While not the most substantial in terms of strengthening character relationships or the most complex plot-wise, Nekomonogatari White nonetheless presents strong intrapersonal emotional conflict and rounds Hanekawa’s character arc to a satisfying conclusion, while exhibiting strong semantic precision and density.
Plot Synopsis: Hanekawa’s cat side is becoming more active, just as a tiger apparition has appeared. Destruction is occurring all across town, but what can Hanekawa do to stop it?
Tsubasa Hanekawa has always presented herself as the purest of the cast, displaying the fewest and least visible flaws of any of the girls and being plagued by problems seemingly unfairly thrust upon her, rather than something she was cursed with for her own poor decisions. However, this time it is up to her to sort things out for herself, with Araragi absent and her friends in danger. Nekomonogatari White, to its credit, carries itself with a more consistent, albeit relatively slow, pace in comparison to most of the preceding entries, with a clearer distinction between the superficial interactions and more meaningful dialogue while also allowing them to bleed naturally into one another. While not quite a straight line, the details in Nekomonogatari make it both a tense mystery with the answer, though not quite the reasoning, being clear from the beginning, and a character study of a girl who’s demons have thus far only been viewed from the outside-in finally being turned inside-out.
By having the story told from Hanekawa’s perspective, the world of the Monogatari series is shown in a new light. Black Hanekawa (formerly known as Sawari) is depicted as more of a sentient coping mechanism than an antagonist, Senjougahara still shows she cares despite acting in her usual tsundere manner, and Hachikuji, Shinobu and even Araragi all have limited screen time, their minimal presence usually relating almost exclusively to Hanekawa’s struggle.
Nisio Isin seems to have developed as a writer, or the adaptations have become more stream lined, retaining word-plays and fourth wall breaks of earlier installments (the next arc and themes are blatantly yelled for brief moments) while increasing the consistency of his writing concision-wise. Nearly every minute contains some form of characterisation, mainly for Senjougahara, who shows off far more, perhaps too much, range in her interactions with Hanekawa than she ever could with Araragi. Having Senjougahara literally say “Big lies are more easily believed than little white ones” as a throw away excuse for pretending to have the flu to get out of school actually refer to the anime’s thematic core was a stroke of genius.
Even though the entire Monogatari franchise is focused on semantics and visual gags for both comedic and narrative purposes, here it can be more easily appreciated and enjoyed. The skipping of chapters is much more than a gimmick, as is Senjougahara’s analogy of Hanekawa’s indifference to salad dressing as “You take everything that comes your way, and as a result everything is the same.” Casual interactions are still framed as such, but the changes in verbal and non-verbal exoression make it easy for attentive audiences to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t, as opposed to the earlier Chinese water torture style where you never knew what you’d get. Fourth wall breaks, pop culture references (Fullmetal Alchemist sketches may be briefly seen) and even meta humour is woven in more seamlessly than before, applied in moderation, and they don’t bog down the narrative. If anything, they give Hanekawa more humanity, while Araragi’s perception of her only allowed us to see her many positives and what she meant to him.
Potentially problematic is the series’s demand for the viewer to have sound understanding of the Japanese language to appreciate the characters’ deductions. How Senjougahara gets from “Trauma” (reading it as “トラウマ (Torauma)” or tiger horse) to “past” is convoluted to say the least, but thankfully this gap is mostly bridged by much more justifiable evidence, like Hanekawa finding strands of cat hair in her bed or dirt under her nails to conclude that she’s been transforming. The conclusion regarding the anime’s main antagonist is very easy to see even from the start, but regardless it is satisfying to witness as Hanekawa must not only come to terms with how this monster came to be, but how she must stop it and how her repressed thoughts and feelings must be revealed one day. It’s an emotionally gratifying experience, as Hanekawa herself musters up the strength to do what has, up until this point, always required Araragi. She doesn’t just keep her demons at bay; she outright puts them in their place at the cost of her own self-preservation and right to hold the title of “the perfect woman”. She cries, she collapses under the pain of her repressed desires, but in the end she becomes better for it. If the series never revisits her, this is an almost wholly satisfying conclusion to her character arc.
