Hanamonogatari (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 124 minutes approx.
I can’t say I have lamented the large gap between the last instalment of the Monogatari series and this latest release (a little over a year) as other may have, something regular readers of this site will not find much of a surprise.
But here we are again with more abstract and garrulous insanity concocted by prolific light novel writer Nisio Isin, bringing the Monogatari Second Series adaptation to an end with an arc subtitled Suruga Devil. Stepping into the spotlight this time is Suruga Kanbaru; you might recall from the very first series she was blighted by having the left arm of a monkey.
Suruga’s story at the start of her third year in school, after the graduation of her senpai Koyomi Araragi and Hitagi Senjougahara. She encounters Ougi who mentions that a Devil Lord has settled at the school and can solve problems for people. Keen to rid herself of her monkey arm, Suruga vows to track down said demonic healer.
It fact the Devil Lord is Suruga’s former basketball rival Rouka Numachi, who took on the role after a career ending leg injury. Rouka claims her role is merely to counsel people and their unburdening on her frees them from worrying about their problems. If the issue is too great then Rouka will refer the person to the correct authority for help. Suruga however remains suspicious.
There may have been a twelve month plus wait for this title but really nothing has changed in terms of the show’s esoteric presentation, densely verbose narrative and surreal visual flourishes. As such this immediate familiarity will feel like a warm welcome back to the hardcore fans from an old friend who hasn’t aged a day since they last saw them.
For those of us who haven’t been convinced by the cult of Monogatari, this at least makes returning to the show a bit easier since we know what to expect, making us better prepared for what is on offer. Another thing that hasn’t changed, which is more evident than before, is how these stories are more suited to their original written word format. Everything that took place in the above plot summary is in episode one – 25 minutes just for that.
Any other show would have covered this in the first ten minutes and we would have been off and running but as we know, this isn’t the Monogatari way. This is the polarising nature of the show – some love the intense dialogue heavy exchanges while the rest of us are checking our watches waiting for something to actually happen.
Meanwhile the screen is filled with micro-second flashes of text containing either relevant or incidental asides or the shot flips from one odd angle to another even weirder angle, largely to distract us from the fact that animators Shaft are simply marking time to compensate for the verbiage vs. action ratio being (debatably) disproportionately in favour of the former. Again, you either love it or hate it.
With this tale having a comparatively small cast of just five people (and one more appearing by voice only) things are ore easier to follow than in previous instalments where characters would pop up all over place to add another voice to the cacophony and little to the plot. A familiar face from the previous stories is revealed to be a partner in crime to Rouka but, true to their devious roots, is working with a different agenda.
Suruga is puzzled by Rouka when she discovers her old left arm has returned to normal and Rouka now has the cursed monkey arm instead. Surely if Rouka is just a listener-cum-facilitator then her denial of any powers is false? A phone call to another old friend reveals something shocking about Rouka which causes Suruga to take action with some encouragement from a wise head.
In terms of story Hanamonogatri has one of the more interesting plots driving it but as before, we have a case of two and half episodes worth of material eked out over five 25-minute chapters due to the extensive dialogue. With too much skirting around the issues at hand via the painfully pretentious and unnecessary bouts of verbal diarrhoea it is easy to forget that there is a story being told.
For this outing Suruga has been designated the role of problem solver usually occupied by the show’s original protagonist Koyomi Araragi, herself being the recipient of such charitable assistance earlier. There is an air of mystery and melancholy surrounding Rouka’s cause which makes for a tangible emotional hook in sympathising with her plight and in rooting for Suruga to resolving the situation.
A supernatural twist plays into traditional Japanese folklore of unfulfilled spirits, playing out on the basketball court instead of any violent showdowns of tense exorcisms. A rarity in the Monogatari oeuvre, the conclusion is actually positive and definitive, with no last minute rug pulling or spitting in the eye of the audience to ruin this genuine feel good moment.
Having now sat through nine Monogatari releases containing 58 episodes the biggest problem for the show that stands out is the one thing that makes it unique and that is the bespoke quirky presentation from studio Shaft. It was a fine gimmick for the first series but every single episode is the same, and like all gimmicks it wears very thin very quickly.
Certainly it is not alone as every long running show falls into a rut eventually, and in this instance one can argue “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but when that presentation style overpowers the storytelling, you jeopardise the chance to keep the non-committed audience engaged as the imagery continues to obscure the plot.
If you’ve stuck with this franchise up to this point then Hanamonogatri is a welcome addition to the canon. A better story than most of the previous instalments, this universe is still a tedious slog to navigate through for this writer.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Alternate Episodes 5
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Promotional Videos And Commercials
Rating – ** ½
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