Bakemonogatari: Monster Tale, Part 3

By NISIOISIN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Ko Ransom.

The final volume in the Balemonogatari trilogy (as it now is) is Tsubasa Cat, and finally gives us a closer look at out favorites glasses-wearing class president. Of course, I say ‘finally’ but due to Nisio’s agent suggesting that North America start with Kizumonogatari we’re already quite familiar with Hanekawa as she’s the heroine of that book as well. Indeed, even if you split Bakemonogatari into three rather than two, of the first eight books in the series, four of them have Hanekawa as the heroine, more than any of the others by, well, a factor of four-to-one – the other girls get one book each to that point, but Hanekawa keeps getting more and more attention. If you read Tsubasa Cat, you’ll get a glimpse as to why, but this first book is far more concerned with Araragi than Hanekawa, so the glimpse into her horrible life is at an oblique angle.

Araragi’s introduction leads us to expect that we’re finally going to hear what happened during Golden Week, where (we’ve been told several times already) Hanekawa somehow got mixed up with a cat monster, but although we do get a flashback to that point, the answer is still no. Golden Week was about Hanekawa taking out her stress on her parents, who are no relation to her through a series of deaths, marriages, and more deaths. This book, though, is about Hanekawa’s repressed love for Araragi, and the fact that she got beaten to the punch – Senjogahara confessed almost immediately, and was also helped by Araragi not putting her on a giant pedestal. And so Hanekawa is left with this burgeoning passion that can’t go anywhere, and thus we see the return of her cat side, Black Hanekawa – a side the reader is seeing for the first time.

Speaking of Senjogahara, she’s really only in one chapter of the book, but she almost steals it right out from under Hanekawa. (Highly appropriate, really.) The chapter was adapted into Episode 12 of the anime, which may be the most beloved episode of the entire franchise, and involves Senjogahara taking Araragi on a date to her favorite stargazing spot deep in the mountains. This whole chapter serves to hammer home the differences between Senjogahara and Hanekawa – I hesitate to use the word passive-aggressive to describe Senjogahara, who’s really more aggressive-aggressive, but the joy of this chapter is seeing the way that her nervousness and uncertainty shine through in her actions – note she tries to do her hair up like Hanekawa’s for their date, thinking that’s what he’s most attracted to – and then seeing how she powers through it anyway in order to show Araragi what a difference he’s made in her life and how much she loves him for it. It’s almost a perfect chapter.

The rest of the book can’t quite measure up, but is still excellent. Shinobu’s still not speaking, but we get a bit more insight into the nature of her sulk, and Araragi trying to balance out his codependent relationship with her and the relationship with the other girls in his “harem” will continue to be a subplot. And Black Hanekawa herself shows off not only her violent side, but also her smarts – for all that Araragi keeps belittling her for being stupid, she’s anything but, and Hanekawa’s kind nature keeps bleeding through. For those who are concerned, the translation does an excellent job of keeping her “cat-speak”, showing off her true nature. Due to being split into thirds, Tsubasa Cat may be the shortest of the three Monogatari volumes, but it’s also the best of the three, with great dialogue and a lot of character moments that will continue to be important as the series goes on. And fortunately there is more of the series – next time, in Nisemonogatari, we’ll take a look at Araragi’s younger sisters, and discover just how far a prose novel can take ‘fanservice’.

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