Monogatari Second Season: Otorimonogatari Review

Otorimonogatari represents Monogatari’s most decisive, psychologically harsh and progressive arc to date, propelling Nadeko from the bottom to the top and creating an immediate threat that surpasses anything else shown thus far.

Plot Synopsis: Sick of always being treated second best (or last…) by Araragi and viewed with little but pity and condescension, Nadeko starts working with a vile snake demon to get what she feels she deserves.

Otorimonogatari continues in vain of the previous entries in Second Season by having Araragi present, but the lead female character ultimately making the big decisions and taking the emotional centre stage. This takes things far further than the former installments, however, by having the girl in question act in direct opposition to Araragi, by her own free will, and to his considerable detriment. As the star of this arc, Nadeko eclipses all other characters in terms of screen time and presence, though her initially weak drive and constant self-doubt makes the first half of this arc drag. Smartly, the series does tease a violent confrontation at the very start to give the whole affair tragic overtones, and the events leading up to it feel more like a string of unfortunate circumstances, which could have easily been avoided, than something inevitable. As a result, it’s easier to sympathise with Nadeko in spite of her cliche nature and pitiful outlook than it is to write her off as a selfish antagonist in need of change.

Nonetheless, she is clearly the villain in this arc, as her introspective view on the situation, while understandable, is still selfish at its core. She wants special treatment for Araragi, but doesn’t have the strong personality of the likes of Senjougahara or Kanbaru, the common blood of Karen and Tsukihi, nor the insight of Hanekawa or Shinobu, to warrant his attention. He’s kind to her, much like everyone else, but as Shinobu puts it he doesn’t think of her as anyone special and would do for her what he would for any other girl. This base for her character was well established in Bakemonogatari, where the arc which involved her wasn’t by any means about her, and Nisemonogatari, where she proceeded to muck around nonsensically while Araragi wondered what the whole point was (much like everyone else). She’s a shallow brat whom Araragi doesn’t desire for any reason beyond her body, and even then not to the extent of some of the other girls.

This realisation brought on by observations from the Snake, Shinobu and even Nadeko single her out as the only character who could not only feasibly transform into an antagonist, but almost inevitably become one. Unlike Hanekawa, she didn’t really have to put herself in an emotionally vulnerable position to overcome her personal demons, and unlike Senjougahara she doesn’t seem particularly grateful to Araragi for saving her. The climax in her arc of Bakemonogatari barely even focused on her as anything more than an object to be cleansed, with Araragi and even Kanbaru doing much more work than her when neither of them had any obligation to. Otorimonogatari relies heavily on context and character juxtaposition, and audience members who weren’t focusing on the contrasting character relevancies would probably be confused why Nadeko is so bitter to everyone, particularly given how her only interaction with Kanbaru involved being saved by her.

Araragi, though still a hero in his own right and consistent with his previous self, is described by White Snake and Nadeko in such a way that his carelessness and neglect towards her feels unjust, given how his views of her are highly superficial and he never really tried to understand her like he did Mayoi or Kanbaru when he was rescuing them. He (and several others) saw her as a victim that he has a fetish for and little more, and this is both result of, and cause for, her poor sense of identity and minimal confidence.

Shinobu is harsher here than she’s ever been before. If Hanekawa is the extreme of goodness, endangering her life for eve the smallest act of kindness, and Araragi is more to the middle ground, having personal desires of his own and seeking them out but doing what’s needed to save his friends, Shinobu is to the other extreme. She has few obligations to anyone beyond Araragi, to whom she has deeply bonded, and doesn’t seem to view kindness as anything more than an impediment in a necessary task. She’s right close to all the time, picking Nadeko’s flaws and insecurities like she can see right through her, but beyond her calculating demeanor she seems to have a special hatred for Nadeko. To paraphrase, she more-or-less states “You’re cute, almost as cute as me… But you flaunt it and try to win over sympathy. You truly are pathetic.” Like with Vegeta from Dragon Ball, she very nearly causes more damage than she fixes, as her attitude to Nadeko serves to exacerbate the poor girl’s already substantial feelings of worthlessness.

