Nisemonogatari – 11 (END)
「つきひフェニックス 其ノ參」 (Tsukihi Fenikkusu Sono Yon)
“Tsukihi Phoenix Part Four”
True to Nisemonogatari fashion, this final arc was resolved not with fists, but with words. Throughout this series, we’ve been presented with many questions surrounding the idea of fakes and imposters, questions that no physical fight could ever resolve. However, the most important question of all was saved for this final episode: what is the value of a fake?
In keeping with the theme of the series, nothing is safe from being revealed as a fake, not even the supernatural and immortal phoenix that resides inside Tsukihi. A fake phoenix, inside a fake sister – it’s practically F A K E C E P T I O N. I found Shinobu’s explanation of the supernatural cuckoo, the Dying Bird, to be fascinating, clever, and even a little romantic in a certain, bittersweet way. It’s not as if the supernatural bird asked, or chose to be immortal; it was simply dealt this destiny – cursed to plant its egg into a human nest, the fiery warmth of a pregnant mother’s womb, in order to reincarnate itself. It did not ask to hurt anyone, so how can it be considered evil?
I think this is where the first value judgment of a fake is made. It’s never said for certain, but when Shinobu said that Kagenui and Yotsugi lied about the phoenix, I assumed it meant that they already knew its true identity as a fake phoenix, and subsequently knew the value of a fake that is indistinguishable (for most people) from the real thing. Kagenui is a knowledgeable and calculating villain, so I don’t think it is much of a stretch to infer that she used the fake phoenix as her justification for attacking Tsukihi. In the end, her lie didn’t work because she incorrectly assumed that Araragi and Shinobu wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and the fake was no longer indistinguishable. Regardless of the outcome, this is one value of a fake – its use in lies. And as much as Kagenui might deny that fakes have a value, as we see throughout this episode, she is a hypocrite in many ways.
The person who truly needed to make the judgment of a fake’s value was Araragi. At the end of the previous episode, I had hoped he would realize that although his sister might be a fake, she is still his little sister – one that is worth fighting for, and worth dying for. I also knew the whole situation would be a hard one for him to swallow, so it was no real surprise that after what appeared to be several hours later, Araragi was still in a state of shock as his responses to Karen came in a seldom heard, flat cadence that sharply contrasted with her energetic phrases. The setting reflected their words as well – the dying fire of the sunlight and the darkness accompanying the murder of crows lent an ominous tone that was hard to ignore. The brief moments of Karen’s whimsy that occasionally punctuated the scene weren’t enough to change the somber air. Given the tone and mood of the situation, I was surprised that she believed his fake explanation so easily because anyone who knows Araragi well would realize that something was wrong from the way he spoke – he is not one who hides his emotions easily, as many a heroine can attest to. What finally snapped him out of his stupor was probably when he heard Karen answer so quickly, without even as much as a second thought, to his questions of whether she’d die for her siblings. I think that was probably the trigger that made him realize that to Karen, Tsukihi was an indistinguishable fake, and her value was at least equal to the real thing.
Even still, Araragi probably wanted to find out for himself just how indistinguishable she is, and he does this in the only way he knows how: by kissing her to see if he feels any enjoyment from it. First, tooth brushing, then chest fondling, and now kissing – I knew this series wouldn’t end without Araragi planting his lips on each of his sisters. If you asked him though, he would probably say that he’s only trying to transfer her fatigue onto him. Surprisingly enough, the kiss serves its purposes – Araragi finally realized that even if Tsukihi is a fake sister, to him, she is still real enough that the kiss, although exciting, gave him no enjoyment. In essence, the kiss was indistinguishable from one he would give to a family member, and thus, the fake sister is indistinguishable from a real one (at least to Araragi’s logic).
