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Nekomonogatari (Kuro) – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Adapted from the 6th book in the Monogatari series, Nekomonogatari (Kuro) showcases the Tsubasa Family Arc that focuses on Hanekawa Tsubasa. The story takes place during Golden Week, a time prior to the original series in which Hanekawa becomes possessed by a Cursed Cat spirit and starts to ruthlessly attack individuals in order to mitigate the pressure of her difficult family situation at home. Working as prequel to the original Bakemonogatari (2009), Nekomonogatari returns to a time that was only briefly mentioned through flashbacks sequences in the two previous installments, this time allowing us to witness exactly what transpired more completely.

Given the comparable success of Bakemonogatari with that of the rather heavily disputed direction of Nisemonogtari (2012), Nekomonogatari finds itself in a difficult position given the strengths and weaknesses shared acrossed its two predecessors. With the rather favorable Bakemonogatari establishing the Monogatari series as a creative endeavor on part of Studio Shaft, Nisemonogtari was met with controversy as its narrative took a drastically different approach and introduced a rather discouraging amount of fan service, mostly of which was centered around the incestuous behavior expressed between Araragi and his two sisters. It was interesting to see the series veer into such territory, but it was also a jarring experience for many, alienating numerous viewers fond of Bakemonogatari. Weariness was certainly in the air when Nekomonogatari was released following the outcome of Nisemonogtari – so how does it fare?

Fortunately, Nekomonogatari returns to a similar format found in Bakemonogatari with only small remnants of Nisemonogtari’s uncomfortable focus on the Koyomi family finding their way into the narrative. While only four episodes in length, the series remains attentive towards its characters – which is often the case with previous installments as well – with Araragi and Hanekawa remaining the focal point of the narrative. As a prequel arc, it successfully fleshes out the character motivations and events we were only provided glimpses of through the course of the series’ predecessors. This especially works in the case of Hanekawa, who after watching Nekomonogatari is given more depth as an individual having to address emotional hardships within her life, ultimately making her appear here as a more realized character than before. With her internal suppression of psychological issues stemming from her conflicted family situation at home, Hanekawa becomes another girl in which Araragi will try to help in any way possible. Her development is quite strong, early on explaining her dislike for her step-father to Aararagi but also acknowledging her own failures as a step-daughter as well. It is a narrative formula that could quite easily become stale, but Nekomonogatari surprisingly remains a refreshing experience given its heavy focus on offering compelling character interaction that truly delves into the psychological state of its characters.

The metaphorical representation of characters’ psyches through the use of spirits is one of the most interesting aspects of the Monogatari series, with Nekomonogatari delivering yet another tale of internal quarreling manifested through the expression of supernatural forces. Thematically, the arc follows through with the abstract nature of its predecessors, bringing us into a world in which Araragi’s interactions with others is mostly an isolated experience. Like I stated in my reviews of the previous installments, this is a series that is very much dependent on its clever interchanges that take place between its characters more so than any actual sense of movement, letting us explore how they feel about the most minute and significant of issues rather than clobbering each other to death. This approach may feel as a tedious exercise – with some viewers even finding the likes of such an approach as exceedingly boring – but it does allow for substantial characterization to occur that many other similar series often never see the extent of during their entire run.

Nekomonogatari relies heavily on character development through dialogue to advance its story, inserting small moments of action throughout to break up the pacing, with many moments usually stemming from Araragi having to confront the spirit affecting Hanekawa. These scenes are all well choreographed, evocative, and also quite rememberable due to their striking contrast to the remainder of the series. But to those viewers expecting a generous amount of action sequences, you will be sorely disappointed, as Nekomonogatari never truly ventures into eliciting too much action – even though it certainly has the capacity to do so. The series does a wonderful job at establishing tension through its intense verbal exchanges, keeping the viewer up on their toes as to what may happen next.

Overall, Nekomonogatari is yet another addition in an overall series that as an experimental undertaking has succeeded more often than not. Its negative aspects primarily derive from it returning back to the puzzling essence of Nisemonogatari in some of its early episodes, but it luckily never reaches the absurd levels found in that arc. Nekomonogatari for the most part works as a bridge in we can connect the previous two arcs together in a more cohesive fashion, allowing us to fill in the blanks that in turn present a more comprehensive exploration of Araragi and his peers. As a mere four episodes though, it feels more like a lost arc that should have been included in Bakemonogatari, but it does provide a relatively insightful excursion before the eventual release of the feature film detailing the Kizumonogatari arc. While Nekomonogatari may not be entirely novel in its execution, it remains yet another fine addition to one of most innovative anime series released in recent years, establishing the Monogatari franchise as one to continually watch closely.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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