No, it’s not another time travel arc.
The long national nightmare is over; the delayed final installment of Monogatari Series Second Season, Hanamonogatari “Suruga Devil” has been released in one 5-episode batch. With “final” being a bit of a misnomer given that it was actually supposed to be the 3rd of the 6 arcs that make up the Second Season. In any case, it’s here. With this anime, I tend to pay attention to Shaft’s adaptation job before anything, as I go in knowing the story from the Korean translations of the novels.
The one-on-one game probably could have looked a lot better, but since it wasn’t such a critical scene, I let it slide.
And at least on the production front, Shaft was fantastic, making Hanamonogatari possibly the most visually impressive entry in the series yet. It was filled with vibrant, colorful, bizarre back drops the series has become known for, its animation was easily up to the challenge any time it was needed, and it was all beautifully shot with Shaft’s typical lazy-but-effective cinematography. The music was perhaps a bit lacking, without any truly memorable tracks, but it was by no means bad and did its ojob when it mattered. There were a few times when all the elements came together perfectly and reminded us of just what this series is capable of. My favorite scene was probably Suruga’s discovery of her newly normal left arm. It was very effective in evoking emotions within me, first of shocked disbelief, then of hesitant hope as she inspected herself, then of accepted joy and relief after she tripped and fell. Another great one was Suruga’s all-night running scene, from her running through various locales around town we’ve seen before, to the long zoom out of her in the desert.
I loved the many many shots of Suruga dressing and undressing, both for the fanservice and for the palpable connection to her everyday life.
Not to say it didn’t have its share of missteps. The production was technically sound, but it felt out of control at times, as if the director needed someone pulling back his reins. Lots of over-the-top visual flourishes seemed to be there for no reason other than “because we can,” such as Suruga’s path to school flanked by various changing colorful objects and shapes, or the rows of cranes during her first meeting with Numachi Rouka, or the various changing props (gymnastics rings, basketballs) that filled up the Naoetsu High gym. As beautiful as these were to look at, they also felt a little too indulgent, distracting from the scenes more than contributing to them. The worst by far was Numachi Rouka’s near-9-minute uninterrupted monologue during episode 3. Yes, it was nice seeing her and Suruga in all the bizarre heretofore unseen parts of Naoetsu High, but No, that didn’t make listening to her longwinded story any less unbearable. Nisio’s writing deserves blame, but so does Shaft’s insistence on its overly rigid style of adapatation.
Certainly Shaft had the unenviable task of fitting Nisio’s ramblings into these adaptations while keeping the pacing and length reasonable, but their approach has been less than stellar. I’m getting very tired of seeing the constant flashes of text, which seem to be getting quicker and more voluminous with each adaptation. By sticking lines that otherwise would have been cut into these flashes, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too, and it just doesn’t work when it’s overused like this. I liked it better when it was used occasionally for small gags like in Nisemonogatari. I did find quite interesting that, for the first time in my memory, some of the flashes featured all new text rather than something from the novels: there were at least 2 occasions when the text flashes showed what Kaiki Deishu and Numachi Rouka were thinking; obviously impossible in a novel in which the 1st person narrator was Kanbaru Suruga. But that’s nowhere near enough of a twist to justify the overuse of this tired trope.
Having the gym be flooded with water during the climax was definitely 2deep4me, but damn was it gorgeous.
I guess it should be obvious why Hanamonogatari was chosen as the arc to delay from the Second Season: its story is the least connected to the others, and it’s also chronologically the last. The reordering did result in a change to our understanding of some plot elements. The biggest one is the ever enigmatic Oshino Ougi, who appears as a boy in this one. This appearance certainly would have made it more obvious what she was doing in her appearance in Otorimonogatari “Nadeko Medusa”, as she played a similar role in that one to this one in kicking off the story by providing information to the protagonist. There’s also both Araragi Koyomi and Kaiki Deishu – the former’s appearance spoiling the positive result of Koimonogatari “Hitagi End” and the latter’s appearance revealing to us that that arc’s ending was a lie.
There’s also the issue of Koyomi’s hair, which looked considerably shorter just 2 months prior. I’m not sure why Shaft made this continuity error, since it sounds like they had Nisio on board to advise.
As for the story of the arc, I rather liked Suruga Devil as the follow up to Suruga Monkey from Bakemonogatari, kind of Suruga’s own version of Tsubasa Tiger. IThe story progression felt a lot simpler and more straightforward than the other arcs of the Season, which I see as mostly a good thing. There was no opaque mystery to unwind like the source of the tiger or big game changing twist like the identity of Kuchinawa; it was just Suruga finding out about a problem, getting help to get both the will and the way to tackle that problem, then tackling it.
Numachi Rouka was a really well designed foil of Kanbaru Suruga. I saw her as an equal and opposite figure, someone who became a basketball star not through hard work like Suruga but through the luck of her genes and who lost her stardom not through greed like Suruga but through the luck of a freak injury. She was passive to the extreme, someone who felt downright ashamed of her natural born talents, whose solution to every problem, including her own death, was just wait.
