A review of Nekomonogatari Black

Finally we come to the end of this “first season” of Monogatari. This series is certainly broken up in a weird way, and it progresses in a weird way too, because Nekomonogatari Black is another prequel. This one tells the story of what happened during the short holiday of Golden Week: the “Black Hanekawa” incident that kept getting brought up through the first and second series of the show. It’s only four episodes long, but there’s plenty here to examine as usual.

Before I move on, here’s the usual spoiler warning: there are spoilers in this review. Again, they probably won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen any of the series, but even so, fair warning and all. This one is especially violent in parts too, though not on the same level as Kizumonogatari. I guess that’s true of the other sets of episodes I’ve reviewed, actually. Lots of blood and limbs being removed and that sort of thing, but those parts are all concentrated in a few very intense action scenes.

Don’t let the screenshot fool you: this catgirl will fuck you up.

The broad outlines of what happened during the Golden Week break from school are already known by the time the series starts, shortly after the events of Kizumonogatari: we know star student and high achiever Tsubasa Hanekawa was possessed by a violent supernatural cat spirit, causing her to go on a rampage until she was stopped and turned more or less back to normal by her new friend/series protagonist Koyomi Araragi, mainly thanks to Shinobu’s intervention. Nekomonogatari Black gives us the whole story, albeit only from Koyomi’s perspective. There’s still a lot going on in Tsubasa’s life that only she can tell us.

At the start of the series, our semi-vampire slacker protagonist Koyomi is trying to work out his feelings. He can’t get his mind off of Tsubasa and is wondering whether he’s in love with her. So he asks his younger sister Tsukihi for her advice, because by his own admission, he’s never been in love before. After a lot of the usual dialogue and wordplay joke stuff, Tsukihi tells Koyomi he’s not in love but just sexually frustrated, so he decides to head off to the local bookstore to get a dirty magazine (just like in Kizumonogatari; maybe he doesn’t have his own computer, or maybe he’s old-fashioned and prefers print media.) And of course, leaving the bookstore at the same time is Tsubasa herself.

We don’t get much of the lighthearted banter from now on, though. Koyomi notices that Tsubasa has gauze taped to her cheek. After dragging a promise out of him that he won’t tell anyone, Tsubasa tells him that her stepfather hit her that morning.

This naturally pisses Koyomi off, but Tsubasa reminds him of his promise. She also tells him that it was only natural this happened. If you had a daughter who talked back to you early in the morning, and wasn’t even related to you by blood, and you were under stress at work, wouldn’t you feel like slapping her too?

Of course, the answer is “no, that’s completely fucked,” and so Koyomi says. But he agrees to keep silent about it.

At this point, Tsubasa finds the body of a cat lying in the middle of the road. She’s not the type to just ignore that and asks Koyomi to help her bury it, which they do together. Of course, we already know this isn’t an ordinary cat. As we learned all the way back in the last arc of Bakemonogatari, Tsubasa Cat, this was a “meddlecat” (translated from sawarineko, which looks like it has some relation or connection to the supernatural cat spirit bakeneko, or maybe to the nekomata.) This spirit has the ability to possess humans and causes them to act out violently, requiring an exorcism.

We’ve also seen the effect this possession has on Tsubasa. Later that day Koyomi visits his benefactor the spirit/demon expert Oshino, who senses that something’s off and asks what’s going on with “Miss Class President” as he calls her. From the hints Koyomi is able to drop without breaking his promise to her, Oshino figures the situation out, warning him that Tsubasa is in danger of possession by a violent spirit and that he should go to her house to check up on her.

But it’s too late. On his way to Tsubasa’s house, Koyomi spots a white-haired girl stalking around the streets in her underwear, with a pair of cat ears sticking out the top of her head, and he realizes that Oshino’s worst fears were realized. This catgirl has the form of Tsubasa but seems completely different in personality, almost like a wild animal. Speaking with a different voice and referring to Tsubasa as her “master”, the girl dumps two unconscious bodies in front of Koyomi — the bodies of Tsubasa’s parents. And when Koyomi tries to stop her from leaving, this possessed Tsubasa attacks Koyomi, ripping his arm off.

His regenerative ability lets him reattach the arm and heal with Shinobu’s help, but after retreating back to the cram school, Koyomi is faced with a dilemma. Oshino tells him based on his own research and experience that this meddlecat has not only possessed Tsubasa but is merging with her somehow, allowing it to combine its own physical skills with Tsubasa’s considerable intelligence to essentially create a broken, unfairly powerful character that Oshino refers to as “Black Hanekawa.” So broken that even Oshino, the guy who seasoned vampire hunters run away from, hasn’t yet been able to defeat her in the many fights he’s had with her during Koyomi’s recuperation.

I like this traditional-looking art over Oshino’s explanation.

Thankfully, Oshino confirms that Tsubasa’s parents aren’t dead; they’ve only been made victims of Black Hanekawa’s energy drain ability, which she’s since been using to attack and drain people all over town. But he warns Koyomi that if they don’t manage to exorcise the meddlecat, it will merge with Tsubasa completely, making it impossible to save her.

That’s the setup of Nekomonogatari Black, though it takes us through the first two episodes out of four. The last two deal with how Koyomi actually goes about both rescuing Tsubasa and defeating the cat possessing her. To do this, however, he also has to defeat Tsubasa herself — because by the last episode, Koyomi discovers that Tsubasa is actually conscious and is in control of her actions at least to some extent. As usual in this series, nothing is how it seems at first.

It’s easy to see why Tsubasa would fall under the influence of this kind of wild spirit. Being the top student in her class, famous for her high achiever status among the other students, would normally be stressful enough with the support of a caring family, but she doesn’t even have that. Neither of her parents are related to her by blood; a series of deaths, divorces, and remarriages placed her with two relative strangers at a young age.

You’d hope that her stepparents would care for her as though she were their own, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Tsubasa says to Koyomi that blood relation is important in a family, but the fact that there are plenty of loving non-blood-related families around suggest there’s more going on. No, she gives the impression that her parents, who we never see except as unconscious figures in episode 2, act as though they were stuck with her, like the secondary consequence of getting remarried. “Oh, you have a kid too; I guess that’s fine” — that sort of thing. Considering that, it makes sense that Tsubasa felt free to go out and wander the streets on nights and holidays as we see her doing when she runs into Koyomi in Kizumonogatari and Bakemonogatari. She lives at the same address as her adoptive parents, but those parents don’t seem to care about what she does.

Tsubasa’s situation can be contrasted with Koyomi’s. He doesn’t have an ideal home life; he’s emotionally broken off from his parents, as far as we know because of his failures as a student. He’s still part of his own family, though, and he does have close relationships with his younger sisters Karen and Tsukihi, relationships we saw develop in Nisemonogatari. When they face a threat, we see the siblings close ranks and support each other no matter what other disagreements they have.

This might be a little too close actually.

Then again, Koyomi himself might also be a source of stress for Tsubasa. We already know that she has feelings for him that she hasn’t expressed, feelings that started back during the events of Kizumonogatari when Koyomi went through his vampiric ordeal. That’s not actually revealed until later on, well after Koyomi gets together with Hitagi during the events of Bakemonogatari, but even at this point there’s plenty left unsaid between the two. Throughout this first season of Monogatari, including the prequel movies when they first meet, the nature of their relationship is sort of unclear — they’re certainly friends, but beyond that they’re both carrying around more intense feelings that may or may not count as love.

Again, there’s a strong contrast to be made here with the relationship between Koyomi and Hitagi. Hitagi even says she hates “unclear relationships” or something similar when they officially become a couple, asking Koyomi to express his feelings for her unambiguously. Maybe some of Tsubasa’s stress comes from an inability to act in such a straightforward way. That’s certainly the case later on, in the last part of Bakemonogatari.

All that makes it all the more depressing that Tsubasa is never actually freed from her demon. Before they have their final fight, Koyomi and “Black Hanekawa” have a perfectly civil talk during which she tells him that she plans to relieve Tsubasa’s stress by attacking and energy-draining as many people as possible. Koyomi argues that even if that were justified, it wouldn’t relieve Tsubasa’s stress but simply put it off for a while, but the cat refuses to listen. When Koyomi finally draws her out to the cram school for their final fight, it takes Shinobu’s help to resolve the matter by using her own energy drain technique on Tsubasa, leaving her exhausted and powerless but physically unharmed. It also seems like getting possessed with a cat demon causes memory loss. In the end, at least, it’s for the better that Tsubasa ended up not remembering any of the ordeal she went through here, considering the burden of guilt that would cause her.

However, although Shinobu’s energy drain subdued that cat spirit, it’s still in there. Tsubasa’s stress still isn’t relieved, and when it builds back up near the end of Bakemonogatari, the wild cat reemerges to possess her again. I don’t know if Nisio Isin meant that to be a comment on the difficulty of truly relieving stress, but it read that way to me. Much of Monogatari throughout this “first season” deals with demonic and spiritual possession, but those possessions are always caused by or related to the affected character’s internal struggles, the kinds of anxieties and insecurities that a lot of us deal with. And those issues aren’t so easily dealt with. As Oshino says so often, though the victim can be helped, in the end they have to save themselves. Despite how perfect she might seem on the outside, Tsubasa can’t manage that. Not yet, anyway.

Things are going to keep being tense for a while, aren’t they?

So I guess this isn’t quite a satisfying end to the first season of Monogatari, at least not for our characters. But all these series have left problems and ambiguities lying around, seemingly all on purpose. This ending feels pretty fitting for that reason. The next series up, in fact, is Nekomonogatari White, which starts off the “second season” of Monogatari. As the title suggests, this story also centers on Tsubasa, but this time it’s told from her perspective. I like Koyomi a lot as a protagonist, but it will be nice to get out of his head for a while. Especially to get into Tsubasa’s, because she’s my favorite character in the series at this point. I was never the top student in my class (I was really more of a Koyomi in high school if I had to compare myself to one of them) but a lot of Tsubasa’s anxieties make her pretty sympathetic to me, even if I can’t say I relate to them.

But that’s it for this first season of Monogatari. This closing mini-series maintains all the technical and style standards set by the earlier series, with excellent art, voice acting, and backing music (and another nice set of themes in Perfect Slumbers and Kieru Daydream. I always appreciate those great OP and ED themes.) I’ve liked the series as a whole a lot so far, enough that I feel bad for mostly writing reviews of these series full of spoilers. For that reason, I was thinking of writing a general first season review without spoilers, if I can even manage that. If so, after that’s done I’ll probably be moving over to other anime series for a while. But I know for a fact I’ll be back for more Monogatari at some point.

A review of Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! (Season 1)

Here AK goes again, reviewing all the hot new popular shows right after they air, just as usual. Yeah, this is a bit different for me. Not because I don’t like any popular, topical shows and games, but just because I usually want to write about something that isn’t either of those things. For example, I could have gone outside the usual scope of the site and given you my whole rundown last year of why the final season of Game of Thrones was a big pile of shit, but after the 895,694th review about it being shit that already covered all those points, I didn’t feel like piling on.

All this is completely unrelated to the actual substance of the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, an adaptation of a manga series of the same name. As a few other people have already said, this show probably would have passed by pretty quietly in the summer 2020 anime lineup if it weren’t for the completely stupid, ridiculous controversies that were somehow attached to it. At least partly as a result of those controversies, it instead ended up one of the most talked-about series of the year so far, and it’s already been confirmed for a second season.

This is one of those anime series that says its main idea in its title. Not in the kind of detail a typical light novel title would, but still, the title Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! describes a lot of what the show is about. It opens on a college campus at the beginning of the year following Shinichi Sakurai, a second-year student. This Sakurai is a bit of a loner; while we learn later that he does have friends, he prefers to keep to himself most of the time.

Unfortunately for Sakurai and his beloved alone time, one of his former classmates from high school has caught up with him. Hana Uzaki, a new first-year, recognizes Sakurai from their school days and reconnects with him. However, she never really knew him that well back in high school and after talking to and observing him, Uzaki notices how much of a lone wolf the guy is. She then decides to basically intrude on his entire life. Starting in the first episode, Uzaki insists on hanging out with Sakurai constantly, ignoring his objections and wearing him down until he just gives up and lets her tag along. At first, Uzaki only seems like she’s taking this opportunity to make fun of Sakurai’s loner tendencies — for example, mocking him for going to a movie alone and for spending his weekends playing video games instead of going outside. However, it soon becomes obvious that she actually wants to spend time with him, and Sakurai likewise soon ends up getting used to Uzaki and enjoying his time with her (more or less, anyway.)

Sakurai and Uzaki become friends pretty early on in the season, with the story following these two around as they hang out and trade jabs with each other over their personalities and lifestyle choices. The two couldn’t be more different: both physically, Sakurai being very tall and Uzaki very short, but more importantly in personality. Sakurai is a quiet, reserved guy, while Uzaki is talkative and outgoing, sometimes to the extreme. A lot of the comedy in Uzaki-chan plays off of this Odd Couple sort of “look how different these two characters are” dynamic.

