Monogatari Final Season: Owarimonogatari Part 1 Review: In Which Doctorkev Learns That Even Mathematics Can Be Lewded
It’s funny how good intentions can be easily waylaid. Around three years ago, I began a journey through the intimidatingly unapproachable (to newbies) Monogatari anime series that adapts prolific Japanese Light Novelist NisiOisin’s series of supernatural novels. I was doing so well, having completed writing about the first and second seasons, plus all three movies. Then I approached Tsukimonogatari, the first arc of the third and final season, with the optimism that soon my task would be complete. Unfortunately I found it so utterly boring that it derailed my plans, and I couldn’t be bothered to continue.
Now, almost 16 months later, I’ve returned to finish my journey. I hate leaving things undone, and Monogatari has been slowly gnawing away at my insides. This week I’m on leave from work, the kids are still at school, and I’m looking for any excuse to avoid doing anything practical or useful around the house. I’ve no excuse, really. Time to slay that Monogatari aberration!
One of the barriers to entry for newcomers is Monogatari’s naming scheme. The final season seems fairly easy to comprehend — after the initial four-episode Tsukimonogatari (Possession Tale), there’s the twenty-episode Owarimonogatari (End Tale) that’s split over three blu-ray volumes, then there’s the twelve-short-episode Koyomimonogatari (Calendar Tale) and finally something called Zoku Owarimonogatari (End Tale Continued), in six episodes. Unfortunately things get muddled as to the watch order.
Koyomimonogatari’s original short story collection was published before Owarimonogatari’s three novel volumes. However, it was animated in the gap between the release of episodes thirteen and fourteen of Owarimonogatari (which itself was confusingly split into two discrete sections — part one with thirteen episodes, and part two with seven). Koyomimonogatari ends with a cliffhanger that leads into Owarimonogatari episode fourteen, so I can see why they did this.
However, the stories in the final season continue to be jumbled chronologically. Inaugural arc Tsukimonogatari takes place almost immediately following the end of season two’s finale Koimonogatari, as seems normal. The story we’re talking about today, Owarimonogatari episodes one to seven, is set chronologically much earlier, and in fact occurs shortly after Nekomonogatari White, back at the beginning of the second season.
It’s hard for me to remember who is doing what and where at this point in time, especially when it’s been many months since I last watched the show. Monogatari’s original airing didn’t help in this matter — it was released in drips and drabs over the course of ten full years, between Bakemonogatari episode one in 2009 and Zoku Owarimonogatari episode six in 2019, which for now remains the final anime episode. The novels have continued for many volumes past the increasingly-inaccurately-named “final season”, with no word yet on them receiving an adaptation.
Anyway, this has all been a very roundabout way for explaining that I’m watching in anime release order for the purposes of these articles. It seems like the best way for the story to flow, even if it’s in stop-start, tortured chronology. Monogatari’s seasons have so far been grouped thematically anyway. The first season focused on main character Koyomi Araragi and his attempts to help the various female characters he encountered with their individual supernatural problems. In the second season, Araragi took a backseat to the girls mostly fixing their own problems, without Araragi’s direct help. Now the third season seems to be about exploring the consequences of Araragi’s past actions, partly through the machinations of sinister and creepy Ougi Oshino.
Ougi appeared frequently, if briefly, in most of the second season’s arcs, as a vaguely unsettling source of mischief. Now, with these three linked tales that focus on Araragi’s heretofore unmentioned former schoolfriend Sodachi Oikura, we get some massive hints about Ougi’s true nature, her intentions, and her disturbing relationship with Araragi.
The first two episodes comprise the story Ougi Formula, which relates the very first meeting between Araragi and Ougi, after Suruga Kanbaru introduces them. Ougi is immediately overfamiliar with Araragi, and in her oddly provocative and questioning manner wraps him around her little finger. She contrives for her and Araragi to be trapped in a strange non-temporal space within a hidden classroom. It reminds me a lot of a similar episode from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Ougi pushes Araragi to solve a mystery from his first year in High School, where the culprit of a mathematics exam cheating incident went unpunished. This reminds Araragi of his former classmate, the mathematical genius and somewhat unhinged Sodachi Oikura. The unjust resolution of the cheating situation saw Sodachi absent herself from school for two years, and Araragi’s trust in adults and teachers shattered, causing his misanthropic disdain for relationships with other people.
