Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 4th 2014
Sub.Blu-Ray 2 - Mayoi Jiangshi [Limited Edition]
Araragi is thinking about young ghost Mayoi when he travels into the past. He's time-travelling to get a little extra time to do his homework but he's thinking about Mayoi and her long-ago death and so instead of going back a single day he goes back eleven years, to the day before Mayoi was killed on her way to her mother's. He and Shinobu, whose powers he's using to trip through time, decide to take advantage of the situation and save Mayoi from her date with that kid-crushing truck. Much to their surprise—neither thought it'd actually be possible—they succeed. When they get back to the present, though, they discover that their little act of kindness has had some side effects. Like the end of the world.
When Monogatari wants to play around a little, go on a lark and have some fun, you know it can't do it like a normal show. A normal show would pack everyone off to a hot spring or go to the beach for sun and bikinis. Monogatari plays around with time-travel and ends the world. That's just the kind of show it is.
Make no mistake, though, Kabukimonogatari is a lark, albeit a Nisioisin-ish one. This is Monogatari taking a little time off (in a rather literal sense; all of this arc takes place in the artificial space/time created by Shinobu and Araragi's time travel so no time passes in the actual timeline of the show), setting aside the big changes and, really, consequences in general to just have a good old time mucking around with extreme story ideas. Thus we get a time travel saga melded rather novelly with a zombie apocalypse, yielding a dryly funny tale of cause and extreme consequence that delights in the turbulence it raises but ultimately retreats like the tide, leaving not a mark on the show's world.
Monogatari Series Second Season as a whole has a marked taste for bold character evolution and gimlet-eyed deconstruction, but Kabukimonogatari's pleasures are simpler, and yes, if we're being honest, shallower than that. Its pleasures are the pleasures of an imaginative writer allowed to indulge his imagination without rein: allowed to play butterfly-effect with the space-time continuum and ravage the world without worry that it'll screw up his ongoing plot. Nisioisin is quite clever in how he clips the arc off from the show's continuity. He uses an explanation for time-travel that is as good for voiding paradoxes and ensuring resetability as any I've encountered (and is scientifically sound to boot). And once clipped he's freed to be wryly, darkly extreme in his plotting. You know going in that Araragi and Shinobu's meddling will have unforeseen consequences, but the sheer monstrous scale of their cock-up is both horrifying and blackly funny, as is the pettiness, when discovered, of the trigger for the apocalypse.
There are plenty of other little pleasures as well: hearing Meme be his mysterious, manipulative self once more; ; meeting grown-up Mayoi; seeing the cast as children and watching Araragi's super-perv response to loli-Tsubasa, and Shinobu's equally pervy response to shota-Araragi (Monogatari is an equal-opportunity moe offender if nothing else). The dialogue retains its sinuous, oblique charm—wending its seemingly careless way through subjects as far afield as preferences in undeadness, the immutability of fate, and parallel realities, all with that peculiarly self-aware brand of wit. And then there are the more sizeable pleasures. Despite its sub-title ("Mayoi Jiangshi"), Shinobu is the heart of this particular arc, and she supplies a few good kernels of bittersweet feeling, first when she confesses the probable cause of the zombie apocalypse, and again during the finale, which opens a window into what she could become without her newly comfortable rapport with Araragi.
Piled together, all those little and medium pleasures add up to an undeniably enjoyable arc—quick and witty and unpredictable. But the pile is built around no central pleasure, no uniting concern, the way Nekomonogatari was built around Tsubasa's evolution or how Otorimonogatari will be built around the descent into Nadeko's psyche. And without that, Kabukimonogatari can't help but feel a little empty, like a narrative experiment more clever than profound, with more cheek than insight.
There's not a whole lot left to say about Akiyuki Shinbo's approach to the show. It's gorgeous and disorientingly inventive, keeping our eyes busy while the characters erect their towers of babble and matching Nisioisin's experimental writing with its own experimentations. Notable sequences include a breathtaking vertical flight from the zombie menace, some Tex Avery-influenced perversion, and the hypnotic abstraction of Meme's time-travel explication, but really, every scene is equally stunning. Shinbo makes good use of eerie emptiness in the post-apocalyptic episodes and flexes an unusual amount of animation muscle for the characters' expressions (the looks of lust on Araragi and Shinobu's faces while they're being super-pervs are deadly, and the play of emotions across the finale's adult Shinobu is lethal in whole different way), but otherwise this is the same Monogatari you've always known. Only with a lot less fan-service. Dammit.
Satoru Kousaki's score is also pretty much unchanged: simple, expressive, and at its best when turning its simplicity towards atmospheric ends. It remains most remarkable for how much it does with so little.
Equally consistent is Aniplex's treatment of the show. If you've been following their Monogatari releases, you know the song: two Blu-rays, with the four episodes split evenly across them; an extremely nice color booklet, mostly full of character art and synopses/intros, but also with welcome translations of the preview text; a collection of Monogatari postcards drawn by a variety of artists; minimal on-disc extras. On-disc this time are clean versions of the OP and ED (both more visually accomplished than musically), the usual CM and PV collections, and the series' second recap episode. As before, though, what you're really paying for is the video transfer, which is fabulous.
Even if Kabukimonogatari does feel a little hollow, you should enjoy this light(ish) little respite while it lasts. The arcs coming down the pike aren't nearly so playful or kindhearted.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Combines time travel and the zombie apocalypse in a way that refreshes both; clever, adventurous, and surprising; nice dry sense of fun; Shinobu gets some good scenes.
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