The transformation of the Japanese animation studio SHAFT from b-player to cult sensation is, at this point, old history for anime fans. Ever since director Shinbou Akiyuki became the face of the now 40-year-old studio back in the mid-2000s, it’s come to garner a loyal following and a reputation for highly eccentric aesthetics that revel in both character design and visual design.
Among the shows that carry the SHAFT name, the Monogatari series might be considered its flagship title: based on the light novels by author Nisio Isin, his signature twisting of expectations, eclectic cast of characters including a variety of attractive (fantasy) girls and love for verbose dialogue combined with elaborate wordplay seems almost a perfect fit for Shinbou and SHAFT. And so, the Monogatari anime have continued to come out, most recently with the release of the film Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu.
Kizumonogatari is based on the light novel by the same name. The third work in the series, its story is a prequel that explores how main character Araragi Koyomi became a vampire, and how he first meets both the vampire who the audience would eventually know as Shinobu, as well as his mentor, Oshino Meme. This first film presents Araragi as someone unaccustomed to the occult, and in a way also unaccustomed to the pervert he would become. While he would eventually become a righteous horndog, here he’s only begun to awaken to his true self.
After so many iterations, many of the Monogarari anime’s visual flourishes are familiar territory, such as the use of live footage for backgrounds or sudden changes in visual style. That being said, there is one aspect of Kizumonogatari Part I that I found surprising, which is the relative lack of dialogue in the film. The Monogatari anime is known for mostly being back-and-forth conversations between characters, or inner monologues that get into every little detail possible in Araragi’s head, but here it’s mostly presented in a “show, don’t tell” way that defies the series’ typical behavior. Even when characters speak, the conversations aren’t as laden with Japanese puns or small twists in pronunciation that change the meanings of sentences entirely.
Perhaps the most notable example is an early scene where the character Hanekawa Tsubasa accidentally flashes her underwear at Araragi. In the TV series, there would have been a detailed inner monologue about the exact specs of her panties. In the light novel, the description goes on for three pages. In the film, however, hardly a word is given in reference to that moment, and the degree to which Araragi is so completely turned on by his memory of their encounter is expressed in his sweaty, panicked expressions, heavy breath, and his eventual trip to the convenience store to buy a dirty magazine that happens to feature a girl who resembles Tsubasa. Which is to say, if not for the loving detail they put into this theatrical release, it could be seen as kind of tame for Monogatari.
The film isn’t only about Araragi being horny, of course, but it pretty much sets the stage for what’s to come. I also want to point out that the impressive visuals aren’t limited to just showing off girls. The first few minutes of the film feature a man on fire, and the way he writhes about and the way the flames themselves are animated as they engulf his body is nothing short of impressive.
As of Kizumonogatari Part I, I think the film is capable of standing on its own without prior knowledge, as what we would later learn about the characters has yet to be relevant. Meme is just a mysterious stranger. “Kiss-Shot” the vampire has no other name. Tsubasa is a potential love interest. I doubt that those who never enjoyed Monogatari would change their minds here, but it is worth mentioning that the film is both the least verbose yet most vampire-tastic of all the different Monogatari works.
Two final notes:
First, it’s a shame this film was released after the end of Owarimonogatari, because many of the small details here clearly set up moments in that series.
Second, there’s a Tetsujin 28 reference in Kizumonogtari Part I. Just watch the opening, and keep it in mind when you see the movie:
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