Lions and tigers and… giraffes? Oh my.
|It’s unfortunate, but it’s true: Monogatari Series Second Season has been pretty disappointing at times with its too-familiar and budget-starved visuals. And I hate it when fans deride an adaptation for not living up to the source material, but there have been parts that I felt lost some impact due to the necessary stripping away of internal monologue (sue me). So I wasn’t exactly optimistic going into the Nekomonogatari White “Tsubasa Tiger” arc finale that managed to do the original work justice through the creative visual direction and technical competence that we’ve come to expect from this franchise.|
In all the shots of her doing crazy stuff in the montage, she isn’t shown smiling even once.
One big question in my mind going into this season had been how Shaft would adapt the letter scene. After the first 4 episodes, I suspected that we wouldn’t be treated to anything more fancy than weird angled shots of Tsubasa writing the letter in Koyomi’s room. Instead, we got a glimpse into a possible future for Tsubasa who plans to travel around the world following her graduation. It was very reminiscent of the opening animation from Nekomonogatari Black, using the same techniques to pan or zoom from scene to scene. When I was reading the letter in the book, Tsubasa’s upcoming trip wasn’t what was on my mind, but now that Shaft brought up the connection, it makes perfect sense. It is just another way for her to keep averting her eyes from her problems; no matter what amazing adventures she has along the way, she is still just running away, unable to find a home.
Even beyond that one beautiful montage, the episode was very good looking. In the audio commentaries for the Hitagi Crab arc of Bakemonogatari, Tsubasa explains the pareto principle, positing that 20% of ants in a colony do 80% of the work. Maybe Shaft was inspired by that in planning out Nekomonogatari White, because it looks like one of those 5 episodes got 80% of the animation budget. The combat between the tiger and Black Hanekawa almost felt like it came from a different show because of how good it looked. The architecture was a great touch added by Shaft: placing it in a building under construction allowed for some impressive jumping and balancing while maneuvering in three dimensions. This isn’t an action show, and there wasn’t much in this episode, but the quality of animation here was about as good as we’ve seen from Shaft.
Seriously, good work by Shaft with this scene.
I actually wasn’t a big fan of Koyomi coming in to save the day for Tsubasa, but when he looks this cool, how can I resist? Nice double-fang smile he has going, too.
I also have no complaints about how they handled that final showdown at the railroad tracks (yes, that was added by Shaft; in the novel, it was just in front of the Senjougahara house). This climactic scene was even better in animated form than on paper. Surely I’m not the only person who teared up a little when Tsubasa, staring death in the face, was lamenting never having confessed to Koyomi? I hadn’t when I was reading it, but Tsubasa’s pained expression and Yui Horie‘s fine voice work came together to create something more powerful than just what Nisio had written. And while Araragi’s entrance was damn cool in any case, actually hearing Hiroshi Kamiya‘s voice at that moment, seeing the sword flying out of nowhere to stab the tiger in the neck, seeing Araragi with that confident smile and those tattered clothes made it so much more epic.
And how much did I love that confession? What a whirlwind of emotions, going from regret of never having done to being given another opportunity within seconds. How happy it felt to watch Tsubasa grasp that second chance without hesitation, to tell him right to his face that she not only loved him but wanted to marry him. We knew what answer was coming, of course, but how sweet was it to see her finally let it out? And then cry, as she felt the pain of rejection? We’ve never seen Tsubasa like that. No one, not even herself, had seen her like that, because she had never been like that until that very moment. Such sweet catharsis.
“You said it yourself just now, didn’t you? No matter what, in the end, it’s all you. Even if you change, you’ll still be you. So don’t worry. It’s not like I will go easy on you for any weird reasons. If you turn out hateful, I will dislike you. If you do wrong, I will be angry at you. If you are despised, I will stick up for you. And if you aren’t as smart anymore — well, I can teach you.”
– from chapter 65 of Nekomonogatari White “Tsubasa Tiger”, translated by Canonrap, posted on Quality Mistranslations.