But Uzaki-chan isn’t just a regular comedy, it’s a romantic comedy. So of course this is one of those shows where it’s implied that Sakurai and Uzaki have stronger feelings for each other than just the friendly type, but naturally neither of them can come out and say it, partly because they’re both kind of dense and partly out of embarrassment. And there are exactly the scenes you’d expect, like Sakurai unthinkingly eating a pastry after Uzaki already bit it and them both realizing they just shared that dreaded indirect kiss (a concept I had no idea about until I started watching anime.) But the two insist throughout when people ask that they’re only friends, which happens quite a lot — based mainly on their bickering, they come off like a couple to almost everyone they meet, and about halfway through the series they’re pretty damn close to actually being a couple without the romantic aspect, Uzaki visiting Sakurai’s apartment almost every day and even cooking for him.

Their situation is also complicated by two other characters: Ami, another student who helps her father run the coffeehouse Sakurai works at, and Sakaki, one of Sakurai’s college friends. Thankfully, these two aren’t thrown in to create a love triangle, square, pentagon or any other polygon that drags the show out with irritating drama: they’re actually rooting for Sakurai and Uzaki to get together and try throughout the season to make that happen, though their philosophies are a bit different with Ami being more of a hands-off observer.

These two are always around waiting for something to happen, just like us.

I don’t normally watch shows like this, and Uzaki-chan reminded me of why that is. Not that it’s a bad series at all. I actually did enjoy about the first half of the season — it was some light comedy that made for a nice escape from work and various bullshit in real life. After a while, though, the show started to wear me down. This may have been partly because the comedy bits started feeling like the same thing rewritten in slightly different contexts. You can’t keep writing the same “two characters who actually like each other in that way but don’t realize it have awkward moments” jokes forever without repeating yourself. And while a few of them feel like they’re meant to be callbacks to earlier episodes, I don’t know how much of it is just the show trying to drag things out between the two to keep itself going.

That raises the question of just how far a series like this can drag things out before people start to give up on it. Romantic comedies like Uzaki-chan are based on the premise that these two opposite types of characters who make an unlikely pair will end up together, so they have to deliver on that at some point. But when they do get together, the story is pretty much done, or at least it’s done telling that part of the story — I guess there’s no reason such a story couldn’t continue showing their relationship’s evolution, maybe even all the way to the two getting married and having a kid or something. But the “will they, won’t they” part of it is finished at that point.

And here’s the problem for me: the “will they, won’t they” aspect doesn’t appeal to me that much. If the answer is “yes, they will”, then I’m not that interested in watching the pair go through the same bullshit rigamarole for 24 or 36 episodes before that happens. And if the answer is “no, they won’t”, then by the end I’ll feel as though I’ve been strung along. This is one of those cases in which subverting expectations wouldn’t work, since the expectations are established by scenes that clearly imply Sakurai and Uzaki do have romantic feelings for each other that they can’t express or perhaps even understand yet. And in any case, that slow realization of romantic feelings seems to be the whole point.

No, we’re just two friends. You know, doing normal, friendly, not romantic at all things like feeding each other chocolate.

At this point, I’d just say these kinds of romantic comedies simply aren’t for me, but that’s not quite true. I wrote a bit about the manga Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro a while back, a series that like Uzaki-chan is a slow-burn romantic comedy between two very different characters, and I really like it. I think the difference is that I can see the characters developing in Nagatoro in ways that I can’t see in Uzaki. That character development makes that initially rocky relationship between Nagatoro and her nameless senpai interesting to watch — we can see both characters changing for the better and realizing things about themselves and each other that they wouldn’t have realized otherwise.

In the Uzaki anime, by contrast, I don’t see that Sakurai or Uzaki have really changed by the end of the first season. Sakurai still loves the alone time he manages to get, and Uzaki is still poking and prodding him in the same way she was in episode 1. Their relationship definitely develops, but the characters don’t so much, at least not that I can tell. Which makes sense: Sakurai and Uzaki are young but basically adults at this point and are pretty self-assured in their personalities, whereas the characters in Nagatoro are still in high school and figuring out who they are. I just think the latter makes for a more interesting story.

The question I have to consider now is whether I’ll watch the second season, and I’m not sure yet. If it’s just more of the same, I’d prefer to let Sakurai and Uzaki go on without me. On the other hand, I feel kind of invested now that I’ve watched a whole damn 12 episodes of them. I might check out the manga instead — it’s a lot farther along in the story as you’d expect, and I’ve heard that it might do a better job with character development than the anime does.

There are also a few “a crowd overhears and misconstrues the main characters’ conversation and shames one of them unfairly for it” scenes. Do you know the kind I mean? I hate these. People out in public need to mind their own damn business, screw these judgmental assholes.

Again, none of this is to say that Uzaki is bad or poorly done. It looks nice enough, and the characters are mostly pretty likable (even Uzaki, who sometimes walked a thin line between endearing and irritating for me, and I guess for Sakurai as well.) I can also appreciate the escape that a light comedy like this can deliver. But this show might just not be for me. Then again, maybe you’ll end up reading a second season review here at some point, in which case you’ll know that I’m full of shit.

Finally, I don’t want to pass by those controversies that I mentioned. For those who don’t frequent Twitter (and good for you if you don’t honestly; you’re better off for it) Uzaki-chan was the subject of a lot of pissy complaints from people who didn’t like the title character’s design. You can see from the screenshots that Uzaki’s bust is indeed SUGOI DEKAI (SUPER BIG) as her shirt states. She’s also short and pretty small otherwise, and apparently this just didn’t work for some artists on Twitter who generously decided to “fix” the art, redrawing Uzaki to suit their own preferences, along with some complimentary lectures on how “fiction affects reality” and so on (for greater detail/analysis of the situation and examples of the redrawn art, check out the article I linked here from a fellow blogger titled “The Uzaki-chan Drama”; it’s a very interesting read.)

Setting aside the supreme arrogance it takes to redraw someone else’s character and declare that you’ve “fixed” her (and the “fiction affects reality” argument that I’d like to address some other time) Uzaki-chan was just a weird target for this sort of attack. I’d be willing to bet that most of the complainers didn’t bother to watch a single episode of the series, because there’s nothing potentially offensive in it that I could find beyond the light ecchi elements that are present in every single series like this. Hell, if this is how these people react to something as mild and unobjectionable as Uzaki, the Nagatoro anime is probably going to give them a fucking stroke when it airs next year.

The required beach episode was about as crazy as things got, and the beach part was only half of the episode too. Nothing here to get too shocked about.

But I’m sure everyone involved with producing and airing Uzaki-chan is laughing about all this business, because there seems to have been a Streisand Effect here with the negative attention converting to more press for the show and a bigger audience. At least, that would explain why screenshots and art of Uzaki were being spammed all over the place for the last three months. Maybe it was a secret advertising strategy?

But now I’m getting into crazy conspiracy theory territory, so I’ll stop here. Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is a pretty decent romantic comedy that hasn’t really gotten to the romance just yet. If that sounds like your kind of thing, or you’re looking for a light comedy and don’t mind watching events repeat themselves a few times, it’s a nice show to check out. Once again, it’s probably not for me, but I didn’t drop it partway through, so that has to count for something.

A review of Nisemonogatari

Yes, it’s even more Monogatari. I know, I said I’d mix things up, but I’ve been continuing this series and I keep finding there’s plenty to write about every time I finish each of its parts. So it was with Nisemonogatari, an 11-episode run from 2012 that picks up from where Bakemonogatari left off. At first I thought of it as the second season of the Monogatari series, but there’s a long run of episodes later on called Monogatari Second Season that also contains a bunch of other named series within it each with the -monogatari suffix. And it’s not even entirely agreed upon when you’re supposed to watch this: some say you have to watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies before Nisemonogatari, and some say you can put them off to later. I already watched and reviewed those movies here, and I’m happy I did, because they provide context for an important character relationship that develops in this series.

I’ll get to that one later on, though. The more obvious focus of Nisemonogatari is the relationship protagonist Koyomi Araragi has with his little sisters Karen and Tsukihi. These two only very briefly show up in Bakemonogatari when they’re violently waking up their big brother by pummeling him while he’s in bed, but here they play central roles. The “Fire Sisters” as they’re known at their middle school dedicate themselves to fighting for justice, beating up bullies and the like. However, in the world of Monogatari even this kind of stuff can get you in serious trouble, which is exactly what Karen and Tsukihi both find themselves in. The entire season is taken up by just two parts, in fact: Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix, each focusing mostly on the title character as before.

I really like this stained glass depiction of them we get at the beginning of the series

These two character arcs are quite different from the five that came before in Bakemonogatari, however. The title of this series is another play on words: nisemono, 偽物, means a fake or counterfeit. While it does focus partly on demonic or spiritual possessions, at its core Nisemonogatari is about fakes: distinguishing between the fake and the real and asking how or whether that difference matters.

Also, just a note to avoid confusion: I’ll be referring to almost all the characters by their first names from here on because we now have multiple Araragis active in the story. I’ve just gotten used to referring to most of these characters by their last names because that’s how they read in Koyomi’s narration, but it feels wrong to mix up the use of first and last names unless it’s necessary, or if it feels off to refer to them by their first name (like for Meme Oshino or another character who’s going to show up soon.)

Also, a general spoiler warning, because I feel it’s hard to say much about this series without getting into them to some extent. If you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari at the very least, none of this will make sense anyway. We’re in neck-deep at this point.

You might imagine that the start of a new Monogatari series should be a bit weird, or at least I did after just watching the first series and the prequel movies. So the opening scene with Koyomi chained to a chair in the old cram school, falsely imprisoned by his  girlfriend Hitagi Senjougahara, isn’t such a big surprise. She hasn’t turned on him, though: she tells Koyomi that she’s chained him up to protect him, specifically from a man he briefly met named Deishuu Kaiki. This Kaiki is a conman, but from Hitagi’s description of him he seems to be more dangerous than the average grifter.

Hitagi chaining her boyfriend up makes some sense. As we know, Koyomi is the kind of guy to rush headlong into danger to save others. And since Hitagi knows this Kaiki character — he was one of several cheats who conned her family out of money when they were seeking a solution to her weightlessness problem — she knows how dangerous he is. (She also seems to enjoy having Koyomi at her mercy a bit in these scenes, but that’s to be expected from her at this point.)

A rare look of contrition from Hitagi

Nevertheless, Hitagi allows Koyomi to go free pretty soon after tying him up thanks to a threatening call she gets from their classmate, one we know very well by now: Tsubasa Hanekawa. We only hear Hitagi’s side of the conversation, but knowing Tsubasa, this threat was made in her characteristically sweet way and with serious intent behind it. Hitagi even apologizes to Koyomi, but says she’ll be taking care of Kaiki either way.

And it’s a good thing Koyomi is now free to act, because Karen has already had a dangerous run-in with the conman after she sought him out specifically to “beat him up” for his crimes. She failed in her goal and was left ill with a fever that Kaiki induced through some kind of — magic? Power of suggestion? It’s not clear at this point, but when Koyomi consults with his sisters and Tsubasa back at their house, he starts to put the pieces together.

Kaiki, who couldn’t possibly look shadier.

As in Bakemonogatari, Koyomi is surrounded by aberrations and supernatural dangers that aren’t quite what they seem at first. The story in Nisemonogatari is complicated by the fact that the aberrations this time fall into that theme of “fakes.” Kaiki himself is merely a conman; he denies the existence and power of magic, but he also knows that he can use those beliefs to his advantage by selling supernatural curses and cures to gullible middle school students.

Strangely enough, though, when he’s finally confronted by Koyomi and Hitagi, Kaiki quickly and easily caves in to all their demands, agreeing to close up shop and leave town. He also tells them that the illness he inflicted Karen with was really a sort of mind trick and will disappear soon, leaving her perfectly well. In the end, it seems Kaiki was only doing what he did for one reason: to make money. It makes more sense to him to cut his losses and leave town that to get into a fight.

Mayoi knows it too: money is the most important thing in life.

The Tsukihi Phoenix arc uses this theme of fakes in a very different way. This time, the “fake” isn’t an antagonist, but rather someone very close to Koyomi — his own younger sister Tsukihi. After another run-in with an extremely dangerous person, the aberration specialist Yozuru Kagenui, Koyomi learns that Tsukihi is actually the manifestation of an immortal phoenix that’s reborn when a human infant is stolen and replaced. This phoenix is “evil” according to Yozuru and should be destroyed, despite the fact that it’s also harmless and doesn’t even realize it isn’t a real human. But hell if Koyomi is having that — phoenix or not, Tsukihi is still his sister. Enlisting the help of his vampire companion/mistress Shinobu, he fights Yozuru and her undead familiar Yotsugi until Yozuru either decides she’s bored and gives up or sees Koyomi’s way of thinking, walking away and letting the Araragi family live in peace again.

