“So your name was Koyomi Arararagi? Oops, sorry, I stuttered.”
|Let me use this space for a little shameless plug, of Friday Anime Podcast by our friends at Desu Ex Machina. You can hear Fosh and me as guests on their latest episode, in which we talk about Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya and Stella Women’s Academy High School Division Class C3.|
I’m not sure how Koyomi kept himself from jumping her right then and there.
I still remember reading the moment when she finally made her appearance. The anime gave it away with the voice (though the talented Emiri Kato gave the adult character an appropriately different tone) and then her backpack trinkets, but the novel had been a bit more coy, not giving us anything concrete to latch on to until the formal introduction. I imagine I was feeling similar to Koyomi, a little awestruck, surprised but not shocked, and overjoyed beyond belief. She lived. She survived the truck 11 years ago, and she survived Shinobu’s zombie apocalypse. It’s corny for sure, but there are few bigger payoffs in a time travel story than seeing how someone whose life you saved in the past has grown.
I’m not gonna lie, zombie apocalypse survivor Mayoi pushes my buttons with that pragmatic look. The ponytail, the tank top, the military jacket and cargo pants, those combat boots; except for her cleanliness, she looks how a zombie apocalypse survivor should. One wonders what kind of life she was leading these past 11 years that prepared her to survive where everyone else failed. Was she in college at the time or maybe already graduated? What if she were a Naoetsu alum and thus the upperclassman of most of the main characters? I can see why Koyomi might not want to spend time with someone who would make him want to stay alive now that he knew he would have to face Heart-Under-Blade, but come on, Nisio, you couldn’t throw us a bone here by letting them at least have some tea?
I rather liked how that initial imagery was used to show the multiple timelines.
Frankly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Oshino’s letter. It was too convenient that he figured out everything about our protagonists’ adventure and even provided the easy solution. Yes, this series lives and dies by the deus ex machina, but that doesn’t make them any more acceptable. Oshino almost seemed omniscient like Gaen Izuko with his prediction that Mayoi would run into Koyomi and Shinobu. Shaft decided to use the letter as another visual showcase, and as they so often do, they turned something mediocre by Nisio into something great on screen. The visuals were just about perfect, with the imagery of Oshino’s journey fitting right in with his narration describing the timelines. I especially liked that one wide shot compressing to the left to become a previously seen side silhouette shot. One thing I didn’t like was the way Oshino’s lines merged with each other. Time constraints probably went into that decision, but it felt a bit too hectic, as if we were being assaulted by multiple Oshino Memes at once.
I think you’ve seen better days, Shinobu.
After Koyomi and Shinobu armed themselves with Kokoro Watari replicas, maybe you were hoping for an action scene. Or maybe you were confused why Shinobu didn’t suck Koyomi’s blood to power up (she did, which is what allowed her to create those replicas and to keep the zombies at bay, but she chose to stay in loli form). Then again, this series resolves its conflicts through words, and acts of violence tend to be red herrings (see: Suruga Monkey, Karen Bee, Tsukihi Phoenix). With Kizumonogatari still AWOL, this is the first time we’ve been introduced to the legendary vampire. It would have been neat if Aya Hirano had played her, creating a meta joke about an alternate universe in which she reprised her role from the drama CD instead of Maaya Sakamoto stepping in, but alas that was too much to ask for.
I loved the way Shaft presented that scene. The sudden switch from the typical dark night lighting to the harsh white and yellow hues following Heart-Under-Blade’s entrance was really oppressive, reminiscent of the climactic fight scene in Suruga Monkey. It was as if the air itself froze to welcome the most powerful being on the planet. They were spot on with her animations, the way she shuffled up the steps with a slight limp in her step, the bored look in her eyes, the manic laughter, the tears of blood. I do wish her beauty had been a bit more tarnished to signify the self-inflicted burn injuries from her attempted suicide. Some Nice Holystone-esque marks on her face and arms in addition to her torn clothing would have been nice.
Black to white to red and back to black.
I found Shinobu’s berating of her alternate self to be a little odd. She already admitted that she had intended to destroy the world if Koyomi hadn’t found her that day; as such, the difference between the two could be sourced to the missing ghost Mayoi. What didn’t occur to Shinobu was just how much Koyomi’s death would affect her; Heart-Under-Blade started off the series quite depressed, but her depression here seemed to stem from that loss. The convenient twist that their needs fit perfectly with each other – Heart-Under-Blade wanted death, something only Shinobu could offer her, and Shinobu and Koyomi wanted the power to jump timelines, something only Heart-Under-Blade could offer them – is something I can live with, since Heart-Under-Blade’s mental state made perfect sense and was in fact fairly predictable. Even if a fight scene with those swords would have been sweet.
