Monogatari Second Season: Koimonogatari Review

Overcoming the fetishised and indulgent qualities that have plagued previous entires and taking the best qualities of the Monogatari series, particularly the witty banter and thematic core, to new heights with a tight narrative which constantly stands on the edge of a razor, Koimonogatari poignantly closes out Monogatari Second Season with an emotionally focused, dramatically effective and satisfyingly dense conclusion.

Plot Synopsis: With Nadeko’s promise to kill Araragi looming over Senjougahara, she has no choice but to enlist the aid of a con-man whom she despises, Kaiki Deishu. However, the task is more difficult than he anticipated, and to triumph over such a powerful entity, he must first re-evaluate what lies at his core.

Koimonogatari takes the negatives of several previous entries and reverses them, with the density and precision of the dialogue exhibiting the sharpness and complexity that the less substantial entries were either unwilling, or unable, to do. From the first episode, the character conflicts and pressing deadline are made apparent, and this stays consistent till the end; the protagonists are tasked with quelling the rage of an unbeatable deity who has no obvious weaknesses. The best elements of Second Season‘s other stories are all present, with the intrapersonal dilemmas of Nekomonogatari: White, the high-stakes intimacy and vulnerability of Kabukimonogatari, the focus on non-Araragi protagonists like in Otorimonogatari and the conclusive finale of Onimonogatari. All of these elements are presented just as well here, and in several cases better, than the aforementioned installments; if Nisemonogatari acts as a testament of everything wrong with the Monogatari series, then this arc serves as a reminder of it’s palpable emotionally potency.

The story here plays out in vain with previous entries, albeit with a different starting point; Kaiki is called in by Senjougahara to help convince Nadeko not to kill Araragi. Kaiki’s dilemma is a compelling one; he tricks and manipulates people, though he does have a conscience and is aware of the ramifications of his actions, even if he carries them out anyway. What would be a dull first episode in almost any other anime, essentially just consisting of one character trying to strike a bargain with another, is instead simultaneously comedic, dramatic, emotional and instrumental in establishing the thematic core of the arc. Once Kaiki agrees, the plot stems from one conversation to another with Yotsugi, Senjougahara, Hanekawa and even Nadeko herself all adding their own pieces of the puzzle. What’s most compelling is how Kaiki’s  investigations lead him, and the audience, to try and discover wherein lies Nadeko’s deep insecurities and how to use them against her (without provoking her into killing thousands of people, of course).

In contrast to almost every other preceding installment, every conversation is multi-layered and relevant to the plot, with Senjougahara’s usually sharp sensual nature being greatly downplayed and her fragile vulnerability, which was barely on display even in her darkest moments in Bakemonogatari, being as pronounced as it has ever been. Outside of the first episode, there is next to no comedy in much of the interactions, Yotsugi’s antics being immediately shut down as though Kaiki himself saw Onimonogatari and was sick of her.

Each of the few side characters make the most of their screen time, with Hanekawa doing a particularly good job at standing out as a strong, well-developed and useful character without treading old ground. The absence of Araragi did wonders in allowing Kaiki, Nadeko and Senjougahara to get the spotlight, and having Senjougahara tear up and physically show strong emotions was a powerful and earned moment that Koimonogatari treated respectfully, without letting this scene overstay its welcome. Even characters who don’t physically appear, such as Gaen and Ougi, make their presence know. The former through her actions behind the scenes and with her described actions and theories, and the latter with her manipulative and hyperopic planning, which pays off gloriously in the end with one of the most hilarious sucker punches I’ve seen in a long time.  Even Yotsugi’s light-hearted dialogue carries some substantial weight to it, proving that she works much better in a minor supporting role, or as an aesthetic character, than as a central protagonist.

Nonetheless, this is definitely Kaiki’s and Nadeko’s arc. Kaiki is a far more intriguing, non-typical and even funny character than Araragi, the latter characteristic largely stemming from the nonchalant way in which he speaks and acts when talking to a someone who could kill him, someone who clearly has no idea how regular humans act and someone who throws orange juice in his face. That alone would probably make him the most peculiar narrator thus far, though his relationship with Senjougahara (whom is heavily hinted to have had a crush on him at some point in her life) not only makes him more sympathetic than he has any right to be, but the way in which he regards and articulates Senjougahara’s weakness and, subsequently, strength also adds to her character. Even though he isn’t quite as emotionally effective as Hanekawa, his dramatic, twisted, multifaceted and deceptively thoughtful verbal contributions made him the best narrator in the series to date.

