Nekomonogatari: Cat Tale (Black)

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

I had to reread my review of the Tsubasa Cat volume to make sure I didn’t repeat myself, as this book goes over a lot of the same ground that one did, even as it expands (and sometimes contradicts, as Nisio says himself in the afterword) on the story of Tsubasa Hanekawa and Golden Week. Indeed, it’s still not done, and Hanekawa’s tale will continue (and, for the most part, conclude) with Nekomonogatari (White) next time. But while Tsubasa Cat was more showing off Hanekawa’s stress due to her repressed love for Araragi, and ensuing jealousy at all the women in his life, particularly Senjogahara, this volume wants to examine what Hanekawa is like as a person, and how deeply screwed up and damaged she really is. And I’d also argue it’s even more about Araragi and Hanekawa’s deep-seated lust and passion for each other which never does blossom into anything more. This volume shows off why that’s probably a good thing.

The trend of “the heroine of the previous volume has a long scene with Araragi at the start of the following one” ends here (unless you count Hanekawa following herself), but man, what a way to bring it to a close. The conversation between Araragi and Tsukihi at the start of the volume may be the most rambling, pointless conversation in the history of the series, and that’s really saying something. It has such a reputation that Vertical actually sell it in the cover leaf copy. It is almost precisely one-quarter of the entire book. I don’t think it disappoints, though as always with Monogatari you’d better be prepared for some fanservice. The siblings’ conversation about love was used in the anime, but the conversation had to be cut to the absolute minimum – meaning the long dissertation taking in Anne of Green Gables, panties, more panties, and still more panties was left out. There’s also even more metatextual stuff than before – this was inevitable given that he wrote this as the anime was becoming really popular, but we get cute narrative mentions of Senjogahara, Hachikuji, and Kanbaru (who aren’t in the book, this taking place before the events of the main series) as well as Tsukihi saying, in response to a bad impersonation by her brother, that her voice sounds more like Yuka Iguchi.

As for the main plot, we’ve seen the prologue to it in Tsubasa Cat. Hanekawa was hit by her step-step-father – and the narrative makes it clear he really belted her, to the point where she hit the opposite wall – and subsequently, along with Araragi, buried a dead cat lying by the road. This ends up getting her possessed by an Afflicting Cat, which goes about “relieving her stress” by beating her parents nearly to death, cutting off Araragi’s arm, and going on a spree of draining energy from the town’s residents. The gimmick here is that in reality, it’s Hanekawa who is more of an aberration than the Afflicting Cat ever was, and the synthesis of the two of them has made her so powerful that even Meme Oshino (still around, this being a flashback volume) gets the crap beaten out of him. This is interesting as a look into Hanekawa’s broken psyche, though I found it less appealing when Oshino tries to excuse her abusive parents by saying she’s essentially asking for it. And Araragi’s solution, as one might expect, is overly violent and lethal to him, and doesn’t really achieve anything whatsoever except a temporary fix. But at least, in the end, he’s able to realize that repressing his love for Hanekawa is the right thing to do for both of them. Because trust me, he’s lying like a rug about not loving her. At least at this point in the series.

This is the end of the “first series” of Monogatari, and the next few books have a few minor but significant changes. The most obvious being the narrative voice. Next time we’ll see the White side of Nekomonogatari, which resolves Hanekawa’s story with her own first-person narration, and is also the first “Araragi-lite” book. Till then, enjoy the Black side, which is not only Araragi-heavy, but a heavy book in general. It’s depressing to see how screwed up everyone in it is. Honestly, Senjogahara will end up being the most well-adjusted of the cast once she comes along.

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