OP: 「花痕 -shirushi-」 (Hanaato -shirushi-) by 河野マリナ (Kawano Marina)
「するがデビル 其ノ壹 – 伍」 (Suruga Debiru Sono Ichi – Go)
“Suruga Devil Parts One – Five”
When we last parted with Nisio Isin’s Monogatari series we were left with a sense of conclusion but not necessarily of finality. Sure, our protagonists finally graduate from high school and the cast in general moved on, but while problems have been solved they haven’t been resolved. What happened to Oshino? What’s the deal with Ougi? How is Kaiki going to cheat out of that cranial trauma? Questions and more. For a cast so clever and diverse there’s always the potential for more story; there’s still a lot of depth to be plumbed.
So, it was a good place for a break but not for an end. Needless to say, I was highly anticipative of Hanamonogatari. I wanted all my questions answered but I also wanted more of Kanbaru Suruga (Sawashiro Miyuki), the last heroine who still has significant loose ends dangling in the wind. I was also somewhat wary, though, because with so much of the cast being indisposed or disposed of, I wasn’t sure if Monogatari would ever be the same. Sure enough, Hanamonogatari starts almost like an epilogue, with the seniors already going on to tertiary education. There is a sense of melancholy and a feeling that we have been left behind–just as Oshino left Araragi so many seasons ago. Only Kanbaru remains, the last veteran holding the old fort. As the protagonist and main voice for five episodes she has a lot of weight on her shoulders. Action, reactions, Shaft head-tilts–she needs to do it all. It’s a good thing that Kanbaru is a veritable fanservice machine, extremely comfortable with going the extra mile to engage audience attention. She readily subjects herself to various states of distress and dis-dress for the greater good of balancing out a very dialogue heavy show. She’s not entirely alone: the Fire Sisters arrive as last minute reinforcements and even Shinobu (with no speaking role) makes a surprise cameo appearance.
Of course, the point of Hanamonogatari is not (only) cheesecake. Hanamonogatari follows the usual formula of using supernatural apparitions as metaphors for mundane, but complex, human issues, and as expected of the Suruga Devil arc our subject is devils. While vampires are considered the top of the apparition heap in the Monogatari mythology, in the West the traditional bogeyman of choice comes from the underworld. With such a long history in Judaic religions and elsewhere devils–or, rather, the Devil–comes in many forms and Hanamonogatari spends its five episodes looking at the Devil in all its aspects. Almost all characters (save perhaps pure supports like Araragi Karen (Kitamuri Emi) and classmate Higasa (Hikasa Youko) play to that theme.
The Devil as the dark side
Remember back to Suruga Monkey where the Rainy Devil served as the evil genie that granted your most malicious wishes. It was a manifestation of one’s dark impulses, an id. In Hanamonogatari Kanbaru treats it as something that must be suppressed. In tying down her left arm, though, she’s not only suppressing the Devil but also her own desires. There is nobody without wants, says Hanamonogatari; being a bit selfish about them is a natural thing. That’s how we find direction.
The Devil as the voice on your shoulder
Two characters play this part. First we have the inscrutable Ougi (Mizuhashi Kaori), he of many shapes. Yes, Ougi is a ‘he’ now; it’s obvious at this point that there’s more to him than meets the eye. We still don’t get to learn much about him but he continues doing what he does: giving out choice bits of information at opportune times to nudge characters in specific directions.
On the other hand we have Kaiki Deishuu (Miki Shinichiro), our very own exorcist pretending to be a con artist pretending to be an exorcist. He’s back from the apparent dead and fully bearded, all without explanation. Not that I mind; I can go on and on about what an awesome character he is. Not much has changed for him; he’s still serves as the resident ‘adult’, still enjoying his lectures and still always one better than the kids. He also plays an interesting contrast to Ougi. Kaiki also tries to nudge Kanbaru in certain directions, but unlike Ougi he seems to, ultimately, mean well. Curiously, Ougi, by pretending to be Oshino’s niece/nephew/whatever is a trusted character, whereas Kaiki is not. Ougi does not lie, whereas Kaiki is lies all the way through, to the point where he goes full circle. Yes, Kaiki lies about being a liar. Which devil do you trust?
