Owarimonogatari: End Tale, Part 02

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

We saw Nisioisin in the last book begin to get ready to wrap the series up (which, spoiling you, he absolutely did not do) and tell the stories that he’d been kipping around and only hinting at: the first appearance of Ogi Oshino and the story of why Araragi got so broken before the start of the series, i.e. the story of Oikura Sodachi. He’s just about ready to finish up by telling us what happened after Gaen literally killed Araragi and sent him to hell at the end of Koyomimonogatari. However, there’s another story that got too big to tell – he says in the afterword it was supposed to be part of the other two “August” Araragi-narrated books, Kabukimonogatari and Onimonogatari, but there simply wasn’t room. And so we get Shinobu Mail, a story big enough to get a volume to itself. It’s ‘mail’ as in armor, and is Shinobu-focused, but also has a heaping helping of Kanbaru, who’s had very little to do since her own narrated book.

Gaen is on the cover along with Shinobu, and she’s also in this book a fair amount. Which may be surprising, given it’s also loaded with Kanbaru, but Gaen solves the problem by simply lying through her teeth about who she is, and Kanbaru, while not dumb, is straightforward enough not to question it. Gaen is here – along with Episode, who hasn’t really had much of a role in the series since Kizumonogatari – to deal with a part of Shinobu’s past that has shown up. Her first thrall, Seishiro, who we had been told (by her) had killed himself rather than be a vampire with here, has managed, after 400 years, to reconstitute himself – killing yourself when you’re Kissshot’s thrall is HARD – and wants to roam the world with Shinobu again. And if that means killing Araragi by fair means or foul, welp, those are the breaks.

This is a particularly well-written book in the series. Araragi and Kanbaru’s long, long, LONG dialogue at the start shows how much she was missed, and also how close the series gets to lowbrow humor. Things aren’t helped by Araragi, in what is meant to be the coolest line in the book, tell Gaen that he knows that both Senjogahara and Hanekawa would understand – he’ll happily leave them to save themselves to rescue a little girl. On the bright side, though she doesn’t actually appear in person, we get another terrific conversation between Araragi and Senjogahara, this one meant to parallel the thoughts that he’s been having about him and Shinobu. Senjogahara, despite admitting that if a man better than him came along she would absolutely dump him, knows exactly what he wants to hear, and it’s actually very romantic. As for the resolution, it’s very appropriate to Araragi.

The whole book is framed as a conversation Araragi has with Ogi right before he leaves for his exams – a trip we already know ends in his death. It feels like all the dots have now been connected. Is his death permanent? Well, we’ll find out next time with the last of the End Tales. Till then, this is a strong volume in the series, especially for Shinobu and Kanbaru fans.

Owarimonogatari: End Tale, Part 01

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

Yes, I know. This came out in mid-December, and here it is the following April. Part of it is that it’s still print-only (Kodansha is doing e-books for the series, but not right away), part of it is that it’s a long book even in a series with many other long books. But mostly it’s the subject matter. Monogatari in general has been a series that tends to be overdramatic and over the top, be it Araragi’s narration or the events involving a bunch of vampires, ghosts, cat demons, snake demons, devils, corpses and Senjogaharas. And, let’s face it, Ogi Oshino, who is all over this book, is not simply going to end up being Meme’s precocious niece. No, the real star of this book is a brand new character, who arrives and leaves all at the same time – Sodachi Oikura. She loves math and hates Araragi, but there’s so much more to her story than that. And it’s that story that is told here, in excruciating three-part detail.

The first story, Ogi Formula, sees Ogi at last get a proper introduction – she’s been around since the 8th book, but always after the fact; here we get the context of her meeting Araragi for the first time, and the two of them getting trapped in his old first-year classroom, which helps set up Sodachi’s story but more importantly tells us exactly how and why Araragi went from a mostly well-adjusted kid to the “I don’t need other people” guy we met in Kizumonogatari. Sodachi Riddle then shows Sodachi returning to school after a two-year absence, and (after a brief fight with Senjogahara which is probably the highlight of the book) Ogi and Araragi then go back to an abandoned house to see how he met her in middle school and had forgotten it. Then, in Sodachi Lost, after Araragi recalls he also met her even earlier… and also forgotten it… he and Hanekawa try to get Sodachi to return to school while battling her own family past and the even-more-annoying-than-usual Ogi.