At the end of Nisemonogatari, as a consequence, all the counterfeits that came into the story are still around. Kaiki is still out there conducting his shady business, and the “fake” Tsukihi who doesn’t realize her true nature is still living her normal life. Yet it’s all okay. At least for the time being. This seems to be a running theme so far to these series. Each one has a dramatically satisfying ending, but a lot of things are still left to be resolved — they simply can’t be resolved because of weird or difficult circumstances. But that’s life, isn’t it?*

Nisemonogatari may just be the second series of Monogatari, but it does feel very different from Bakemonogatari in some ways. I didn’t measure it or anything, but it feels like there’s even more comedic banter between Koyomi and co. than there was in the first series. He spends most of the first two episodes making the rounds, visiting and talking with each of his lady friends before the plot starts in earnest with Hitagi chaining him up, and even deep into the seven-part Karen Bee arc there’s plenty of messing around. This is combined with some of the usual fanservice stuff I now expect from this series: again, even more of it than before. And then there’s the infamous toothbrush scene in episode 8, which I can’t even do justice with words. If you haven’t seen it, you just have to watch it for yourself. It’s weird as hell to say the least.

Proper dental care is is a serious matter.

Because of all this, I can’t say I blame people for thinking this series is self-indulgent. Nisemonogatari especially indulges in a whole lot of the above stuff. However, again I think most of this messing around isn’t here just for the sake of fanservice or to show off the writer’s clever wit (though I think those are probably reasons as well.) A lot of the banter establishes characters and relationships between them, sometimes in ways that are easy to miss the first time — one of those cases of “you might not have noticed, but your brain did.”

One of my favorite scenes in the series is part of a conversation between Koyomi and Tsubasa where they’re discussing Karen’s fever, and during which Koyomi refers to his sisters as “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan”. Apparently it’s a bit weird to refer to a younger sister using the -chan honorific, or maybe it’s weird if you’re a guy or something. Because Tsubasa instantly seizes on it and makes a bit of fun of Koyomi for it. When he self-consciously tries switching over to simply calling them “my younger sisters”, Tsubasa even stops him and reminds him that they’re “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan” with a sweet smile.

Tsubasa looks really different without those braids and glasses, but she’s still her usual self, too happy to find a chance to make fun of Koyomi in a good-natured way.

I get the impression that Koyomi referring to his sisters in this way shows how close he feels to them and how much he cares about them in a way that some older siblings might not, but also that he feels a bit embarrassed about that. While Tsubasa makes fun of him for it, she also seems to recognize this in Koyomi, and maybe she envies those relationships being an only child herself, and one who’s living with a lousy family situation on top of that. I feel like this is no accident: these and other exchanges show how subtle the writing in Monogatari can be; through one short exchange it can convey important information about the characters and their feelings.

Speaking of feelings, there are a lot of those to be resolved between Koyomi and Shinobu, and Nisemonogatari shows us some real progress in that relationship. Shinobu, that blonde vampire girl who all the way through Bakemonogatari was silent and sullen-looking, decides early in the series to start talking to Koyomi again. And I like the way the story handles their relationship from here on: Shinobu declares that they won’t and shouldn’t forgive the other for how they’ve hurt each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together. Koyomi accepts this arrangement gladly, and from here on he has a vampire living in his shadow who he has a telepathic connection with, except when she decides to manifest in the real world to complain that she wants him to buy doughnuts for her.

After watching Kizumonogatari, it was really nice to see Shinobu being her old self again — as arrogant as you’d expect from a centuries-old vampire, but also talkative and even friendly sometimes.

This relationship progress is part of why I completely agree with those who say you should watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies between Bake and Nise — they provide all the context for the complicated connection and history between Koyomi and Shinobu. Without that, Shinobu might just seem like some vampire girl Koyomi happens to know because he’s a weirdo who keeps attracting and getting attached to mythical beings and demigods. Which she is, but she’s also much more than that to him, as he is to her.

I look forward to their unusual relationship developing through the entire Monogatari series, but just watching their banter here is fun too. Though Shinobu refers to Koyomi as “my master” and omaesama (an archaic respectful form of “you” and a reminder that she learned Japanese back in the 17th century) she still acts pretty superior to him, albeit in a friendly way. At the very least, Koyomi has come to expect that attitude from Shinobu, and they have a nice working relationship at this point.

The technical aspects of Nisemonogatari are still excellent. It all looks just as Shaft-ish as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the studio; there are still all the weird scenery, head tilts and poses, cutaways to screens full of text, and the other usual weirdness that seems to be connected to director Akiyuki Shinbou. The music is once again great, suiting and enhancing the moods the show creates (and adding another earworm OP with Tsukihi’s theme Platinum Disco.) And the character models still look nice and very distinctive. I brought up original designer VOFAN who created the cover art for the novels, but the anime characters were designed by Akio Watanabe, and they’re both now favorites of mine after seeing so much of their work in Monogatari.

Nadeko Sengoku in her one scene in this series, acting a little scary.

I wasn’t planning to address this aspect at first, because I already did somewhat in my Bakemonogatari and Kizumonotagari posts, but Nisemonogatari turns up the sexual innuendo scenes between Koyomi and the girls around him to such an extent that I feel I need to bring it up once again. I read on another blogger’s site some time back (I can’t find the link anymore, otherwise I’d post it) that he was happy about Koyomi getting knocked down a few pegs later in the series because the character was too flawlessly noble and might give some viewers the impression that as long as they’re nice and helpful, they can be just as pervy as Koyomi gets sometimes and still have the favor of the women in their lives.

However, while I agree that getting knocked down is great and even a necessity to keep things interesting and help the protagonist of a story learn more and grow as a character, I don’t see Koyomi or his antics in the same light as this blogger did. Partly because Koyomi does come off as quite a flawed character. It’s important to remember that the novels up to this point are written from Koyomi’s perspective, and though I don’t ever get the impression that he’s trying to mislead the reader/viewer, he is a pretty unreliable narrator sometimes. He has noble intentions and wants to save people, yes. And if he seems “too flawlessly noble” sometimes, this is probably a function of his being in his own head a lot.

But he also doubts himself and his own intentions pretty often. Even in Nisemonogatari, where his relationships with Hitagi and his various friends are pretty solid and well-established, Koyomi’s views are challenged by the new antagonists Kaiki and Yozuru, who aren’t even painted as necessarily evil, but rather as people with very different approaches and philosophies that clash with his. In other words, he’s not a Mary Sue. He doesn’t do what he does to pump up his ego but rather because he just feels he must. Even then, he doesn’t get a pass when he screws up, least of all from himself. And while Koyomi does have a sort of “harem” around him, with a couple of other characters having pretty obvious feelings for him, I haven’t yet gotten the impression that Monogatari is meant to be the kind of power fantasy that some actual harem series might be.

Also, remember: he’s already in a committed relationship.

Aside from that, I don’t think anyone (in their right mind, anyway) would watch Koyomi doing his thing and think “oh, I can do that in real life and it won’t be a problem!” Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel these antics of his are so over-the-top that they come off as complete jokes. These scenes are unrealistic, just like the unrealistic dialogue in the series, and that feels very intentional. I think viewers can pretty easily see the difference between actions and consequences in the narrative of Monogatari and in real life for that reason. (And anyway, if off-color material is how we’re judging that, Suruga has him beat.)

You might think that those two would clash with each other. If this story were in the hands of a less clever writer, they probably would. But Nisio Isin manages to combine unrealistic situations and character actions with very real-feeling sentiment in a way that works. Even that Nadeko section of episode 2 that’s seemingly disconnected from the rest of the story, where she’s doing her best to seduce Koyomi, feels like it’s setting up a future plotline. Although it’s played off like a joke, it’s been obvious for a while that she’s in love with him, and I get the feeling this is going to cause serious problems later on for both of them. And just what the hell is Nadeko hiding in her closet, anyway? Maybe we’ll find out in the second season, because that few seconds of dialogue about it feels extremely ominous.

Tsukihi is her friend, but she’s not the only one who realizes Nadeko’s feelings for her brother. Koyomi still doesn’t seem to get it, though.

And that’s it for this part of Monogatari. I see why people have some issues with this run of episodes considering, again, how much messing around there is even compared to the first one. I wrote in my review of Kizumonogatari that I thought that set of movies was divisive, but I think now I was wrong — this is the divisive series, at least as far as those I’ve watched, and judging from what else I’ve read about it. But I like the mix of banter and comedy with drama and action that Monogatari has been using up to this point. Nisemonogatari carries the “screwing around” aspect further than the others I’ve watched so far, but I think it still manages to keep plenty of substance mixed in with all the style.

Now it’s on to the next series and the last of this first season of Monogatari: the four-episode Nekomonogatari Black, which despite the short length will get a post all to itself. It’s another prequel, taking place before Bakemonogatari and telling the story of Tsubasa’s initial possession by a wild cat spirit, an event that until now has been referenced a lot but not actually shown. I’m betting that, as usual, the story won’t be a straightforward one.

* Edit: Looking back at it, that seems to be part of the point of Tsukihi’s story anyway: the fact that the fake tries to be genuine makes it more valuable than the real thing, so there’s really nothing to “resolve” about Tsukihi anyway. Though ask a coin dealer the same question about counterfeits and you’ll get a very different answer.

A review of Kizumonogatari

Last month I took a look at Bakemonogatari, the first part of the long-running Monogatari anime adaptation of novels by author Nisio Isin. I liked pretty much everything about what I saw and decided on that basis to keep going with it. But before I could proceed to the next part in the series chronologically, I was advised by top experts to turn back and watch the three Kizumonogatari prequel movies, titled Tekketsu-hen, Nekketsu-hen, and Reiketsu-hen. So that’s what I did. And so here’s my review of all three. I could break this post into three parts as well, but to me these three films really feel like one three-and-a-half hour film broken into three parts — they tell one complete story, and they’re all made in the same style.

But maybe that would have been too exhausting for the audience. Taken all together, there is a lot of shocking, sometimes inhuman-looking violence and gore in these three movies, much more than there was in Bakemonogatari. The same is true of the sexually suggestive content in Kizumonogatari. If you thought that first series was a bit much for you, this set of movies also cranks that element up. Once again, though, I don’t think any of it’s gratuitous, as extreme as these movies get in some of their contents. The story they tell is an extreme one anyway, one that was already set up in the first series, and one that needed to be told to explain some of the characters’ situations in that series.

Aside from the general content warning, here’s another one: there are going to be some specific spoilers in this post, the kind I tried to avoid in that last review. I couldn’t really avoid them this time, partly because of these films’ links to that series. So please take the usual precautions if you care to. In some sense the ending to these films is already kind of spoiled since they’re meant to be watched after Bakemonogatari, but I like to be safe anyway.

Here’s our protagonist again. At the beginning of Bakemonogatari, the student Koyomi Araragi has already survived a serious ordeal, a run-in with the supernatural that nearly killed him and put one of his friends in great danger. At the start of Tekketsu-hen, he’s just a regular guy, though one without friends at the moment. Araragi prefers to keep to himself. However, that changes over his two-week spring break. When school gets out and he’s aimlessly hanging around the front gate, he comes across one of his classmates, the legendarily smart and proper student council president Tsubasa Hanekawa. The first look he gets of her is quite improper, though. When the wind blew down the street and flipped her skirt up, I understood where that very first scene in Bakemonogatari came from.

That’s one of the powers of the author, to create a convenient gust of wind at just the right time

Despite this embarrassing start to their first meeting, Hanekawa laughs it off and insists on talking with and getting to know Araragi better. It turns out they both know about each other, but until now they haven’t interacted despite being in the same class. Araragi tries desperately to get away, putting up a show of acting cold towards her, but Hanekawa follows him anyway and goes on about school, their future plans, and some rumor she heard about a beautiful blonde vampire woman stalking around town. She also puts her number into his phone and tells him that he’s made a friend whether he likes it or not.

After she cheerfully waves goodbye to him and leaves, Araragi skips home, secretly happy that he met and got to know Hanekawa. However, he can’t get that first accidental and improper look at her out of his head, and it starts to seriously bother him in just the way you might expect. So late that night, he leaves his weirdly empty house (he lives with his parents and two little sisters, but they’re nowhere to be seen in these movies) and runs to a bookstore to buy a girly magazine to relieve some of that stress. On the way back home, however, he gets sidetracked by a trail of blood leading down to a subway station, and what he finds there puts every other thought out of his mind. There lies a blonde woman with all her limbs cut off, gushing blood all over the platform.

Despite her state, she speaks to Araragi calmly, even with an arrogant tone, commanding him to give her his blood. This seems to be that vampire Hanekawa was talking about: the strangely named Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade. Kiss-Shot tells Araragi he should be grateful to have such an opportunity, but Araragi turns to flee in terror after she tells him she’ll need all his blood to survive.

Despite initially running for his life, Araragi decides to throw it away to save this vampire woman after she loses her haughty demeanor and starts crying and pleading with him. Kiss-Shot thankfully accepts his offer and bites him, and the scene fades out. However, we know he’s obviously not going to die, so what does happen to him? Naturally, he wakes up a vampire himself — a follower of Kiss-Shot, who’s been restored to health with all her limbs intact.