The Devil as the imposer of trials
God subjecting mankind to ordeals is an old trope, but traditionally the Devil is in the business as well. In that sense, Kanbaru considers her mother not God but the Devil and frankly if Kanbaru Tooe (Neya Michiko) is anything like her sister (apparently: yes) then she must have been insufferable. But while it’s true that Kanbaru’s mother never made her life easy, Kanbaru does it to herself too. She treats her monstrous left arm as her albatross, the literal and figurative weight of her sins. She has a conflicted relationship with it; she wants it gone but she’s also loathe to just give it away. If she procrastinates long enough maybe…she’ll just get used to it?
The Devil does not exist
Our main narrative, though, revolves around a brand new character: Kanbaru’s former basketball rival Numachi Rouka (Asumi Kana). She serves as Kanbaru’s foil, her opposite not just on the basketball court. Numachi–the confident, self-centred and amoral Devil–is both who Kanbaru could have been and what she doesn’t want to be. It’s like something out of Jungian psychology; Kanbaru sees her suppressed negativity projected onto Numachi and must come to terms with her inner demons, so to speak. Numachi the Devil is a confabulation. Yet there is a bit of the Devil–dark impulses, whispering voices, self-flagellation–within all of us. But we don’t need to define every motive in terms of either altruism or malice. As Kanbaru learns, we mostly act simply for self-satisfaction. As always, even as deep in the supernatural as it is Hanamonogatari stresses the importance of the mundane.
ED: 「the last day of my adolescence」 by 沢城みゆき (Sawashiro Miyuki)
The Devil is in the details – some thoughts
I didn’t mean to spend so much time trying to inadequately dissect the themes of Hanamonogatari but it just goes to show: even just skimming the surface gives you a lot to think about. Not that it’s just all ruminations on the human condition; Hanamonogatari also gives us the supernatural mystery and nuanced character interactions that we’ve grown accustomed to receiving from the Monogatari series. Of special interest is how the cast continues to be developed over time. Kanbaru seems to have grown to fill the shoes of Araragi, who in turn has grown to become
an alien Jesus a surrogate Oshino. And it’s growth in more ways than one; while the Monogatari series would not be the first to use hair length as a metaphor for development it’s certainly one of the most enthusiastic users in my memory. We’re not quite at Mullet Araragi but we’re close enough to be terrifying.
On the production side of things, it’s heartening to see how far things have come since Bakemonogatari. It’s not just a matter of budget–which, thankfully, is still high enough to give us crisp animation and artistic backgrounds when needed–but also the distinct style, which Shaft and directors Shinbou and Itamura seem to have refined over the years. There’s less of the purely filler or purely distracting shots that were once a staple reliance of Shaft and more willingness to engage their abstractions for direct symbolism–even if sometimes they try a bit too hard to spell things out. They seem to be now comfortable making relevant visuals for a show of almost entirely dialogue. And, of course, we must also give praise to their continued dedication to their special brand of fanservice, not just a parade of flesh and but also of voyeur. Sophistication can substitute in parts for class. And it doesn’t hurt that Kanbaru looks mighty fine in a pony-tail.
The thing with the Monogatari series having such a distinct style is that one is tempted to wonder how it would have turned out if adapted by a different hand. More focus on the screen and less on the words would be more orthodox, sure, but still good. Just look at the ED, for example; maximum drama for minimum dialogue (Numachi as Kanbaru’s tragic first love? I’m suddenly sold). But the choice to stick with the original novel’s strength and only use the animation as support is a completely defensible one and has certainly produced results. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At this point I’ve enjoyed enough of the Monogatari series–and want more of it enough–to want to preserve the status quo of excellence. Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t.
Yes, I did have great trouble refraining from just writing 1500 words about Kaiki.