No-one is particularly likable here, but everyone is sympathetic. Nadeko knows she’s a weak, objectified character and uses it to manipulate others while simultaneously being deeply ashamed of it. Meanwhile, Senjougahara shows her no respect by essentially stopping time to avert defeat and Shinobu outright labels her a loser and provokes her to the point where many audience members may be glad to see the loli vampire finally beaten. In spite of many character actions being outright despicable, they always feel justified within the circumstantial context presented in Otorimonogatari. Even though Araragi is neglectful, his heart is in the right place and it’s clear that, though he might not fully understand Nadeko, he is willing to go to such extremes to save her that it’s difficult not to want him to win. Ougi’s snake-like eyes and flat lined, yet sinister, voice are continuing to grow more threatening as the series continues along, though her presence here is still largely relegated to a cameo.

The presentation for this arc in terms of colour choices, framing and angles is quite a spectacle. Initially, Nadeko’s character design was intentionally pitiful, with mundane brown eyes fading against her similar jacket and her various plain shirts and pants doing nothing but making her fade into the background. The framing subtly complimented this, as her height would always be dwarfed in comparison to the buildings or other characters, making her comparative vulnerability feel even more potent. However, her meltdown leading up to her transformation featured some juxtaposing angle choices, such as ones from below to emphasise her strong spirit and more central positions indicating her disregard for others and desire to finally take the spotlight.

Even the linguistic presentation mirrors this, with the symbol for “otori”, 囮, itself containing a box radical (“Nikugamae”) and the OP showing kanji such as “love”,  恋, is also boxed in to show Nadeko’s self-contained adoration for Araragi. Interestingly, the symbol for “otori”, meaning decoy, is essentially the symbol for monster, 化 (“bake”), enclosed, literally meaning “enclosed monster”. Though these may be written off as coincidences in most other situations, these symbols compliment the claustrophobic cinematography to create a sense of enclosed, repressed danger.

Lighting and colour contrast is also used greatly to this series favour. Nadeko’s eventual red eyes pop out of her pale skin excellently, and though the colour scheme of said eyes are different to that of her human form, the nature of the gradient is similar enough that Nadeko’s original essence is still visually present. The way in which the mountain backdrop would change colour depending on Nadeko’s mood, from mellow blue to murderous red, allowed some potent emotional expression while still remaining threatening. This is the sort of nuanced lighting that Otorimonogatari presents more than any other Monogatari entry thus far.

The work with the snakes in particular stands out, with Nadeko’s “hair” writhing around coldly, occasionally accompanied by a white aura. However, the CGI with the snakes isn’t quite convincing, sometimes making them appear too rubbery or unnatural, but given their supernatural nature this may be overlooked. Though not quite on the level of True Shinobu, Nadeko’s snake form is greatly presented through art direction and meaningful shot composition. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lack of character animation here doesn’t quite allow the psychedelic and intimate overtones to reach the potential to which they may be expressed, though this is in large part made up by the aforementioned directorial merits.

Musically, Otorimonogatari doesn’t quite match the presentation of character development or animation, lacking any particularly memorable tracks. Its atmospheric in the most important moments, though even then the music choices feel very on-the-nose, missing much of the quiet subtlety that made the visual presentation work so well. The OP, though containing some subtle symbolism (as was mentioned above) doesn’t quite have the flair that an arc like this deserves, with Hanazawa’s voice being greatly underutilised. The ED much weaker than the one that proceeded it, due to its dull vocal and instrumental repetition and underwhelming visual presentation.

The voice acting is as great as it has always been, though Kana Hanazawa deserves special mention for her effective portrayal of both regular Nadeko and Nadeko Medusa. She’s played no shortage of passive (or weak) female characters in the past, and Nadeko was at the bottom of the barrel even in that regard, though Hanazawa sells her weakness and subsequent shame of it so genuinely that Nadeko feels like a real person, despite (intentionally) being little more than a cliche. Her Medusa, much like Black Hanekawa, retains much of the original’s vocal mannerism, though with serpentine inflections rather than feline ones in this particular case. It worked well with Black Hanekawa and works just as well here.

Overall: B+

Story: B

Characters: A-

Visuals: B+

Sound: B-

 

Otorimonogatari may be bought and streamed on Hanabee and Crunchyroll if you live in Australia.

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