in the climax when she showed the healing power of a true vampire’s blood. Speaking of the vampire, her child/dog-like behavior during her introduction to donuts served as a powerful contrast to how she was later treated by Koyomi, who decided to bow before her for 4 days straight to convince her to lend him her sword. What an amazing and old-fashioned gesture of respect from someone who was teaching her “paw” just a couple days ago. Examples like these go to show that Nisio is capable of crafting a fine story.
Shaft pays service to the furry demographic.
lvlln // The basic story follows the -Monogatari formula quite straight: Koyomi discovers that a girl has a problem with an oddity, he goes to Oshino for help, he gets rid of the oddity with that help, learning something important and usually sinister about the girl in the process. Fundamentally, the story of Nekomonogatari is of a misanthropic (“The more friends one has, the weaker one is”) and sometimes sociopathic 18 year old boy coming to terms with his feelings for the first friend and possible love interest he has ever had. Paradoxically, the more that Koyomi learned of Tsubasa’s sad existence, the less sympathy he appeared to have for her. Of course, Nisio is quite fond of contradictions, and it’s clear that Koyomi’s own thoughts weren’t immune to those. His love for Tsubasa was so strong that he wanted to die for her, but he concluded at the end that he did not love her. After berating Oshino for justifying Tsubasa’s abuse, he repeated the same sentiment to the girl herself during their final confrontation.
I think that contradiction might largely be responsible for the success of this franchise. As Tsubasa herself said, Koyomi is not a hero. He is not someone to be admired, he is a selfish but generally nice guy who will not stop short of contorting logic in order to help himself and his friends. Sociopathy in comedy is nothing unusual, but in Koyomi’s case, it extends to everything he does, funny or serious. It could be argued that he was baiting Tsubasa into his trap when he flatly refused to sympathize with her pain, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s just not his style to lie, and what he said was similar to his speech to Kagenui at the end of Nisemonogatari. Despite his words, however, it’s clear that he does feel something for her. He is just able to abstract away his personal feelings, allowing him – and forcing Tsubasa – to acknowledge the sucky reality of the situation.
This is the thread of hopeful cynicism that I keep finding in the -Monogatari series. The world is not only as dark as you imagine it, it’s usually worse. Tsubasa isn’t just an abuse victim who was haunted by a cat demon, she is actually complicit in her own haunting. But it’s only through accepting that darkness that we have any hope of becoming happy. This was the thrust of Koyomi’s message. As expected from this franchise by now, basic analysis causes it to break down – after all, Koyomi’s words really had no impact, and it took not-yet-named-Shinobu’s unexpected intervention to save Tsubasa. But there’s a beauty to Koyomi’s nihilism. And Nisio and Shaft are in the business of beauty, not truth.
More good use of the harsh white backdrop for ultraviolent scenes.
Karakuri // This wasn’t even an arc about them, but the Fire Sisters managed to grab hold of my interest right from the beginning (albeit, they did have a rather large part). Their explanations to Koyomi about what love is was so much like their characters. Tsukihi being the one that’s hard to describe in a short, concise way (she even said herself that the viewers have trouble placing her character) and Karen being straightforward and to the point. Karen came off as kind of less experienced (even back (forward?) in Nisemonogatari) than Tsukihi, but they both touched on the fact that love seems to be something instinctual, whereas Koyomi seemed to be over thinking the entire thing. …Was this an early sign that Koyomi didn’t actually love Tsubasa? Considering this is Nisio writing, I’m interpreting it as such.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, Oshino had a pretty solid argument with pointing the whole situation back to Tsubasa. Is it her fault? Is it not her fault? Oshino might have been trying to egg Koyomi on about the whole situation with that statement, but his words didn’t really feel too malicious to me. It was more like he was stating a fact. It’s a fact that Tsubasa’s saint-like attitude made her step parents realize their own faults. It’s a fact that they took out their insecurities on Tsubasa. She could probably change the situation if she acted differently, but seeing how she seems to feel empty, she doesn’t care. Which leads to more abuse, which makes her feel worse and it seems to be just one nasty spiral. It’s not directly her fault that her parents are like that, but at the same time, on some level she’s the cause of her abuse.
