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).

Onimonogatari: Demon Tale

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

Every once in a while there comes along a volume where NISIOISIN shows off exactly why people are turned off by his writing so much, and I think that Onimonogatari may set a record there, as it’s extraordinarily difficult to get through. While Araragi is the narrator again, a large chunk of the book is told by Shinobu explaining past events to him, and helps to show off (as she herself admits!) why she’s a bad storyteller and why the rule that “aberrations shouldn’t narrate the series” is a good one. Moreover, given that the main interactions Araragi has in this book are with Shinobu (who looks eight), Hachikuji (who looks ten), and Ononoki (who looks twelve), we really get far, far too many pedophilia jokes, and having the other girls be really pissed off at him for them really doesn’t help, no. That said, the book isn’t a total writeoff, and you get the sense that a lot of this book is the author realizing they need to have a genuine backstory and goal for the series, and creating one on the spot.

We’re back in August again in the Monogatari timeline, and the events of Kabukimonogatari have just finished. But Araragi still can’t go back to school and actually start classes, as he and Hachikuji are being pursued by a mysterious darkness that consumes all in its path (well, seemingly all in its path). After being rescued by Ononoki, they end up holing up in the abandoned cram school, where Shinobu tells Araragi and the reader about her first visit to Japan four hundred years ago, which led to her first encounter with “the Darkness” and also the backstory with her first thrall, Araragi’s predecessor. Unfortunately, the Darkness is really good at coming after them – or more accurate, after Hachikuji, who seems to be its goal. Can Araragi figure out what’s going on and save her? If only there was someone who knew everything to offer even MORE explanations…

NISIOISIN has often taken the advice “show, don’t tell” and stomped all over it in hobnail boots, but this book may take the cake in that regard, as there ends up being very little action and a whole lot of talking about the problem, both from Shinobu (who, as I said, is not a good storyteller) or by Izuko Gaen (who is deliberately written to be arrogant and uncaring). “The Darkness” may tie into the ongoing plot – is it related to Ogi, who it turns out Araragi has been narrating the entire book to? We also get discussion of MORE events on that busy August weekend that haven’t happened yet, which I assume will be in a future book. Where this book does succeed is a) it’s meta-humor, particularly Shinobu shilling for the Kizumonogatari movie, which is especially hilarious as it ended up coming out five years after the book did – and b) the ending, which I won’t spoil but is touching and a bit heartbreaking.

A necessary read if you’re interested in the world of Araragi and company, in the end I found Onimonogatari to be a bit of a slog. The book teases that Senjogahara will be narrating the next book in the series, but let me spoil this and say: no she doesn’t. As for who does? Well, it’s not Araragi either. We’ll find out.

Otorimonogatari: Decoy Tale

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

This was one I was always going to be very interested in. Long-time readers of this blog will know that “Sean loves to defend hated characters” is a thing I do, especially when the characters are young women and the haters are mostly men. And while I’d argue that the most recent Monogatari anime has meant that Nadeko Sengoku isn’t hated anymore, I think there’s still a lot of ambivalence about how to react to her in the fandom. Now, having read the book that features her, I can see why that’s the case; Nisioisin is trying to lead you that way himself. There are a LOT of elements in this book designed to set the reader up to viciously turn on Nadeko. Rumor has it that the story idea came to Nisioisin after Kana Hanazawa, the voice actress who played her in the first Bakemonogatari series, said she’d like to play a Nadeko who’s turned evil. And that’s what we get here, even though I can’t help but see it as a stressed introvert at the end of her rope finally snapping.

Even Nadeko’s narrative voice is leading the reader to think “OMG, FAKE CUTE!”. She thinks of herself in third person, and speaks that way as well, which is common for children in Japan, as well as “girls who are trying to be cute”. She also has a tendency to quote and misspell certain words, which I’m not sure about – is it something to do with katakana? I’d like translation notes on that, but again, I think it’s meant to be seen as an affectation. Most notably, though, when she uses the personal pronoun ‘I’ it’s in lower case, showing off the fact that Nadeko debases herself to a large degree. That said, for all the narrative tricks, Nadeko is basically going through the ever-popular “middle school syndrome” to a large degree, and most of her personality problems that aren’t “is a terminally shy girl” are based around that. It’s telling that she gets called out big time by Tsukihi, who one can argue is the extroverted version of Nadeko, but also owns that and doesn’t try to deny it.

There are a lot of great set pieces in this book. Tsukihi’s teardown of Nadeko, which is not so much about Nadeko’s fake cuteness – Tsukihi even praises that – so much as Nadeko’s desire to not try to move forward or have a goal. (There’s some light subtext here, not helped by Nadeko wondering if she actually fell in love with Tsukihi rather than Araragi.) And then there’s Nadeko finally losing it when her asshole teacher asks if she’s managed to fix their classes’ problem, as she starts screaming, swearing, and kicking in doors in one epic tantrum that is, frankly, awesome. Unfortunately, things go south after that. For all that the “villain” of this piece points out that he’s imaginary and this is all Nadeko’s delusion, we can finally start to see a sort of arc villain: Ogi Oshino seems to actively be pushing against Araragi, and it’s concerning, especially as this book ends unresolved – Nadeko is now a Missing Person, and the god that took her place is holed up at the shrine fantasizing about blockbuster action-filled finales that, I hate to break it to her, are not going to take place.

Next time, after Hanamonogatari leapt forward nine months, and Otorimonogatari about 2-3, we finally go back to August to resolve a few plot points there. In the meantime, enjoy Nadeko Medusa, but try not to think of evil scorned Nadeko as her “real” personality any more than cutesy Nadeko was. If we see a “real” Nadeko in this story, I think it comes from a repeated line of dialogue: “It’s just… tiring.”