Tsukimonogatari: Possession Tale

By NISIOISIN and VOFAN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Daniel Joseph.

I am occasionally asked by those who have seen the Monogatari Series anime if it is worth getting the novels. SHAFT has done a decent job of adapting the series, and many of its eccentricities are more beloved than the original book (lampshaded here, as Araragi notes that the bathroom in their house is not nearly as grand as the anime made it out to be). In fact, as this was being written, Nisemonogatari had just finished, and Nisioisin’s self-deprecation comes into play here, as there are many “the anime’s over now” comments, and he asks for alarm clocks to wake him with the sounds of Karen and Tsukihi’s voice actors. The anime, of course, was nowhere near over. But back to my original question… You should read the books if you like words. Playing with words, extemporizing endlessly, dancing around what you really want to say, and hitting the fourth wall with a sledgehammer. The Monogatari novels do not let the reader simply coast along and take in the plot. Which is good, as the plot in this particular book is almost absent.

Yotsugi and her master are on the cover of this book, and technically Yotsugi is the “star”. It’s worth noting, though, that the book begins with what might be termed a “sequel” to Nekomonogatari Black, as Araragi and Tsukihi spend about fifty pages trying to verbally one-up each other as they compete to see who takes the bath first, then compromise and bathe together. As I said earlier, Nisemonogatari had just aired its anime, and I imagine the “toothbrush” scene had become the meme that it still is today. So there’s lots of “I don’t love my sister that way, but” stuff here, which would be far more annoying if the two involved weren’t bantering up a storm throughout. The main thrust of the plot, though, comes when Araragi looks in a mirror while bathing and notices… he doesn’t have a reflection. He seeks out advice form Kagenui, who informs him that he’s been abusing his “sorta vampire” powers so much – especially when he let Sengoku kill him over and over again for a month – that he’s almost a full vampire again.

This is not a problem that’s easily resolved, which is good as this is the first book of the “Final Season”, which is meant to wrap up the series as a whole. (It does not remotely do this.) By the end of the book, Araragi is not magically “cured”, and the one thing he can do going forward is simply stop using said powers as a crutch. Naturally, the moment he resolves to do this, his sisters and Kanbaru are kidnapped by a villain with so little presence that he even comments on the fact, saying that he and Araragi have been set up to have a villainous confrontation. Could there be someone pulling the strings? Readers who have been following the last three books have pretty much thought “it’s Ogi, isn’t it?”, and it certainly looks so here too, as she confronts Araragi just before he goes to save the day and talks about her own nature a bit. There’s also a rather dark and startling solution to the problem, meant to drive a wedge between Araragi and Yotsugi.

Even for a series as wordy as Monogatari, this was pretty damn wordy, and you should obviously only read it after the other books. As for what happens next, we’ll have to wait till the fall to find out, as over the summer we have the traditional short story volume – or volumes, as the case may be.

Koimonogatari: Love Tale

By NISIOISIN and VOFAN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Daniel Joseph.

Most fans of the series over here have long been spoiled, of course, but I imagine it must have been irritating to some Japanese readers, who have been teased in past books that this book will have Senjogahara’s narration and thought processes, bought the book with Senjogahara on the cover and interstitials, opened it up, and had Kaiki telling them they’ve been duped. Yes, this Love Tale is being told by Kaiki, last seen with a beard and talking with Kanbaru about her problems. This takes place about six months before that, however, and is the story of Senjogahara hiring him to help with her own problem – Sengoku and her death threat. Her god powers have meant that Araragi and Shinobu are getting nowhere in this regard, and Kaiki has saved Senjogahara’s life before – horribly so. And so Kaiki sets up to deceive Sengoku, something that he thinks will be a piece of cake after talking with her for ten minutes. But is that all just a lie?