;_; (click for gif – lighting made this pretty much impossible to stitch together)
So what’s the takeaway from Kabukimonogatari “Mayoi Jiangshi” now that it’s all over? We did get a title drop for the first time in the series, which may be instructive. From what I understand, the Kabuki (傾) in Kabukimonogatari (傾物語) means “twist” or “tilt” (and doesn’t refer to kabuki theater). That is, it’s the story of what can happen when we twist just one small detail of the world. If you want to connect that to a more general message, perhaps it’s that attempts to change the past are futile. I think back to what Ougi said at the start of the arc: an intersection is most dangerous when all the lights are green. That is, trying to correct what shouldn’t be corrected only ends in disaster. You can’t change the route you’re in, so just make this one the best possible going forward.
One natural question is, who really was the heroine? The story managed to justify Mayoi’s name being on the title by making her the key driver for Koyomi’s time travel adventure, and it did bring everything back with a return of the Mayoi we know and love, closing with one of her trademark lightning-fast back and forths with Koyomi. Continuing from the conversation with Ononoki at the start of the arc, we got an affirmation that she, just like Koyomi, was happy in her current post-death state. But she appeared only in 3 brief scenes including that one, and she didn’t have some big problem with an oddity that was dealt with. The whole point of the story was that everything had stayed the same.
What a joyful scene, a call back all the way to the very first episode of Nisemonogatari
So one could make a strong case that Shinobu was the heroine this time. She was just as important a driver of the story as Mayoi, she was present continuously from start to finish, and she was also the villain. We could probably even re-title this arc something like Shinobu Failure, since all events stemmed from some error she made, whether it be leaping 11 years into the past instead of one day, creating zombie underlings instead of vampires, or attempting suicide and not dying.
I see it as Shinobu’s coming out party following the break of her silence in Nisemonogatari. We got to see her as she truly was, expressing herself as she wished, bouncing off of Koyomi like any other
harem member heroine. We got a taste of the uniquely close relationship she has with Koyomi, which came to a head this episode when they happily walked (an inexplicably flower- and grass-filled path) to their deaths hand in hand, fingers intertwined. We saw what horrors happened when one dared to die before the other, with Heart-Under-Blade’s suicidal state following Koyomi’s death serving as a counter to the earlier point that either could revert to normal by killing the other. They’re almost but not quite a married couple.
Gee, right when our pair of heroes is walking off to their deaths. What does the number 4 stand for again?
As for Shaft’s handling of the adaptation of my 2nd favorite book of the series, it was phenomenal. Maybe a 5th episode and looser pacing might have helped, getting more Shinobu Time (haha, get it?) on screen would have made it better, but ultimately I can’t fault them for the cuts they made (though there are some lines, such as Koyomi comparing Shinobu favorably to Mona Lisa, I wish had made it in). Production quality was top notch throughout unlike Nekomonogatari White, and it had plenty of new and exciting visual treats. That aforementioned quick pacing kept throwing us more and more unexpected events to think about. It captured what I loved about the novel, and it surprised me a few times with its over-the-top depictions, such as the skydiving scene from Part 3. Even Mayoi’s new opening theme was unexpectedly excellent, a huge leap forward from her unlistenable opening from the first season.
Here’s the bad news: you’ve already watched the two best arcs of the season, and you’ll have to wait till the last one before you get to another arc that’s on the same level as the first two. Up next is the 4th of the 6 novels, Otorimonogatari “Nadeko Medusa” (Otori, or 囮, meaning “decoy” or “bait”), as Shaft skips over the 3rd arc Hanamonogatari “Suruga Devil” which will be released after this season. As I wrote back when the delay was announced, skipping Suruga Devil shouldn’t materially influence your understanding or enjoyment of the upcoming arcs. As for Nadeko Medusa, well, I don’t find Nadeko to be a fun character, so I found much of the book a chore to read. That said, Shaft has proven that they are perfectly capable of creating something great regardless of the quality of Nisio’s original work. There should be plenty of opportunities for their trademark over-the-top and surreal visuals. And I have to admit, the story isn’t boring, doubly so if you actually give a shit about Nadeko! My tip: as you watch Nadeko’s trials and tribulations, try thinking about the concept of privilege.