Nekomonogatari: Cat Tale (White)

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

This is the first volume of the Monogatari Series not to be narrated from the POV of Koyomi Araragi, and it makes a difference, although not as much as you might expect. Tsubasa Hanekawa is our narrator, and therefore the narrative is every bit as analytical and over-verbose as ever (given the actual author of the works, this is likely unavoidable). But there’s a certain sleaziness we’ve gotten used to with Araragi that is mostly absent here, despite Senjogahara’s best efforts to keep it around. We also get to see Hanekawa come to some critical realizations about herself. If Tsubasa Cat was about the reader seeing how messed up Hanekawa is, and Nekomonogatari Black was about Araragi seeing it, then this book is the finale, as Hanekawa has to finally realize what she’s really like and take steps to change it. And given that there’s a part of Hanekawa that wants to just sit back and let the world burn – quite literally – this is a tall order.

Despite the absence of Araragi’s narrative from the volume (indeed, Araragi himself doesn’t even show up until the climax), there are many familiar things going on here. There is a certain metatextual fourth wall breaking throughout, from Hachikuji cheerfully telling the reader that the next book will be about her (true, though also false – see the Kabukimonogatari review in 2 months) to Hanekawa noticing that there are missing chapters as the book goes on. There’s also a large amount of funny banter, mainly due to the burgeoning friendship of Hanekawa and Senjogahara. Senjogahara has become far more open since the series began, something Hanekawa herself observes, and almost takes on Araragi’s role here, flirting with Hanekawa constantly and at one point showering together with her. (One senses Nisioisin is now writing this knowing there will be an anime.) There’s also some unintentionally dark humor, such as Hanekawa blithely deciding to sleep in the abandoned cram school with cardboard boxes for bedding – her matter-of-fact narration of this is painful and hysterical.

The main thrust of the book is a new aberration, a large Tiger that is seemingly burning to the ground places Hanekawa has just slept – first the house she lives in with her “parents”, then the cram school itself. In reality, things are a bit more complicated, and it should not surprise any regular readers of the series to know that this aberration is more about Hanekawa’s repressed emotions – in this case, her envy of what it means to have a happy family. Deciding to stop pushing all of her negative emotions onto aberrations and simply deal with them instead is admirable, but it has to come at a cost, and in this case it’s finally confessing to, and getting rejected by, Araragi, which allows her to cry for possibly the first time in her entire life. This is the final volume of Hanekawa’s main story arc, and it’s a very good ending, even if she’s not leaving the main story just yet.

For anime fans, there are a lot of reasons to get this book. The uncut version of longer monologues provides greater depth of feeling – Hanekawa is allowed to outright state that her parents are abusive, and she also admits to herself that she’s fallen for Senjogahara too, but of course simply cannot get in the way of her relationship with Araragi. (OT3 fans will be both happy and sad, I expect.) And of course there is the usual good reason to get the books, which is to wallow in Nisioisin’s idiosyncratic prose, which may come from Hanekawa’s POV but is still present and correct. If you like Monogatari in general and Tsubasa Hanekawa in particular, this volume is essential.

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.

Nisemonogatari: Fake Tale, Vol. 2

By NISIOISIN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by James Balzer.

Despite being almost as long as the first in this series, Karen Bee, the second Nisemonogatari book, Tsukihi Phoenix, only got adapted into four episodes for the anime. As you can imagine, therefore, there’s a lot of content that got omitted or severely cut in order to fit it into the timeframe, particularly in the first half of the volume. As such, anime fans will find much to enjoy here. In particular, I think they’ll be amused at Araragi’s description of Senjogahara post-Karen Bee, who he describes as no longer caustic and sharp-tongued at all but now sweet and devoted, and how all of her formerly cruel and spiteful actions (which, let’s face it, the reader is aware were broken attempts at flirting) are replaced with normal girlfriend responses. Anime fans may be wondering what the heck happened, since the next time we meet Senjogahara in the series she’s still much the same.

In fact, Nisioisin seems a bit conflicted about the series getting turned into an anime – there’s a sense he tries to take things too far here in order to avoid having the anime continue, though obviously that didn’t work. Nisemonogatari has a reputation for being the sleaziest of the series, though, and it’s not inaccurate. Most of that reputation comes from this volume, which features the now infamous “toothbrush scene”, where Araragi and his sister Karen have a bet that he can’t brush her teeth for five minutes without her crying out. It’s obviously meant to suggest sex, and in particular incest, which earlier in the book Araragi had been mocking himself. Several times in the book he says that he feels no sexual desire towards his sisters before doing something sexual to them (he later steals Tsukihi’s first kiss, which horrifies her). Araragi is becoming a somewhat unreliable narrator, to be honest, though we won’t really see how much till later books in the series with other character’s narration.

This volume features his “younger younger sister” Tsukihi, who so far has been defined mostly by her temper and her mood swings, which we certainly get plenty of here. It’s also a good introduction to her personality in another sense – Araragi notes that Karen is the one with the actual sense of justice, while Tsukihi “just likes to run wild”, and it’s true – she tends to go along with what others do rather than making her own firm choices. The reader may wonder how much this ties in with the main plot, which suggests that – surprise, surprise – Tsuhiki is not who she seems. In the end, though, this book is about family in the good ways as well, which means that it’s not just about suggestive incest but also about loving your family even if they’re not what you thought they were – and Araragi, as a human who still retains vampiric powers, should know about that. Here he goes up against Kagenui, a “specialist” like Meme Oshino who specializes in eradication, and Yotsugi, a deadpan reanimated corpse who is her assistant. We’ll see a lot more of Yotsugi, not so much of Kagenui.

Speaking of Yotsugi, we can briefly talk translation. The issues are much the same as Karen Bee – dagnabbit mad is still there, and it’s still really annoying, but it didn’t appear as much as I feared. Tsuhiki also sounds like Yosemite Sam when she catches Araragi and Karen brushing teeth, but that’s more clearly deliberate comedy, and the anime watcher likely heard the heavy ‘fake accent’ she was using then, so it makes more sense. As for Kagenui, she too uses a fake, overdone accent, but it’s subtler, and the translator seems to go with “old-time Northern England”. It doesn’t jar much at all, and reminds me how much anime subtitles tend to gloss over accents. Speaking of which, Shinobu still sounds old-timey, as she always does, whether she’s Kiss-Shot or no.

Overall, I was quite pleased with this volume, a few issues aside. It also does sort of feel like he was trying to wrap up the series once more, but he failed again, and now tells us he has two more stories after this to write, about Hanekawa and Hachikuji. In fact, the Hanekawa story grew so large it got split into its own two-part book. Stay tuned for Nekomonogatari Black in November, when we FINALLY see what happened Golden Week.