Review: Nekomonogatari (Kuro)

Fresh into the new year, SHAFT delivers on their promise of more Monogatari goodness. Following the success of Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari, SHAFT announced last year their ambitious plan to animate the entire Monogatari series of light novels into 2014. The first “season” consists of Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari (Kuro), and Kizumonogatari, which will be released later this year. Following this will be a new 26 episode anime series that will be a continuation of Nisemonogatari, and next year the final 3 light novels will be animated. Naturally, SHAFT is kicking things off for 2013 with the release of Nekomonogatari (Kuro), a four part OVA that takes place just before Bakemono, but after the events of Kizumono that turn Koyomi into a vampire.

This being a prequel to the original series, the cast of characters for this entry is much smaller, and centers on Koyomi Araragi (Hiroshi Kamiya) and Tsubasa Hanekawa (Yui Horie) during Golden Week. The series is well known for its compelling cast of female characters such as Senjougahara and Mayoi, and the complex backstories that lead to their encounters with supernatural “oddities”. With the scope being much smaller in comparison to the previous two seasons, Nekomonogatari sheds light on Hanekawa’s character, such as her motivations and her overall personality.

The events of Nekomono occur during Golden Week, which in Japan is a week-long holiday that takes place in Spring. For most students, Golden Week is a chance to relax before midterms. In Koyomi’s case, it reminds him of Hanekawa’s encounter with a “meddlesome cat” (sawarineko) that possesses her body and sets off attacking people during Golden Week. From there, the plot mainly focuses on Koyomi trying to find a way to stop “Black Hanekawa”, with the help of Meme Oshino (Takahiro Sakurai) and Shinobu (Maaya Sakamoto). If you’ve seen the “Tsubasa Cat” arc from Bakemonogatari, this is essentially the complete story of Hanekawa’s encounter with the oddity, though with a few retcons here and there.

Nisio Isin’s writing has not lost its attractive wit and charm. The conversation between Koyomi and his sister about love was such a funny and well-thought scene that had me chuckling the entire time. Koyomi is perverted as ever, though it’s amusing to see how he deals with that pent-up sexual frustration throughout the story. With no Mayoi to harrass and no Senjougahara to keep him in line, we see a slightly more offbeat Koyomi who’s a bit more selfish than we’re used to. We even see Hanekawa at her most vulnerable, an otherwise perfect model student who has deep-seated issues with her family. While the stress that causes her “Black Hanekawa” persona to reappear later on stems from her love for Koyomi, the issue this time is her struggle to find a place in the world.

One of the more controversial aspects of Nisemonogatari was the decision to insert more fanservice. Bakemono had its fair share of fanservice moments, such as Senjougahara showering and getting dressed in front of Koyomi, but it was a lot more tame in comparison with Nisemonogatari. There were shots of Suruga completely naked, that really suggestive scene when Koyomi was at Nadeko’s house to “play Twister”, and even the thing with his sisters. I’m not completely against fanservice, but unless its used sparingly, it can be very distracting to the overall story. The primary appeal of Bakemono for me was the focus on the oddities that the characters encounter, along with that great Nisio Isin dialogue that just makes each scene so much more enjoyable to watch. (The man made what was essentially a 10 minute dialogue between two siblings about how to define “love” into an exercise in character interaction. I envy writers like him and Tarantino for their ability to write great dialogue scenes that keep viewers interested while allowing a peek into a character’s mindset).

Coming back from that slight tangent, Nekomonogatari seems to be a cross between the previous two seasons, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, I’m happy to see Meme again. We never really get to know much about his character, and he was completely absent in the previous season, leaving Koyomi to deal with oddities by himself. His appearance of course signifies the focus shift back to what attracted me to the series in the first place: intriguing supernatural stories that tap into old mythological folklore and explore the human psych. What the series always did well was twist our preconceptions of curses and monsters, instead showing how humans themselves are just as much “oddities” as the supernatural beings they encounter. Meme’s lectures about the supernatural being plaguing Hanekawa are fascinating, and it’s nice to get more details about the cat that is possessing her. Plus, we get to see Koyomi’s superhuman regeneration powers again, furthering fueling my excitement at seeing full-on Vampire Koyomi when Kizumono is released later this year.

Going back to the problem with Nisemono, the fanservice in Nekomono can be distracting. “Black Hanekawa” is constantly seen in various black lace underwear, which coupled with her slender figure and large bust, can be VERY distracting indeed (As Will commented, it’s like “watching a lingerie commercial.”). Still, you could argue that it’s a part of the character, who uses her sexuality to distract her opponents in battle. Even when I consider that, there’s still the scenes involving Koyomi’s sisters. There’s a ton of fanservice shots of them, something that happens a lot in Nisemonogatari. No wonder Koyomi’s sexually frustrated, what with two attractive young sisters walking around the house half-naked and cuddling up to him in bed. It creates weird subtext that Koyomi is a lolicon and into incest, which makes ME feel weird watching it (and any others who happen to look over my shoulder while I’m watching said scenes). Those are my gripes with it, but if all the fanservice was cut out of the entire OVA, I honestly think it’d be a much more solid supernatural show.

Probably the biggest theme I can take away from this is “love”. As crazy as this sounds, Nekomonogatari is all about love, and trying to define what “love” really is. It all ties back into Koyomi’s conversation about what he thinks love is. For him, it’s about getting to fondle a girl’s breasts as much as you want. It’s a totally shallow and shameless definition, but it’s his struggle to define love that shapes the events of Golden Week.

His comically slanted definition of “love” is the perfect foil to Hanekawa, who doesn’t know what real love is. Growing up with adoptive parents, she never grew up with the nurturing care of her real parents. Her adoptive parents don’t seem to care much about her, and Hanekawa even believes that they wouldn’t notice if she didn’t come home. There’s a chilling scene where Koyomi discovers that she doesn’t have a room in her house. Hanekawa’s kindness stems from her desire to be “perfect” on the outside, and as a result, her kindness is completely hollow. By the end of Golden Week, Koyomi realizes that he was never in love with Hanekawa, but his experiences during Golden Week taught him to feel compassion for others, which explains his actions during Bakemono. Similarly, while Hanekawa loses her memory of the events during Golden Week, her actions change Koyomi’s personality and later causes her to fall in love with him. Love and compassion are big themes this time around, and really help to develop the characters.

I really enjoyed Nekomonogatari (Kuro). As weird as SHAFT can be, I thought the style was toned-down just enough to give the story and its characters room to breathe. We get a much deeper understanding into Koyomi and Hanekawa, especially the latter’s personality. And of course, Nisio Isin’s writing is so great, I can’t express that enough. The story has enough subtext and connections to later events that it’s worth watching again. All in all, I’m excited to see what the Monogatari series has in store for the next two years.

Lingering thoughts:

  • I’d love to have the light novels translated and released in English, though I really do hope they can accurately capture Nisio Isin’s writing style without losing any of its wit.
  • Powerpuff Girls in my anime? Oh Shinbo.
  • How do you define love?

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