I’ll admit, even years later, the whole Monogatari Series project is something that I adore yet am completely baffled by. Coming it just from the anime perspective, where events more back and forth, expand and contract, and at times isn’t clear at all what its intent is to be, I eventually just tried to keep a narrow focus on the individual work itself and enjoy that. It often meant not being sure what some of the larger meanings were and what I might be missing from the novels that didn’t make it into the anime. But each installment was just so beautifully animated – and in the case of Nisemonogatari had one of the most erotic teeth-brushing sequences ever brought to media – that I couldn’t help but be engaged and moved by it. Which made me envious at times when it came to the fans that were heavily invested in it, understood all of its nuances, and eventually were able to savor the English-translated novels and to have that complete experience. It eludes me and the green-eyed monster of jealousy is definitely there for me.
Originally released in the winter 2012 season, Nisemonogatari is an eleven-episode series that is based on the two-volume novels of the original series and takes place after the events of the original Bakemonogatari run. Coming into it after that worked well because it was still early on and you could suss a lot of things out about it. But this series also had an additional advantage to someone like me in that it’s largely done as a couple of self-contained storylines. It’s all part of a larger narrative that ties together well but you’re more easily drawn into the smaller part of it.
Both arcs spend their time more with Araragi’s sisters, Karen and Tsukihi, than we had with them before and each of them gets their own time to shine here. The first arc is the lengthier of the two as it deals with Karen, but it ties in with her sister a fair bit since the two are posing as heroes of justice, the Fire Sisters, that right wrongs in the world as they see them. Anime doesn’t do superheroes in the traditional sense and that’s true here but it’s fun to see that playful side of it come through with these two. They’ve got this sense of justice because of their older brother, but it’s because of the way he’s picked on them over the years that they don’t want others to suffer under his kind of bullying.
The “Karen Bee” arc focuses on Araragi’s relationship with his sister and her ways as he tries to understand her more, which has some really fun moments since the two spar verbally and physically at times. But it’s also following up on events from the previous series that are important, particularly with the way that Araragi has come to terms with his former master, Shinbou. He’s changed a bit because of events where he’s lost his vampiric aspect but there’s still the potential for a very long life, even with the reduced strength that he has. The two have had a really difficult relationship since their first encounter, but the shift to her calling him master now and the way he looks after her after they find a balance is just great. The whole trip to the donut shop alone was worth it, but also to see the changes in how they work together in the Tsukihi arc as she helps him out without requiring thanks is just spot on to see how he’s changed her.
The Tsukihi arc is a bit awkward with what it does in a way since Tsukihi herself isn’t really the focus of a lot of it. What it deals with is her background as we learn certain truths about her that have to be worked through, truths that tie into what family means. And that’s something that Araragi has to figure out. With what he went through with Karen, it’s important to bring that binding to Tsukihi as well, especially since we learn that there is a real difference in their relationship that was hidden since her birth. It’s not surprising how it goes, it’s typical storytelling that makes me wish they had taken some chances with it, but it’s very good to see the way that both sisters and Araragi make it clear that they would die for each other and you don’t doubt it for an instant.
One of the underlying themes of this season has to deal with something that goes back to prior to the Bakemonogatari season with the way that Senjyogahara had been tricked into the crab that made her light. This introduces us to Kaiki, who is causing trouble with curses and extortions made to middle school kids, which in turn draws in Karen. It’s good to get a resolution there and it also gives us a moment for Araragi and Karen to bond as she gets suckered in by Kaiki as well. The real bonding between the two takes place later in one of the most disturbing yet hilarious and fanservice-filled moments I’ve seen. When Karen reveals she wants to meet Hanekawa, he refuses unless she can pass the test of him brushing her teeth for five minutes. It makes sense when it’s done in context, but the way it turns so incredibly erotic is just so out there that you can’t help but be drawn even more into it, bordering between laughing and cringing yet hating that you’re enjoying it.
The Monogatari Series is something that I can’t recommend enough but it always comes with the warning that you can’t just pick up and drop in at any old point in it. It’s not an accessible project where you can start on any season and really have it connect in the right way. It may make you want to dig into the larger world a lot more, however, and that’s definitely worthwhile as it’s a beautiful and fantastic experience. This season in particular appealed to me with its focus on the two Fire Sisters and their relationship with each other and their brother. It weaves a good deal of character storytelling between the two – and some incredibly gorgeous sexual shots and poses as well that really push the boundaries at times – which makes for some compelling sequences going on here. With its smaller focus overall and really not introducing a lot of characters, it serves more to clean up what had come before with dangling plot threads, expand on Araragi a bit more and showcase the family and the quirks that exist. It’s aged as well as a complicated series like this can.