I think that’s what pissed off Suruga so much about her. They both agreed, “It’s better to regret not doing something than to regret doing something,” but Suruga had to be the one to add, “the best thing is to not regret doing something,” a position that would seem out of reach for Rouka. And it was only from doing that, from trying her hardest against Suruga and truly getting beaten for the first time, that she was able to finally move on without regret. At least, that’s the explanation I’ve managed to put together.
Kana Asumi did a fine job, but given how subdued Rouka was, it almost felt like a waste of her talents.
But to get to that point, Suruga had to get help from both Koyomi and Kaiki. I liked seeing Koyomi being a mentor figure in this one, transferring to Suruga some of that stubborn self righteousness that has defined his personality. His presence sort of completed the coming-of-age feel of this story, framing it as one of Suruga taking a stand for something she believed in for the first time, even in the face of fear and doubt. It’s left up to the air what her plans are going forward, but my bet would be that she plans on fully embracing the freedom that Rouka gave her by giving it her all on the basketball team to see how far she can go with her talents.
Kaiki’s appearance on the other hand seemed mostly just a way to put into Suruga’s hands the Devil’s head, the leverage she needed to face Rouka for the climax. That dinner scene didn’t seem to achieve much other than Nisio teasing with some hints at the story of Suruga’s mother and her gang of college cohorts. We needed Koimonogatari to complete the picture, and there’s still some reasonable doubt here, but it seems clear that Kaiki really was in love with Gaen Tooe who eloped with Suruga’s father possibly to escape from him. Thus he has a soft spot for Suruga, “Gaen’s Legacy,” and also can’t accept her father’s name Kanbaru. Though where he picked up the ability to outrun an athlete of Suruga’s caliber is anyone’s guess.
I’m not too sure what to make of the woman Gaen Tooe herself, whose voice appeared in dreams that bookended the story. I suppose her “If you can’t become medicine, become poison. Otherwise you’re just water” line is echoed by Koyomi’s philosophy that he relayed to Suruga. And there was some pleasant catharsis there in how her presence started off as nothing but abusive, but ended with at least some hints of motherly love in the closing dream. Still, I think we gotta add her to the list of bad mothers in this series along with Hitagi’s and Tsubasa’s.
Hanamonogatari “Suruga Devil” was a worthy finale to the Second Season, showcasing both the gorgeous visuals and the occasional pacing missteps that were typical in the show. Among the 6 arcs, I’d rank it 4th or 5th, well below Nekomonogatari White, Koimonogatari, and Kabukimonogatari, well above Onimonogatari, and somewhat close to Otorimonogatari. Were I ranking the novels, it would be a solid 4th place, but Shaft’s masterful work in adapting Nadeko Medusa makes it a close race. That said, Hanamonogatari‘s presence in the lower half of the rankings isn’t an indictment on its quality but rather an indication of how good I consider the arcs in the top half of that list are.
Looking forward, the only anime left is the prequel to them all, the story that kicked off everything in this series, Kizumonogatari. I don’t think anyone on Earth has any clue when that’s going to come out, least of all the folks actually working on it – if they’re working on it – at Shaft (though you certainly could read the fan translation at Baka-Tsuki). At this point, the hype has built up so much that it’s destined to be a Duke Nukem Forever style disappointment, but even with all that, I’m just gonna say, if that doesn’t make you fall for Hanekawa Tsubasa, either Shaft fucked up royally, or you have no heart.
Anime adaptation coming 20XX! And I’m not sure about that 0.
- Anyone else think Suruga with bed head looks just like Hitagi from Bakemonogatari? Akio Watanabe‘s definitely got some sameface going on.
- The OP and ED traditions were flipped. The OP featured art by Hajime Ueda who did art for every other ED and song sung by Marina Kawano who sang a couple of the EDs of the Second Season. Whereas the ED was the main girl’s image song with lyrics by meg rock like all the other OPs, sung by Suruga’s voice actor Miyuki Sawashiro.
- The ED shows a sort of what-if scenario of Suruga and Rouka as best friends in middle school, Rouka with much darker hair; Suruga noted when she first met the Devil Rouka that she had dyed her hair, in contrast to her original from middle school.
- When Suruga fell over during her first run after getting her arm back, she was crying and laughing so hard that someone called the cops to check on her. He says off-hand that he thought the only high schooler around who was that crazy was one Araragi Koyomi.
- I have no idea what it’s supposed to signify, but every single sign at the train station where Kaiki finds Suruga had its letters in reverse order. Not mirrored, just spelled backwards.
- As Kaiki guesses, Suruga is indeed a lefty who had to adapt due to the injury to her arm. During her one-on-one against Rouka, she shot like a righty.
- It seems if and when the tale that follows Onimonogatari and precedes the climax of Nekomonogatari White is told, it will involve Suruga meeting Gaen Izuko but without learning her name or identity.
- I couldn’t help but thinking that Shaft missed a golden opportunity to do a straight-up parody of Makoto’s running scene from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time during Suruga’s night run.
- Suruga and Koyomi explicitly say in the book that Koyomi’s car is a New Beetle.
- Hey, that shot looks familiar…