His actions are also notable, as he has to dance on the edge of a blade for over a month while trying to discover not what Nadeko is, but who she is, and as both he and the audience learn more about her pre-Medusa identity it becomes apparent, even more powerfully than in Otorimonogatari, that she has largely been shaped by outside influences. The arc doesn’t entirely take the deterministic approach with the attempts at justifying her behaviour, but rather shows how her oppression in both activities and attitude prevented her from developing a strong personal identity, which ties in excellently with her victimization during Bakemonogatari. With all the build-up as more is learned about her, defeating her initially seems impossible; however, Nisio Isin once again displays how powerful semantic precision can be, as Kaiki not only has to convince Nadeko to become human, but to do it of her own free will. Thankfully, there is no last minute sanctimonious “Araragi saves the day” moment like in Nekomonogatri: White, so much so that this may be the arc in which he has the least direct impact. The battle here is the hardest in the series so far, and the epilogue is both darkly funny and tragic, for different reasons.

This would unquestionably be the strongest arc in the Monogatari series so far is the presentation matched the quality of the content. Perhaps due to being the last arc in a 26 episode (even with 3 recap episodes) series, the animation quality is limited even by the standard of the series. The aesthetics are a considerable improvement over Onimonogatari, with maybe the widest and most tropical colour palette thus far, and the OP and ED are certainly among the most visually inventive of the series. The former hilariously showcases Senjougahara and Kaiki as 1980s’ shoujo characters, with on point visual metaphors to their respective animals and aesthetically pleasing effects. The ED shows the pencil-drawn style cast on a blue backdrop that, while pleasant to look at, isn’t among its most outstanding endings. Beyond those, this arc looks and sounds distinct from anything that preceded it, due in large part to some great character and set designs, though rather than work around the limited movement with inventive directing, the focus on keeping the presentation as grounded as possible also made it feel duller than usual. The CGI in the finale is among the worst in the Monogatari series, breaking much of the immersion and distracting from, rather than adding to, the intensity of the final confrontation. The CGI snakes weren’t quite as plentiful in Otorimonogatari, and that arc was much more concise in its visual representations of Nadeko’s feelings of enclosure stemming from how others view her and how she reacts to said treatment, while here they’re the only thing that moves in most frames in the final episode, making them an unavoidable eyesore. The various planes, cars and building all lack more than the most basic of details, a weakness that the entire series has always had, though is made more evident here than anywhere else.

Composition is still done well, with Nadeko and her snakes dominating most of the screen space when necessary and, ugly and out of place though they were, their quantity and presence was still palpable. The snow, though certainly well below what other series have done with it, is pleasant to look at, and much attention to detail is provided in Nadeko’s room. Ultimately, though the overall quality of animation decreased in this arc, the most important moments were given priority, and the colour scheme is still moderately appealing. Given the nature of this series and how Second Season is the longest continuous anime in the franchise by almost double Bakemonogatari’s (12 episodes) aired length, decreases in quality are certainly not unreasonable, and this arc had much more going for it.

The sound is much more deliberate, with the character themes of Kaiki, Senjougahara and even Nadeko complimenting and contrasting each other in tune with the presented narrative. Kaiki’s off-note violin strings introduced in Nisemonogatari are expanded upon here, incorporating new instruments as Kaiki’s world-view is simultaneously challenged and explored. Senjougahara’s accompanying meticulous piano piece takes center-stage as the depth of her devotion to Araragi and fear that Nadeko could take everything away from her grows with each passing day. Though Nadeko’s theme doesn’t quite encapsulate her presence as completely as that of Kaiki or Senjougahara, it still lends her scenes the appropriate atmosphere.  The most notable development in the musical department is how Kaiki, who is more-or-less a hero by the end, is instead accompanies by an on-note, attractive piece that shows his soul, buried under years of lies and back-stabbings, is still in tact.

Overall: B+

Story: B+

Characters: A-

Visuals: B

Sound: B

The series may be streamed on Crunchyroll and Hanabee, who has also released it on DVD.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. samui says:

    I am willing to give this arc an overall grade of A- just because of Kaiki. He’s just that good. While I am not that hot with Nadeko’s skeleton in her closet, it makes sense since she’s young.

    Overall, I find the Second Season to be uneven but still a good addition to the Monogatari franchise. Hey, have you seen Koyominogatari?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mrconair says:

      Koyomimonogatari hasn’t been picked up by a legal streaming service (to my knowledge), so I haven’t been able to yet. Kizumonogatari might be out on DVD in Japan, though watching it raw would give me one heck of a headache. I might give it a go, though, if it releases while I’m still in Japan.

      This is a borderline B+/A- case, as it does bring out the best of the franchise, but the presentation just held it back, just that little bit, from getting an A. Besides, only Bebop and Fate/Zero have pulled that off on this blog, going by memory, so it’s hardly a major letdown.

      Like

      1. samui says:

        Oh.. I see, the visuals aren’t that strong to be honest. On the other hand, I forgot you’re still in Japan (I bet internet laws are really strict there).

        “Besides, only Bebop and Fate/Zero have pulled that off on this blog, going by memory, so it’s hardly a major letdown.”

        – I see. B+ is actually a high grade. Starting 2015, I mostly give C+ (I think that’s a 6?) to most shows I watched.

        Like

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