It’s clear Araragi has internalised and at least superficially forgotten about the incident, and hasn’t given Sodachi a moment’s thought since, which will become a running theme throughout this set. Ougi’s motivation for unearthing this event is unclear, nor why she has knowledge of it. She’s apparently only just transferred to Naoetsu high, and the excuse she uses of being like a detective doesn’t hold water. Anyway, the situation becomes even more suspicious when the mysterious Sodachi returns to school, and isn’t pleased to see Araragi.
It does seem strange for Monogatari to add yet another female character at this late stage in the story. The fact that she’s never been mentioned before is lampshaded by the vagaries of Araragi’s memory — he’s forgotten her on more than one occasion. Partly because this is something that kids tend to do, but also because it fits his character. Monogatari has never been afraid to make its male protagonist unlikable, and even despicable at times. This is one of the reasons it turns so many potential viewers off. In a way, the whole Monogatari franchise can be seen as how Araragi rehabilitates himself.
When we first meet Koyomi Araragi, (chronologically) back in Kizumonogatari, he’s cynical and self-centred, afraid to make friends because it might “lessen his intensity as a human”, whatever that means. It takes making friends with Tsubasa Hanekawa (with enticement from her virginal white panties and enormous bosoms as catalysts) for him to even begin to become a functional, social human being. Having been brought up by two police officers to have a firm sense of justice, while that led to his sisters becoming their middle school’s sort-of-vigilante-esque “Fire Sisters” duo, it caused Araragi to spiral into depression and misanthropy when disappointed by his teacher and classmates.
By interacting with multiple, mostly female, characters throughout the series, Araragi has his presuppositions about himself and others constantly challenged, though perhaps none have had quite the same effect on him as itinerant supernatural specialist Meme Oshino. Oshino’s oft-repeated maxim “You can’t save anyone, people just go and get saved themselves” remains a lesson that Araragi struggles to learn. Either his efforts tend to cause more harm to himself and others (such as his baffling decision to save vampire Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade, kicking off his string of aberration-filled encounters), or are utterly inconsequential (Hanekawa defeating her pink tiger apparition by accepting her dark side and rejecting perfection, regardless of Araragi.)
Sodachi Oikura is something different though. As a grade-school-aged child, she was raised in an abusive household, was briefly taken to a place of safety (Araragi’s home), was shocked to witness what “normal” family life was like, and left to return to her parents’ violence. Kid Araragi was so wrapped up in his own happy little life he forgot her. Then he met her again in middle school, failed to recognise her when she offered to privately teach him mathematics, failed to realise she was a victim of abuse, and failed to ask his parents for help, as she apparently expected, but did nothing to communicate this clearly to him. And after she disappeared, Araragi forgot her again.
Suffice to say on their third meeting, when Araragi once more failed to recognise her, and failed to acknowledge her role in inspiring his love of mathematics, Sodachi hated him. And then when put in a position (during the class “trial”) to save her once more, the actions of a corrupt teacher and Araragi’s obliviousness (or perhaps willful ignorance) led her to leave school in despair and shame. And then at some point, living alone with her mother, who was apparently the least-worst-parent because she only struck Sodachi when angry that she herself had been abused by her violent ex-husband, Sodachi failed to realise that her mother wasted away, died and then rotted in her bedroom, huddled in a corner.
It’s not hard to see why Sodachi is such a broken character and why she feels so aggrieved. She’s someone who hasn’t even once tried to “save herself”, but attempted to rely on others and found them wanting. It’s a little difficult to see exactly what author NisiOisin is going for here. Sodachi is a victim of years of abuse, and for many such children, no matter what they do, there is no way out from their situations, regardless of their actions.
