This is it. It’s finally here. The wait is over. On Friday, 6/25/2010, the final episode of Bakemonogatari was released as a streaming video on Shaft’s website. The 15 episode series took just 1 week shy of a full year to complete. The final episode was released 122 days, or just over 1/3 of a year, after the previous one.
Let us bask in this moment just a little more.
Okay, that’s enough. Part of the big deal of having a new episode released is that there new content to watch, after all. And as the finale to perhaps the most popular series in the last year, there was plenty to look forward to. The conflict between Tsubasa’s Cat and Koyomi finally came to a head, creating some excellent tension-filled moments that were finally released by Shinobu’s triumphant return. And the denouement following provided a hopeful conclusion to this cynical series, a conclusion that I found to be both touching and enjoyable.
The conversation in the 1st part of the episode between the Cat and Koyomi was the real “meat” of the episode, with it providing us with the climax and conclusion of the Tsubasa Cat story arc. If you’ve watched this far, you know that there’s far more to these character interactions than just the conversation, and this one was no different, filled with the visual treats that have pretty much defined what Bakemonogatari is. I especially loved the shift to the more malicious facial expressions by the Cat, which helped to shift the mood in a much darker and more serious direction. The typical Shinbo/Shaft cinematography was used very well here, with the zoomed out shots and the contrast between light and shadow also adding to the more stark atmosphere.
In terms of the content, the conversation picked up right where it ended the last episode, with the Cat repeating her line that Tsubasa was in love with Koyomi and that if he fell in love with her, she could disappear. It immediately darkened the mood, seeming to send a shock to Koyomi. It came to no surprise to me that he tried so strongly to deny this, first laughing it off as a joke, and then trying to pass it off as a misunderstanding before finally facing the fact. Koyomi’s inability or unwillingness to accept the cynical facts about others had been in full display in the Suruga Monkey arc, after all.
And like in that arc, we got a heroine who felt malice towards Koyomi, actively wanted to hurt him. I loved seeing the Cat play around with Koyomi, trying to manipulate his feelings by putting doubts in his mind about why he was with Hitagi. And the imagery of the real Tsubasa going to gently caress Koyomi during some of it was a nice touch.
It was satisfying to see Koyomi start to push back against the Cat. That’s when the episode became just as much about Hitagi as Tsubasa. One of the oddities about the Tsubasa Cat arc was that Part 2 had felt completely out of place in the sequence, being purely about Hitagi. I had excused it with the reasoning that they wanted to put an ending into the last TV released episode, but this episode brought it back, with the repeat of Koyomi’s line about liking Hitagi (“All of it. There is nothing about [her] that I don’t like.”). It was great that this was one of the 1st things that came to his mind when confronted by the Cat regarding his feelings for her. Tsubasa Cat Part 2 had been an excellent episode and ending to the TV run by itself, but it was made all the better by being put into the proper context by this episode.
And there was something fitting about the intermixing of the cuts of Hitagi back at the school, preparing for the culture festival – in Tsubasa’s place. I guess it was seeing her involved in and taking care of what was ostensibly something that belonged to Tsubasa, a metaphor for Koyomi and the Tsubasa Cat episodes in general.
I loved the call back to that scene in the beginning of the 1st episode, in which Tsubasa and Koyomi were working on the culture festival together. Even as the argumentative dialogue continued – syncing up to the characters’ mouths in the flashback – it brought back memories of a seemingly more innocent time, before we knew of this intense conflict brewing within Tsubasa, before even Hitagi had entered the picture. It served as a reminder that the Cat was just one aspect of this kind girl who was very good friends with our hero.
The Cat was that jealous, selfish side of Tsubasa, and she decided that if she couldn’t have Koyomi, no one could; i.e. to kill him. I had pretty much forgotten the violent, problematic part of the Cat when she latched onto Koyomi and sucked his energy in a flash of lightning. In a way, the Cat’s actions felt more cruel than Suruga’s, despite the fight being less violent (though there was plenty of gore this time around as well). In Suruga’s case, at least she wanted to kill Koyomi out of self interest, but in the Cat’s case, it was purely out of spite.
Suruga Monkey had had a pretty clever ending, with Hitagi coming to save Koyomi and to negate Suruga’s incentive for killing Koyomi. I found it interesting that, at the moment of truth, Koyomi once again thought of Hitagi’s promise to kill whomever killed him, and that was what convinced him that he wanted to live. And this time, it was Shinobu who came to save him.
What an entrance! And what a twist; she was there all along, lurking literally in the shadows, just waiting for Koyomi to call out to her for help. Because we didn’t get to see the beginning of this story – i.e. the events of Golden Week that had Koyomi turn into a vampire – we were left in the dark as to why or how Shinobu is in Koyomi’s shadow and why she came out only when he called her. There were more allusions to the Koyomi Vamp story, including showing pieces of the flashback montage that opened the show, but not enough to shed any light on these issues. Still, it was great to see Shinobu come back and to reach some sort of understanding with Koyomi, even if I had no idea what it was.
