Some cats you should never cross paths with.
What They Say:
This story is about an incident that happened before Bakemonogatari.
On his way to the bookstore, Koyomi Araragi encounters Tsubasa Hanekawa whose face is covered with a bandage. The incident allows Koyomi to learn what has been happening in the Hanekawa household, but Tsubasa begs him not to tell anyone about it, saying she’ll do anything to keep him quiet.
Without revealing her family’s circumstances, Koyomi tells of the day’s incident – he and Tsubasa buried a “cat” that had been hit by a car – to Meme Oshino. Meme tells Koyomi that he must immediately go to confirm Hanekawa’s safety. He heads to her house, only to find…
So begins the nightmarish nine days of Golden Week.
The audio presentation for this release is quite good for a stereo mix as it presents the original Japanese language using the PCM encoding. The dialogue here is what dominates the show to be sure as it comes hard and fast quite often with a lot of placement throughout. There’s some very minor action but the way the mix works is to handle the quick cuts, placement along the forward soundstage and to immerse you in it as best as it can. And it does it very, very well. The nature of the show is one where it has its quiet moments, but when it gets running with the fast paced dialogue and the way it shifts scenes so much, it’s impressive and comes across cleanly and beautifully here.
Originally airing in December 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. With four episodes to the special, it’s spread across two discs with two episodes per disc in standard Japanese fashion. Shows animated by Shaft really require high definition transfers in order to shine and it does just that here, keeping the bit rate steady in the high thirties throughout, the stills and the strong, vibrant colors it chooses to employ. With a range if styles to be had, the transfer brings it all home in a really strong way with no loss of detail, solid colors and very fluid looking animation that stands out all the more because of the encoding. With so many detailed and interesting backgrounds, being able to soak them up when paused or enjoying them in motion is just all the better with what’s done here.
The packaging for this single case release is pretty nicely done with a slipcase for the Blu-ray case that has a few extras inside that fans will like. The packaging has a pink flavor to it overall which ties in nicely to Hanekawa on the front of the slipcover as we get a great shot of her against the sky with a perfect expression for her. The back cover goes a little different as we get the darker side to things with Oshino Shinobu with a darker feeling as the sun sets behind them which gives it a good sense of danger but also a kind of inviting feeling with the color quality of the characters themselves. The package does the solid pink on the side panels with white text and it definitely works nicely. Inside the slipcover we get a great package of postcards with the characters from this arc that are beautifully designed and we also get great twenty page booklet that goes into the show lightly with a lot of character artwork, images from the show and the preview panels in an easier to see form. It’s not full of really detailed information, but it’s got a great feeling to it and definitely adds some value here. The Blu-ray case basically replicates the front cover artwork with a clean look to it and a white side panel instead of the pink which helps to tie it all together nicely. There aren’t any inserts in here but we do get a nice piece of background artwork on the reverse side looking out over the water.
The menu design for the series is pretty good overall with the character artwork along the left having a vibrant feeling, the logo along the right brings some balance. The navigation is kept along the bottom where it tiers upwards as you make selections, though they’re all just a little too small and thin. The text is white on varied color backgrounds depending on the disc and it’s easy enough to read overall but could have used a little more definition. The navigation is easy to move though and the disc defaults to the Japanese language with dialogue only subtitles. It also has the option for dialogue+signs as well as the commentary track subtitles.
The extras for this release are pretty basic as we get the clean versions of the opening and closings as well as a digest video for what the main series is and a preview of the second season series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the successful run that Bakemonogatari had, it’s not a surprise that more would be made. There’s a pretty rich and fertile ground of source material to work with when it comes to the novels and having the show so well received makes it easier to do some neat things with it. Such is the case with Nekomonogatari Black, which is a four episode special that takes place prior to Bakemonogatari but after Araragi had been changed by his meeting with Shinobu. I had enjoyed the Bakemonogatari series a good deal but I’ll easily admit that as it has gone on and all the other material that comes from that same well, it can be a bit overwhelming with the way it unfolds. So with Nekomonogatari Black, going back before things really get weird is rather nice and relaxed in a lot of ways.