Well, sort of. Kiss-Shot explains that she indeed sucked Araragi dry, and by doing do she turned him, making him her servant. She also explains that in order to regenerate her body, she needed to take the form of a child. In this weak form, though, she can’t fight against the vampire hunters who cut off and took her limbs. To recover that strength, Araragi will have to use his new vampiric regeneration ability and strength to defeat them one by one and acquire her arms and legs, all video game boss style. Only then will she have the power to turn him back into a human. In the meantime, the pair take refuge from the sun in an abandoned cram school building.

Also, headpats are how you show your vampire master that you submit to her. At least that’s what Kiss-Shot claims. Maybe she’s just making that up — it would be totally in character for her.

When Araragi ventures out of the cram school at night to face these powerful vampire hunters who are after Kiss-Shot, they all gang up on him at once. Araragi freaks out and tries to run away, but one moment before they close in and kill him, the final character in the story shows up to save him: Meme Oshino, the ghost/youkai/apparition expert from Bakemonogatari. This Oshino guy apparently has a scary enough reputation that the three vampire hunters run away, and he and Araragi return to the cram school to sort things out with Kiss-Shot. A solid team is formed, although the mysterious Oshino refuses to do any fighting himself, only “lending a hand” as he puts it, and for a steep price at that. But he seems to know his stuff, so they accept his help.

Oshino is legitimately a cool guy, and not just because vampire hunters are afraid of him.

And that’s the basic premise of Kizumonogatari. In fact, I just set out all the events of the first movie, which is only about an hour long. The rest of the story sees these plot setups play out, with emphases on the relationships Araragi builds with Oshino, Kiss-Shot, and Hanekawa. Because even though she doesn’t seem connected with the rest of the story, Hanekawa ends up involving herself in it with obviously serious risks. These are risks that she seems to fully understand, but she takes them anyway.

Before getting into more details, I should say that I completely get now why Kizumonogatari is meant to be watched after Bakemonogatari, even though it comes first chronologically. It seems to have been written specifically as a prequel. If I’d watched these movies before that first series, I don’t know if I’d understand why certain characters take some of the seemingly strange actions they do here. For example, the reason that Araragi would give his life up for this vampire woman probably won’t be clear unless you’ve watched Bakemonogatari and know what kind of person he is. As we’ve already seen in that series, it’s not out of character for him to help someone else even at the risk of his own life, and even if that someone else is an apparition, monster, or spirit. It really would have been more out of character for him to let her die.

The same is true for Hanekawa. Araragi himself is confused about why this perfect young lady, this model student and class president, would even bother talking to a loser like him. From what I could tell, for as much screentime as Hanekawa gets in these movies, the narrative doesn’t make this clear either. She tells Araragi at their first meeting that she has a fascination with vampires and supernatural things in general, but the reasons she’s found wandering around town at night, or why she gravitates towards Araragi as if he’s a magnet, even when she knows he’s been turned into a vampire — these only make some sense if you’ve seen Bakemonogatari and understand what a miserable home life she has. Again, Kizumonogatari doesn’t go into any details; it relies on the viewer having seen the first series or read the first set of novels already.

It’s not a baseball movie, this is just part of one of the fights

If you were starting with these movies, you might also think based on the events of Tekketsu-hen that their focus is going to be on how Araragi learns to use his new vampiric powers to fight the three vampire hunters and retrieve Kiss-Shot’s limbs. That does happen, complete with elaborate fight scenes — these scenes fill out a lot of the action of the second Nekketsu-hen film — but it turns out that these three enemies aren’t even close to the greatest threat Araragi has to face. No, that would be Kiss-Shot herself.

Oshino, who Araragi comes to half-trust as a mentor and half-suspect as a weirdo with unclear intentions, drops a few hints that help him discover this fact. Though Araragi absolutely wants to become a human again, he also seems to be drawn somewhat to Kiss-Shot. This isn’t such a surprise — in her weakest form, she takes the form of a kid who looks like she needs protection, albeit one who talks in a very haughty and superior way and uses old-fashioned language (I don’t know how it comes out in Japanese, but in the translation she refers to him as “ye” a lot.) As Araragi collects her limbs, Kiss-Shot consumes them and ages up, getting closer to the looks she has when we first meet her. But he seems more and more taken by her, up to the point when she’s fully restored and at full power again.

I mean, not that I can really blame him.

By this point, he seems to have forgotten an important fact, one that he curses himself later for not realizing: Kiss-Shot is a vampire, and that means she kills and consumes humans. He gets a stomach-turning reminder of this fact when he tells her he’ll go get a meal to celebrate their last night together before she turns him into a human again. Kiss-Shot cheerfully agrees, but when Araragi returns with some takeout, he finds she has started without him, feeding upon the corpse of one of the vampire hunters he’d earlier defeated. Kiss-Shot seems genuinely surprised when she sees he’s brought normal human-style food and not the “portable food” she expected: that “bespectacled, braided girl” she’d briefly met before, that class president who had been sticking around Araragi and bringing him supplies while they hid out in the cram school — Tsubasa Hanekawa.

In a later episode of Bakemonogatari, Araragi tells Hanekawa that he owes her his life. It’s not clear what he’s referring to then, but in Reiketsu-hen Hanekawa snaps him back into reality when he’s despairing about having revived a murderous vampire. By this point in the films, the two have built a strange sort of relationship — Hanekawa pushed a friendship on him that he didn’t plan to accept, then he tried pushing her away out of fear that he’d put her in danger. When she was put in danger anyway by trying to help him during a fight with one of the vampire hunters, the hunter mortally wounds her, and Araragi is only able to save her with the timely help of Oshino. By the middle of the third film, Araragi and Hanekawa understand each other and their connection has been made real, letting the viewer make a direct link to the unusual friendship between the top student and burnout slacker in Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot showing off her stupidly long sword: one that she purposely doesn’t use in the final fight.

This is the link that gives Araragi the strength to fight and defeat his vampiric master Kiss-Shot. Having resolved that he can’t let her continue to kill humans, he faces her in battle. Though they’re both immortal at this point and can almost instantly regenerate limbs and even their own heads, Kiss-Shot is clearly on a far higher level having been around for 500 years. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Araragi manages to get an opening and latch onto her neck, literally sucking the life out of her as she withers back to a small, weakened form. And here’s the other big connection to Bakemonogatari and the rest of the story: it’s revealed that Kiss-Shot wanted to die after living for such a long time — specifically that she wanted to die for a human after seeing her first human-turned-vampire follower die centuries before — and this was just how she intended to restore Araragi to human form.

Araragi refuses to grant her wish, however. After Oshino (who’s been hiding in a corner and watching this whole time) comes out and gives Araragi a few options none of which are that great, our protagonist goes for the ending that will make everyone unhappy: he drains Kiss-Shot of blood until she’s almost dead and has lost almost all her power, making him almost human but not quite. By doing this he creates Shinobu, the silent vampire girl from Bakemonogatari who has to drink his blood to survive. It’s now clear why Araragi feels guilty towards Shinobu, having taken away almost all of her power and even the right she has to her title and name while not granting her wish to die, and this guilt makes it even more clear why he might have been reluctant to ask for her help at the end of Bakemonogatari even when he knew he needed it.

And here’s the end of Kizumonogatari, or Wound Tale. I wrote in that first Monogatari review that I’d heard these movies were somewhat divisive, and I have seen a few criticisms of them since. One is of their visual style, which is very different from that of Bakemonogatari and the other TV series in some ways. Kizumonogatari is a lot more violent with a focus on body horror — during his fights, Araragi loses and regrows body parts, which regenerate in almost infant-looking form back into their original shapes. All this is accompanied by a lot of viscera and spraying blood. The worst scene by far for me isn’t one of these but rather a more realistic-looking one, when Hanekawa gets very graphically disemboweled by one of the vampire hunters. Probably because it is more realistic-looking, even if she does get magically restored by Araragi’s vampire power with the advice of Oshino.

There are more mundane differences too, like the character models themselves: Oshino is pretty much unchanged, but Araragi looks a lot bulkier in Kizumonogatari, even before he gets buff and largely shirtless during his time as a vampire. And Hanekawa looks extra-cute, to a way more exaggerated extent than in the other series. I did notice these differences, but they didn’t bother me. I can even take the extreme violence — as I wrote at the top, this is an extreme sort of story anyway, so the extreme visuals fit in that sense. I should note generally how good the animation in all three films is; Kizumonogatari looks like it had a pretty high budget. Even so, people who can’t take extremely violent scenes might want to avoid these movies.

More of those facial closeups that I’ve come to expect from this series now. Maybe Hanekawa’s weirdly exaggerated cuteness is meant to contrast with the extreme violence later on? Just a guess, because I have no idea.

There’s also the sexual content. There’s no outright sex in Kizumonogatari, but there is a ton of tension between Araragi and Hanekawa from their very start of their first encounter. Araragi is obviously attracted to Hanekawa from the beginning, and Hanekawa seems to start feeling that way about Araragi. After their interactions in the second and third movies, it’s honestly pretty surprising that nothing ends up happening between them, with Araragi eventually getting grabbed up by his other classmate Hitagi Senjougahara. It definitely comes as no surprise when we later learn in Bakemonogatari that Hanekawa’s secretly interested in him and that this interest started right here during Araragi’s vampiric spring break.

Even so, there’s a bit of criticism that Hanekawa is unnecessarily or overly sexualized in these movies, especially during the gym storage room scene between her and Araragi in Reiketsu-hen. While I can understand some people being uncomfortable with that scene, it doesn’t really clash with the characters that were developed either here or in Bakemonogatari in my opinion. This and a couple of other scenes also provide some background for the relationship between Araragi and Hanekawa. So far I’ve seen a recurring theme in Monogatari of the contrast between lust and serious romantic love. It’s one that’s very relevant to this relationship, and one that will come back with serious consequences for both characters later in the series.

Also, both the anime series and films are based on novels written from the perspective of Koyomi Araragi, a high school student with raging hormones, so it’s only natural if he’s fixating on more sexual details. He doesn’t seem to be a totally reliable narrator anyway. Not sure how much that perspective affected the angle taken in Kizumonogatari, but it’s worth noting.

As usual there’s context to explain this strange-looking scene

There’s a lot of emotion in Kizumonogatari, and it’s not the cheap kind. Sure, it is a vampire romance, and those aren’t anything new. But the characters here show that they’re willing to make great sacrifices for each other in ways that both explain and connect with events in Bakemonogatari, and for that reason alone these films are quite something to watch. They have a style fitting the dark, depressing tone of the story, though there are some comedic breaks as well — this is also written by Nisio Isin, so there’s still some quipping here, though there aren’t any 20-minute stretches where two characters sit on a park bench and play out comedy wordplay bits like there are in Bakemonogatari.

The pacing in Kizumonogatari is still a bit strange at times in the way you’d expect if you’re familiar with this series, with a few very weird scenes in the middle (my favorite: Araragi playfully spraying Hanekawa with a bottle of Coke while they run around in a field of wheat???) But again, that didn’t bother me at all. It seems like anything weird that comes up in these adaptations is taken straight out of the original novels. The pacing also suits the story these movies tell, and that’s part of why I can imagine Shaft having made this one extra-long film with an intermission in the middle, the sort American studios produced back in the 50s and 60s. I think that could have worked well, not just because of the relatively short lengths of each but also because they have some of the feel of those old-fashioned epics. Though presumably there would be a lot fewer ticket sales for one movie than for three. They did air all three in theaters from what I understand, which makes sense — Kizumonogatari really feels to me like it was made for a big screen.

That’s quite a skyline. Later on Araragi talks about how he lives in a “small town”, but this doesn’t look that small to me. Maybe it’s meant to be a boring suburb.

The ending theme to the second and third movies also suits the tone of these movies beautifully. When I first heard “Étoile et toi” I thought it was an old French song they had adapted, but it turns out it was written specifically for these movies. Even if you have no interest in watching this or Monogatari at all, you should at least check out that song and its variations.

Obvious content warnings aside though, again, I think there’s a lot to miss out on here if it’s passed up. I really liked Kizumonogatari, even if it was exhausting to watch all at once, or maybe partly because of it. And the very last lines of the movie sealed the deal up for me. Araragi sparing Kiss-Shot’s life, though it cost her everything else, fits perfectly with the other parts of the series I’ve seen up until now: even though she’s a vampire, as Oshino says, aberrations like her can’t really be blamed for doing what they do. To him, and later to Araragi, this work of containing demons and spirits doesn’t seem to be a matter of good and evil so much, even though both are doing so largely to protect human life. The result of their efforts in this case was an unhappy ending, but it was also a satisfying one and a great setup to what comes afterward.

I don’t have anything big and profound to close with, so here’s Hanekawa’s :3 face.

And shit, that’s a lot more than I thought I’d have to say about Kizumonogatari. I did say in my first Monogatari post that my next anime review would be something different, but I guess I lied. Sorry. But I’ve been sucked into the series now. I really will try to find something different for my next anime review, though. This one took it out of me.

Until next time… I don’t know. Try to avoid vampires, maybe? Seems like a good idea. 𒀭

A review of Bakemonogatari

Yeah, the anime reviews are back. I won’t even bother trying to keep up with currently airing stuff, though: my adventure with Cop Craft last year was exhausting enough, even if I did enjoy writing those posts. From now on, I’ll leave that work to the real experts and instead dive into the deep anime backlog I’ve got. And I’m starting with Bakemonogatari.