And she never spoke! I’m not sure if she even had any groans or other such non-verbal noises. It seems like it was just a troll to have Aya Hirano listed as Shinobu’s voice actor from the beginning.
The conclusion of the Tsubasa Cat story did feel a bit incomplete. The Cat was dispatched, but the source of Tsubasa’s stress – her unrequited love for Koyomi – was not taken care of and remains a possible problem. Then again, none of the other stories had neat or tidy little endings. Koyomi’s wondering of how much Tsubasa knows about the incident and acknowledging that she needs time to organize her thoughts was as much as was needed.
The Tsubasa Cat ending – with the Fire Sisters morning wake up sequence – flowed right into the series ending. After the beautiful ending to the TV broadcast run provided by Tsubasa Cat Part 2, I wondered what the “true ending” to the series would be like.
Well, it wasn’t quite as beautiful and certainly not as romantic, but it was a proper and satisfying conclusion to the whole series. Perhaps Shinbo went a little overboard with his trademark shots here, but the final montage was just a joy to watch. I don’t know, just seeing the 4 main high schoolers of this show – Koyomi, Hitagi, Tsubasa, and Suruga – exploring Oshino’s empty home together was pretty cool. The music was excellent as well, working with the imagery of that empty school building to give us the feeling of a breath of fresh air, or of the dawn after a dark night. And even though it all felt a bit bittersweet with Oshino’s leaving, the overarching feeling was one of hope for the future, of moving on. When the 4 gathered to talk one last time about Oshino being a good person, they were laughing and smiling, celebrating his memory instead of mourning their loss.
That sense of hope was perfectly represented by the final scene, of Koyomi taking Hitagi out on their 2nd date, her riding on the back of his bike. It was the image of 2 young lovers just starting on their journey, much like the TV ending in Tsubasa Cat Part 2. And Koyomi got to give us a final bit of narration:
I’ll probably run into more oddities in the future. But that’s okay. I know the truth. There are dark areas in this world, and there are people living in those places. For example, there’s even someone living inside my shadow. Tomorrow is the culture festival. Our class’s project is… the haunted house.
I feel that it summed up the series well. It was about acknowledging the dark, ugly side of everyone that they try to hide from others. As sad or as cynical as these things may be, the person holding these things is still a person. There is still hope in that darkness, like the all-white, pure image of Shinobu living inside the shadow of Koyomi. It was a line that represented the theme that tied together all 5 different stories in this series, and a wonderful way to close it out.
So, after 15 episodes and 358 days, Bakemonogatari is over. So what was Bakemonogatari? Was it worth the time? To be honest, I’m a little sad to see it end, partly because now it means I have no excuse to avoid answering these questions. Due to having such a big gap between watching the last 2 episodes, I feel like I need to watch it again with less time between episodes before I can have anything to say about the series as a whole. I don’t feel like I can add anything right now to what I already wrote in this post. That is, it is a series of 5 fantastical stories that Koyomi Araragi experiences in the span of just a few months, each with its own heroine, tied together by the common theme of the darkness that people hide from others.
But the show was certainly much more than that. There was something about it that resonated with viewers, including me. I’m not sure yet what that is. At the very least, it was a unique ride, filled with stunning visuals and excellent music. It provided a couple of the most touching and heartfelt scenes I’ve seen in anime while still remaining true to its cynical theme. And even if that was all it was, it was enough to make the series my favorite in recent memory.
- The online stream’s video quality was rather low, which is why the screenshots look so crappy. The Blu-ray release is on July 28.
- As most of you know, Bakemonogatari is based off of a novel by the same name. There are 2 more novels that follow it in the series: Kizumonogatari, which contains the Koyomi Vamp story, the prequel that explains the events of Golden Week; and Nisemonogatari, which contains 2 sequels, Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix, presumably about Koyomi’s little sisters. According to the article on Wikipedia (with no citations), 2 more sequels are in the works.
- The Blu-ray and DVD releases had audio commentary by the voice actors, in character. Each release had 2 of the heroines speaking to each other through the episodes (e.g. Volume 1 featured Hitagi and Tsubasa, Volume 2 featured Mayoi and Tsubasa, Volume 3 featured Suruga and Hitagi). Unfortunately, no one has subbed these in English yet, as far as I know.
- At 15 episodes in 358 days, the series had a mean of about 25.6 days between episodes. I’m guessing that that’s some sort of record.
- With its sudden release on the 25th, Bakemonogatari’s finale joins the finale of 4 other series ending in the 4 day period between 6/24 and 6/27 that have Hideki Hiroshi Kamiya playing starring roles (update 7/1/2010 0843: Thank you Son Gohan for pointing out the mistake – Bayonetta must’ve been on my mind). The others are: Durarara!! (Izaya Orihara), Angel Beats! (Yuzuru Otonashi), Working!! (Hiroomi Souma), and Arakawa Under the Bridge (Kou “Recruit” Ichinomiya). Of those 5, Bakemonogatari, Angel Beats!, and Arakawa Under the Bridge had him playing the main protagonist.