Rich in presentation and emotional intensity, Hanamonogatari elevates Kanbaru to new heights and delivers a stirring character drama grounded with sharp pacing and biting dialogue that explores its dark themes without exploitation or shock factor.
Plot Synopsis: Still suffering from a monkey arm, Kanbaru is going about her daily life when Ougi informs her that an old rival has re-appeared. Upon realisation that this old friend of hers is bathing in the suffering of others, Kanbaru must summon her courage and sense of self to defeat this new threat.
Hanamonogatari sets into its stride from the very beginning, with Kanbaru attending school and reminiscing over her arm, only to hear that an old acquaintance of hers has returned. Upon realising this, Kanbaru confronts her and learns of her nature as one who feeds off the despair of others, though offering nothing in return. It is then up to Kanbaru to sort Rouka out by first coming to terms with her own nature and finding the confidence to fight against her. Though, akin to previous arcs, the plot consists of a string of character interactions, in this case things are most similar to Koimonogatari, where each conversation leads to considerable development for either the characters or plot. Like Koimonogatari, there had been a good deal of foreshadowing and setup beforehand, given that Gaen asked several characters to help Kanbaru out in several arcs of Second Season.
Very little outside of the core substance is given priority in Hanamonogatari, and the few seemingly insignificant detours from the main plot always find their way back to the central narrative. From the juxtaposition of Kanbaru running powerfully around the high school jogging track to her clumsily falling and flailing as her body adjusts to its recently regained equilibrium, to the way in which she’s more or less framed as being alone as she faces Rouka, Kabaru grows at a rapid rate, possibly more so than any other character thus far has done outside of any arc beyond Bakemonogatari, and it’s sold excellently with tightness and finesse.
Another aspect that separates this arc from those that preceded it is how central the narrator is. In previous arcs, the screen time and dialogue was often shared around considerably, with multiple characters droning on about either the plot or absolutely nothing. In some cases, like Koimonogatari, where everyone added their own little pieces of information, this worked well, though in the likes of Onimonogatari, the presence of some characters was almost entirely unnecessary. However, here Kanbaru has many scenes entirely to herself, with no-one else in them and the writing focused solely on her, or her through the predicaments she is forced to face, and as a result she grows more rapidly than nearly anyone else.
That’s not to say other characters don’t play a part. Ougi does what she’s been doing since the beginning, her nuanced goading and serpentine evil as sinister as ever, even she is only a messenger here. Both Araragi and Kaiki chime in somewhat ham-fistedly, despite the foreshadowing in the previous arcs, though the presence of the latter is quite the attention grabber nonetheless (the former feels more obligatory than essential, but doesn’t do the story a disservice in any major way). Rouka herself was on the cusp of being an antagonist akin the Nadeko Medusa, though outside of the complex circumstances of her presence and nature, she isn’t very distinguishable in terms of personality or appearance. This does prevent her from overshadowing Kanbaru, though it also prevents her from seeming as complex and thereby unequal.
Typically, an antagonist who’s more serviceable than memorable would be a substantial weakness, but at it’s core, Hanamonogatari is a story of self-actualisation for Kanbaru, and in this regard it delivers magnificently. The scenes where she’s on her own really allows the viewer to get inside her head and understand her deceptive self-consciousness, despite her sexual extrovertedness, and how she secretly resented Araragi and Senjougahara. These elements were all present in Bakemonogatari, though they really come to the forefront here as Ougi exploits them, Kaiki reminds Kanbaru that she is still a child and Araragi offers her advice. Despite their presence, Kanbaru is more alone than any of her Monogatari contemporaries have been before, with no safety net or back up to take her place if she fails. Nonetheless, this isn’t played up as a cheap attempt at victimisation either; Kanbaru is one of the few characters who has actively hurt others mostly by her own free will, and outside of the Nadeko Snake arc hasn’t really done much to redeem herself. It took a long time to get to, and arguably this arc should have taken place much earlier, but that Kanbaru was given a personal story of her own, one not significantly tampered with by pratfalls and unfortunate tendencies of the franchise, the wait may have been worth it.
Visually, this stands among the richest and most detailed entries in the series, not just in animation quality (which does slip up in places) but in the careful attention given to several “blink-and-you-miss-them” frames. These include a split second show of adult Araragi’s Shinobu keychain on his car keys, and flower (known as a yuri, which also means lesbian) opening up as Kanbaru’s hair is cut. In addition to that, Hanamonogatari often showcasing objects (water, floating basket balls) spiraling counter-clockwise, possibly symbolising disorder or internal unease. The set pieces in this anime are particularly impressive, fixing the lack of solidity in scenery that has plagued this series in the past, with the sports stadium and various cherry blossom trees outside of the Kanbaru residence standing out as both stunning and emotionally evocative locations. The former as an area where one must face off against another in an ideological and physical struggle, and the latter as an area where the simple beauty of life may be appreciated, as both of these are used in the appropriate emotional context.
There are also a number of scenes where character movement is plentiful, namely those in which Kanbaru is running. Though the character animation here isn’t anything outstanding, and the fluidity certainly isn’t up to par with other sports-focused anime that the likes of Production IG have been churning out over the last few years, what makes them special is the way in which they’re framed. As Kanbaru runs into the wilderness, with no plan in her head, she shrinks away in the sequence, mirroring her own feelings of how little use she can be to the situation. However, what most viewers will likely take away from this is the pencil-drawn style extended atmospheric flashback in which the history of a girl is described. As an added bonus, the quantity of fan-service is decreased in consistence with the tone, though the series of course still has the audacity to still toss in an incestual Araragi joke. It seems some things just never change.
Musically, Hanamonogatari is atmospheric while still staying true to the character themes from earlier entries. Kaiki’s off-key violin strings are still there, as is the up-beat and confident guitar unique to Kanbaru. The OST is unnerving when Rouka recites her backstory and demands things from Kanbaru, and uplifting when Araragi lends Kanbaru and even when Kaiki consoles her it strikes the right mood. It doesn’t miss a single beat, and though it doesn’t quite ramp up the drama to an 11, it’s certainly among the most competent in the series from and audio standpoint. The ED for Hanamonogatari is the best in the series, as Sawashiro Miyuki’s voice changes from fondly reminiscent to violently regretful very naturally before settling into a chorus that exudes finality and deliberation. It’s a tight, mesmerising and fitting send off to one of Monogatarims greatest achievements thus far, and a strong feat of condensed story telling in its own right.
Hanamonogatari is available on Crunchyroll.