Sure, the Monogatari series is extremely well-known and a lot’s been said about it already. And I’m not even covering the whole thing but only the first 15 episodes from back in 2009 that adapted the first set of novels in the larger series into anime form. So maybe this is a weird decision on my part. Then again, the entire Monogatari series feels way too massive to take on all at once. I’ve also only watched Bakemonogatari so far — that’s just how far behind I am — but I feel there’s more than enough in this one run of episodes to talk about.

This guy with the giant cowlick is our protagonist, high school senior Koyomi Araragi. He looks like a bit of a delinquent in this screenshot, and he’s definitely a misfit in some sense — all the characters in Bakemonogatari are. But he’s actually a good guy and extremely altruistic, maybe too much for his own good. Almost certainly too much for his own good, in fact, because his altruism time and again gets him seriously injured and even nearly killed.

The story opens with Araragi running up the stairs at his school trying to make it to class when he sees another student falling from a high distance. He manages to catch her, but to his shock she’s nearly weightless in his arms. This girl, Hitagi Senjougahara, is one of Araragi’s classmates, one who’s both extremely talented but also seemingly very aloof, so much that she sits by herself and doesn’t socialize with others. Araragi is interested in learning more about her thanks to this bizarre encounter, so he asks his colleague on the student council, president and top-of-her-class student Tsubasa Hanekawa, about her.

Hanekawa can’t tell him much because she doesn’t know much herself, even though she and Senjougahara attended the same middle school — only that she used to be very popular and outgoing until she came down with a mysterious illness and seemingly withdrew into herself at the start of high school. Araragi, not letting on about her weightlessness, thinks to himself that it must be connected. As he leaves, however, he’s met by Senjougahara herself, who forces a boxcutter and a stapler into both sides of his mouth and demands that he stop prying into her business. Since he knows too much already, she tells him that she lost almost all her weight after she was confronted by a supernaturally powerful crab that she claims stole it from her, and ever since she’s been forced to hide this fact from everyone. Araragi is then coerced into agreeing to keep her secret, but she staples him in the cheek anyway just to make her point.

Araragi chases her down after recovering when he realizes that he can help her with her problem. and he convinces her to follow him when he shows her his cheek just a few minutes after she stapled it to reveal that the staple wounds have already healed. Because it turns out that the supernatural crab story isn’t some bullshit she just made up, and Araragi believes her because he’s had his own run-in with the supernatural. In his case it was a beautiful vampire woman who bit him and turned him into a follower before he was helped out by one Meme Oshino, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing guy who lives in an abandoned building and has the power to communicate with and expel gods, demons, and spirits. Araragi still has a few of the benefits of his former vampirism, including a fast-heal ability, but he’s more or less human again, and he now consults Oshino about other supernatural occurrences.

This is the beginning of Bakemonogatari, just the first part of a larger story about Koyomi Araragi and all the women who end up involved in his life. And aside from Oshino they are all women, some of whom end up having feelings for him. At this point, this might sound a lot like a harem anime, but it’s not exactly that. That’s partly because the show is focused a bit more on the various animal spirits that are causing problems for each girl in the cast, but also because Araragi quickly gets into a relationship with Senjougahara, the very same girl who stapled his mouth in the first episode. And it’s a relationship that both of them seem firmly committed to. There’s no wavering between different heroines in this one as there is in so many harem series, where the protagonist is a clueless dumbass too dense to understand what’s going on or to make up his mind and commit himself to someone.

His willpower does get tested, though

Their relationship is also tested from the very beginning by these supernatural incidents. Bakemonogatari is a faithful adaptation of the original novel series by author Nisio Isin, and like the novels it’s divided into five parts based on each new heroine and the animal spirit-related affliction she’s dealing with: Hitagi Crab, Mayoi Snail, Suruga Monkey, Nadeko Snake, and Tsubasa Cat. In each of these parts, Araragi takes it upon himself to help the affected person with the aid of the spiritual expert Oshino and his growing group of friends and confidants.

It soon becomes clear that Araragi is the kind of guy who will throw himself into a situation to save pretty much anyone without giving it a second thought. There wouldn’t have even been a story if not for that — the reason Senjougahara attacked him with a stapler in the first place was to drive him away, yet he still insisted on helping her after all that. And Senjougahara decides and then immediately announces that she loves him when, instead of just walking away from a problem to benefit himself, he shows the same compassion to the grade school girl Mayoi Hachikuji in the following part.

In the third arc, Araragi’s attempts at heroics nearly get him killed even with his quick healing ability, and only the intervention of Oshino and Senjougahara saves him. He ends up making a new friend in his junior schoolmate Suruga Kanbaru after she’s rescued from her own supernatural possession, but it’s pretty clear now that Araragi is willing to jump into any kind of danger for the sake of others to a crazy degree, even to the point that he doesn’t think at all about his own well-being. As Oshino, Senjougahara, and other characters point out to him, he’ll probably end up facing serious consequences for that sooner or later.

That brings me to the first big strength I think Bakemonogatari has: the characterization. I had a strong sense of who Araragi and Senjougahara were from their interactions in the very first episode. Araragi’s heroics don’t come off as false, because we see that he’s committed to them not to get praise but because that’s just how he is, and Senjougahara’s coldness and awkwardness also seem to be not really an affectation but just a natural part of her character. Other characters, like Hanekawa, are kept more obscure for a while, but this is clearly because the writer meant to reveal more of them when the time was right. This became more obvious after I finished this first series and went back to rewatch a few early episodes; there are plenty of moments that hint at trouble coming up for certain characters, brief moments that might be written off the first time as no big deal.

While there are some action scenes in Bakemonogatari, a lot of the show’s time is taken up by dialogue that helps establish these characters. It’s not very realistic, at least from what I can tell — you’d probably have to be an expert in Japanese to pick up on the nuances in how the characters talk, but just from the subtitles it’s obvious that these conversations aren’t the kind people would have in real life. Some viewers might be annoyed by this, but I don’t have a problem with stylized dialogue if it’s done well and is entertaining, and the dialogue in Bakemonogatari is both. I like the kind of dialogue you find in Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson movies, so it probably makes sense that I’d like this too, because it’s the same kind of snappy, witty exchanges with some weird references and wordplay involved.

Some of the more specifically Japanese references go right over my head, and the stuff involving kanji is impossible to get unless you have some basic knowledge of how those characters work. Even the title of this first season, Bakemonogatari, is a play on two different words: bakemono, 化物, describing a supernatural monster or spirit, and monogatari, 物語, meaning “story” or “tale.”* The wordplay and pun material goes way deeper than just that once you get into the story itself. Still, a lot of it’s perfectly understandable even if you’re relying on subs to understand it.

I still don’t completely get this snail -> cow kanji thing in Mayoi’s arc though

This strong characterization is also helped out by the visual style the show has. The entire series is produced by Shaft, an animation studio famous for their unique approach. I first found out about them through Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, a dark comedy anime series they also produced about a suicidally depressed teacher and his strange class of students. Bakemonogatari is pretty different in a lot of ways, and it does look different as well, but it uses some of the same visual ideas. A lot of the animation has a slideshow-ish feel to it like SZS did, with screens like the one above explaining certain concepts to the viewer accompanying the dialogue.

The settings are also quite strange: Bakemonogatari takes place in what looks like a large city, but where most series would put in a lot of background characters and traffic, both the halls of the school and the streets outside are always empty except for our main characters. Maybe that’s done to emphasize just how different and weird these characters are compared to everyone else. If that was the intention, I think it worked pretty well: it was pretty easy for me to accept that the settings should feel empty, even if they look unrealistic as a result.

It’s not a ghost town, but it looks like one

There are also a lot of close-up shots of the characters’ faces. Sometimes while they’re talking, but at other times it’s just a second-long shot of an expression without any words. As with the dialogue and settings, these shots feel a bit strange, but they also fit the show’s style very well. It helps that they’re beautifully illustrated with a lot of detail, great takes on the character designs by the original light novel artist VOFAN. But some of these shots also say a lot without words, especially when they show up in the middle of a long conversation. They provide some of those foreshadowing moments I brought up above, and I think they’re a nice, subtle way of adding to the characters and the story as a whole.

Like this one of vampire girl Shinobu. Still not sure what her deal is exactly, but later series are supposed to involve a lot more of her and her connection with Araragi.

I also need to praise the soundtrack — the whole thing is excellent, from subtle background tracks like Suteki Mappou and Sanpo to all the character themes and the ending theme. A lot of work was put into the openings as well — there are several different OPs corresponding to each of the five character parts in this 15-episode run alone. My favorite out of the lot might be Renai Circulation, Nadeko’s theme, even though it got stuck in my head for days after I heard it. It was only after watching this series that I learned about its massive meme status, probably because it’s such a catchy song.

There’s one more element of Bakemonogatari I want to address: all the dirty jokes in it. There are quite a few of them in here, along with some extra-obvious fanservice shots. Hell, the very first episode starts with the wind blowing down the street and flipping Hanekawa’s skirt up, giving the viewer an extended and highly detailed look at what she’s wearing under it. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it seems like this scene was put right in front just to let the viewer know to expect this sort of thing, and maybe to quit right away if they’re put off by it. Or maybe it’s just Shaft doing their usual thing, because there were some shots like this in SZS too.

oh shit

I bring this element up because I’ve seen Monogatari criticized for being full of fanservice, or a “perverted” or “horny” show, or whatever terms people are using on Twitter and Reddit now for it. I can only address what I’ve seen in this first series, but a lot of these bits figure into the plot — Araragi is a guy constantly surrounded by girls some of whom are interested in him, so some of it’s natural. Even the more gratuitous-seeming stuff doesn’t come off as being mean-spirited, though. And when Bakemonogatari deals with serious matters like bullying, broken families, and parental neglect, it does so with the proper sort of respect for the subject.

All these apparitions and spirits the characters have to cope with show up as a result of these personal issues, and this serious treatment is appropriate and doesn’t feel out of place alongside the comedy or fanservicey bits of the show. In fact, those less serious parts feel like nice breaks from the heavier material. But I have an extra-high tolerance for that kind of stuff. If your tolerance is low, you might feel like turning off Bakemonogatari after the first ten seconds. I get why some people would do that, but I also think there’s a lot they’d be missing out on as a result.

Well, taste is taste anyway, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to like or not like something. It would be nice if more people acknowledged that fact, wouldn’t it?

So far, it’s a nice story about fighting with/trying to appease dangerous spirits and also about the awkwardness of relationships. I like it.

So those are my thoughts on Bakemonogatari. I’ll definitely be continuing the series from here on, trying to figure out exactly how and where to watch all the different confusingly named parts. It was enough of a pain to find the last three episodes of this first series; for some damn reason (licensing problems?) all the streaming sites only have episodes 1 through 12, leaving out the last three parts of the Tsubasa Cat arc. Of course there are various ways to find them, but I leave that to you and whatever search engine you prefer to use if you’re interested in watching this show. If you refuse to go that route and don’t want to pay out the ass for the very expensive Blu-rays, you can always read the third part of the light novel series, all of which is translated and officially released. And if you want a beat-by-beat in-depth episode analysis, Yomu is doing that very well over on his blog, so check that out if you’re interested.

The next anime series up will probably be something totally different in tone from this one, but I’ll also be seeking out the Kizumonogatari prequel movies to watch. I’ve heard they’re pretty divisive, which makes them more interesting for me to watch in a way. Until then, do your best to stay away from dangerous spirits and apparitions. They really seem like more trouble to deal with than they’re worth. 𒀭

* I’ve seen the title translated into English as Ghostory and Monstory in attempts to recreate that wordplay, but it seems like everyone stopped trying after the second series Nisemonogatari came out, and now the translators are sticking to the Japanese titles.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 1 (Jack Frost)

Who better to honor on the first day of this Christmas series than Jack Frost?  He’s not only the personification of winter, which all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are living through right now.  He’s also the closest thing to an official mascot for the Megami Tensei series as a whole and for its developer, Atlus.  Jack Frost, as far as I know, has been in every Megami Tensei game ever created (or at least in all the ones I’ve played.)  He even starred in Jack Bros., a bizarre spinoff for the ill-fated Virtual Boy that most people in the West probably only learned about when the Angry Video Game Nerd covered it in his Virtual Boy retrospective video on Youtube, and even he didn’t seem to realize exactly what it was.

In his normal form, Jack is usually a low-level common demon you’ll encounter in the early game.  He tends to be pretty friendly but also enjoys playing tricks on humans, so it may be just as difficult to recruit him as some of the more outwardly hostile or icy demons.  The player shouldn’t be deceived by his cute looks — Jack Frost’s tricks can end up getting your entire party killed if your team is weak to his ice skills.

