Nekomonogatari Black (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 104 minutes approx.
For those of you who can’t get enough of the surreal acid trip that is the Monogatari universe then rejoice as another instalment is upon us. If, like me, you find it to be a self indulgent and almost impenetrable headache then run to the hills and I’ll call you back when it’s safe.
This four episode outing is in fact a prequel to Bakemonogatari, which was the first of the stories from the curious mind of Nisio Isin to be animated. Whilst are forced to wait for the origins of how the main protagonist Koyomi Araragi became a vampire, this yarn focuses on his classmate and object of his affections Tsubasa Hanekawa, who, if your memory serves you well, was possessed by a demonic white cat.
Set during “Golden Week” – or school holidays to you and me – Aragari awakens with an overwhelming desire to see Hanekawa, or more accurately to feel her ample bosom. One of his younger sisters, Tsukihi, is on hand to discuss whether this is true love or not and encourages her brother to get his perversions out of his system first. Upon leaving the house Aragari bumps into Hanekawa who is sporting a bandage on her face, suffered after a punch from her adopted father.
As they go about their day they find the corpse of a silver cat with no tail which Hanekawa buries. A visit to Oshino reveals that this dead feline was cursed and Aragari is sent to look after Hanekawa while Oshino checks out the cat’s grave – the cat has disappeared and Hanekawa has been possessed by said feline spirit named Sawari Neko. With a killing spree hitting the city, beginning with Hanekawa’s foster parents, it falls to Aragari to help separate Hanekawa from Sawari Neko, if he can.
Those of you already familiar with the previous (I suppose I should say “following”) stories will know that this is no ordinary world that Aragari and Hanekawa inhabit so the above summary isn’t so difficult to accept even for anime. How much of it will deliver sufficient answers for long time fans of the franchise will depend on how much you remember from the Bakemonogatari series, and considering the sheer wealth of material this series throws at you – be it congruent or otherwise – and how fast, that might not be much.
And that really is a problem with this series which will be the polarising factor for many anime fans – the sheer visual onslaught Monogatari delivers with the force a pneumatic drill. Sure, some will love its esoteric and maverick approach to the narrative, and there is no question it makes this and other shows created by Shaft stand out from the pack, but it has the drawback of obfuscating the actual story being told. This was a huge problem for the last release Nisemongatari where the story was arguably difficult to follow for some of us who like their plots to get the point.
The very first thing we see at the beginning of this outing is a lightening fast glimpse of screen full of text – have your finger on the pause button primed and ready as you’ll need to read this as it contains a breakdown of the story that is about to unfold. Unlike the other entries in this franchise this gimmick has been kept to a comparable minimum here which is something.
Aragari seems to lose his perverted side fairly quickly upon encountering Hanekawa as she regales him with the unfortunate origin behind the bruise hidden under the bandage. Having sworn Aragari to secrecy about this Hanekawa allows him to ask with favour from her; after much deliberation – and who know what kind of prurient ideas went through his head – Aragari asks Hanekawa to let him use his vampire blood on her to heal her wound.
For the remainder of the tale Aragri remains concerned about Hanekawa and seeks counsel from Oshino for answers to the Sawari Neko problem, putting his lustful desires aside for the sake of saving a friend. Somewhere beneath the endless conversations and other distractions, Aragari realises he has to make a personal sacrifice for this girl who he realises is his true love. Awww.
Even with just four episodes to relate this tale there is still a surfeit of material here; I would estimate that about 15% of the screen time is directly devoted to the story while the other 85% is taken up with prolix conversations, garrulous exposition and the trademark Shaft visual assault. And like anything innovative and different, after three series in the same style, it soon loses its uniqueness and no longer appeals in the same way and in this case it begins to serve as more of a distraction that a selling point, at least for this writer.
Because of the way the story unfolds much of the key events take place off screen, only to be related afterwards via the verbiage heavy exposition sessions. We don’t see the dead cat rise form the grave or how Hanekawa becomes possessed by it; later a hard fought battle between Oshino and Sawari Neko is merely reported by the loser (Oshino). Unfortunately little about this show lends itself to supplying us with any spectacular action although we are afforded an innovative confrontation in the last episode.
One point of contention of the last series Nisemongatari was the rather salacious ecchi quotient, most notably the infamous toothbrush scene. Thankfully this has been greatly toned done this time around, aside from a rather uncomfortable scene in the first episode involving some inappropriate sibling boob grabbing, while the fan service is provided by Sawari Neko’s appearance of tiny black lingerie and nothing else.
It’s difficult to be objective or positive about a show that frankly baffles me but rather than dismiss Nekomonogatari Black, I’ll simply conclude once again, that it is an acquired taste and unquestionably for dedicated fans only.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black