Koyomi had a line about getting involved with Tsubasa because ignoring her would be like refusing to accept all of her, and accept her he does. Despite arguing with Oshino when he blamed Tsubasa for the situation, Koyomi’s final argument isn’t that Tsubasa brought this on herself, but instead, that she can’t change who she is. Wording it like that, it seems that Koyomi really does accept (at least part of) Oshino’s statement. Not that Koyomi is one to mask what he really thinks, but I think him telling Tsubasa that she can’t change is a bit more than just kindness. She could have probably stopped the cause of her stress if she once showed her darker side to her parents, but she doesn’t. In the end, she relies on the cat (or I suppose you could name it the cat persona) to do it for her. She could have done something about her situation, but she has to rely on someone else to step in for her. In the end, Koyomi’s speech wasn’t quite as effective as the sword hidden in his body, but it seems like an important point for his character. He may not love Tsubasa, but he’s certainly willing to accept her for who she is.
Shaft really are masters at using simple lighting to create spectacular shots.
Shaft does it again. From the usual head tilts to… well, everything else that’s quirky with the -Monogatari series (man that first part with Koyomi pulling up Tsukihi by her breasts looked painful), this wasn’t a huge change from what they’ve done before. It doesn’t have to be though, since they seemed to have found a winning formula in Bakemono. Like I said above, the story seemed to flow seamlessly in this arc since it was 4 episodes in 1, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell where each episode began or ended if they had been compiled and I had watched them all together. Is it the best one overall? Certainly, animation-wise, but it’s been too long since Bakemono for me to really judge. At least the story was interesting with Nisio’s constant stream of contradictions within the plot and Koyomi coming to a conclusion about his feelings for Tsubasa. Maybe I don’t quite pair Tsubasa and Koyomi together still, but at least Neko gave me a better understanding of just how close the two characters are, how they feel about one another, and why they are that way with each other. It adds so much more to their relationship. Overall, the story was extremely insightful into Tsubasa’s first encounter with the cat as well and makes the Tsubasa Cat arc in Bakemono that much more intriguing. …Now if only they could put out Kizumonogatari as fast as they did Nekomonogatari. I’m starting to forget that the very first story even exists with all of the other -Monogatari popping up every other season.
After 2 seasons of the -Monogatari franchise, it’s unreasonable to expect it to marvel us like it did in 2009 without drastically changing its core identity. But like Nisemonogatari before it, Nekomonogatari builds upon the success of its predecessor, continuing to excel in and even improving on the best parts that made us fans in the first place. And it also addresses one of the previous series’ major failings, the pacing. While Bakemonogatari‘s short arcs often felt abrupt and Nisemonogatari‘s arcs meandered for too long before getting to the point, Nekomonogatari‘s 4 episodes found a sweet spot, keeping the story moving at a deliberate pace while leaving enough room to have plenty of silly fun along the way. The story itself was one of the best from the series yet, keeping the same basic formula and themes in a heartbreaking tale that filled in the details of Tsubasa’s first encounter with the demon cat, explaining the formation of strong bond between her and Koyomi at the beginning of Bakemonogatari. Each iteration has shown Shaft to be improving in their adaptation of Nisio’s books, and this bodes well for the upcoming sequel Zenmonogatari which will fit 5.5 books (the .5 being the “White” half of Nekomonogatari, also known as Tsubasa Tiger) into a 2-cours season starting this July.
This year is also supposed to see the release of the prequel Kizumonogatari (though, with no hard date, it would surprise no one to see it get pushed back again), which I’ve had to try hard to avoid mentioning. Starring the same cast of characters and taking place immediately prior, it sets up many things that get brought up in Nekomonogatari, such as Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade’s blade or Koyomi’s life philosophy. And if this one doesn’t convince you of the Koyomi/Tsubasa ship, just wait till that one. It confuses me that Shaft decided to produce this adaptation earlier. I’m one of many who consider Kizumonogatari to be the best of the original trilogy, and it’s about time that Shaft brought it to the anime fans. Let’s hope this is the year.
Get ready for more Tsubasa lovin’ in the prequel-prequel nya! (click for full image)