Protip: run that bar code through Google Goggles.
So what was Nekomonogatari White “Tsubasa Tiger” really about? Through Tsubasa’s letter (which Shaft did a great job distilling to its core message – if narrated in full, the letter probably would have taken most of a full episode) and the conversations in this episode, pretty much everything was laid bare. I think it’s clear that the main theme above all was denial. The whole story was built as a mystery, told from the denier Tsubasa’s perspective as she tried to solve her tiger problem by finding out just what it was that she was refusing to see. It was the story of a girl who always cut away her darkness – her pain and suffering and the negative emotions that arose from them – and who stood up to the plate to face them head on.
Previous times she had cut away stress, manifesting as the Hindering Cat, but this time it was envy, manifesting as the “Kako,” the Inflaming Tiger. As we found out from the letter, we were missing a key piece of information, that Tsubasa had seen her parents eating together that first morning. And with that, everything fell into place. The envy was for a home, something she had never had. Something even her family had never had until that morning when her parents were trying to create one while excluding her. From there it’s plain to see how that envy was fed, with her being exposed to the happy and loving homes of her friends. You’ll recall that after reading the letter, Black Hanekawa commented how different and good it felt to be offered a place to return to by its master; it even made an addendum to the letter, “I’m home.” And Tsubasa’s big new accomplishment in the ending is asking for and receiving her own room in their new home, and (again) saying those words “I’m home” for the first time. Really, this was the story of a girl finding a place to be, wasn’t it?
Ah, I could feel my heart melting during the rejection scene.
Almost lost in all this was her crush on Koyomi, only mentioned a couple times in the arc until the climactic confession. And never once do we see Tsubasa’s envy get applied to Hitagi, the natural target in this case. In a way, compared to the basic human relationships that Tsubasa lacks, issues of romance almost seem minor, and the romance aspect seems to connect better to the theme of denial than to envy. Tsubasa clearly knew that she didn’t have a shot with Koyomi, but as long as she didn’t ask, she didn’t have to acknowledge it.
One overarching message of the Monogatari series is that we are all bad guys in some way. Kako’s own words cast it as a victim of Tsubasa, given birth only to burn with jealousy in order to allow Tsubasa to remain pure. Both it and Black Hanekawa were created in whole by Tsubasa, making her truly responsible for their actions. One wonders if Kako was right about what would have happened if it had burned down the Senjougahara home. Would Tsubasa cut away the pain and guilt she felt from murdering her friend? What a frightening thought that she could remain free of tears after that, that she could go on living forever cutting away her pain and creating more and more oddities.
Not quite what I had pictured, but it fits the tiger-stripe description well.
Maybe you can see now why Nekomonogatari White is my favorite of the books in this series. I fell for Tsubasa reading Kizumonogatari, and this was her coming of age story, a poignant tale about an abuse victim coming to terms with her pain and taking real significant steps to become whole. It really is a fun read, and I do recommend you check out Canon Rap‘s full translation over at Baka-Tsuki. Shaft’s adaptation was only passable for the most part, but with the way they handled the ending, well, this may be my 2nd favorite episode of the series after that one (ever wonder if and where I was blogging in 2009?).
Of course, it has to end with an Evangelion homage (a show that the novel series often drops references to).
Up next is Kabukimonogatari “Mayoi Jiangshi.” For those who don’t know, a jiangshi is a “Chinese ‘hopping’ vampire or zombie.” I remember watching movies with them growing up in Korea; they are reanimated corpses that hold their arms out front. They can only hop on both feet to move, and they kill you by sucking out your chi. They can be stopped by placing a seal with certain Chinese characters on their faces. Of course, I won’t spoil any of this story for you. All I’ll say is, I was playing Bioshock Infinite and watching The Walking Dead while reading through this volume, and I was amused by how this story seemed to have some major themes in common with those two works. Oh, and if you, like me, wish you could hear more Maaya Sakamoto in anime these days…