Owarimonogatari Part 1 (Episode 1-7) (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD / Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 168 minutes approx.
There are many reasons I personally dread the release of another instalment of the Monogatari saga, not limited to the probability I won’t enjoy or understand it. Having to compose another 1000 word review explaining why I didn’t is also a chore, which must be tiring to read as it is to write.
In all fairness, the last release Tsukimonogatari surprisingly bucked this trend by being more enjoyable than previous entries for yours truly, so perhaps this lop sided relationship between Nisio Isin’s abstract ramblings as presented by maverick animators Shaft is beginning to level out at long last?
Lamentably no, as Owarimonogatari (which translates to “End Story” yet there is STILL more to come so that is infuriatingly deceptive) is back to the baffling, dense verbosity of yore, buttressed by more obtuse animated distractions in which a potentially fertile mystery is eked out of seven very dull episodes when other shows would have completed it in just three, and made more sense to boot.
Sharing the limelight with central protagonist Koyomi Araragi this time are two more girls, one of whom is I believe a newcomer to the show. We begin with Koyomi trapped inside a classroom that has mysteriously appeared from nowhere, with Ougi Oshino, niece of Meme Oshino, a stalwart of the earlier series. Ougi has the blueprints of the school yet this classroom isn’t on there so she cajoles Koyomi into investigating with her.
Ougi realises that an incident from Koyomi’s past is the reason they are trapped and Koyomi needs to recall this and find a resolve to enable them to leave. The incident in question occurred two years earlier, revolving around pupils having access to a maths paper prior to the actual exam, and to find the culprit, a vote was held to nominate the most likely.
Koyomi received just one vote from class president Sodachi Oikura out of hatred for him, whilst the rest of the class, including the teacher Tetsujo Komichi, voted unanimously for Sodachi. As a result of this humiliation, Sodachi left school in favour of home tutoring returning only to take her exams. Having remembered this, Koyomi and Ougi are allowed to leave the room, but now Koyomi needs to find out why Sodachi hated him.
As suggested earlier I can’t fault the basic plots and ideas that Isin concocts and this is one that possesses a lot of intrigue, which no doubt will resonate with viewers of all ages since we all have a nemesis whose dislike towards us remains a mystery. In this instance, it is not a case of bullying by Koyomi of Sodachi or vice versa, whilst Koyomi doesn’t seem to recall any reason why Sodachi should hate him.
But this is a Monogatari mystery so the answers are not going to be straightforward or so easily determined. Like Koyomi and Ougi, the audience has to work for the revelations by sitting through endless prolix passages of pseudo-intellectual psychobabble and extraneous beating around the bushes before getting anywhere, making this one of, if not THE most garrulous entries into the franchise thus far.
Usually Ishin and Shaft cut us a break and offer some action or temporary comedic visual distraction to break the monotony of the verbal onslaught but no such luck here. This is a full on assault of the ears and is not a single damn is given. Similarly, the artwork is less inspired by this, relying solely on Shaft’s trademark head tilt, obtuse angles, close-ups and filing the screen with geometric shapes and lines since they have little else to work with.
The classroom Koyomi and Ougi are trapped in is rendered as if it were part of the Matrix or a virtual world as typified in anime such as Accel World or Summer Wars – i.e. the walls, floor and ceiling consist of shimmering blocky designs akin to computer graphics, with occasional flecks of colour that change at random. The imagery is at its most ambitious here, otherwise its business as usual.
In terms of the story content Isin veers into darker territory to address a serious and prevalent social issue somewhat at odds with the frivolous fantasy he usually deals in. It’s a sobering and tragic tale with a central theme that deserves deeper exploration but a series as oblique and wilfully esoteric as this doesn’t lend itself to being able to do so with the gravity it requires.
Perhaps then this is why the main thrust of it is told through a flashback without actually showing anything of a graphic nature, whilst the principal cast members are essentially chibified for a lighter tone. This makes Isin or Shaft appear less confrontational as usual, which is a bit rich considering the depths of obscenity they have plunged before in terms of incest and paedophilia.
Considering that this only laterally affects Koyomi and the real victim is Sodachi, it initially feels a bit churlish that this should centre on the memories Koyomi buried, but the subtext suggests he himself is at fault for not noticing someone else’s suffering. But if he is unable to read between the lines and not recognise the pleas for help isn’t that down to the messenger for being too unclear?
There is a chance I may have missed something due to the heavy verbiage that obfuscates 95% of the story and the fact I fell asleep during all but one of the episodes, but this only goes to reinforce my inability to connect to Isin’s wavelength when he has the ideas and commendable and interesting yarns to spin but too often the parts are far greater than the sum.
Or maybe I am too thick to appreciate it as the Monogatari universe is one that is held in high regard across the anime fandom. If you are one of them, enjoy Owarimonogatari – I wish I could, but its back to being on the outside looking in for me.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – **
Man In Black