Senjougahara is something of a misnomer this time around. Her sexualised manner and passive threats as a method of expressing love remain the same, but the way in which she’s viewed adds new angle to her character. For some odd reason, the writers decided to have her act flamboyantly concerned for Hanekawa’s safety and hyperventilate for a moment, rather than have her threaten to push her off a building if she ever runs away again. Nonetheless, she’s every bit as hilarious in her disregard for manners, yet affectionate in her Tsundere tendencies, as in the past. On the plus side, the fan service with her and Hanekawa is much more tastefully handled than when viewed through the lense of Araragi, with a shower scene focusing much more on the water and sense of cleanliness than Araragi’s usual take on the situation. Senjougahara continues to mature like fine wine, getting progressively more scheming and observant with every arc she’s in.
Shinobu is as good as she’s always been, but her potential remains untapped. This isn’t her story, so this is no real missed opportunity. Karen is more sympathetic in this arc, but by this point she and her sister still haven’t offered much to the plot beyond padding it out. However, the likeability factor in how they treat Hanekawa makes them better than their precocious Nisemonogatari selves. They have the basic role of filling a void and staving off loneliness without intrusion, their lack of insight actually being beneficial this time. The series remains careful to only give a face and a name to the main cast, with parents being shown from a distance and with their distinctive features covered.
The most notable character this time around is Black Hanekawa, flipping all that was previously known about her on its head. Rather than a demon possessing Hanekawa, it’s now framed in such as way as to show Hanekawa as the problem and the cat side of her a symptom of such problems. For the first time, Hanekawa and Black Hanekawa interact directly, and work together to overcome their feelings of inferiority stemming from Hanekawa’s purity. This comes to the real meat of Nekomonogatari White; how Hanekawa’s innate goodness and lack of hesitation when it comes to doing what’s right has cost her self-honesty and caused her to suppress her desires. This arc excels at progressively delving into what make Hanekawa good and, as a result, deeply flawed and reliant on Black Hanekawa.
On the down side, the ending isn’t quite the slam dunk it should have been. Hanekawa, in spite of having developed as a character and deserving a concrete victory, has it snatched away from her in one of the most annoyingly unsatisfying endings of any Monogatari arc so far. To make things worse, it dampened the feeling of completeness greatly; feminism aside, it would have been nice to see a female character, from Monogatari of all things, see things through from start to finish, rather than a big, strong man come and save her. Sure, he has ties to the thematic core of White, but he could have simply loaned her a weapon and had her deliver the killing blow. This is a harem, of course, so having the make in the dominant position is only to be expected, but Monogatari’s character cast deserves so much more than that.
This instalment doesn’t provide much in the way of lighting or new set pieces, and in spite of having an opportunity for a great fight scene at the end, only basic animation is really used. Senjougahara and Araragi’s house are the same as always (the former being particularly bland) and paper craft CG backgrounds fail to impress. The character design for the tiger is the main visually distinctive component in this instalment, though light red on white doesn’t really allow it to stand out. The art still holds up, but the presentation here lacks bite in most departments.
The OP is a bit too fluffy to fit this instalment, though the deceptively perfect quality of it and light colour palette make it pleasant to listen to and watch. The actual OST mirrors the mood of Hanekawa, usually calm and keeps to itself, but when Black Hanekawa is released and particularly in the climax, the tracks become more aggressive. The final fight has the closest music to what the Monogatari series may call “battle music”; it certainly isn’t on the same level as Hiroyuki Sawano’s work, but it certainly is serviceable.
The ED is on the high end of the musical quality spectrum for the franchise, which is saying a lot given how widely praised Bakemonogatari’s is. The powerful harmonisation of fast and sharp violins with fast paced drums and Luna Haruna’s powerful voice leaves every component with the cumbersome task of keeping up, but they all do so effortlessly. The visuals are the standard style with fewer frames and don’t have the frenetic energy of Nisemonogatari’s ED, but nonetheless it works as an engaging song that stands well on its own.
Monogatari Second Season is available on Hanabee and Crunchyroll.