With the four episodes here that most other shows would do in one or two episodes usually, we get a pretty good story that’s focused in a small way on just a handful of characters and really just two of them. With Araragi serving his role for Shinobu in letting her feed on him, he’s going through the motions of life and what it’s like to be a young man. At home, he’s managing to have a fairly decent interaction with his younger sister Tsukihi as she knows there’s something going on with him and she manages to draw it out that he’s enamored with one of the girls in his class. With it obvious that it’s Hanekawa, it takes a comical turn as he reveals that he’s just stressed about wanting to fondle her breasts more than anything, which of course Tsukihi tells him he needs to be a bit less obvious about things and should just get some hands-on time with a family member first. It’s said with enough humor to make you smile, but it makes you laugh so much more because he just forcibly fondles Tsukihi in a rough way that she can’t believe it. The two have a pretty lengthy conversation across the opening episode, something this property does well, and we get to know how the family works in a pretty good way.
Naturally, when Araragi ends up coming across Hanekawa on the way to school, it has its obvious comical moments since all he can see is her physical attributes. But it actually takes a pretty serious turn as we learn that there’s a pretty bad part of her life that hasn’t been touched on yet with how her family is structured and the pain and loneliness that comes from it. It’s pretty heartbreaking listening to her explain it in a slightly roundabout way, but it says a lot about her and the issues she faces that definitely impact all parts of her life. Araragi, for his part, largely manages to handle it well without freaking out or causing a scene, but he also wants to help her. But at the same time he also wants to get physical with her since he’s convinced he’s into her in a big way and that just makes it all complicated, more than he can handle in a lot of ways.
Where the show takes its intriguing turn though is that we learn through Oshino that there’s something somewhat dangerous in the area with a particular type of apparition cat. With the way vampires operate, being the kings of apparitions, they’re not a threat to them, but this one turns out to be different since it manages to be helped out by Hanekawa initially and that lead to it infiltrating her body and taking it over. That turns Hanekawa into a really interesting character when Araragi ends up coming across her since it takes some of her personality and physical traits and just runs with it. There’s the obvious exterior aspect to it as Hanekawa in this form attempts to tease and torment him while threatening to be done with him while he tries to save her, but it also delves into the kind of person that Hanekawa is. With her having buried the apparition cat when she came across it dead in the road, she did it as a by rote kind of thing, not something done out of a special need or strong emotions. But simply because it’s done. And that’s something that the apparition hadn’t dealt with before across many others deaths, making it intrigued by her and seeing her as a really interesting vessel to work with.
The show does a pretty good job as a nearly two hour special broken up into four parts to explore this period of time before Senjogahara becomes key in things and it does feel weird after all those episodes to not have her pop around a corner and twist the whole event. But with its more relaxed approach here for a lot of it that works towards exploring what Araragi is like at this point in time and to have him understand more of his situation as Oshino explains it while also pointing out how he can affect Shinobu works quite well. But for me, it was more about exploring the relationship with Hanekawa that wins it over as she’s been an interesting character from what I’ve seen of her elsewhere and giving her this more dedicated time to explore things, and to twist her nicely through the cat, really does make for a pretty engaging story. And a pretty damn sexy one as well in her transformed mode.
When I delve into the NisiOsin material like this and Bakemonogatari, I really have no idea what to expect. As a show, it has a superficial level that you can enjoy in terms of presentation, the striking beauty of the animation and the simple pleasures of the characters and their interactions. But it also has more layers to it where the more you dig, and the more experiences you yourself share with it and friends, the more you can get out of it. At the same time, it feels like you can read too much into it as well, which is certainly a danger. With Nekomonogatari Black, we get a really good self contained special that takes place before the main series and gives the Araragi and Hanekawa relationship more of a focus while touching on a few other foundational issues as well. This is a really great looking release overall and it definitely gives what fans of this show want in spades.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Digest Video, Season Two Preview
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: April 22nd, 2014
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.