Owarimonogatari was ultimately the end of the first, and most likely the main story of the series. These last three arcs provided a good conclusion and I wouldn't be upset if that's the final Monogatari-related product adapted by SHAFT. Although I doubt it, since there are tens of side-stories, epilogues, prologues and everything in-between left to adapt. This, however, felt like a proper conclusion. Even if it wasn't what I wanted, I can't help but feel happy about the ending regardless.
Monogatari, ever since I began watching it, always left me with an air of ambivalence. If you go venture forth to the past and dig through to find one of my earliest reviews on this website, one of Bakemonogatari, you'd see exactly that. Me struggling endlessly with coming to terms with my feelings about the series. It left me feeling sleazy and gross, but compelled and intrigued. I initially described it as the guiltiest possible pleasure and while my opinions may have changed with my tastes, I think that outlines the overall complexity of emotions I felt towards the product. On one hand the presentation is outstanding and unique, hearkening back and taking from the French New Wave, but what its presenting is often perverse and over-indulgent. The main narrative is fractured and presented in a spectacularly interesting fashion with the unreliable narrator quirk, but is often sidelined for pandering sexuality. The characters are multi-faceted and endlessly dynamic, but aren't often presented as such. It is an enigma, truly.
While my opinions have changed and my appreciation for this series continuously grows, due to the amount of inspiration it has given me as a creative, this idea of conflicting feelings still remains the same. Even throughout this end-story. I get a conclusion, and the conclusion is quite good with just about every story wrapping up in a feel-good bundle of catharsis. It is still something that I wasn't expecting nor really wanting from this show. I was expecting something darker, something more somber, something with pain and eventual sacrifice and I was expecting the specialists to play significantly bigger role in the story after their buildup through Owarimonogatari's first season as well as the awe-inspiring conclusion to Koyomimonogatari.
Maybe my expectations weren't deserved and built completely upon my own desires for the series, but that feels redundant to say as that's pretty much defining expectations for anything. Owarimonogatari's second season and conclusion does have problems, however, it is packaged and delivered so well that they don't feel like problems as much as they feel like additions that I may disagree with. Maybe that's why i'm so happy to accept this conclusion even if it harshly isn't what I wanted or expected, that's my mea culpa.
Before we delve deep into the semi-spoiler conversation, I think it is safe to say that this series is the best presented television anime. While it may not be as beautifully animated as something from Kyoto Animation or as viciously energetic as a Trigger production, it is a SHAFT product through and through. Harsh yet understated, with pronounced colors and a focus on bringing the most from dialogue heavy scenes.
The coloring in these episodes is as good as ever, with beautiful shot-composition mixed in with spectacular changes in art-style in the first arc of this series. The other two were equally beautiful, with harsh changes of color and space, presenting even the goofiest character moments as if it is high-art strung up in a gallery.
The violent, stinging violins in the climactic soundtrack continuously impress. While most people may point to the admittedly catchy opening themes of this series as examples of its musical prowess, I can't help but point to what I find more impressive. The memorable backing tracks to the shows most climactic moments. From the badass theme at the end of Nisemonogatari, where specialist Kagenui flexes her muscles in a scene so brutally cathartic that it is one of my all-time favorite anime moments. To the plucking strings and winding synths of the shows most surprising scenes, when Gaen reveals her vampire-slaying sword and chops our protagonist into a thousand pieces. The music here is as wonderful as ever.
Monogatari has never been the most animated series, and for good reason. Much like most TV-anime it is a rushed product on a deadline. However, SHAFT make even the most still scenes feel alive and vibrant with the setting and shot composition, and as always the direction here is astounding.
[Story and Resolution]
Presented in three arcs, the final moments with these characters and their eventual graduation feel spur-of-the-moment. The show, for the first time ever, feels as though it has a distinct narrative purpose. Since it has one goal, to end its main story, it never decides to linger on moments that are otherwise unimportant to the series narrative. Even the second episode, the extended date between Senjougahara and Araragi feels as though it plays a direct part in the climax, Araragi's waning adolescence, Ougi's mysterious plot, and the growth between these two from a relationship standpoint.
However, before we delve into that, we have the first story. Between Araragi, Hachikuji, and the involved Tadatsuru, which delivers something visually astounding and narratively intriguing, yet creates a few worries that may find themselves wriggling into the shows core climax.
Obvious spoilers. Hachikuji is back and she's in hell. Some pretty funny reasoning is provided for that. More importantly, SHAFT gets to flex its visual style to the fullest here, providing one of the most visually impressive arcs since the gorgeous Tsukimonogatari. As Araragi ventures through hell, and to a certain extent, his past, he discovers how to return and what the reasoning behind his murder was. An elaborate plan by Gaen to return his humanity.
