Onimonogatari (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 102 minutes approx.
If you have been paying close attention to my previous reviews of titles from the Monogatari universe, you will know that this franchise and I do not get along so well. This latest instalment entitled Onimonogatari might just be the one to bring this fragile relationship to an end for good.
Covering episodes 17 to 20 from Monogatari Series Second Season, we reach the arc which has been misleadingly labelled Shinobu Time, supposedly dedicated to the beguiling lolicon Shinobu Oshino – except she hardly features in it at all. She may reign as the central topic of discussion but the tiny terror only physically appears in the post credits coda of the first episode and the whole of the second, where her past is revealed.
Outside of that, the main players in this story are male protagonist Koyomi Araragi and wandering spirit Mayoi Hachikuji, with a guest appearance from Yotsugi Ononoki, the human reincarnated as a tsukumogami by Shinobu. And if that wasn’t enough, an estimated 98% of the content here is all dialogue and 2% action. You’ll have to forgive this review for its glibness and lack of detail but frankly, it sent me to sleep on numerous occasions so very little information that was possibly relayed among the literal barrage of verbiage didn’t stick.
The story begins directly after the events of Kabukimonogatari which saw Koyomi and Shinobu travel back in time. Having returned to the present Koyomi meets up with Mayoi to return her backpack to her and while giving her ride home, Mayoi senses an invisible but clearly malevolent spirit called the Darkness. While searching for a place to hide the duo encounter Yotsugi who flies them to safety to an abandoned classroom. Yostsugi then disappears and with Mayoi suddenly unconscious from the ordeal (don’t ask), Koyomi is joined by Shinobu, who explains about the Darkness.
The above mentioned bike chase represents pretty much most of the 2% of action discussed earlier and even then it takes up less than two minutes of the episode! There is some kissing going because harem rules dictate, but from here on in it’s a wafflefest of epic proportions. The second episode is dedicated to Shinobu recalling her introduction to the Darkness in a tale set 400 years earlier during her first ever visit to Japan.
Being a tall blonde woman at that time, the Japanese people worshipped Shinobu – or “Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade” as she was known – after she accidentally saved a village from drought. Shinobu began to act as the God they believed her to be until villagers started to disappear, caused by the Darkness spirit as Shinobu and a demon hunter she befriended discover to their detriment, resulting in Shinobu losing her vampiric powers and having to relinquish her goddess name.
To fix the situation, Koyomi, Yotsugi and Mayoi have to come up with a plan to stop the Darkness returning and killing Shinobu, so they recruit the assistance of someone called Izuko Gaen, who I don’t recall being mentioned before in previous stories but then again the Monogatari universe is crowded with numerous oddball characters it is easy to misplace the odd face or two.
As ever there is a perfectly engaging and potentially exciting fantasy story driving these yarns but Monogatari creator Nisio Isin’s abstract approach just doesn’t want to accommodate anyone outside of his esoteric wavelength. Case in point is the backstory of Shinobu. Had the episode been a real time flashback telling of the tale to allow the viewer to get a substantial grip on both the story and a better understanding situation. Instead we get some still admittedly gorgeous, illustrations while Shinobu drones on and on for twenty minutes.
Some may suggest that to do this would be a case of dumbing down but anime is a visual and not an aural medium thus it stands to reason the story could be relayed just as easily, perhaps even more quickly, and arguably more satisfactorily by animating the story in full. More importantly it wouldn’t have been so dull either, which is an accusation I am resolutely levelling at this particular release – it was a tightly fought contest between me and Mayoi as to who was unconscious the most during this volume!
I know that this franchise has its diehard fans and that they probably consider the verbosity and surrealist approach to be its main strengths and more power to them. But this is the ninth release and it feels like a one note joke which is long past its sell by date. The writing is very clever and the fantasy/supernatural elements of the individual stories add so much to their appeal but the use of abstract animation techniques and the dreaded microsecond flash screens of text is wearing thin.
At the risk of sounding overly jaded, I can’t shake the feeling that animation studio Shaft employ these tactics to cover up the fact that Isin’s stories don’t naturally translate too well to a visual medium like anime. For this writer I have giving up trying to understand this series and as a result of being made to feel thick for not getting it or enjoying it as I should, maybe it is time to call Emperor’s New Clothes on this.
If you have never watched or experienced this series before, Onimonogatari is not a good place to start and certainly does not invite those of us on the outside looking in to feel welcomed to the fold. Arguably the dullest instalment to date with the most potential for a great adventure completely missed, I personally dread what is coming next from this polarising and frankly baffling franchise.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – *½
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