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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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