Kabukimonogatari: Dandy Tale

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

The joke about this volume of the Monogatari series has always been that Shinobu steals Mayoi’s book. It’s not entirely correct – the entire thrust of the plot revolves around Mayoi here, and how her state as a ghost wandering the town saddens Araragi as much as it pleases him to banter with her. And of course there’s the climax of the book, which features Mayoi… well, a Mayoi. (Covers always spoil.) But there’s no denying that the actual dialogue in this volume is about 80% between Araragi and Shinobu, as his desire to finish his summer homework (which he had forgotten to do due to college exam prep) leads to Shinobu abusing her powers to send them back in time. This leads to what at first seems like a chance for Araragi to change history so that he can make Mayoi’s life and death a little better… after all, how could saving one little girl from getting hit by a car possibly change history? (cough)

Araragi is once again the narrator of the series, which alas means that we have a lot of his tendencies to deal with. In fact, given that Nisioisin says in the afterword that he was trying to write a novel consisting almost entirely of little girls (Mayoi, Shinobu, and Ononoki, who sets the plot in motion with her discussion of the differences between her, Mayoi, and Araragi), there’s even more lolicon jokes here than ever before, with endless discussion of Shinobu’s ribs and their use and abuse. Fortunately, though, this also means we get the opportunity to evolve Shinobu’s character and make her more proactive. She’s gone from being an outright villain, to sulking, and then to being a somewhat teasing but reluctant partner who says she helps Tsukihi merely because it amuses her. This book shows how much the pairing between Araragi and Shinobu has truly changed both of them, and reinforces the closeness of their bond. Araragi may love Senjogahara most, but he’ll die with Shinobu, and that’s sweet too, in a vampire sort of way.

It might be a good idea, by the way, to go back and read the 3rd Bakemonogatari series, Tsubasa Cat, before tackling this one, as the events there play out here in a tragically different way. That said, Araragi himself has already forgotten what happened that day and has to have his memory jogged by a somewhat frustrated Shinobu. On the other hand, you may want to save your reading time for this book alone, given it’s one of the longer volumes in the series to date. Much of that length is taken up by what we’re used to seeing from Araragi and company – endless meandering conversation, killer untranslatable puns, and 4th wall breaking galore, with discussion of the characters knowing they’re fictional, as well as knowing that they’ve got an anime airing. Anime fans may be interested to know that this one cuts out more than most any other Monogatari adaptation, so it’s worth picking up to see what you missed.

There is also, as you can no doubt see, another translator on the series, and he’s also doing the next book, Hanamonogatari, which will focus on Kanbaru. He does a good job of keeping things as smooth as it’s possible to o given this author’s tendency to vomit dictionaries at people whenever the opportunity comes up. Ononoki is trying out new variations on “oni no onii-chan” here (brogre was a favorite of mine). There are one or two places where the translation suddenly features a lot of Japanese words, and you get the feeling there even the editors agreed “yeah, that’s just impossible to adapt”. Even the subtitle \to the book is tricky. A kabukimono is sort of the equivalent of a Japanese dandy, but it can also mean “twist” or “deviation”, which is certainly what happens here with all the time-travel antics.

Fans of Monogatari will want to pick this up, particularly if they like Shinobu or Mayoi. For anyone feeling bad for Mayoi, given that Shinobu steals the spotlight so much, I’d wait till later in the year when that might change.

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.