Jack Frost in earlier times, when he served as a Union general in the Civil War

The only real downside to Jack Frost being Jack Frost is that he has to share a name with not only the mythological being he’s derived from, the personification of winter, but also with all the other characters derived from him. Namely that Disney character or whatever he is (Dreamworks? The assholes who made that annoying Sing movie? I don’t know) and the shitty, extremely horrifying Michael Keaton movie from 1998 where he turns into a snowman.  Both of these guys clog up the Google Image Search results for “jack frost”, so they can go to hell.  Not Michael Keaton I mean, just the character he played and the movie he was in.

Black Frost brutalizing some regular Jack Frosts. Even when he’s being beaten up, Jack Frost has that happy expression.

Jack also has several relatives in the Jack family of demons, some of whom are far more powerful.  Most notable among these are his fire-based brother Pyro Jack, the emperor of the ice fairies depicted as a giant Jack Frost in a king’s robe and powdered wig King Frost, and Black Frost, a Jack Frost who sought great power and ended up turning evil.*  Black Frost is typically a mid-level demon and is a great asset to the player thanks to his having both ice and fire skills and resistances, so you should definitely try to fuse him any time you can.  He’s such a useful team member that some players keep him on well past the point where his level should have made him obsolete.  Those resistances are just that important in a Megaten game; if you have a demon strong to ice, fire, and dark attacks and without any weaknesses you can wipe the floor with a lot of standard-issue grunts and even with some bosses, even if they’re at a significantly higher level.

I hope you liked the two-for-one demon deal you got today, because it probably won’t happen again.  Check back tomorrow!

=

* Japanese language minute: The name “Black Frost” is an attempt at a translation of the Japanese name ジャアクフロスト with the “ジャアク/jyaaku” part written 邪悪, which is also pronounced ジャアク but means “evil.” These kanji puns just don’t translate.

Deep reads #1: Over the top, part 1 (Kaiji)

There are a few pieces of media I’ve experienced that have made me change the way I think about life. One of them features ten episodes straight of a guy playing a game of pachinko.

Pachinko.

Because Kaiji (officially Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji, and a load of other titles depending on which season of the anime or chapter of the manga you’re talking about) isn’t just about gambling. It deals with money, morality, and the nature of power in ways that most other works don’t touch upon. Kaiji is serious, but it isn’t preachy or even really political. The characters in Kaiji don’t just represent broad concepts — they’re three-dimensional characters, and with one probable exception, they all feel like people you might run into in the course of your everyday life.

Kaiji is also an insanely dramatic and tense series. A character mulling over a single decision in Kaiji might take five minutes to run through all the possible outcomes in an internal monologue, all accompanied by a pounding soundtrack (written by the amazing Hideki Taniuchi,1 also largely responsible for the excellent Death Note soundtrack) and interspersed with an external narrator yelling his lines as if the world were about to end. Characters will even break down and cry on the spot in especially stressful situations.

Our protagonist Kaiji Itou, a man who’s not afraid to cry when he feels angry or hurt.

The first group of works I’ll be taking on in this first “deep reads” series contains elements like this that are generally considered “over the top.”  These works tend to be pretty divisive, with some in the audience dismissing all these accoutrements as distracting or unnecessary fluff, and others enjoying them and claiming that the over-the-top style doesn’t take away from the work but rather adds to the value of it.

While I do require a lot more than pure style alone to enjoy something fully — there has to be substance there, otherwise I can’t get into it that much — I tend to really like these over-the-top sorts of series and games, and not just because they usually produce a lot of stupid memes.  I won’t be diving into the rabbit hole that is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, at least not anytime soon, but it provides a great example of this.  How many times have you heard or seen someone throwing out a “ZA WARUDO” or “IT WAS ME, DIO” in the middle of a thread on Twitter or wherever?  Like JoJo, some of the lines and scenes in Kaiji became popular online, especially when the second season of the anime was airing.  And like JoJo, there’s more to the series than just its dramatic style. I wrote a short overview of Kaiji a long time ago, but I think it’s worth a second more in-depth look.  Also, I’m about to spoil the shit out of Kaiji, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched it and want to go in pure as the good Lord intended.

Asahi really isn’t that cheap, though.

Kaiji tells the story of Kaiji Itou, a chronically unemployed/underemployed guy in his 20s who spends his time gambling to try to make it big.  At the beginning of the series, we see Kaiji prying hood ornaments off of expensive cars out of a twisted sense of frustration at his own go-nowhere life.  When one of the guys whose cars he defaced visits Kaiji at his apartment, he freaks out, but things are made far worse when the visitor identifies himself as a yakuza loan shark named Endou.  Endou tells Kaiji that an old colleague he cosigned on a loan for has skipped town, so he’s now on the hook for a massive principal and usurious interest that he can never hope to pay back.  Kaiji is thrown into despair at the thought of having to slave away the rest of his life paying back on this unfair loan, but Endou then tells him about a competitive gambling game taking place on the ship Espoir that’s set to take a short cruise a few weeks later in which about half of the gamblers should be able to clear their debts.

With no other information about the gamble (including the fate of the losers, which Endou tells Kaiji to just not even think about — that’s not ominous at all, no) Kaiji accepts a spot on the ship, starting his participation in a cycle of dangerous underground games all run by Teiai, a criminal empire that fronts as a financial consulting corporation. Teiai is built like an iceberg: the very tip of it visible to the general public seems to be legitimate, but its real mass is hidden in the form of underground casinos, prostitution, extortion, and loan-sharking.  The games that Kaiji takes part in seem to be part of an even more underground aspect of Teiai inspired by company president Kazutaka Hyoudou, a sadistic half-crazy old billionaire who takes great pleasure in seeing human suffering of all kinds up close.

Not a face you’d want to see under any circumstances

Hence the high-stakes gambling games he runs, in which Teiai’s broke-ass desperate clients are given a chance to get rid of their debts and win money on top of that, but at incredible risk to themselves if they fail or lose.  In the course of the first season, Kaiji and his fellow debtors fight each other in games that seem straightforward at first but that require either trickery or outright brutality to get a sure win.  And when they finally get to play a game that’s cooperative instead of competitive — crossing a pair of steel beams connecting two skyscrapers hundreds of meters above the ground — the result of a loss becomes certain death.

Honestly, I might consider doing this if it meant canceling my student loan debt

Kaiji manages to survive these gambles in one piece, but he ends up failing again following a couple of face-to-face gambling battles with President Hyoudou and his representative and right-hand man Yukio Tonegawa, and he’s again saddled with several million yen in debt.  Teiai loan shark Endou shows up once again at the beginning of the second season, but not to offer Kaiji another dangerous gambling opportunity.  Endou instead shoves him into a car that takes him directly to a Teiai-owned underground labor camp, where Kaiji is imprisoned until he can work off what he owes.

At first, Kaiji despairs and drowns his sorrows in overpriced beer and yakitori sold by the company store, bought with the sub-minimum wage he earns for his backbreaking manual labor.  But after taking a sick colleague to the crowded camp medical clinic, Kaiji realizes that labor will kill him before long and decides he has to get out as soon as possible.  And how does Kaiji get out?  By gambling, of course.  Kaiji plays chinchirorin (better known here as cee-lo or just dice) against the cheating foreman of his work detail, exposing him and winning all his hoarded money with the help of an alliance of other slave laborers.  He then buys a special pass to the surface with their pooled winnings, hoping to win enough with their remaining money to pay off all the group’s debts and buy its freedom.

Kaiji in the underground labor camp, planning his way out.

This is where the pachinko comes in.  While hunting for a gambling opportunity that he can use to win big in his few weeks on the surface, Kaiji meets Sakazaki, an older gambler down on his luck who shows him just what he’s looking for: a giant pachinko machine in an illegal secret casino (run by Teiai, of course) that pays out all the winnings of the previous players.  It takes an investment to play at the Bog: a single pachinko ball usually costs four yen, but a ball in the Bog game costs a thousand times that.  However, the Bog is notorious for never paying out and has financially ruined hundreds of gamblers hoping to get at its 400 million+ yen jackpot, adding their own fortunes to the pot in the process.

Here Kaiji turns into something like a heist movie, in which Kaiji and Sakazaki go up against Ichijou, the Teiai-appointed manager of the casino.  Of course, the Bog isn’t a simple pachinko machine that can just pay out at any time: it’s meant to be a money-maker for Teiai, and Ichijou has ensured that its pins, plates, and other contraptions are designed to absolutely prevent a win.

Yes, there are about five hundred more shots of balls rolling around plates for several episodes on end

Considering this fact, Kaiji and Sakazaki know it’s not good enough to just play the Bog for a little while and hope for a win.  So they’re forced to enlist the help of none other than Endou, that Teiai loan shark who kicked off the plot in the first episode.  Endou’s own loan-sharking business has been suffering since the fall from grace of his superior, Tonegawa (who Kaiji was in fact responsible for taking down in season 1 by beating him in a high-stakes game in front of Hyoudou.)  So Endou agrees to loan Kaiji even more money to beat the Bog and split the winnings.  Kaiji then devises several tricks and strategies to beat the Bog based upon his observations of its maintenance over a couple of weeks.  In doing so, he discovers most of the cheat mechanisms that Ichijou has built into the system and is able to break past every one on the big day.

Kaiji’s balls are larger than Ichijou’s, that’s canon

After finally defeating the Bog against all odds, Kaiji splits the money with his partners Endou and Sakazaki and his allies in the underground prison camp, who are all let out after their debts are paid.  Kaiji is now a free man.  But who knows what the future holds for him? (You know if you read the manga, which continues well beyond this point.)

Kaiji has been out of the spotlight for a while now.  The anime series nearly qualifies as old at this point — the first season aired in 2007 and the second in 2011 — but it’s based on a much older property, a manga of the same name written and drawn by famous mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto that has been running almost without a break since 1996 and that continues to this day.  Fukumoto’s works include Akagi, Ten, and a lot of other manga series about gambling that have plenty of fans, but Kaiji is certainly his best-known work, at least here in the West. Part of this popularity comes from the fact that it received that two-season anime adaptation, but I think there’s more to it than that. While Kaiji might be extreme and over the top in its visuals, themes, and music, I think it’s also very relatable to most people, even to those who wouldn’t normally watch a show like this.

And I do understand why Kaiji would put a lot of viewers off, at least upon a first viewing.  As first impressions go, Kaiji has a lot working against it, mostly in its visual style.  Fukumoto’s manga work features characters with exaggerated, sometimes bizarrely twisted facial features.  While the art in the anime adaptation looks pretty polished (Kaiji is a joint production with Madhouse, and they do a great job with it) the characters have kept most of those strange features, most obvious in the protagonist and the chief antagonist.  Kaiji sports an extremely sharp, pointy nose and chin that he could probably use as lethal weapons if he were so inclined.  While Hyoudou just looks more like a really old guy, his mannerisms are often grotesque — though he still mostly has his wits, when he gets excited he will start to giggle, cackle, and drool as he imagines how Kaiji will suffer when the drill attached to his ear pierces his eardrum and drills into his brain during that extremely high-stakes game against his lieutenant Tonegawa.

This arc features a bunch of “hypothetical scenario” shots of a drill piercing an ear and showing the entire structure of the inner ear getting destroyed and spurting blood, which I’ll spare you here. It wasn’t easy to watch

The extreme style of the series doesn’t end at its visuals, however.  The plot elements themselves are way over the top at times.  The idea of even the worst, most sadistic billionaire criminal being able to set up deadly gambling competitions is scary, but it’s also insane enough to be pretty unbelievable.  People are capable of terrible cruelty, and money can help them carry that cruelty out to some extent without getting into trouble, but Hyoudou is so rich and has bribed so many officials into looking the other way that he’s practically the secret ruler of Japan at this point — he can do pretty much anything he wants, including running death games using his debtors as human rats for his enjoyment and setting up underground prison labor camps filled with the surviving debtors who don’t win and can’t pay him back.  That stuff does feel pretty damn far-fetched.

However, the troubles of these debtors that got them into these crazy situations aren’t far-fetched at all.  People need money to start businesses, to finance medical debt, or simply to live after they’ve lost their jobs.  If they’re desperate enough and their credit cards are already maxed out assuming they ever even had credit extended to them, they might respond to a flyer promising quick money, no questions asked.

A Teiai flyer from the manga. You’d expect a weird billionaire who sets up human death sports to be more reclusive and secretive, but no, his face is right on their ads

I see these kinds of “quick money no questions asked” flyers posted on telephone polls along the roads on the way to the city where I work.  Clearly this aspect of Kaiji is not over-the-top or far-fetched at all.  A lot of people need money, and they are sometimes willing to take big risks (and sometimes even unknown risks, as we see at the very beginning of Kaiji) to get it.  They’re also willing to stab each other in the back when enough money is on the line.  During the very first story arc of the series, Kaiji makes an alliance with two other debtors, Andou and Furuhata, who are playing that competitive gambling game on the ship Espoir.  Furuhata even happens to be the very co-worker who tried to run from his debt and screwed Kaiji in the process.  Nevertheless, Kaiji and his new allies vow to win and escape together, as a single unit.

