I decided that I would review all three Kizumonogatari movies as well as the original novel in one post. While I was given a copy of the Kizumonogatari novel right after I saw the first movie I decided that I would wait to read it until after I watched all three movies. It is a well-known phenomenon that visual adaptations tend to get much harsher reviews if the critic has read the source material first. I wanted to give both versions as fair as shake as I can so that is why I am bundling all four reviews into one review.
As this is a Nisio Isin series that focuses on vampires there is absolutely no chance of Kate participating in this review. Much like crosses and vampires, I’m fairly certain that Kizumonogatari actually acts as a ward against Kate and possibly does 2d6 damage under the right circumstances.
I also wanted to mention that these Kizumonogatari movies have been in a bit of limbo for a while. The films were originally announced all the way back in July 2010. After several delays and the release of later books as TV series, the release of Kizumonogatari became a bit of a running joke among fans of the series as it was trapped in development hell. In fact, Shaft released 2 multi-part seasons of different parts of the Monogatari series before they released these three movies. More and more points of the anime referenced the plot in Kizumonogatari with the assumption that people had read the book so anyone who only watched the anime just had to piece what happened in the third book by inference. That too became a bit of a running joke with English-speaking fans.
I don’t really know why the movies got delayed as long as they did. It is certainly not a Duke Nukem Forever train wreck despite being delayed so long. In fact, it is on par with everything else that has come before it with a bit more theatrical polish. I mostly wanted to mention that as a bit of history especially if anyone reads this post years after the movies come out it would be very easy to not ever realize how much later these movies came out then it was originally scheduled.
Koyomi Araragi is deliberately a loner but a chance encounter with a compromised Tsubasa Hanekawa leads to a strange friendship. Before Koyomi takes off Tsubasa mentions the rumor of a vampire roaming in the area. As the rules of such story dictate Koyomi runs into said vampire near death later that night. Koyomi reluctantly saves Kiss-shot Acerola-Orion Heart-under-blade and becomes her vampiric minion. It seems that three vampire hunters teamed up to defeat the ancient fiend stealing her limbs. If Koyomi can get back Kiss-shot’s extremities than she will make him a human again. Can a fledgling undead hope to defeat the experienced night hunters even with the help of a shady negotiator and the class president of all class presidents?
In both iterations, Kizumonogatari feels hyper-symbolic of the medium and creative team behind the project. Both versions tell almost the same story. The anime changes some details but overall the major beats of the story nearly identical.
The novel is Nisio Isin as all get out. It is filled with wordplay, genre subversion, manga references, perversion, and twisted logic. Also, the books love to use repetition. Did I mention the book likes to use repetition? I feel like the comedy rule of threes demands that I answer that question by saying that the book affectionately uses repetition quite often. When Kate and I started reading the few light novels that got translated we wondered if we were reading some hackneyed authors because they seemed to love to copy and paste text. While they might very well have been stale writers it is also just part of the genre. For whatever reason, it seems that repetition is just part of the form. You will see this in almost every character having some sort of catchphrase, verbal tic, or sobriquet that comes up every time they appear. Light novels really like to reinforce points through almost hypnotic repetition and Kizumonogatari is no exception. It does it with a bit of tongue in cheek awareness but it does it none the less.
After 87 episodes of the Monogatari series, it would almost be odd for Shaft not to have a general style for the title. I’m sure animation experts can break down the major differences between Tatsuya Oishi and Tomoyuki Itamura versions of the show but at this point, the general house style is so strongly integrated into the production that it would take an extreme attention to detail to notice the variations. The movie generally has what most people have come to expect in both the Shaft style and the Monogatari mold. There is lots of head tilting as if the movies bought a Costco jumbo industrial sized box of head tilting a year ago and then realized it was going to expire in a week and tried to use it all before it went bad. There are surreal sets filled with oddities in an often seemingly sparsely inhabited universe. There are frequent cuts to blank scenes or walls of text that can only be read if you have the ability to freeze the screen. Since it is a movie there a few scenes that are more ambitious or lengthy than they might have otherwise been but it is mostly the known quantity of Koyomi’s supernatural adventures.
Actually what I noticed was more how much of the Monogatari series style in the TV series was from the book and how much was anime original. For one thing, the novel is almost entirely expressed through dialog. It might be nearly impossible to believe but the book is actually wordier than the TV series. This actually means that often the location of where anything takes places usually only gets a passing description and is often little more to give the bare amount of information to set a scene or inform the reader that the characters have changed locations. In fact, any window dressing of a scene usually has to share time with some other bit of dialog. This means that often Shaft has free rein to do what they want with the setting and as the anime has proven they take a very liberal license with that freedom. The best example is Koyomi meeting Kissshot. In the novel, he just finds her under a nondescript street lamp. In the movie, it is an elaborate scene in a stylish subway that pretty much plays out the same but is far more visually striking.
