Koyomimonogatari: Calendar Tale, Part 01

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

This originally came out in Japan as one giant volume, but I totally understand why Vertical has decided to break it in half. The Monogatari books feel long and wordy enough as it is with their 280-300 pages per volume, but this one would be around 500, and that’s just too exhausting. That said, it does present a bit of a dilemma in that I feel the book is meant to be appreciated as a whole. Without spoiling the second volume, there is a very definite cliffhanger to this book, and it puts everything we read before into stark relief. But we don’t have that, so it has to be said: this feels meandering even for a Monogatari volume. Being a short story volume, even less is “happening” per se, so you’re entirely dependent on the conversations. Which is fine, as honestly dialogue is why we’re reading NISIOISIN in the first place. If you like snark, these stories will give it to you in spades. There’s also some nice foreshadowing here, as most of them take place at or near the start of the series.

“Koyomi” is not only Araragi’s first name, but also the word for “calendar”. The conceit of this volume is that we get twelve short stories, one for each month of the year. They start in April, immediately after the events in Kizumonogatari but before Nekomonogatari Black, and move forward in the timeline from there. Each story has Araragi conversing with one of the female leads, in the order he met them (not counting Shinobu/Kissshot). They serve as an examination of each heroine’s story (particularly in Sengoku’s case), but are also about the fact that, despite what you may think, not everything that Araragi happens across happens to be related to the supernatural. There are several puzzling things in this book that turn out to have ordinary, prosaic meanings – as is normally the case. Usually it’s NOT the immortal vampire.

Naturally, each story ends up sounding like its heroine, to a degree. Senjogahara’s is filled with caustic banter between two kids who agreed to date the other day but have no idea how to actually be a couple. Kanbaru’s has another cleanup of her messy room, is filled with innuendo, and has probably the best ending of the book, if only as it sounds perfectly in character. Sengoku’s has an ominous tone to some of it, taking place after her first arc but before her second, and hinting at events to come. The weakest stories in the book are probably the first and the last ones – Hanekawa before all her character development just comes across as Ms. Exposition, and Karen is simply not nearly as interesting as her brother and younger sister. Oh yes, one minor translation quibble – why is everyone cursing in this book? Normally I gloss over that sort of thing, but there sure are a lot of shits and fucks in here. When it’s Araragi it doesn’t jar as much, but Hanekawa saying “bullshit” does jar quite a bit, especially pre-Nekomonogatari Hanekawa.

This is a decent slice of Monogatari life, and will make the reader happy, but honestly if you can I would advise putting it off and reading it with its second part.

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).