Harem the Origin – Kizumonogatari Part III: Reiketsu

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.

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Game of Undeath – Kizumonogatari Part II: Nekketsu

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One of the many purposes a prequel can fulfill is to show how the characters we’re already familiar with came to be who they are. This is the story of light novel author Nisio Isin’s Kizumonogatari, which recounts how Araragi Koyomi, protagonist of the Monogatari series, would become embroiled in the world of the supernatural, and how his friendship with his beautiful classmate Hanekawa Tsubasa would form. In its adaptation to film, Kizumonogatari has been split into a trilogy, with the first being an introduction to the cast, and now the second covering Araragi’s realization of his newfound vampire power. Suffice it to say, this film is not meant for people to watch it without having seen Part I.

While the first film was quite violent, as we see images such as a limbless Shinobu bleeding all over the ground, Araragi writhing in agony as the sun sets him aflame, Kizumonogatari Part II: Nekketsu is much more violent in terms of the ubiquity of action scenes. Presented much like a series of video game bosses or Bruce Lee’s Game of Death progression, Araragi (with his new vampire abilities) must fight three increasingly strong opponents who have taken the limbs of his master, Shinobu. During these fights, we begin to see the origins of Araragi’s favored game plan: sacrifice his own body because its regenerative power allows him to take a lot of abuse. In Bakemonogatari, he’s much less of a vampire than he is here, so this is the strategy at its most powerful, even if Araragi’s lack of experience means he isn’t using it as well as he could. One of the other interesting aspects of Araragi’s battles is that he initially assumes himself to be the underdog, which is very much in line with this personality.

In terms of the action scenes but also many of the “slower” parts of Kizumonogatari Part II, this film is unmistakably SHAFT-esque. Ever since director Shinbo Akiyuki brought his signature visual style of sudden cuts, fragmented imagery, and head tilts to the world of Monogatari, it’s created a certain expectation for how these anime should look. With a clearly larger budget than what they get for their TV series, the fight scenes get elaborate and intense beyond what one might even expect simply reading the light novel, and even the endlessly large rooms where battles take place in the TV series feel somehow less infinite than the sets of Part II. Unlike Part I, which I found to be a good deal more amenable to those unfamiliar with or jarred by the Monogatari style, this middle part of the trilogy pretty much goes in full force. Due to how much both Nisio Isin and Shinbo love to indulge in metatextual elements, it often feels like a match made in anime, but at times I wonder if there’s a breakdown somewhere between the two creators’ approaches.

One aspect of the film that still leaves me puzzled is the way that Araragi and Hanekawa would eventually end up the way they are. While Araragi is clearly always attracted to Hanekawa and vice versa in later parts of the series, in Kizumonogatari their mutual interest is almost animal at times. By the time of Bakemonogatari, it’s still there, but somehow also a lot more cordial. Not only that, the two of them also just feel fairly different personality-wise and somewhat disconnected with the images of them I’m more familiar with. This is probably intentional, in order to show their growth. Also, while the disconnect seems jarring, Part II lays some of the foundations for what we see from Araragi and Hanekawa later on in terms of secrets and revelations.

Kizumonogatari Part II: Nekketsu suffers a fair amount from being the second part of the trilogy because the context can feel lacking and the end of the film leaves things a bit unsatisfying so that it can lead directly to the third film. However, it still ends up being a very thrilling and visceral experience in terms of both action and sexual tension. In a way, this film is mainly a transitional state, the point where everything begins to really change, but the outcome of which is still a mystery.

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Pervert Rising – Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu

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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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