Hearing his proclamation that he’ll die for his sisters again and again like an immortal Dracula along with watching him head off for a final showdown with Kagenui and Yotsugi has made me acknowledge that finally, Araragi has fulfilled the image of the helpful and reliable older brother that he’s always aspired to be, that it is no longer a falsehood. As he explains to Shinobu, he knows he has nothing to gain from fighting the onmyouji and her shikigami, but he’s only doing it for his sister – and to me, there are only a handful of motives nobler than that. I think the most powerful confirmation that Araragi is a changed man comes from seeing his left eye finally uncovered by his bangs, as it made me feel like the final part of his personality was revealed, and also as his face, and therefore his personality, had changed as well. Nothing about him – his motives, his identity – felt like a fake anymore.
Another person who underwent a change and instantly catapulted to the top of my list of favorite heroines was the vampire formerly known as Heart-under-blade. Adorable Shinobu is one thing – and I admit, she does have a certain appeal there – but a teenage Shinobu? I’m surprised Araragi doesn’t just high tail out of town with Shinobu as his girlfriend. She’s cute in her own right, and probably the least high-maintenance girl out of the bunch too. All you’d have to do is buy her donuts and apparel from Mister Donuts and she’d be eternally happy. Araragi sure is getting a lot of value out of his fake vampire, which was needed for the upcoming fight.
The build up to the final showdown between the two sides was well crafted. With one side declaring that they’re all about violence, and especially with the hilarious trash talk between Shinobu and Yotsugi, I felt the tension and gulf between the two sides was clear as day. I always knew that the vampire had a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit, but I never expected that a shikigami whose speech always had a monotonous and laconic style was capable of such sardonic insults. My one and only disappointment with this episode is that it was really a shame that we were never able to see the two fight each other. Watching Yotsugi unleash the full repertoire of the Unlimited Rulebook against a powered-up Shinobu, all the while exchanging some of the wittiest insults found in anime would have been a sight to behold, and I definitely believe it would have surpassed Kagenui and Araragi’s fight, at least in terms of visual theatrics, if not in the battle of words. Tying it all together, this is another place where we see the value of a fake – Kagenui knows that her shikigami, her fake human, is immensely valuable in a fight because a mere human would probably not be able stand up to a supernatural one like Shinobu, and yet the hypocrite that she is, she does not admit it.
Kagenui’s hypocrisy began to be evident in her banter with Araragi while she was pummeling him into oblivion. I grew frustrated with her time and time again because, unlike Oshino and Kaiki, she was really only talented at speaking with her fists – all her words and ideas continually conflicted with her actions. I think one explanation for her hypocrisy is that she never had the whole picture to begin with, and therefore had to make many assumptions. She believed that Araragi was the only family member who was part supernatural, so he would be the only one that could accept his sister being the same way, and she also thought that immortal monsters can only be proud and cruel towards humans, and never adapt to their surroundings. All these things are, in actuality, untrue. Araragi is never proud, nor is he cruel, and he’s definitely adapted well to his surroundings.
The best example of Kagenui’s hypocrisy and the glaring gaps in her knowledge is found in her philosophy of human moral innateness which subsequently affects her motivation as an onmyouji. She doesn’t believe in Mencius’ theory of innate goodness, believing it to be an ideal; instead, she subscribes to Xun Zi’s theory of innate evil because of her belief that it is the reality. Here, she displays either a lack of knowledge about Xun Zi’s actual theory, or she makes the logical fallacy of quoting out of context because Xun Zi didn’t believe that people are born innately evil. Rather, he believed that they are naturally wayward and that they desire satisfaction, and instead of any good deeds being inherently false, hypocritical, and against one’s true nature, Xun Zi believed that man has an inherent capacity to become good. Given Kagenui’s philosophical beliefs, it is easy to understand why she feels that she has to prevent evil deeds before they have even been committed, and why she chooses to judge the value of fakes as being one that is evil, one that has less value than the real thing. What is truly unforgivable in my eyes is that Kagenui acts like it’s an egregious sin for Araragi to force his values on others, when that’s exactly what she’s guilty of doing as well.