Good stuff. Even if Hachikuji's return wasn't all that interesting to me. Especially since we have already said our goodbyes to that character and coming back after a pretty good send-off feels as though i'm holding in a sneeze. Unrewarding and kind of painful. I like Hachikuji, she's quirky and engaging with a pretty great catchphrase that gets probably the best payoff of any joke in the series. However, I couldn't help but feel disappointed in her return as an establishment of norms and the lack of consequences. It robbed the series of some weight. More on her later.
They meet with Tadatsuru and in beloved Monogatari fashion we get a gloriously long exposition sequence full of fascinating insights by this really intriguing character, as well as a quick look at the network of specialists that Gaen has established as being the backbone for oddity-hunting. Tadatsuru's powers are great and paint a understandable picture of Ononoki's creation, even if we lack the insight of her "big sister", Kagenui, more on her later.
Araragi is sent off with Hachikuji captured in his legs and brings her into the real world. Initially I had even more of an objection to this, as it totally undermined her exit even further. If it is so easy to leave hell, what is even the point of it? However, that gets amended further on in the series. The introductory arc here really set the tone for the show. It was lean-mean, and without filler, which was great.
Before I even talk about the date, I want to express how deeply upsetting it was to see Kagenui's character and her potentially incredible importance to the series being brushed off. It undermined the entirety of her disappearance in Koyomimonogatari as well as never quite explaining how Ougi got anyone to leave. It felt like an underhanded and obnoxiously pandering way to just keep Ononoki around the harem, which honestly doesn't fucking matter to me. Ononoki is pretty much useless right now, she is literally a doll and since Kagenui isn't around, has virtually no power. She is there to provide a few sparring dialogue driven moments and her inclusion in this arc felt completely unnecessary as she virtually did nothing.
If they kept Kagenui relevant to the story and didn't chuck her to the side for literally no convincing reason, Ononoki and Kagenui could've been back to actually matter and provide some interesting insight to spar with Gaen's own bias arguments against Ougi. Yet nothing like that happened. She's gone, and the reasoning given was that she was practicing "Martial arts" at what was later revealed to be the North Pole. Why? Why would she be doing that? Isn't she an immortal oddity specialist? Isn't her goal and job to exterminate immortal oddities? Isn't Shinobu back in her full-form? Isn't that Ougi? Kagenui expressed no fear in fighting Shinobu with her powers back in Nise, so it makes no sense for her to leave now. Way to completely under-utilize a dynamic and potentially interesting character. What a farce. This was probably the most upsetting moment about this three-parter and probably the only reason I had to take a point off.
Especially since the date between Araragi and Senjougahara was wonderful. I always felt as though their relationship was a bit tepid. They said they damn-near love each other yet Araragi runs around fucking with plenty of other girls. It really doesn't make any sense and makes the entire relationship feel phony, especially since Senjougahara got almost no screen-time recently. Her return is welcome. She is the most dynamic and fascinating of the harem-girls and definitely proved that here. Her character growth since the first arc in Bakemonogatari is palpable and honestly very endearing. Her various little idiosyncrasies really paint an engaging portrait of her character.
The resolution to their date is endlessly lovable and actually helps create a more believable relationship between the two, even if I still object to Araragi's lascivious and scummy behavior otherwise. I really enjoyed this, and I didn't find that it meandered or lacked any meaning. It was well-placed in the middle of these other two, more serious arcs.
What i'd be remiss not to discuss is the dream sequence with Ougi, which is not only a spectacular insight on her character but also plays as a wonderful hint at who she really is. Everything from her saying being a riff on Gaen and Hanekawa to her knowledge of the star-systems being Araragi's own knowledge, the pieces of the puzzle were finally falling into place and this fractured narrative was finally become clear. At this point, in my eyes, it was clear with who Ougi was, even if I wasn't sure what role she exactly played.
To refer back to my initial thesis, this arc's progress and climax wasn't something I was expecting or wanting, but a great part about growing up is being able to look at something as a whole and really determining whether that is a bad thing. I think the more I look back on this arc the more I'll come to enjoy and appreciate that it did something that I wasn't expecting nor wanting, but still managed to be entertaining and pretty damn impressive, narratively.
My fear that the specialists would ultimately play a small role in the climax was unfortunately confirmed, as Gaen dumped some exposition and moved on. This and Shinobu's ultimate uselessness in her hyper-powerful form needs to be accepted as a narrative loop rather than a flaw, in my opinion. Because of course Araragi will ultimately have to face this issue on his own. It is, after all, always been his issue and no one else's. The narrative here had me hurdling through various flaming hoops of acceptance while also trying to follow along to the somewhat complicated explanations for everything. Needless to say, it was a gripping experience none-the-less.