This friendship is almost immediately broken once Kaiji decides to sacrifice himself by losing the game for the sake of the team and telling them to rescue him with the money they end up making as a result.  Once Kaiji is on the other side of the glass (in a room filled with other losers who have been stripped entirely naked by Teiai guards, possibly in preparation to get them ready to go to a prison camp or to an even worse fate) his “allies” turn their backs on him, using the benefit they gained from his sacrifice to make more money for themselves.

I don’t know if you really want me to get into how Restricted Rock Paper Scissors works, but it does involve a room full of naked men at some point

It would be easy for Kaiji to simply say “people only care about money and are only out for themselves” and leave it at that.  That’s a cynical message, but it would resonate well enough with a lot of viewers.  However, this series takes a more complex view of people than that.  After Kaiji manages to escape from the ship’s lost debtor naked man room by using some of his own trickery, he wrests his rightful share of his team’s winnings away from them and uses those funds to save another man he made a very brief connection with, a man who was also tricked by a supposed friend.  Kaiji claims he’s throwing his money away by saving this guy, almost like he’s doing it just to spite his faithless allies, and he ends up regretting his decision after leaving the ship in even greater debt than he started in as a result of his actions.

Kaiji’s selfless act at the end of this first arc sets a trend, however.  Throughout the first half of the first season, Kaiji is faced with opportunities to get ahead by figuratively stabbing other debtors in the back or by literally physically harming them, but he always ends up refusing to do so.  And throughout the second season, Kaiji spends a lot of his time devising plans with his new friends, first in Teiai’s underground prison camp with some of his fellow debtors and later in his fight against the Bog when he joins up with Sakazaki and Endou.  Kaiji’s underground allies trust him so much, in fact, that they give him all the money they win using his strategies, relying on his creativity and ability to win their freedom for good despite the odds being stacked against him.  And their trust in Kaiji is well-placed, because he also puts faith in his friends, even after he’s betrayed at the end of the first arc.  Kaiji’s attitude can be contrasted with Hyoudou’s — the all-powerful president of Teiai seems to believe only in the power of money and will gladly step on his subordinates if they fail or displease him.

Fun trivia fact: that painting in the background is based on a real portrait of King Francis I of France.  But was he as crazy as President Hyoudou?

All this might fall flat if Kaiji were an unnaturally saintly sort of character, something like a Mary Sue, but he’s not.  Kaiji turns into a lazy bum when the pressure is off and is totally capable of being a dick sometimes, even if he tries to justify it to himself.  He also doesn’t always have a lot of self-discipline when the heat is on, as we see when he’s tempted to drown his sorrows in beer sold at a high markup in the prison camp, getting him even deeper into the hole of debt he dug for himself.  And even when Kaiji is doing well, he may get arrogant and push his luck too far (though he seems to have learned some lessons and gotten wiser in the second season after that arrogance leads him to a major screw-up at the end of the first.)

When Kaiji is forced into a life-or-death situation, his powers of genius turn on, allowing him to find a way to beat seemingly impossible odds.  However, those genius powers of his are usually dormant.  Kaiji might look a lot like Akagi, the mahjong prodigy from Fukumoto’s manga and anime series Mahjong Legend Akagi, but where Akagi is an unstoppable, demonic force of nature who crushes all his opponents almost without flinching,2 Kaiji is pretty much a regular guy most of the time, with regular guy sort of loves and hates, hopes and desires.  That makes it all the more impressive and inspiring that Kaiji is able to not only survive and win, but to help along his friends and allies to victory as well.

Even most of the antagonists in Kaiji aren’t exactly villains.  Kaiji meets both friends and enemies in the course of his gambles and struggles, including some who are enemies disguised as friends.  But the one thing they almost all have in common is their instinct for self-preservation.  Almost every character in Kaiji is, on some level, just trying to survive and make their own progress.  When Kaiji’s allies in the Espoir arc stab him in the back, they don’t do it just to watch him suffer — Andou makes the point to Furuhata that if they abandon Kaiji, they can keep the money they’d otherwise need to use to save him, thus leaving the ship with some financial security.  Kaiji shames them for their betrayal when he manages to escape by using his own wits, kneeing that asshole Andou in the gut in one of the most satisfying scenes in the show.  But Andou’s logic is frightening, cold, and downright human.  Why help your friend and merely survive when you can help yourself and thrive instead?

Time to beat the devil out of you then!

The same is true for the Teiai employees Kaiji battles.  These characters are motivated at least in part out of a fear of losing everything they’ve gained.  This is very obvious throughout Kaiji’s fight with Ichijou.  The Bog is Ichijou’s ultimate creation: a pachinko machine so impossible to beat and yet so tempting to play that it earned its name by eating hundreds of men alive, wiping out their savings and even throwing them deep into debt.  We learn that Ichijou was able to claw his way up from basically a janitorial position at Teiai’s casino to manager by coming up with clever new ways to get money out of their customers, all while leaving them with just enough hope of a big win to lure them back for more.  This is exactly what the Bog does; it’s a legendary machine that keeps drawing gamblers in to their destruction.

When Kaiji sits down with his final matchup against the Bog on his last day of leave from the labor camp, Ichijou soon discovers that Kaiji has somehow broken the machine’s defenses and consequently loses his shit.  Ichijou is about to end the battle and throw Kaiji out on the basis that he must have tampered with the machine, but then he gets a call from his boss, Hyoudou.

It doesn’t go well

The old company president is watching Kaiji’s match and has even ordered that a TV be set up in the underground prison camp so that Kaiji’s allies can watch him.  Of course, Hyoudou’s ultimate intention isn’t very nice — he seems to want to give these lowly debtor prisoners hope and see that hope crushed when Kaiji loses.  Hyoudou also has a strange fascination with Kaiji, though, having seen his abilities up close in the first season during his battle against his lieutenant Tonegawa.  He therefore commands that Ichijou let the match continue, reasoning that if he threw Kaiji out now, the crowd of other gamblers watching him challenge the Bog would think it unfair and lose their trust in Teiai.

However, the price for failure is massive.  When Kaiji finally does manage to break the Bog so completely that all Ichijou’s cheats are useless, he gets a ball into the winning hole, capturing the jackpot and freeing himself and his friends.  But someone has to be on the hook for losing all that money, and Ichijou ends up getting dragged down into the hellish labor camp by the very same guards who were there to bring Kaiji back.

Again, ideally not the boss you’d want to work for

Even Hyoudou’s most accomplished officers aren’t safe.  The chief villain throughout most of the first season is Yukio Tonegawa, a stern, no-nonsense Teiai executive who’s recognized as the corporation’s number two.  As Hyoudou’s right-hand man, Tonegawa is tasked with coming up with games to amuse the old sadist, exactly the kinds of high-stakes games that Kaiji and the other debtors are enrolled in.  After Kaiji manages to cross the deadly steel beam — the only one out of ten players to survive — he’s denied his prize money on a technicality.  However, he’s give the option to play another game to win potentially even more money, this time against Tonegawa himself.  With Hyoudou as the chief spectator, Kaiji and Tonegawa play a high-stakes card game.  Tonegawa plays as a representative of Hyoudou and thus places many millions of yen of Hyoudou’s money on the line.  Kaiji, on the other hand, has nothing to offer as a sacrifice in the gamble but one of his body parts, and so he’s required to wear a special device that moves an electric drill into his ear every time he loses a round.  Kaiji can bet millimeters of the drill in place of the money he lacks, but eventually if he loses enough, his eardrum will be pierced.

Tonegawa can read your thoughts. Or can he?

We’re initially made to believe that Tonegawa is completely in control of this situation.  He boasts to Kaiji that his long experience in business and negotiation allows him to read other people like open books.  Because of this, Tonegawa claims that he can easily beat Kaiji by observing his tells in the way an expert poker player might.  However, Tonegawa is actually cheating — the device on Kaiji’s ear is designed to read his pulse, temperature, and blood pressure, and Tonegawa’s watch contains a disguised readout of Kaiji’s vitals.  Once Kaiji realizes the setup, he understands that the only way to beat Tonegawa is to remove the device from his ear.  But it’s locked in place, so Kaiji takes an extreme step: he goes to the bathroom in the middle of the game and smashes his head against the glass in the mirror, then cuts his ear off with a shard of glass, managing to maintain most of its vital sign readouts by giving his severed ear to an extremely terrified leftover contestant from an earlier game to hold.  Kaiji is thus able to trick Tonegawa and beat him in the second-to-last round by holding a towel to his bleeding head, covering his missing ear, and also in the last round after his trick is discovered and a new device is placed on his other ear.

Hyoudou seems impressed by Kaiji’s ability, but he’s more annoyed with Tonegawa.  Not so much for losing all that money, it seems — 20 million yen barely even counts as pocket change to Hyoudou — but for denying him the show of Kaiji having his brain pierced by a drill upon his loss.  So Hyoudou forces Tonegawa to atone for his mistakes by kneeling and bowing to him.  Well, that’s not so bad, right?

Tonegawa facing the literal heat for his loss

Except that Tonegawa has to kneel and bow on top of a giant hotplate, keeping his forehead pressed to the plate for at least ten seconds.  This, according to Hyoudou, is the only way to show him true sincerity, aside from paying back what he lost, of course.  Tonegawa manages to maintain his pride by successfully performing the torturous “roasting kneeling”, even if he ends up falling out of Hyoudou’s favor anyway in the second season.  But Kaiji is horrified by this.  What sort of man is this Hyoudou, to make people literally grill themselves for displeasing him?

Hyoudou is that one exception I brought up.  Every other opponent that Kaiji faces throughout the series is either a fellow debtor to Teiai or an employee of Teiai.  No matter how serious a threat they might seem to be, they are all under Hyoudou’s thumb and are all at risk of falling into disgrace or even into hell if they get on his bad side.  Even Tonegawa, who presides over all the treacherous gambles and games Kaiji takes part in throughout most of the first season, and who seems so powerful, turns out to be a nobody in the face of Hyoudou’s madness.  And that’s the most interesting aspect of this setup to me, because Hyoudou also seems to be under the power of his own madness.

Is this how the most elite of the elite drink wine?

Even if he does usually seem pretty sharp, Hyoudou is undoubtedly wrong in the head somehow.  He manages to maintain his position as the actual head of Teiai while also carrying out the kind of decadent cruelties that would make the worst Roman emperors jealous.  How he manages this, the show doesn’t really address.  What it means, though, is that Kaiji is fighting against a corporation ruled by wealth and the influence it buys, but also partly by literal madness.  Hyoudou maintains his power, but he also has a monstrous philosophy of life.  He seems to have no friends; every single person surrounding him is expendable.

Kaiji, meanwhile, is only able to achieve what he does with the help of his friends and allies.  His genius powers of problem-solving always require cooperation with someone else.  This is most obvious in the second season, but even in the first, Kaiji is only able to make progress and get off the Espoir with the help of his allies, even if they do end up turning traitor.  Even giving his severed ear to his fellow contestant allowed Kaiji to fool Tonegawa into trusting his faulty vital sign readouts.  Kaiji succeeds by employing deception against his enemies, but he always treats his allies with honesty and good faith.  And that honesty and good faith is finally paid back many times over at the end of the series when Kaiji and his friends are finally set free, crying tears of joy at their happy reunion as the fantastic first season OP theme plays.

Another lesson Kaiji teaches us: men can cry too.

If you’ve read this site for a while, you know that I have real problems finding positivity in life.  Any work of art that pretends life is all sunshine and flowers and unicorns just doesn’t work for me, unless it’s meant to be one of those “healing” series or a straight up slice-of-life (and even those can be realistically dark sometimes.)  However, I’ve also come to dislike works that are completely fatalistic about how shitty humanity and the world are.

Kaiji takes an approach that I can appreciate now far more than ever.  It admits that life is hard, sometimes nearly unbearable, and that people tend to be weak in the face of life’s hardships and take the easy way out, even when that means betraying their friends and ideals.  It also shows how people can overcome those hardships and weaknesses through perseverance and friendship.  Yeah, life often sucks, but whether you give up and stop struggling or betray your core ideals is entirely up to you.  That’s not a new idea, of course.  But all the insane, over the top elements of Kaiji work in service of that message to deliver it effectively.

And that’s it for the first installment of this series.  I hope it wasn’t too out there.  I’ll be continuing it next time with a look at one of my favorite game series of all time, so look forward to that.  In the meantime, I really suggest watching Kaiji, even if you feel like you may not be able to get past the weird art style.  Just give it a shot — no loss if it doesn’t work for you, and if it does, you’ll be in for an excellent experience.  Even though I just spoiled the whole damn show in this piece.  Well, it’s more about the journey than the destination, right?  You should still check it out.

There are also some great out-of-context screenshots like this, so if you just like those you should watch Kaiji too. 𒀭

=

1 Mr. Taniuchi hasn’t made a soundtrack or any other kind of work that I know of since his work on Kaiji because he’s sitting in a prison cell for marijuana use.  It would be great if the authorities would free him, both because he’s an amazing talent and because it’s stupid in general to lock people up for using marijuana.

