OP: 「オレンジミント」 (Orange Mint) by 早見沙織 (Hayami Saori)
「よつぎドール 其ノ壹 – 肆」 (Yotsugi Dōru Sono Ichi – Yon)
“Yotsugi Doll Parts One – Four”
After a short vacation in Hanamonogatari, Araragi Koyomi (Kamiya Hiroshi) returns to being the protagonist in Tsukimonogatari. That’s not entirely accurate; it’s more like we’ve returned to a time when Ararararagi was still protagonist. Chronologically speaking, Tsukimonogatari comes before Hanamonogatari, with Koyomi still studying and Kanbaru still fused to her demonic arm. While Hanamonogatari was an epilogue, Tsukimonogatari is an introduction, setting up a new story instead of wrapping one up. Perhaps this is why Tsukimonogatari feels slow compared to its predecessor, even though it’s only four episodes worth of anime instead of five. A lot of time is spent establishing itself, to the point that the first quarter(the first episode of Yotsugi Doll) was almost entirely narration and exposition, set to various fanservice. What fanservice it was, though. The Fire Sisters, spiritual padawan of Kanbaru, are called upon to provide much of the animated flesh this time, with honours to Tsukihi (Iguchi Yuka) for starring solo in what is essentially a 10 minute bathing scene (and being particularly audacious about it). Main character Ononoki Yotsugi (Hayami Saori) spends much of the episode playing dressups, Shinobu is still adorable, and neglected lover Senjougahara (Saito Chiwa) manages to squeeze in a scene’s worth of violent deredere. Even Koyomi gets to strut some of his incredible buff. Araragi: Vampire Bodybuilder. That’s a B movie right there.
Fanservice is just visual filler though, which the Monogatari series mainly uses to hold viewer attention while it talks. If there’s a lot of fanservice, it just means that Tsukimonogatari has a lot to say. Most of the feature was spent milling around and talking at one locale or another, with the most action we got being the completely extraneous snowball fight. To compensate for this, Tsukimonogatari pushes the surrealism perhaps harder than any of its predecessors. We don’t really have sets anymore, just strings of metaphors. Yotsugi just does whatever as one endless parody. The fourth wall, which has only ever received minimum respect in the Monogatari series, continues to fall away. I don’t saying that director Shinbou Akiyuki is getting ‘better’ at this is the right way to describe it, but he is getting somewhat more sophisticated. I think I prefer the surrealism of Hana- and Tsukimonogatari to the minimalist abstractions of Bakemonogatari (though the styles do blend into each other). It is prettier. But it probably takes more money, too.
A secret little pile of misery
The main theme of Tsukimonogatari deals with the human condition. ‘What is a man?’ it asks, like so many before it. The juxtaposition between Koyomi, struggling to hang on to his humanity, and Yotsugi, the corpse persistently faking humanity, is an obvious one. It’s interesting that while Koyomi is a vampire and Yotsugi is a zombie—both nominally undead—it is not their respective biology that determines humanity. In the Monogatari series, humanity is a state of mind, or at least it is Koyomi’s state of mind and way of living that makes him lose his reflection. It’s fitting that the Monogatari series takes the time to emphasise the importance of stories, particularly in the way humans use them to define our world. If the ‘role’ of a character is that of a monster, then she is a monster, and a human role makes a human. It is in our nature to draw bright lines. That’s the reason why Koyomi was slipping into being vampire-hood, and is forced to take action about: his current half-vampire state is too half-hearted. He doesn’t have a clear role. It isn’t ‘proper’.
At this point I may be reading too much into it, but it’s like Tsukimonogatari goes full meta. It directly critiques its own characters and their roles in its own story. Even the villain, Teori Tadatsuru (Koyasu Takehito) knows what’s up. When he got blown up I thought it was a bit of a waste. I would have liked to to see more of him, but he was thrown away rather quickly for someone set up as such a villain. But perhaps that’s the point. He is perfect as the villain, and his only role was to be the villain. He is nothing but an artificial construct of the story. And I think he’s aware of that. He knows that his place is to be the nominal bad guy and get the book thrown at him. The puppet master could see his own strings. Yet in his final moments he still rebels against that idea, even as he surrenders himself to his fate. He asks Yotsugi to recite her awkward lines. He asks her to kill him with some compassion. He asks the monster to just be a bit more human. That may not be ‘proper’, but it is more aesthetically pleasing.
Perhaps Araragi Koyomi has a bit of that spirit in him too. Perhaps that’s why he detests alarm clocks. They mandate a time to wake up, but Koyomi is not the kind of person who respects bright lines. As an unwavering idealist, he has his own opinions about the way the world should be. So he remains a half-vampire, and he wakes when he pleases! Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. But Tsukimonogatari outright encourages us to find meaning in stories. It would be rude of me to not at least try.
ED: 「border」 by ClariS
I hesitate to write ‘final impressions’ about Tsukimonogatari, as if it were the last word on the matter, because unlike Hanamonogatari, which was an epilogue, Tsukimonogatari is an introduction. The Monogatari series may be ending, but this is only the beginning of the end. A lot of key plot elements—like the missing Oshino, Ougi, a higher order acting against Araragi Koyomi—are made explicit to both the viewers and the characters, and action is finally starting to be taken in reaction. One can certainly sense that there is something being built up here towards a finale.
I will, however, comment on the adaptation, like I did for Hanamonogatari. It’s strange that, despite its stylistic oddities, Tsukimonogatari is still an incredibly faithful adaptation, to the point that each chapter of the novel is clearly annotated within the anime, and it even points out when text is being omitted. This could be a tongue in cheek thing, but it still shows that the anime follows the novel to a frightfully close degree. When Kagenui breaks the fourth wall, she still refers to the audience as ‘readers’, not viewers. I have mixed feelings about that. For all of Shinbou’s bold visuals, it’s still a very safe adaptation. Indeed, one can call it less an anime based on a novel, and more just the novel, but with animation.
Still, the novel with animation is still a good product. I enjoyed Tsukimonogatari. But I’m sometimes hesitant about recommending it to others, because the Monogatari series is the closest thing animation gets to being a wall of text. For example, Yotsugi’s backstory with Tadatsuru did not need to be narrated, it could have been shown, but I’m assuming it was told as dialogue in the novel so it’s told as dialogue here. I’m personally fine with waxing philosophical over a slab of witty banter, but I’m not sure every anime viewer does. The good news is that, as we go on, Shinbou seems to be realising that he can, and should, do more with the visuals even if characters are just talking, and shows that improvement in Tsukimonogatari. I’ll consider it a sign of constant improvement.
Overall, Tsukimonogatari made for a very fitting introductory story, highlighting many of the core conflicts, both in the plot and the themes, that need to be resolved, as well as being a meaningful standalone piece in its own right. I didn’t care all too much about Ononoki Yotsugi before this, but I certainly feel more for her now. I’d consider it another strong addition to the Monogatari series, and a great way to kickstart the Winter 2015 anime season. With quite a few novels still waiting to be adapted, and the Kizumonogatari movie technically still a thing, there could still be a significant road ahead. Hanamonogatari left me feeling wistful, but Tsukimonogatari leaves me genuinely eager.