The phrase “problematic fav” has been overused just about to death online, but I can’t find any other way to describe my relationship with Monogatari. Originally a light novel series penned by Nisio Isin, studio Shaft is heading up the anime adaptation that’s been running since 2009. The series is divided into arcs that span a few episodes and center around Koyomi Araragi, a high school student who managed to survive a vampire attack, as he gets caught up investigating numerous apparitions that invade his home town. So far the anime has aired three seasons and three OVAs, the latest of which is titled Tsukimonogatari, otherwise known as the “Yotsugi Doll” arc.

Tsukimonogatari takes place shortly after the events of the “Hitagi End” arc. Nadeko has recently been released from the hospital after her disappearance was solved, and Araragi is busy studying for college entrance exams. While bathing with his teenage sister (I’ll address this later) Araragi notices he does not have a reflection when he looks in the mirror. He alerts the former-vampire Shinobu of this revelation, and she theorizes he’s turning back into a vampire he had briefly been before. They consult the specialist (and former enemy) Yozoru Kagenui and her doll-like companion Ononoki, who both confirm Shinobu’s suspicions. They inform him that he had been relying too heavily on his leftover vampiric powers, and that if he uses them any longer he will completely turn back into one. The situation is made worse when his two sisters are kidnapped along with his friend Kanbaru.

Right away Tsukimonogatari demonstrates what makes the Monogatari series so captivating and enjoyable. The avante-garde visual style utilized in this series is arguably the best Shaft has ever produced, and it’s no exception in this arc. Each and every color is clearly defined, from Shinobu’s almost glowing golden hair to the bright orange and blue color palette of Ononoki herself (which strangely reminds me of salt water taffy). Environments are never left stagnant, and frequently morph into wide open and extravagant expanses. Over the course of one conversation a dilapidated cram school transforms into a snowman filled wonderland and later into the set-piece of a grand castle. Further into the episode we’re taken to a vast palace made entirely out of snow and ice that is apparently lived in. We don’t always have a single clue where exactly these locations are or how they relate to the story, but such is the norm for Monogatari. It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s beautiful, so we let it slide. The same logic is applied to the characters, who frequently relax in spine-breaking positions or balance on the finger of a child-like apparition.

Audiovisual dissonance to the MAX 
In addition to its aesthetic appeals, Tsukimonogatari sports another characteristic the series has become famous for: a LOT of talking. It is not an exaggeration at all to estimate that 90-95% of what happens in this OVA is just characters straight talking. There’s probably more of it in Tsukimonogatari than anywhere else in the series. This would be, by most standards, a very negative thing. While that’s a fair assessment, I have to disagree in this case for two reasons. One, the dialogue is captivating. Tsukimonogatari may have been an hour and a half of characters talking to one another, but it never felt that long. It may be long-winded, but it remains fast-paced, thoughtful, and weighted. Given that there is so much dialogue, you’d expect a good bit of it to be idle chatter, however that is not the case. Each line feels pertinent to the events happening, and a steady balance is kept between philosophy and levity. Add in the fact that the series sports my favorite voice cast of all time, and the heavy dialogue never gets boring. Two, Tsukimonogatari makes up for its long-winded stagnant dialogues by interjecting conversations with stylized visual non sequiturs. Do we NEED to see Shinobu and Ononoki engaging in a snowball fight while Ararai and Kagenui talk? No, but it certainly makes it all the more enjoyable. There’s no real point to us watching Ononoki engage in everyday activities such as snowman-building or waiting tables at a maid café while Araragi monologues about her, but it remains entertaining nonetheless. In this way, Tsukimonogatari at once entertains both the ear and the eyes by delivering fantastic dialogue and engaging visuals, even when the two are unrelated.

Unfortunately, Tsukimonogatari holds another characteristic the series has become famous for: gross and gratuitous fanservice. If it wasn’t so fantastic on every other front, I’d have dropped Monogatari from the start due to this fanservice. Elementary and middle school girls are extremely sexualized, incest is teased, and our protagonist takes delight in staring at a little girl’s panties for an extended amount of time (Thankfully, they are never shown to us, which is unfortunately a step up from previous seasons). The amount of fanservice presented in this series is so high that I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone, at least not without a good bit of forewarning. Tsukimonogatari is no exception to this.

While it’s not one of my favorite arcs in the series, Tsukimonogatari manages to be a very solid and entertaining addition. Fans will likely be polarized on it due to the immense amount of dialogue and the fact that it was pretty much a filler arc. What made the Hanamonogatari OVA last year so great was how well it can stand on its own two feet. Tsukimonogatari, on the other hand, feels more like a segway into the upcoming season. It relies heavily on events from preceding arcs and leaves us with many more questions as opposed to a final conclusion. This may lower some fans’ enjoyment of the series, but it didn’t affect mine. It may be filler, but it was some of the best filler I’ve ever seen.


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