2 This isn’t meant as a put-down of Akagi at all.  I used to consider it my favorite anime series ever, in fact, and it’s still on my list of favorite shows.  It’s just a very different experience from Kaiji, despite all the surface similarities it shares (same writer and studio, similar art style, both are about gambling.  And Akagi and Kaiji even have the same voice actor.  Same with Hyoudou and Washizu, the chief villain of Akagi.)  Anyway, definitely check out Akagi as well if you get the chance.

A review of Cop Craft

Let’s finally close the book on the summer 2019 anime series Cop Craft.  My weekly review posts were all extremely spoiler-laden, so if you’re looking to go into Cop Craft more or less blind, read this spoiler-free review instead to find out if you might like it enough to check it out on Funimation’s streaming service (or to find the episodes in other very obvious ways that I won’t address here.)

Tilarna will chase down and arrest all pirates

Our tale starts with Kei Matoba, a grizzled detective in San Teresa, a large American city on the Pacific coast (which I’m still positive is meant to be alternate universe San Francisco.)  San Teresa has a special status as the gateway city to a group of immigrants called Semanians from a planet connected to Earth through a mysterious wormhole gate thing that appeared out of nowhere some years back.  At the beginning of the series, Kei’s partner is killed by a corpse being controlled by Semanian magic during a sting operation gone wrong, and in the course of the investigation a new partner is assigned to him: the Semanian knight Tilarna Exedilica, a young noble lady with a haughty bearing but an honest and straightforward personality.  Kei and Tilarna clash at first, but they end up working together and even developing a strong bond as they learn to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They also live together in an Odd Couple-style arrangement

If that sounds familiar, it might be because this is the basic setup of every buddy cop series and movie ever made.  Cop Craft was a bit different from most of the other series airing last season for just that reason — it borrows a lot from western sources, namely from American cop dramas, and throws in a whole lot of sci-fi and mixes them together.  This invited a lot of comparisons to Bright, the Netflix original movie with a somewhat similar premise that took a beating from critics in 2017.  Cop Craft is based on a light novel series that started in 2009, though, so there certainly wasn’t any inspiration from that film here.  In fact, a better comparison might be another Will Smith movie: Men In Black, only Tommy Lee Jones is 30 years younger and Will Smith is a cute sword-wielding girl from another planet where due process and defendant rights don’t exist.

Tilarna-style interrogation. I guess this alternate-universe USA doesn’t have Section 1983 protections against police misconduct.

The story of Cop Craft is decent enough — there are a few plots that start and get resolved throughout the 12-episode run that are presumably taken from writer Shoji Gatoh‘s light novel work.  These plots are contained within a larger story about the clash of cultures between Earth natives and Semanians, a clash that plays out on a small scale between Kei and Tilarna.  This both gives our protagonists more depth and raises the story’s stakes, especially in the second half of the series, which deals directly with issues relevant to real life like nativism and xenophobia.  Thankfully, Cop Craft deals with these issues in a way that’s neither preachy nor heavyhanded.  Tilarna does face discrimination while working with Kei because of her origin, but the show doesn’t treat her detractors as faceless villains — they’re all depicted as real people with real fears.  Misguided fears, to be sure, because Cop Craft has an obvious anti-xenophobic message.  But that message is effective precisely because it treats these issues as complex.

The greatest strength of Cop Craft lies in its characters, however, and specifically in the relationship between Kei and Tilarna.  Kei is the jaded old cop who’s been forced to accept corruption and the influence of money and politics in his work, and Tilarna is the young hothead who acts before she thinks but who also forces Kei to remember his old ideals.  Beyond that basic archetypal stuff, these characters are just really well-written and grow closer over the series in a believable way.

The context to this scene is pretty interesting, but I’ll let you find out about it for yourself.

There’s not much more I can say about the plot or characters without spoiling, so I’ll leave it at this: Cop Craft is worth watching just for Kei and Tilarna.  A few of the surrounding cast of characters are interesting as well, particularly the police coroner Cecil, but Kei and Tilarna are almost always at the center of the action, which is a good thing.

Speaking of action, there is action in this show and a lot of it looks lousy.  The animation in Cop Craft is wildly inconsistent, ranging from decent to awful.  If you saw the above stills and thought “wow, this show looks beautiful” — yeah, some of the still shots are detailed and nicely show off the excellent work of character designer Range Murata, but the action scenes look rough, with a lot of obvious animation shortcuts.  I don’t know much about the technical aspects of animation, but I do know what looks good to me and what doesn’t.  Most of Cop Craft looks like it was made on an extremely tight budget, with 95% of the detail reserved for the scenes where the studio obviously wanted to make Tilarna look really good.  Even some of the still shots lack detail to a distracting extent.

There’s also one episode that’s so dark you can barely make out anything.

I have to assume the studio (Millepensee, who also co-produced the widely hated 2016 adaptation of Berserk and what look like a few “cute girls doing cute things” comedies I’ve never heard of) just didn’t have the funds or time to make something that looked better. It’s a real shame — I know there are people who will avoid watching Cop Craft because of its rough animation, and I can’t blame them for that. This is a visual medium, and the visuals matter.

Still, if any of the above stuff sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking out Cop Craft, even if it is visually rough around the edges sometimes.  Look at it this way: if I told you the visuals and animation in Cop Craft were beautiful but that the characters and story were dogshit, I wouldn’t be recommending it at all.  If I want to see nice visuals and nothing else, I’ll look at my artbooks again.

We got a lot of shots of Tilarna being cute and pouty, and that’s all that really matters

And that’s about it for Cop Craft.  Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be getting a second season considering how little attention the anime series seems to have gotten.  The light novel series is still being written and published, though, so there’s always a chance.  Maybe when the isekai craze finally dies down, there will be more demand for an urban sci-fi fantasy cop show and a better studio with more resources will be able to produce it, and then I won’t have to qualify my recommendation at all.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Fall 2019

Fall is upon us, and so is the fall lineup of anime series, which means I have to decide what new show to pick up for this stupid Seasonal Anime Draft thing I’ve cursed myself with.

It’s impossible for me to use this SZS screenshot too many times.

I’ve got good news and bad news about that.  The bad news first (because that’s always the best way to deliver it): I don’t plan to write episode-by-episode posts this season like I did for Cop Craft.  This is partly because I’m losing some of my free time to work now in my efforts to make more money that I really need at the moment, and partly because there isn’t a single show this season that immediately grabs me in the way Cop Craft did.

That’s not to say there’s nothing that interests me, though.  Which leads me to the good news: I’ll be watching not one but three series this season and probably writing both a mid-season piece for all of them together and separate end-of-season reviews for each one.  I’ll do my best to stick with all of them, but I will drop one or more of these series if it somehow turns out to be unwatchable garbage.  In that unfortunate event, I’ll also write up a piece explaining what exactly made me hate said show(s) so much.  But again, that hopefully won’t happen.

And the shows I’ve chosen to watch are…

Val x Love: This is an adaptation of a manga series I haven’t read, so I’m going in blind here.  The premise sounds fantastic, though: a loner student nobody likes is contacted by the Norse god Odin, who tells him he has to save the world “with love” and sends his nine valkyrie daughters to help out.  This series sounds like it could be amazing or a complete disaster, or possibly both at the same time. Expecting some grade A fanservice either way.

Kemono Michi: Rise Up: I don’t typically go for isekai series, but this one looks different enough to capture my attention. The setting seems like the most generic isekai medieval/Renaissance European town you could possibly imagine, but the protagonist is a pro wrestler who loves animals.  So when the princess of this world asks him to exterminate the beasts of the kingdom, he refuses and instead tries to make friends with all of them.  This show also looks like it’s going to contain fanservice, this time mainly of a bunch of animal-eared/tailed girls.  (Okay, you’re probably not that surprised that I picked this show to watch.)

Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia: I have a weird history with Type-Moon.  I really liked the original VNs Tsukihime and Fate/stay night, even with all their flaws, and I loved Fate/Zero without any reservations at all. Ever since F/Z, though, I haven’t been keeping up with any of the Type-Moon properties.  So jumping into this spinoff series based on a mobile game of all things might be a horrible idea. I can’t even give you much idea of the premise because I honestly don’t understand it, even after reading the synopsis and watching the extremely confusing mess of a trailer. The best I can do is “someone time travels to ancient Babylonia to fight gods or something.”

Also, Gilgamesh is back.  Here he is in Fate/Zero, chilling out on his giant golden throne.  By the way, if you haven’t watched Fate/Zero, do that as soon as possible.

But I figure why the hell not give it a try?  The prospect of seeing the supremely arrogant Nasuverse version of Gilgamesh ruling over his native city of Uruk is interesting.  And even though I haven’t played Fate/Grand Order, I have seen plenty of pictures of the new Servant Ishtar around, and… let’s just say I’m a fan of the character design.  Because it’s simply Rin Tohsaka in a skimpy outfit.  From what I gather, the Mesopotamian goddess of love has possessed Rin for some reason that you probably know if you’ve played this section of F/GO.  I read it as Nasu’s excuse for putting Rin in a skimpy outfit and nothing more.  Not that I’m complaining.

I’m still not playing this god damn “free-to-play” trap game, though.  I don’t care how hot Ishtar Rin is.

Anyway, a question for you, dear reader: what anime series are you looking forward to this season, if any?  Feel free to post a comment telling me about it, or telling me I’m an idiot with shit taste, or telling me anything at all.  In the meantime, I’ll be working my day job and writing up my full Cop Craft review.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, final episode

Are you ready for the season finale of Cop Craft?  If you aren’t, then don’t read any more of this, because that’s what I’m writing about today.

Tilarna gets some nice badass action girl shots in this episode

Summary: We rejoin our protagonists in the van they’ve been tossed into by the corrupt FBI agent Chan.  Zelada is in the front seat and puts Kei and Tilarna to sleep with a magic spell.  When they wake up, they find themselves separated: Kei beaten to a pulp and handcuffed to a chair in an interrogation room with Chan, and Tilarna bound and held captive in Zelada’s swanky penthouse.  We get a back-and-forth sort of double scene in which we learn (again) that Zelada is an asshole who wants to sow discord between Semanians and Earth natives because he hates Earth culture and its degenerate effects on Semanian society, and that Chan is an asshole who just wants to blackmail the future mayor of San Teresa to get rich.

It’s quite clear that Chan is prepared to kill Kei once he gets access to Kei’s phone to delete that photo of Marla and her husband’s assassin from last episode (as we’ll soon learn, the reporter Randall has already met that fate) and Zelada decides to kill Tilarna once he realizes he can’t convince her to join his anti-Earth-culture cause.  Kei and Tilarna are action stars, though, so of course they both fight their way out of their predicaments despite being bound.  Kei manages to beat on Chan with his hands literally tied behind his back and chokes him to death with his thighs in an impressive display of strength, then he starts fighting Zelada’s corpse army on his way upstairs to the penthouse (yes, Kei and Tilarna are in the same building, though it’s not apparent at first.)

Kei busts in and he and Tilarna have a final battle with Zelada in which each is forced to use the other’s weapon, ending in old Z getting shot by Tilarna and decapitated by Kei.  Then Kei and Tilarna head up to the rooftop and wait for police backup as they have a nice moment together.  Kei offers to delete the incriminating photo of Marla so that the xenophobic douchebag Tourte isn’t elected mayor, but Tilarna insists they turn it in.  Finally, we have a montage in which Marla gets arrested, Tourte gets sworn in as mayor, and Tilarna decides to stay in San Teresa for good, continuing her tenure as Kei’s partner.  And then the OP plays in place of the ED, which I thought was a nice touch.

Just hanging out on the roof in a shot that looks a lot like one of Range Murata’s portraits.

Analysis: Well, damn.  What’s left to be said about this finale?  It was pretty nice, got the job done, and tied up the loose ends, all while leaving the door open for a second season.  The fight scenes were interesting as well, with Kei and Tilarna having to figure out how to resist and defeat their captors while handcuffed.  The very final fight between Zelada and the protagonists was a bit confusing, though.  There was a lot of trickery going on, with Zelada turning into flying red energy to escape Kei and Tilarna’s attacks.  And apparently Zelada can deflect bullets, except when he can’t.  Maybe Kei managed to distract him by blasting that rock music that Zelada hates, even though Kei should have no reason to know that Zelada hates it because he wasn’t in the room when that was revealed.

Oh well, who gives a shit about all that?  Cop Craft might be considered an action show, but I cared a lot more about the relationship between Kei and Tilarna than about the action scenes, and this season closer provided a nice cap to that development.  I’ve said before that I thought the show was hinting at something more going on between Kei and Tilarna, and even though nothing like that is firmly established here, it’s hinted at once again with one of Tilarna’s final lines.  If you follow the light novel series, I guess you know how that’s going to proceed.  The rest of us will have to wait for a second season if it ever happens.

And I hope it does.  Cop Craft has its shortcomings, but I enjoyed it enough to want more.  Hopefully that more includes a bigger budget, because I’d love to see Tilarna flying around and swinging her blade in intense action scenes that actually look good.

As usual, the Tilarna closeups are by far the best-looking shots in the show

And with that, I’m done with my beat-by-beat review of Cop Craft.  But I’m not done with the series quite yet.  I’ll be posting a no-spoiler full season review soon, so please look forward to that.  Until then!