Hanamonogatari: Flower Tale

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

First off, I can’t help but notice that I haven’t been crediting VOFAN in my reviews of the Monogatari series. This may not be surprising – Monogatari is not a “light” novel per se, and there are no interstitial illustrations – we get cover art and one large piece at the start of the story. But the art is not only gorgeous but can also be a signpost as to what type of story we’re getting. Kanbaru here – be it in the original cover or the one VOFAN did for the North American release – is looking very serious, not at all like the suggestive and leering girl we’ve seen in previous books narrated by Araragi. And sure enough, as we get a book written with her narration, we see that she is at heart an overly serious and earnest young woman, and that most of her banter with Araragi is a facade. “Playing the fool” is something she’s actively called out about. Even worse, this book takes place in her third year, so she can’t even count on her (now graduated) friends.

That’s right, we’re jumping forward in this book, as Hanamonogatari takes place sometime after the events of all the other books in the series. Araragi, Senjogahara and Hanekawa have graduated and moved on – though Araragi does play a small role here, mostly to give Kanbaru emotional support. Which she desperately needs. Her friend Higasa knows nothing of aberrations. Kaiki Deishu shows up, oddly enough, claiming to know her mother, and is actually quite helpful, but given his behavior regarding Senjogahara, Kanbaru wants nothing to do with him. And then there’s Ogi (and believe me, that romanization pains me as much as it does you). I hadn’t mentioned Ogi in my review of Kabukimonogatari – she showed up at the start to harangue Araragi about stoplights, and seems to hold him in contempt. Now Ogi is a male student – this is lampshaded a few times in case we don’t get the gender switch – and haranguing Kanbaru, though there seems to be less venom in his tone this time around. Ogi is clearly a puzzle that we’ll have to solve in future books, but for now let’s just go with ‘annoying underclassman’.

As for the main plotline, you won’t be surprised to hear it has to do with Kanbaru’s main issues – her “devil’s hand” and basketball. An old middle-school rival, Roka Numachi, has shown up, and like Kanbaru she’s injured and doesn’t play anymore. Also like Kanbaru she seems to be somewhat fluid in her sexuality, though this book indicates that most of Kanbaru’s happy “I’m a lesbian!” to Araragi was part of her front – her experience is near zero, though there’s definitely sexual tension with Roka. As with a lot of the Monogatari series, the plot itself seems to be laid out in a couple of long expository monologues – if you get bored easily, this is not the series for you. The resolution works well, though, and seems to point to Kanbaru maturing and moving forward, made explicit by her cutting her hair short again at the end (it has been growing longer as the series has gone on, as anime fans no doubt noticed.)

Anime fans, speaking of which, may be surprised to see this book coming so soon – this was the original Japanese release order, but the anime delayed its production till after the next three books were adapted. If you like Kanbaru it’s essential, and even if you don’t it’s still a good volume of the series, mostly as it lacks the “filter” of Araragi’s narration. Next time we’ll move back a few months and see why Sengoku Nadeko is this series’ most polarizing character.

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.