The stories told here are strong, don’t get me wrong, and I liked some of the writing. The characters, though, just make me miserable. Araragi, when he’s around Ogi, is a pale shadow of his usual self, and ends up being almost as pathetic as she makes him out to be until right at the end. Ogi is designed to be thoroughly irritating, of course, but so far the series has used her sparingly – here she’s in the entire book, and we are thoroughly irritated. (Her petty rivalry with Hanekawa is probably the highlight, as it turns her smug glibness into actual childish nastiness.) And Sodachi is a child of abuse who has gone through far too much, but is also thoroughly unpleasant in very explainable ways. I can’t blame her, but I admit I’m quite happy she’s not returning. Hanekawa comes off best here… but she announces she’s leaving the country, probably to investigate Ogi, who she finds 8000% more suspicious than Araragi does.

This is a necessary book, as the series has been setting up Ogi to be the villain, and this does a whole lot to advance that. It’s also a reminder that when it comes to actual real-life issues, as opposed to oddities, there’s little Araragi can do. But man, reading this book is like eating your beets. Next time we’ll go back to that incredibly busy four-day period in August – already seen in Tsubasa Tiger, Mayoi Jiangshi, AND Shinobu Time – for the one untold story we still have – what were Kanbaru and Araragi up to back then? Fortunately, as I dawdled reading this book, I can start that one right away.

Koyomimonogatari: Calendar Tale, Part 02

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

There are spoilers towards the end of the review for the end of the book, which is hard to talk about without spoiling.

The second half of Koyomimonogatari feels like it’s sliding slowly towards a darkness that you really don’t want to see. The first half of the collection (i.e. the first book, as Vertical split it in two) was fairly lighthearted and bantery, with only Nadeko’s story coming across as ominous. But as we get into the events of the 2nd half of Araragi’s school year, and things take a darker turn, it’s no surprise that the short stories do as well. The exception to this, oddly enough, involves Shinobu, whose donut-filled discussion with Araragi ends in a punchline so sweet that I’m glad it was delivered by the matter-of-fact Hanekawa. (Hanekawa is away almost the entire book, but the magic of cell phones means she can still be there to provide Araragi with the right answer. Honestly, these two need to see less of each other, it’s not good for them.) But even Tsukihi’s story involves a presumed extra person in the tea ceremony ghost story, and the last two stories almost end up defining everything that goes before them.

NISIOISIN said in the afterword that he wanted to have a look back at the series as he wrote this, and, as with the first book, there’s a lot of foreshadowing and backshadowing going on here. This is particularly true of Nadeko, who isn’t actually in these stories (she had hers already) but of course ends up lurking in the background as her main story took place from late October to early January – almost a three-month chunk. We saw that in the original stories through the point of view of Kaiki and Nadeko herself, but here we see Araragi’s own perspective on things, which is rather fatalistic, something that is no longer surprising with someone like hm. Araragi would be perfectly fine sacrificing everything he has to help someone who needed help, and I wonder how he and Shirou Emiya would get along. (Oh God, the idea of Araragi as Archer is horrific and hilarious.)

The last two stories in the book focus on two of the heroines that aren’t in the “harem” per se. Kagenui is there to try to help Araragi solve his “I’m turning into a real vampire” problem, but there are other forces getting in the way here, mysterious and unknown though they may yet be. (That said, it’s Ogi. Come on, of course it’s Ogi.) As such, the ending of her story has her removed from the plot – it’s called Koyomi Nothing, which fits as there’s a blank space where an ending should be. As for Koyomi Dead, well, the story spoils you as to what’s going to happen from the start. Gaen is the final heroine, in more ways than one, and her pragmatic disposal of Koyomi is both in character and also mind-boggling. (I like how she says that Shinobu won’t go on a rampage after his death because she’s seen the bad future where she does. Um, correct, but she can still kill YOU, Gaen.) It does solve Koyomi’s problem, though!

This is a pretty big cliffhanger, ending with Koyomi seemingly in the afterlife (Mayoi’s presence implies that). Unfortunately, folks are going to have to wait a while to see how it’s resolved, as we’re once again going back in time to fill in gaps. Owarimonogatari 1 will show us how Araragi first met Ogi, and also delve into why he became such a misanthrope before the series began. In the meantime, enjoy these short stories that shed light on why he is who he is now. (No, not dead. You know what I mean.)