What particularly impressed me apart from Ougi's true reveal was the use for Hachikuji who's inclusion I have previously expressed my distaste with. Gaen's proposed solution was actually quite clever and made sense within the grand scheme of the story and provided the best use of Hachikuji's signature 'I stuttered" catchphrase. It was great. I went from disliking her inclusion to totally buying it, which speaks volumes to how well this entire aspect of the narrative was delivered.
Onward to Ougi's true reveal. I say "true" because her being Araragi's oddity didn't come as much of a surprise, of course she was. Especially the opening to this final arc solidifying that. What was more interesting a reveal was her role as Araragi's oddity, manifesting as adolescence. This actually paints a unique picture of Araragi's character and growth throughout the series.
I'm no stranger to criticizing our boy Koyomi here, since I think he's kind of a scumbag, however, the portrait of his adolescence was poignant none-the-less. This somewhat esoteric conclusion helped me understand the rest of this series' motivations as well as his character progression overall. What could've been myopic ended up being quite engaging, even Araragi's rejection of his own change to saving Ougi, which I was initially against but over the course of the past few hours warmed up to. Because of course he'd save her, he's Araragi.
[The Moral of the Story]
And now for the epilogue, or rather, the punchline. What Monogatari does so well is provide an experience unlike anything else in anime. An industry and medium that indulges in pulpy entertainment has this series which indulges in the idea of indulging. Consuming everything that is inherently right or wrong with the industry and presenting it as if it is high-art. Taking ideas from the most influential, yet also the most cherry-picked movement in cinema, the French New Wave, and crafting a narrative that not only doesn't treat its audience like children, but goes out of its way to be esoteric and challenging. Very much in line with the New Wave, Monogatari has a kind of style and essence to it that separates it from anything else in the medium. Especially since at its core it has these sleazy elements to it.
Relating back to the initial point of contention, my dissonance with this series manifesting as a love and appreciation for it. These last three arcs, ones which lack the fanservice that some of the other parts of the series indulge in, are some of the most solid parts of the series, up there with the flawless masterpiece which is Hitagi End, my favorite thing I've ever seen from this televised medium. It proves to me that this show could've been better without its over-indulgent obsession with childish sexuality and pandering which often took up big parts of other episodes in other arcs, however, is that really true? I undoubtedly didn't, and don't, enjoy those elements, yet they are inherent in Monogatari being Monogatari. Without them this wouldn't be Monogatari, and the lack of them in these final arcs proves to me how big of contrast there is, which helped elevate the stakes and create tension which otherwise wouldn't have been escalated if the entire series was devoid of these elements.
I feel like I always wanted Monogatari to be more mature than it was, however, once again, maybe that was wishful thinking. Much like Araragi says as the final line in these arcs, he is himself, and this series is itself. And expecting it to be something different when it so well-established exactly what it is makes no sense, logistically. Because much like Araragi, Monogatari experienced an odd kind of growth as well, where the maturity may not have increased but a realization did happen. The self-awareness here is palpable and as with any product that has displayed a knack for multi-faceted storytelling, I don't think it is out-of-line to analyze this series so extensively.
During Ougi Dark, there is a scene where the characters dissect Ougi's formation as a cake. Each character representing a slice. Which honestly feels like this show being self-aware about its own indulgence, both having the cake and eating it to, which is an element I've been bringing up in reviews since their conception. The cake here being Araragi's division and eventual realization of purpose, while also doubling as context for this shows harem elements. Which I wouldn't say is as much of an excuse as it is a justification, and a good one at that.
Its harem elements were never the strongest parts of the series, and being myself I'd go so far as to say they were the weakest parts. However, they, in the end, felt necessary to this show having the conclusion it did. For me, the strongest parts were always the main narrative and the specialists, who were characters that were infinitely more fascinating than the main group and harbored more interesting traits and purposes, but as I've already said, it wasn't their story and I shouldn't have been expecting them to play a huge role here. My own, negative idiosyncrasy.
In the end, this series which still confuses me emotionally provided an exceptional conclusion to its first and most likely main story, as it wrapped up its final arcs in an acceptable and thoroughly understandable way. At its most basic, the story of adolescence and accepting that adolescence permeates through the entirety of this series. Because if we were to fully strip it down, the punchline is that there is no need to let go of that. Much like Araragi isn't willing to let go of his own, even while saying that his adolescence has left him he acknowledges that he isn't fully an adult to Hanekawa. And I don't think that is really the point of this experience. It isn't much of a coming of age story. At the climax, he doesn't let go of the oddity manifesting as his own adolescence and that's the final realization. But I don't know.
But who knows, really? A series like this is so esoteric that even its most well-defined moments can be read into as something else and that's exactly what I appreciate about it. It proves itself worthy of being analyzed, as any great piece of art should. As I said in my very first venture into Monogatari, I only know what I know.