Though the animation and music are polished and the thematic material promising, Tsukimonogatari is ultimately an unsatisfying, unengaging arc that fails to provide any concrete sense of progress.
Plot Synopsis: Araragi has no reflection, and his sisters have been kidnapped! Struggling with his vampire nature, it seems that now is as good a time as any for him to indulge in fan service.
The first third of Tsukimonogatari plays out much like Nisemonogatari; Araragi is teased by his precocious sisters who physically abuse him and make fun of him, reaffirming their relationship as the least likeable of the entire Monogatari series. After indulging in an extended bath sequence with incestual overtones, the story slowly drags itself to confronting Araragi’s growing vampiric nature as he realises that he can no longer see his own reflection. On the positive side of the spectrum, everything ties into Araragi’s growing vampiric nature; if he rescues his sisters and Kanbaru, like he has in the past, he asserts his comfort with asserting his immortality for the sake of others. However, he has to get past his hero complex, as failure to learn to control himself will result in consequences for both the long-term (Araragi preventing others from facing their own demons a la Haneakwa and Senjougahara in Second Season, staying as an idealistic teenager) and now, with the realisation that his vampire half will overwhelm his human half if he keeps getting hurt, the short term as well.
One of the major problems with this series, and the main one that holds it back from being particularly engaging, is the lack of any meaningful or complex struggle. It presents Araragi’s dilemma in a sympathetic, albeit predictable manner, and drones on about it extensively, though when all is said and done little in the way of progression has been brought to the character. Of course he’d rush to help them, the audience know he’ll rush to help them, and he even outright says he’ll rush to help them. It’s difficult to justify why such emphasis is being placed on Araragi at such a late stage in the Monogatari franchise, particularly when it adds nothing to him and he was bordering on a non-presence throughout much of Second Season. His narrations feel far too repetitive, particularly after the first 30 episodes of Monogatari, and in contrast to Kaiki, Nadeko or Hanekawa, it felt as though the experience would have been more engaging had, perhaps, Yotsugi or even Shinobu been the narrator. Had this arc immediately followed Nisemonogatari, the tone and comedy would have felt less out of place, though after seeing Hanekawa expose her weaknesses through tears and humiliation, Senjougahara beg for Kaiki to save Araragi and Nadeko struggle with her awareness and exploitation of her trope, watching Araragi stare up Yotsugi’s dress for 10 minutes just feels like an unwanted relic from the past.
There isn’t even a physical struggle; they find Tadatsuru, defeat him in a single attack with the most basic of plans and that’s it. Ougi’s overbearingly threatening nature doesn’t add much here; she scolds Araragi in less than her usual subtle manner, though it’s already been established that he knows that she’s a potential threat, so her goading doesn’t add much. Kagenui teases and sprinkles exposition, though uncovering a book would have given them the same results with much less insufferable smarm. As Araragi walks up the mountain while looking down Yotsugi’s skirt and the franchise seems to be treating her feelings as something new, it’s difficult to sympathise with Araragi, given his objectification of her, or be engaged by the revelation that she is indeed not a soulless puppet, because Koimonogatari made the fairly apparent (a single wince in response to Kaiki’s frustration gave her more characterization than this entire arc). In terms of overall progression, this is the single most flaccid entry in the Monogatari series to date, even surpassing Onimonogatari, because that at least had a substantial (albeit deflated) ending. The silver lining here is the small scene between Senjougahara and Araragi at the end, as the former seems so different from the ice queen at the beginning of Bakemonogatari that it’s heartwarming seeing her so expressively kind towards the protagonist.
This arc’s treatment of its characters is hardly better than its story; its attempts at making Araragi interesting again fall flat because his qualities have always been revealed through how he interacts with others, and given how much he’d done (particularly in Bakemonogatari) Tsukimonogatari would need something especially unusual for this to work. To their credit, it’s easy to see how this idea might have worked on paper, though given that the audience would, by this point, be well antiquated with Araragi’s heroic and selfless tendencies (and assorted fetishes), the inability of Tsukimonogatari to bring anything new to the table is extremely noticeable. Had they taken the Nekomonogatari: White approach and had some dense, contemplative introspection, pointing out Araragi’s flaws and dealing with them within the framework of a plot that posed a legitimate threaten to himself and his family, then this arc could have rounded out the development of the entire main cast of the Monogatari series. However, it only succeeds in highlighting him as the weakest link (besides his sisters, of course).
The side characters are perhaps dealt with even worse, because instead of staying static some of them actually regress back to their former selves. The fire sisters and Shinobu act in a way reminiscent to their obnoxious Nisemonogatari selves, while Kagenui fails to really add anything other than malice and details. Even Ougi can’t save this arc, as she essentially just insults the cast . The brightest spark of the supporting cast is Senjougahara, who seems like a fully developed character . Sadly, she gets mere minutes with Araragi, and the dialogue she trades with him would have been much more relevant had it been placed at the end of the far superior Koimonogatari.
On the positive side, Tsukimonogatari’s production values are well on the high point for the Monogatari franchise. The quantity of movement is considerably greater than usual, with the bath scene in the first third showcasing some impressive character animation. The depth of lighting is rich, particularly in the snow, and the colouring only dulls below the standard brightness in some of the distance shots of the characters. The backgrounds are detailed, though still not quite solid-looking, and there are even some fine effects works in the finale. The main antagonist, though poor from a narrative perspective, had an aura to him that (aside from destroying any pretense of subtlety) gave him a stronger presence than he might have had otherwise. There was more of surreal imagery in Tsukimonogatari than in most other installments, though it never quite hit the heights of Bakemonogatari.
The presentation of written exposition on newspaper cutout style was a less inspired choice, passing by far to quickly to be read and difficult to pause on. It’s most similar to the synopses at the beginning of Bakemonogatari, though at least in that case their placement was consistent. The art direction is also lacking in comparison to the other entries in the franchise, missing both from the (scarce) comical sequences and the dramatic ones. Additionally, besides the pleasant snow and fitting lighting, Tsukimonogatari doesn’t have a very strong visual identity, aside from being less memorable than the preceding entries. Design wise, the main antagonist fares poorly in comparison to Black Hanekawa, Kaiki or Medusa Nadeko, though it’s unlikely that he’d be remembered even if he had the best design.
Sound wise, Tsukimonogatari is also less inspired than usual. When it wants to be dramatic or tragic, it plays the textbook instruments for said scenes, though the interplay of character themes and experimental application is missing. The score isn’t bad by any means; all the appropriate songs are placed in the correct scenes and they do evoke the correct emotional response, though they lack the key components to make them stand out The exceptions to this would be the OP and ED, the former of which shows off Saori Hayami’s impressive singing skills with some fluid, transient animation that compliment each other very well. It’s a strong song on its own, though it doesn’t quite fit the anime its attached to, Hayami’s vocal mannerisms aside, and lyrics like “Heart pounding Orange, Glittering Mint Flavour” are as nonsensical as a song can be. The ED is a visual treat, with Yotsugi’s transformation into a space ship being the highlight, and ClariS’s vocals are no slouch either. The music is above average, mainly due to the strong OP and ED, though it doesn’t quite ascend to the ranks of the other entries.
Tsukimonogatari is available on Daisuki.