Ougi’s role in the story seems to be to try and make things even worse between Araragi and Sodachi, so it comes down to Hanekawa, herself a victim of domestic abuse, to empathise and push Sodachi to accept reality. Hanekawa’s confrontations with the slippery Ougi are spine-tingling. Ougi knows exactly which of Araragi’s buttons to push to get him to follow her — from gaslighting, emotional manipulation, to overfamiliarity and annihilating personal space, Ougi turns Araragi from objectifier to objectified.
Araragi has never looked so uncomfortable than when Ougi stalks and dominates him, her spindly limbs and permanently-hidden hands invading his personal space, her dead eyes and mocking sneer commandeering his attention. She outright lies and deflects, and Araragi seems oddly powerless to resist her. Unfortunately for Ougi, her flat chest cannot compete with Hanekawa’s promise that Araragi can touch her enormous bosoms, an enticement away from danger that Araragi can’t possibly resist.
Araragi’s girlfriend Hitagi Senjogahara is mostly absent from the story, except for a crucial scene where she confronts Sodachi for her insulting behaviour and punches her in the face (I cheered!). I love Senjogahara. Of all the female characters in the show, she often seems like she’s the most “together”, the most sure of what she wants, even if that makes her terrifying at times.
This trio of tales that makes up Owarimonogatari part 1 are all so tightly connected that it’s best to view them as one single story. It’s significantly more serious, from an emotional perspective, than most other stories in the series, dealing as it does with painful subjects such as physical and emotional abuse, disappointment and denial. It’s not without its lighter interludes, and much of the character interactions remain at least superficially humorous, but the presence of Ougi Oshino makes the tone so much more unsettling. The story’s focus on mathematics is interesting too, I had to go searching on Wikipedia to find out about “Euler’s Identity” and the “Monty Hall problem”. It’s not often that anime gets me to study advanced algebra and probability.
As is usual for Studio Shaft, they make up for limitations in animation with sharp directorial work — from quick cut perspective changes, to bizarre lighting and framing, to surreal imagery that reflects the emotional content of the interminable conversations. I still find Monogatari to be hopelessly drawn out, and I’ve come to accept I’m only ever going to enjoy watching this at 1.5x speed, otherwise the languid pace and circular dialogue cause me to drift into unconsciousness. However, at this slightly accelerated rate, I do find the whole thing to be so much more enjoyable.
One thing I don’t speed through is the music. Once more, the three openings and single ending track are fantastic anime songs, particularly the third opening Yuudachi houteishiki, a deeply affecting and emotional track. Closing song Sayonara no Yukue is evocative of the struggles and hopes of adolescence, fittingly accompanied by visuals of Araragi sitting on a runaway traincart while a grinning, creepy Ougi stands over him, leading him to who knows where, into darkness. Sodachi displaces her, and then finally we see Araragi taking control, hands on the steering column, his head up and face forward, anticipating the future. I love the symbolism of Monogatari’s many and varied opening and closing sequences.
Overall, Owarimonogatari part 1 is a significant step up from the previous Tsukimonogatari, even if I’m unsure of its place in the overall plot. Sodachi herself seems like “a very special guest star in a very special episode” who disappears again at the end. It remains to be seen if there are any further ramifications of her story on the wider narrative. Of course we know that Ougi isn’t going anywhere, and in fact from the placement of Hanamonogatari, it’s clear that Ougi hangs around even months after Araragi and Senjogahara have left for college. Maybe soon we’ll get some answers about who or what Ougi Oshino actually is? I’ll be back soon to talk about Owarimonogatari part 2, the second half of Owarimonogatari season one, the next part of Monogatari Final Season. Just bear with me, ok? The naming scheme and structure will eventually make sense. Sort of.
Owarimonogatari Part 1
Format: Region B Blu-ray
Directors: Tomoyuki Itamura, Akiyuki Shinbou
Writer: Akiyuki Shinbou
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin
Language: Japanese audio with english Subtitles
Classification: BBFC 12
Distributor: MVM Entertainment
Original Japanese TV Broadcast: October 3rd 2015 — November 7th 2015
UK Blu-ray Release Date: Feb 27th, 2017
Runtime: 168 minutes
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