After the deadly dullness that was Shinobu’s narration last time, I’m pleased to say that Kaiki’s narrative voice is excellent. He plays at being an arrogant jerk, but the cracks show through constantly, so that’s fine. It’s also fun to see Araragi’s life and surrounding people from the perspective of an adult not connected to him – Kaiki finds a lot of Araragi’s antics disturbing, and there’s a running gag of everyone in the book referring to Shinobu using, well, a derogatory nickname, I’ll leave it at that. Kissshot sure has fallen far. I also like to see him confused at things that the reader will get – “Swear to cat” is a good example. His discussions with Senjogahara range from hilarious to touching, and you sense him shying away from the true feelings she had for him back two years prior. It’s disappointing that we don’t get her narration (in fact, spoilers, we never will, not even some 15-odd books later), but her fans should be pleased, as there are many scenes in the book showing off how far she’s come since Araragi first caught her nine months before.

Kaiki starts the book by claiming that a good deal of it is a lie, but of course he may be lying there as well. We do get a lot more insight into Sengoku’s personality and why she is the way she is, though I do think she’s not quite as infantilized and simple as Kaiki makes her out to be – if nothing else, he underestimates her at the end, though attributes that to her inability to let anyone get close to her. The description of her home life strikes an interesting comparison to Hanewkawa’s – something Kaiki himself does when he meets Hanekawa 2/3 through the book. And, as with my review of Onimonogatari, I will skip over the best part of the book, the climax where Kaiki breaks Sengoku but also convinces her to step down as a god. It’s magical. The book should end happily for most people, but since Kaiki is narrating, and he’s a self-proclaimed “villain”, there’s one last sting in the tale.

In the end, this is one of the strongest volumes in the Monogatari series, with lots of great jokes, tons of dense prose, and some keen insight into human nature, filtered through the voice of a man who insists that we take nothing at face value. Great stuff. Next time we’ll focus on Ononoki, who gets some small scenes here (and has a new character tic, something she lampshades).

Onimonogatari: Demon Tale

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

Every once in a while there comes along a volume where NISIOISIN shows off exactly why people are turned off by his writing so much, and I think that Onimonogatari may set a record there, as it’s extraordinarily difficult to get through. While Araragi is the narrator again, a large chunk of the book is told by Shinobu explaining past events to him, and helps to show off (as she herself admits!) why she’s a bad storyteller and why the rule that “aberrations shouldn’t narrate the series” is a good one. Moreover, given that the main interactions Araragi has in this book are with Shinobu (who looks eight), Hachikuji (who looks ten), and Ononoki (who looks twelve), we really get far, far too many pedophilia jokes, and having the other girls be really pissed off at him for them really doesn’t help, no. That said, the book isn’t a total writeoff, and you get the sense that a lot of this book is the author realizing they need to have a genuine backstory and goal for the series, and creating one on the spot.

We’re back in August again in the Monogatari timeline, and the events of Kabukimonogatari have just finished. But Araragi still can’t go back to school and actually start classes, as he and Hachikuji are being pursued by a mysterious darkness that consumes all in its path (well, seemingly all in its path). After being rescued by Ononoki, they end up holing up in the abandoned cram school, where Shinobu tells Araragi and the reader about her first visit to Japan four hundred years ago, which led to her first encounter with “the Darkness” and also the backstory with her first thrall, Araragi’s predecessor. Unfortunately, the Darkness is really good at coming after them – or more accurate, after Hachikuji, who seems to be its goal. Can Araragi figure out what’s going on and save her? If only there was someone who knew everything to offer even MORE explanations…

NISIOISIN has often taken the advice “show, don’t tell” and stomped all over it in hobnail boots, but this book may take the cake in that regard, as there ends up being very little action and a whole lot of talking about the problem, both from Shinobu (who, as I said, is not a good storyteller) or by Izuko Gaen (who is deliberately written to be arrogant and uncaring). “The Darkness” may tie into the ongoing plot – is it related to Ogi, who it turns out Araragi has been narrating the entire book to? We also get discussion of MORE events on that busy August weekend that haven’t happened yet, which I assume will be in a future book. Where this book does succeed is a) it’s meta-humor, particularly Shinobu shilling for the Kizumonogatari movie, which is especially hilarious as it ended up coming out five years after the book did – and b) the ending, which I won’t spoil but is touching and a bit heartbreaking.

A necessary read if you’re interested in the world of Araragi and company, in the end I found Onimonogatari to be a bit of a slog. The book teases that Senjogahara will be narrating the next book in the series, but let me spoil this and say: no she doesn’t. As for who does? Well, it’s not Araragi either. We’ll find out.