Bakemonogatari – 15 (END)
「つばさキャット其ノ伍」 (Tsubasa Kyatto Sono Go)
“Tsubasa Cat Part 5″
It was delayed enough times for me to stop caring when it would come out, but SHAFT finally got around to airing the last episode of the Bakemonogatari anime. Remember six months ago when everyone voted it as the best anime of 2009? Well, this series probably should’ve been saved for 2010 consideration given how late this aired. Anyway, a quick refresher of episode fourteen was in order for me to recall where we even left off in Hanekawa Tsubasa’s arc last time. For those who don’t recall either, Tsubasa’s cat oddity resurfaced as a result of her stress again, except this time we learn it’s a direct result of her unrequited love for Koyomi, who’s officially going out with Hitagi now. With everyone but Hitagi out searching for Shinobu to get her to drive away, Koyomi stumbles upon Tsubasa first, leading us to where we are now.
Much like the series has become known for, most of this episode entailed a dialogue intensive scene between Koyomi and Tsubasa Cat. From it, we learn for the first time how Tsubasa’s been in love with Koyomi ever since spring break, during which she caught sight of him dealing with various other oddities and a fairy tale-like fascination developed. Between all the recent relationship advice and support for his relationship with Hitagi given since then, it’s not surprising that Tsubasa suppressing her true feelings gave Tsubasa Cat an opportunity to resurface. What was surprising however is that Koyomi never had a clue about her true feelings since she hid them really well, which made the depiction of how Tsubasa truly felt quite a shock. Still, he manages to reject Tsubasa’s feelings after coming to the conclusion that her problem stemmed from her inability to handle being heartbroken and relying on the oddity within her to convey her feelings. Tsubasa Cat accepts his rejection given how he saved an oddity before — wounded vampire (Shinobu?) — before discussion branched off to how Koyomi doesn’t possess the true alluring powers of a vampire since he doesn’t really have any of the girls close to him completely wrapped around his finger.
In a way, it was an interesting aspect that I didn’t really pick up on over the course of the series. Ever since Tsubasa told Koyomi he has a charm about him and would be popular with the ladies, it more or less proved to be true as the story progressed through the arcs. However, the explanation that he doesn’t have the ability to manipulate others as if they were mindless dolls was more to show that the lie made back in part three was actually Tsubasa Cat’s doing. It was a bit of a weird revelation, learning that she was trying to help Tsubasa get together with Koyomi, which in turn had me thinking that the cat oddity wasn’t such a bad thing. If anything, it’s more akin to a split personality of Tsubasa’s that appeared to help her cope with her problems with her parents and stress in general. Quite honestly, I’m still a bit confused about her intentions in all this, as she later told Koyomi to stand by the street light but not directly under it so that he has a visible shadow. The reason being that she was banking on Shinobu to come out of it when she proposed the other solution of suppressing her within Tsubasa — killing the source of the stress, Koyomi.
While Koyomi was willing to die for Tsubasa’s sake, the realization that Hitagi would come kill her once she finds him dead quickly made him give up on that idea. In turn, he ended up calling for help from Shinobu as the only one he felt would come save him, which not only suppressed Tsubasa Cat but also mended Shinobu’s desire to feel needed by Koyomi. I was just as surprised as Koyomi to learn that Tsubasa Cat seemed to have planned for this to happen, though I’m not entirely sure why. My interpretation is that she realized that Tsubasa wouldn’t be happy about Koyomi dying and was hoping he’d realize how important she is to him too — as someone more than a person he feels indebted to. (Perhaps someone familiar with the light novels can fill me in on this.) Anyway, I have mixed feelings about the way things wrapped up with Koyomi learning he’s on his own now with oddities after Oshino left town, simply because Koyomi never picked up on the signs that he was saying farewell. On the flip side, he did trust that Koyomi would handle this latest Tsubasa Cat incident on his own, so that was the one good thing to take away from his departure. For now, the series has left things kind of open-ended with Shinobu still in Koyomi’s shadow, Koyomi unsure if Tsubasa has recollection of what happened, and everyone getting together for the school festival, where Hitagi has helped prepared an elaborate haunted house.
With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see if Nisio Isin’s prequel novel Kizumonogatari or sequel novel Nisemonogatari get anime adaptations at some point, but the big news is that the release of the final DVD/BD volume will coincide with the release of his new prequel novel (between Kizu and Bake), Nekomonogari. From what I’ve been told, Kizumonogatari involved Tsubasa long before Hitagi ever stepped into the picture, whereas Nekomonogatari should expand on that.
Despite this series’ unquestionable popularity, I still have mixed feelings about it as a whole. Back in the Best of Anime 2009, I didn’t list this as one of my favorite shows. Instead, it was an honorable mention of mine for the “Exceeded Expectations” (and Omni’s pick for that award), simply because it turned out much better than most SHAFT productions directed by Shinbou Akiyuki. When together, they have a very unique style with gags that is most distinguished by close up shots of a character’s eye and very brief screens with just text on it. Quite frankly, I don’t care for either and actually find them pretty distracting, but even with them, this adaptation was able to captivate viewers with its dialogue intensive nature. For that, I attribute it almost entirely to the original story in Nisio Isin’s light novels, which was interesting enough to prevent the series from losing steam even when the animation wasn’t even finished for an episode. Let’s not forget the drastic DVD/BD release changes either, which quite honestly I felt were worse than the original broadcast in a lot of cases. To add to the questionable production values, the last three episodes were shifted to web ones giving us a strange fifteen episode series with a very sporadic and constantly delayed release schedule.
Objectively speaking, I’m hard pressed to imagine any series becoming a hit after going through all of the above — let alone be picked as one of the best shows of the year — but I guess this is a prime example of where a really good story won’t even be pulled down by any production issues. One of the things I really enjoyed was how the various sub arcs focused on a different girl yet worked towards the overall story, all of whom I couldn’t help but get attached to due to their distinct personalities. Due to the character interactions achieved solely through conversation most of the time, a lot of the humor resulted along the way too, which was one aspect I particularly enjoyed. At times, it almost made it hard to believe that we had a love story going alongside this ghost story, but it was that very unassuming manner of presenting things that made the conclusion of the television broadcast as great as it was. The best things that came from the production side of things were undoubtedly the character song opening themes, but I still can’t help but wonder how much better this series would’ve turned out if another studio was in charge.
That said, I’m a firm believer that more fundamental things such as story go a long way to make up for a lack of stunning visuals (as is gameplay to graphics in video games), so I’d still recommend this series to almost anyone. As I’m sure a lot of people will tell you, it ranks very highly on their favorite series of all time for characters like Senjougahara Hitagi alone, who just so happens to have a banner spot on this site. =)