Monogatari protagonist Araragi Koyomi is a flawed and immature yet ultimately heroic figure. A teenager influenced heavily by his hormones, Araragi is nevertheless more interested in helping the weak and not succumbing to his loins. The Kizumonogatari prequel films tell the story of Araragi’s first foray into becoming a horny savior, with Kizumonogatari Part III: Reiketsu, completing the trilogy. Reiketsu provides plenty to chew on in terms of Araragi’s relationship to the other characters (both those in the movie and seen elsewhere), particularly the uniqueness of his “harem lead” position.
In the previous two films, Tekketsu and Nekketsu, a sympathetic Araragi agreed to become the undead servant of a dismembered vampire named Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade (later known as Shinobu). With his newfound immortal abilities, Araragi retrieved Heart-Under-Blade’s defeated her attackers and restored her limbs. Along the way, he befriended two individuals: the wise, buxom classmate Hanekawa Tsubasa, and the sly occult specialist Oshino Meme. In this third film, Araragi looks forward to regaining his humanity, but upon realizing that he’s restored a powerful 500-year-old vampire and thus a significant threat to humanity, Araragi resolves to put a stop to his own master.
Given the prequel status of Kizumonogatari, there is no mystery as to the outcome of this battle: both survive, though in significantly reduced fashion compared to how they’re depicted in this trilogy. However, just exactly how they reach these states of being is one of the goals of Reiketsu, and the conclusion is a kind of denial of resolution. It’s the sort of chicanery Monogatari is known for, where the wrap-up feels both neat and dirty, and your’e not sure if you’ve had enough or you want more.
For viewers of the various TV series, Shinobu appears to go through a fairly unusual personality change, from a silent background presence to a constant companion for Araragi, residing in his shadow. The final film of the Kizumonogatari trilogy, titled Part III: Reiketsu, provides the answer in full. However, given the timing of this film it (presumably) functions differently compared to its placement in the novel series. Whereas Kizumonogatari the novel introduces the foundation of Shinobu’s personality and its gradual restoration, the Kizumonogatari films act as the missing puzzle piece that finally brings sense to an incomplete anime image.
Shinobu and Araragi’s master-servant relationship (later reversed in the TV anime when she starts to refer to him as the master) essentially positions their relationship as being impossible to replicate by any other girl. They’re bonded by something far beyond love and romance. Unlike many harem scenarios where certain characters have a clear “lead” over the others, Shinobu as the “dependent master” becomes one of many equal female partners for Araragi, alongside his eventual girlfriend Senjougahara, his first (?) friend Hanekawa, and others.
Both Heart-Under-Blade and Hanekawa feature prominently throughout the Kizumonogatari films, but it is in Reiketsu that their differences in terms of their emotional/spiritual connections to Araragi are fully highlighted. In one scene, Araragi claims that he needs to fondle Hanekawa’s breasts in order to steel himself against Heart-Under-Blade’s tremendous bosom, but as much as Araragi tries to embrace the role of the stereotypically aggressive male in Japanese pornography—and as much as Hanekawa is ready for things to escalate—it’s ultimately only an act for him. In contrast, both Heart-Under-Blade and Araragi are more than willing to engage each other physically, albeit in the form of a violent battle instead of something sexual (though the smiles might imply otherwise). One is a very human relationship (albeit filtered through an assumed “right” behavior instead of lived experience) the other built on the supernatural. It’s telling that the most exquisitely animated moments in the entire film are Hanekawa removing her bra and the battle between Araragi and Heart-Under-Blade.
In Owarimonogatari, the latest Monogatari TV anime, Hanekawa is highly suspicious of the character Oshino Ougi. In order to convince Araragi not to go along with her, Hanekawa offers Araragi a chance to fondle her breasts. Araragi agrees to listen to Hanekawa, but when asked about it, responds that his decision to go along with Hanekawa was less about the prospect of feeling her up, and more about the realization that, if Hanekawa was saying this, it meant that she was deathly serious. With Reiketsu, I now understand that this entire scene is a callback to the events of Kizumonogatari.
I’m still not sure if splitting Kizumonogatari into a trilogy was the right idea, as I don’t feel like each film quite stands on its own without assistance. At the same time, I suspect 3+ hours of full-on Nisio Isin + SHAFT would feel a bit too overwhelming. Given that the films are all relatively short, it might be ideal for marathoning.