Onimonogatari‘s uninteresting and poorly integrated exposition and plot structure result in what should be one of its most powerful arcs instead serving as, quite possibly, the worst in the series.
Plot summary: Araragi and Mayoi are attacked by a bunch of words, and can’t do anything. So Shinobu tells them her backstory for no reason and Yotsugi is there too.
Onimonogatari begins in the same way as many of Second Season’s other arcs. Ougi shows up and plays a small part in the story (though only really acts as the recipient of exposition in this case) and one of the girls meets up with Araragi. Things start out promisingly enough, with an intense (by Monogatari standards) bike ride that results in Mayoi being taken to the cram school. When they get there, they meet up with Yotsugi, whom discusses the nature of apparitions. Much of the first episode is comprised of her commenting on Araragi’s muscles and obnoxiously objectifying him more than anyone, except maybe Nadeko, has done before. Even Shinobu’s presence and surprisingly engaging backstory offers little to Onimonogatari‘s narrative, as it simply serves as a plot device for the events which ultimately have little to do with her. To make matters worse, this takes up an entire episode with Visual Novel-like visual presentation (and pacing), and the events described feel so much more interesting than the pale plot being shown to the audience that it’s more likely to have them wish that story was being animated to them, rather than what they’re actually given.
The second half involves possibly the least effective attempt at displaying a threatening entity, both emotionally and physically, in the franchise thus far, and as a result the exposition regarding the mass of words (the anti-existence) carries little weight. Gaen, who’s introduced (she previously had a small cameo in Nekomonogatari: White) to solve the issue and does so with the greatest of ease, is far less engaging than Meme and Kaiki before her, serving only as a device to end the plot and foreshadow Hanamonogatari. By the end, none of the characters have done much outside of discussing irrelevant details, causing this entry to have both an unfocused emotional core and an ending that feels more jarring than touching. The farewell to Mayoi’s character feels more tragically underwhelming than it does tragic, as she didn’t really contribute much other than serving as Araragi’s play-friend, which had been her role since the beginning of Bakemonogatari anyway. The arc where she was the poster girl, Kabukimonogatari, also failed to do this, but while that had a lot of development for Shinobu and a more engaging, albeit convoluted, plot, this does little with anyone, besides deepening Monogatari‘s lore (which is not what this franchise is known for or particularly innovative in).
Almost as bad as the narrative structure is the character treatment, which is perhaps even worse than that of Nisemonogatari. Araragi adds little to the story, besides acting as an ear for the audience, and it feels as though far more is done to him and around than by him. To make matters worse, Yotsugi goes from being a charming aesthetic character with loveable quirks and an endearing deadpan attitude to one of the most precocious and unpleasant members of the cast; it is unfortunate that she had to have her first real major role in such a poor arc. Shinobu, who really stole the show in Kabukimonogatari, recites her story in a way that feels more like a break from, or even hindrance to, the story, in spite of serving as the plot device that kick-started the events of this arc. She doesn’t seem as close to Araragi as before, having regressed back to her former Senjougahara-lite mode when she’s outside of exposition. The whole “Who Is The Best Girl?” competition was also unwelcome, given that an arc where the entire story and all the characters are a joke does not need levity. However, Mayoi suffered the worst out of the entire cast, which is particularly terrible because this was her last chance to make an impression. She’s asleep for much of the arc, and even when awake contributes little to the actual progression of the plot. Consequently, at the end of the arc when the writers clearly want the audience to sympathise with her, it falls largely flat due to how, especially in comparison to Hanekawa, Senjougahara and Shinobu, she has never been much more than Araragi’s plaything. She’s a character who may be missed, though the Monogatari series will hardly be worse off in her absence.
Visually, this is worst entry in the entire franchise so far, and it isn’t even close. The episodes that consist of the standard Monogatari animation (which is to say, very little) are toned down greatly in colour, almost bleached, with the whiteness of the chairs in Meme’s cram school making the long, bloated and unnessecary exposition feel even less engaging. There are attempts made to work around what appear to be budgetary issues, such as showing of gorgeous long, slow panning shots of stills depicting Shinobu’s past, though despite how genuinely beautiful they are, it feels like an unintentional (or even intentional, though nonetheless unfunny) joke to have them stretched out over a dozen minutes. Gaen’s appearance spices things up a bit, with her presence in any given scene usually being associated with a rainbow coloured sky, though unlike in other series like K Project, where this approach leads to some very appealing scenery, it instead feels like a clumsy and desperate attempt at hiding the lack of actual movement. Onimonogatari lacks both the surreal imagery of Bakemonogatari, like Suruga’s monkey form and Black Hanekawa, and the animation quality of Nisemonogatari, in its spurts of high energy animation, resulting in a blandly presented sequence of events lacking the production values or artistic integrity to be even remotely engaging. There are a few moments where the anime does genuinely try to have some exciting sequences, though the animation is particularly choppy this time and these moments always felt shorter than they should have been.
In the audio department, this entry is merely serviceable, and that’s being generous. There was no new opening song in the simulcast release, and the OP included in the Blu-Ray’s may have done the series a disservice. Though Monogatari OPs have never provided the strongest of songs, they were typically on point in terms of expressing the tone of their respective arcs. This one, however, has kinetic instrumentation backed up by a powerful chorus to sharp imagery and bold colour choices, displaying far more in the way of intensity and progression than the series was able to do. The ED is identical to that of Otorimonogatari’s song wise, and even less engaging visually, made even more skipable by its placement 5 minutes before the end of each episode. The OST is ominous enough during Shinobu’s backstory, though in other moments of intense conversation it’s nowhere to be heard, taking a backseat to the monotonous voice acting and mostly absent sound effects. The pianos do play towards the end when emotional manipulation is desired, though ultimately nothing really stands out. Akin to the visuals and story, stagnant is an apt term to describe the audio component of Onimonogatari.
It’s not all bad, however. Saori Hayami’s Yotsugi is every bit as charming as ever, despite her nature becoming more monochromatic with the rest of the cast, though her deadpan voice is overused. Hiroshi Kamiya and Maaya Sakamoto continue to bring Araragi and Shinobu to life well, though the latter serves as more of an audio book voice over than a character this time around, teasing aside. Emiri, however, gets to deliver some truly emotional lines, displaying primal emotions while still retaining that childish innocence that defines Mayoi. It would have been nice for her send off to have been more poignant, but the voice talent did what they could with the poor material they were given.
Overall, this is a black mark on the quality of Monogatari: Second Season, with its central female being given nothing to do, the series worst habits on display in full force and the presentation lacklustre in both quality and artistic merit. Had this been a success, Second Season could have boasted five good arcs, though as it stands, this entry isn’t bad enough to sink second season entirely.
Onimonogatari may be bought and streamed on Hanabee and Crunchyroll if you live in Australia.