When I was discussing the films with Carl from Ogiue Maniax we both noticed something about both iterations of Kizumonogatari. Kizumonogatari is actually the third book in the Monogatari series. The first two books are the five stories that would make up the original Bakemonogatari series. While Kizumonogatari chronologically comes before the events of Bakemonogatari is was written after the first two books. Bakemonogatari makes several references to events that happen in Kizumonogatari so it’s clear that the book was not invented out of whole cloth as a way to extend a popular book that was originally meant to be a stand-alone story but it still feels a bit incongruous.
The thing that stood out the most is Tsubasa Hanekawa. For this book, and really this book alone, she feels like the heroine of the Monogatari universe even above Shinobu. In many ways, it makes her more supporting character role in the rest of the series seem a bit odd. In the first book, Senjōgahara is far more the center of the universe with the rest of the cast rising and falling in prominence in regards to the focus of the story. Since the rest of the cast has not been introduced Hanekawa seems an incredibly vital part of Koyomi’s life to the point where it almost seems odd that she falls to such a supporting role.
Also, her character seems at bit different from her later iterations. It seems like for just this book she feels like the main character whereas she always seems a supporting character even in a story like Tsubasa Cat. There is no real major retcon. It is more that she just seems more like a tool of the plot or a sidekick in other sections. A later story like Tsubasa Sleeping might adjust that back more towards her original feeling I can’t read more than a summary of those stories and they have not been animated. Until that point, this story seems more an abnormality than anything else.
I also notice a bit of a disconnect from the rest of the series with the tone. Bakemonogatari is a supernatural wordplay adventure with some heavy fan service scenes. Nisemonogatari is an infamously raunchy set of stories with a dash of narrative to the point where it almost felt more like doujinshi. The later books blend these extremes a little better so that they have aspects of both. As the book between the two extremes, Kizumonogatari is a bit more of an awkward mixture of Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari. Unlike the later books that strike a better balance between the supernatural parts and the fan service parts of Kizumonogatari feel like separate sections written by two authors as part of a round-robin exercise. When Koyomi is fighting vampires it feels like a standard action story but the parts with Tsubasa often felt like watching soft-core porn in a group. This is not totally unheard of especially with light novels but here it felt much less homogeneous.
Now that I feel I have framed the book and the movies it is time to get down to the brass tacks. I’m a little embarrassed but I totally forgot that I reviewed the first movie. In the end, I said that everything came down to the last two movies. The first movie is all set up but the execution of the middle and the conclusion is what people will remember.
The second movie is distinctly the densest part. It has all of the big fights. The battle against the three vampire hunters has a nice flow. None of them run exactly the same way. Dramaturgy was a good chance for the audience to get a real idea of how the battles will work. It is also more of a slugfest than anything else. Episode’s battle is more of a puzzle where Koyomi has to figure out how to defeat someone he can’t just rush down. The battle against Guillotine Cutter is more of a character development moment than anything else. The second movie is also the part where the dynamic of Koyomi, Tsubasa, Meme, and Kiss-shot get fleshed out and really set up the finale. If anything the second movie seems to mostly wrap things up.
With that in mind, it is clear that the third movie has to contain several twists otherwise this would be one long movie of nothing but falling action. Nisio Isin really likes to set up a standard anime scenario, examines it in otaku levels of detail, and then subvert those ideas in the end. In that respect, the whole last movie is nothing but twisting all the ideas that came up in the first two movies. There is still a big elaborate fight scene but it is much more of a vehicle for the character dialog and final reveal of the twists. The fact that there is some comically gory combat is almost window dressing. In the end, the finale is also a twist on the standard ending you would expect from such a story while still falling within the boundaries of the genre. Consider it more of a playful tweak than an utter subversion.
Interestingly enough this is probably a great place to start the Monogatari series. This is generally the starting point of the series chronologically so if you have never experienced any Monogatari it puts a strong first foot forward and generally sets the mood for the rest of the series. It also does not require any knowledge of the previous material. If anything the previous material is actually usually referencing this story. It also is a great meter sick for the weaknesses and distinct peculiarities of the series that could easily turn people off. If the constant dialog or gratuitous fan service would turn you away they are not as strong as they get in later parts but they are powerful enough that you have a good gauge of if this will be poisonous for you. That said, it also highlights the strengths of the series visuals and storytelling but I have a feeling it is a case of whether or not you can handle the series indulgences more than if you can appreciate its strengths.
As to the question if you should try the book or the movies that depend on your tastes. The book if unfiltered Nisio Isin. So it his writing uncut. For better and for worse. That means if the dialog heavy banter of his style of light novel is to your liking then it is a smorgasbord of wonderful text. Also, the more lascivious sections can be moderated a bit better in text form. On the other hand, the series can often feel like solid walls of text. That is already a criticism of the anime and it only is exponentially exasperated by the novel.
The anime’s strength is undoubtedly its visuals. It adds visual spectacle that justifies the transition to the medium. The problem is it being SHAFT that can sometimes be excessive and polarizing with their distinctive studio style. Also, the awkward scenes can be even more awkward thanks to the visuals.
And if you already on this ride from the TV series you already know if you need to see this. In fact, this vital story has gone untouched by the anime long enough that it is sort of glaring hole in the overall series. If you have not seen this I’m more than a little surprised.