Friday 6 February 2015

Anime REVIEW: Monogatari Second Season

Monogatari Second Season

With the Monogatari series proving to be one of Shaft's biggest anime franchises, it's just as well there's plenty of stories left to be adapted from Nishio Isin's light novel works. And though prior to Monogatari Second Season the franchise already had three successful entries behind it, everything about this entry screams bigger. Not only making the jump to a full 26-episode series (which originally aired between July and December 2013), Second Season differs from its predecessors by bringing a total of FIVE of Isin's novels under one banner rather than focussing on a single one. These stories are Nekomonogatari (Shiro), Kabukimonogatari, Otorimonogatari, Onimonogatari and Koimonogatari.

Shinobu & Araragi
Don't you just wish you had a loli vampire living in your shadow too?

Koyomi Araragi and company return for another five story arcs in which their lives are surrounded by supernatural spirits and occurrences. In "Tsubasa, Tiger", Tsubasa Hanakawa's story reaches its conclusion as her Cursed Cat persona resurges to take on a Tiger spirit. "Mayoi, Jiangshi" sees Koyomi and Shinobu travel to an alternate reality after they prevent the event that caused Mayoi Hachikuji's death, while "Nadeko, Medusa" begins to show an unseen side of Nadeko Sengoku when a giant snake apparition comes to her seeking a favour. "Shinobu, Time" furthers the connection between hers and Mayoi's lives when a mysterious entity returns from her past to consume her, and then "Hitagi, End" concludes with Senjougahara turning to the one man she never wanted to see again in order to save both her's and Araragi's lives - conman Deishuu Kaiki.

Tsubasa Tiger
Tony the Tiger really let himself go

Kicking off right in the middle of the Monogatari series, Second Season is in a pretty comfortable place. The main introductions are over and done with, which means that not only the focus is primarily on advancing the characters' respective stories but the stakes can gradually get higher. While the previous seasons have always had a predominant focus on each character's respective animal apparition, by this time these problems have either been dealt with or placed under control for the time being. As such, the arcs begin branching out into other supernatural phenomenon such as zombie apocalypses, time travel and parallel worlds (the three of those all appearing in the same arc no less). Cliche as these may sound, it adds that extra bit of intrigue to the franchise and proves there's a bit more too it than "animal spirt of the week". Of course the animal spirits still play a very heavy part in the stories (no arc is completely free of them), but again with introductions out of the way things are refreshingly less straightforward.

Mayoi Jiangshi
Something's haircut? New clothes?

Tsubasa's story has received the most focus of the franchise thus far (having both the longest arc in Bakemonogatari and it's own prequel mini-series), so to see it finally end is both highly satisfying and a bit of a relief. "Tsubasa Tiger" proves to be the strongest Hanakawa arc of them all, most likely thanks to removing Koyomi out of the picture altogether. In doing this we not only get a better look at  Hanekawa's personality and how she looks at herself, but also how the other female cast members play off each other when the "hero" isn't around. It proves to be so successful that later arcs also take the same approach, with his minimal inclusion also developing "Nadeko, Medusa" and "Hitagi, End" in similarly satisfying ways. Nadeko's arc is notable for moving beyond the annoying fanservice bait she was in Bakemonogatari and making her an actually interesting character, while Hitagi's brings Kaiki properly into the spotlight to make him a character worthy of his own titled arc.

However none of this should at all be considered a knock against Araragi, because the two arcs he's especially prominent in ("Mayoi Jiangshi" and "Shinobu Time") prove just as good. Unfortunately for Araragi though, this is more due to how these two arcs cleverly weave into each other and - more importantly, how great both Shinobu and Mayoi are. Ever since Bakemonogatari Shinobu has proven to be the character to keep an eye on, each series gradually increasing her role to the point where she can now be considered a fully fledged main character. Mayoi on the other hand provides some of Second Series best moments - the last of these sure to make you weep whether it be internally or externally. 

Nadeko Medusa
We are all doomed.

Of course it wouldn't be a Monogatari series without plenty of long-winded conversations that sometimes take up entire episodes, and so it's probably no surprise to hear that Second Season has them in spades. With the viewers who may have found them off-putting in earlier seasons unlikely to still be watching at this point, the alienating aspect of them feels like a thing of the past. More often than not they still prove a lot to take in with the overly verbose vocabulary hitting hard and fast, but on the occasions you are able to process everything properly they always prove rewarding - shedding more light on the characters' personalities/motivations and sometimes even dropping a humorous pop culture reference in for good measure.

In terms of animation Monogatari Second Season doesn't really ever surpass it's predecessors (despite having some REALLY beautiful shots - Shinobu's back story for example), but with all of them boasting such extremely high quality staying on par with them for the whole 26-episode run is an achievement in itself. So at the very least you can look forward to the same vivid colours, experimental visuals, great character designs and obligatory fan service that you've always counted on the franchise to provide. And the trademark head tilt, a staple of the franchise (along with Shaft's works altogether) that Monogatari would simply feel wrong without.

Keishuu Daiki
That's not how necks work.

Monogatari Second Season is naturally only advisable for those who've been following the franchise up until this point, but is payoff in the truest form. Not only does it recapture the wonder and uniqueness that made Bakemonogatari such an unmissable series, but it builds upon what's come so far to give the character's the fleshing out they needed without Araragi around. These five arcs are among the best Monogatari has to offer, not only a triumph for the franchise as a whole but the perfect incentive to carry on (or even start) watching this fantastic series.

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