What They Say:
After time traveling to the past with Shinobu Oshino, Koyomi Araragi meets Mayoi Hachikuji and returns her backpack which she left in Koyomi’s room. That is when they witness something unidentifiable – something that can only be expressed as the “darkness.”
Koyomi, instinctively feeling danger, sits Mayoi on his bicycle and attempts to escape, but the ever elusive “darkness” tries to swallow the two of them. They barely manage to escape with the help of the young shikigami girl, Yotsugi Ononoki, and they evacuate into the ruins of the cram school. There, Shinobu tells him that she encountered the “darkness” about 400 years ago. Then a woman named Izuko Gaen, who says she knows Meme Oshino, explains to them the nature of the “darkness.” And Koyomi has to face Mayoi’s tragic fate.
Fourth arc to the Monogatari series’ second season.
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 2013, 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 this arc of the season, it’s spread across two discs with two episodes per disc. 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 of 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 green hue to it across the board and including the spine. The front cover of the slipcover is nicely done with Shinobu in her form from four hundred years ago that’s really beautifully put together with the design, the color and the detail of the background, while the other side has her in her present form with Yotsugi and Mayoi looking all cute and girly with lots of pinks, blues and greens. 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 with translated text. It’s not full of really detailed information, but it’s got a great feeling to it and definitely adds some value here. There’s also an utterly fantastic poster-scroll piece that shows Shinobu’s timeline in the past from the show using all of that artwork, albeit in a smaller form. The Blu-ray case basically replicates the front cover artwork with a clean look to it and a white side panel instead of the green 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 of Gaen’s open air place.
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 first disc uses the Shinobu artwork from the front cover while the second disc uses the group artwork from the back cover, giving each its own feeling and tone. 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 are fairly standard fare here in that we get the new ending sequence in clean form as well as a look at the various promotional spots and TV commercials for the release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
My conflicted feelings with this series continue as I know that in its own way, the release pattern works for the content itself, but I also find myself wanting all of it right now so that I can soak it up and savor it. With these four episode arcs, it’s distilled down to a particular formula and pattern to be sure with how the stories unfold, but each arc offers things that work in ways that you don’t expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting much with episodes that deal with Mayoi, but the previous arc really did some fantastic stuff on changing the past, the fallout from it and drawing Koyomi and Shinobu closer together than they were before. With her being a smaller part of the show way back in the early days, seeing her more involved now is still unsettling, but certainly welcome.
This arc of episodes is also quite interesting, though it goes in its own direction once again while also bringing in some surprising closure. Following up from the time altering events previously, it’s good to see how Koyomi and Mayoi are together, where she’s thankful for his attempt but glad that he didn’t succeed as she has for the most part enjoyed what this after-life phase has been like. While we do get a fair bit of truly creepy moments from Koyomi that still bug the hell out of me, it is good to see the two spending time together as they had back to his place to get her backpack. Mayoi certainly has all the power in this dynamic and, as disturbing as it is, she knows how to use it and how to really not toy with him in a way that would make him think he’ll actually get anywhere. For Mayoi, she’s just looking forward to more of her days.
Their time together does not go well in the end though as something mysterious, almost like a localized weather pattern that only they can see, appears in front of them and begins to give chase. The two only manage to escape thanks to the help of a shikigami named Yotsugi who happened by and became involved for her own peculiar reasons. That actually ends up as a sort of unresolved subplot of the arc, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the show focuses elsewhere. While recovering – mostly naked no less – Koyomi ends up relating what happened to Shinobu when she appears from the shadow and takes an interest in this mystery evil of sort. As it turns out, it’s something that she had dealt with four hundred years ago, back when she was last in Japan, and knows that it’s pretty much one of the more dangerous things out there.
While the show does eventually resolve what this is and what it means in the present with Mayoi and an intriguing trip to see Gaen, that’s not the main thrust of things here, at least for me. Mostly because Mayoi’s story has been the least interesting of the series overall, though I’m glad to see what’s potentially real closure for that storyline here. Instead, it’s the time in between that fascinated me the most as we get Shinobu talking about her time here four hundred years ago when she had bounced in after spending time in Antarctica. That particular location didn’t do well for her since there’s nobody there, which means no vampire tales that can feed her need or give her the energy she requires. So she made an amusing bounce from there and landed in Japan, a place she hadn’t even conceived of before since it’s not exactly easily accessible to someone like her.
What we get through her tale is a thing of real beauty just in the story alone, as her arrival caused a massive rainstorm with how she landed. That in turn had her being called a god by the locals since she came out of the water and was viewed as having caused it all. Rather than play to her vampiric nature as she usually did, she opted to instead sort of take on this role and look over those villages that grew around her and what she did. The story over the course of the year works well as we see how she worked with an apparition killer, unknowing that she was supernatural herself and not a god, and becoming a real working piece of the environment. That it all goes wrong in the end is no surprise, but it’s the painful material she dredges up throughout that lets it connect, especially when she returned to Antarctica to escape the same thing that’s plaguing them in present now, as it’s when we see her create her first minion and the kind of disastrous results it has.
What really elevates all of this beyond the usual Shaft style though is that when Shinobu takes us back to the past throughout two of the episodes here, it’s done as an extended “single” scroll that blends together. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of artwork and the perfect way to tell the story while elevating it to something else. Once you have that, I have to admit that the rest of the episodes in the present with their locations ended up feeling very simple after that. But it makes up for it with the story material itself as they deal with why the apparition in the present is after them and what it takes to deal with it. Mayoi’s importance definitely factors in, as does what she chooses to do, but I also really like how we see that there are real rules to how the supernatural side of the world works and that there are self corrective measures that come into play.
The material of the final episode is what will obviously drive it for most people as it deals with some closure, but for me it’s all about Shinobu’s story. I’ve been interested in her character for quite some time obviously and as we’ve gotten to know her more in the present and see her relationship with Koyomi grow, she’s become far more accessible and interesting. Seeing more of her past now through this particular lense and understanding how different she was then, and seeing that she really is continually changing, really adds to it. There’s a decent support cast that works into this arc of episodes overall, but it’s really Shinobu’s story for the most part with Mayoi coming close to being almost as important in the end.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Ending, Promotional Video & Commercial Collections
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: December 30th, 2014
Running Time: 100 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.