I absolutely loved Araragi’s responses to Kagenui’s reasoning as they were more powerful and effective than any physical attack a part-vampire like him could ever hope to deal her, and it made me forgive the fact that we still haven’t seen any of his offensive powers. His heroic speech about forcing his values and taking on all the evils and burdens for the sake of his family was more poignant than any speech made by the holder of the guilty crown. To Araragi, all he needs to hear is Tsukihi calling him ‘onii-chan’, and there is a certain beauty in the simplicity of his motivation. I also think that it is this speech that finally made Kagenui realize the true value of an indistinguishable fake, because that’s what Tsukihi is to Araragi.
Forget all the fanservice and all the wordplay, because what I believe a person should really take away from this series is the game that Kagenui, Oshino, and Kaiki played: a judgment of value between an indistinguishable fake and the real thing. I thought it was quite fitting that Kaiki, with whom Kagenui and Oshino attended the same college and were part of the same occult club in college, was both the cause of Tsukihi’s arc, and also in a way, part of its resolution. It was from him that the onmyouji duo learned of Tsukihi’s existence, and it is his lesson of an indistinguishable fake’s value that eventually led to Kagenui giving up on the fight. I think that Kaiki’s ‘lesson’ was an appropriate and satisfying conclusion to Tsukihi’s arc, and to Nisemonogatari as a whole. Araragi may be beset at all sides by imposters and fakes, but he doesn’t automatically devalue them or consider them to be innately evil; like Xun Zi, he understands that everyone has the innate capacity to become good, and like he and Shinobu were given that chance by Oshino, everyone needs to be given that chance as well. And that, I believe, is an idea worth contemplating.
In hindsight, the mere fact that this series is able to generate this kind of intellectual discourse makes it one worth watching.
TL;DR: @verdantRC – Shinobu fights, Araragi doesn’t. Final Q: which has more value: an indistinguishable fake, or the real thing? #nisemonogatari
Like I said in the series introduction, this show isn’t for everyone – some might find the pacing too slow or the action lacking in excitement and panache, or they might end up comparing it to Bakemonogatari and then bemoan the differences in its sequel. For me, the first thing that elevates Nisemonogatari above the average show is that it knows exactly what kind of anime it is, and what it is not. From there, it is free to focus on its strengths, build on them, and shape them into some of the best examples that can be found.
This series has plenty of strengths, and I would not hesitate to compare each of them to the strengths of other shows. To my knowledge, no other show in recent memory can match Nise’s clever and witty dialogue, and sustain it at such a high level over the course of an entire series either. The characters of this series are also a strong point; each and every single one of them is immensely likeable and memorable, as can be attested to by the legions of fans dedicated to each heroine. The music, aside from the earworms of the OPs and EDs and the orchestral arrangements of characters’ themes, is woefully overlooked and underappreciated. Each piece in the background never distracts from the words and action, but instead enhances it as the best soundtracks should, and hearing a bit of international flavor in the music was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual classical scores found in most anime. Probably one of the best and most unique aspects of this series has to be the animation and art direction – very few series more deserve to be viewed in 1080p than this one. Every single scene was made with an eye for aesthetic beauty – whether it’s through the framing, coloring, or placement of elements, I had a hard time selecting screen caps because each one could have easily been made into a beautiful wallpaper. Much has been written about the absurdity and creativity of the Shinbou’s art direction, but for me, it’s yet another reason to watch this show because of how rare, unique, and above all, beautiful it is.
However, a show is more than a collection of disparate parts. For a series to be truly considered great, we just look at the main purpose of the show: to tell a story. I think, in this regard, Nisemonogatari is quite unique and worth taking a look at because of how well everything comes together to tell a tale in the most unconventional of ways. I understand that for some people the fanservice might be hard to overlook, but for those people who are willing to brave the now-infamous toothbrush brush scene, there is a gem of a show waiting for them – a multi-faceted, multilayered jewel that makes you want to peer inside and discover its true meaning.