The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Monogatari has returned! Following on the heels of one of the show's weakest arcs so far, I was a little worried the show was heading into a downward arc - but fortunately, the first double-length episode of Owarimonogatari easily put those fears to rest. This episode is essentially a self-contained “mystery,” where Araragi and Ougi Oshino find themselves locked in a mysterious classroom. Araragi eventually admits that he recognizes this classroom as the place where he once, back in freshman year, bore witness to a strange trial among his classmates. And so, prompted by Ougi, Araragi slowly reveals the circumstances that led to a kind of social witch hunt in his first year of high school, ending in the downfall of his class president Sodachi Oikura and the beginning of Araragi's own antisocial decline.
As always, the route towards those revelations is depicted through long, circuitous conversations, as Araragi and Ougi essentially pace around each other, neither truly trusting the other. Ougi has been positioned as Monogatari's most clear antagonist for a while now, a seemingly inhuman figure who exists to prod at the insecurities of the main cast and unintentionally lead them to ruin. Trapped in a room with Araragi, she becomes his personal tormentor, attacking his ideals, his past fears, and even his sense of personal security. There's a great physicality to this double-episode that nicely undermines the way Araragi normally feels so confident in himself. Instead of him being the confident lech, here he's constantly being hemmed in by Ougi, his personal space invaded by a figure whose movements never feel quite human, and whose insights about his psyche seem guided by information she clearly should not possess.
This game of emotional cat and mouse is aided greatly by Kaori Mizuhashi's vocal performance. Her Ougi oozes confidence and ridicule, with her singsong lines alternately lightly mocking Araragi's feelings or driving in the knife. She echoes lines other characters have earnestly imparted on Araragi - “all people can do is save themselves,” “there's no need for you to shoulder so much,” etcetera - but in her voice, these lines become empty jokes. And that subversion of Araragi's beliefs carries over to the ways she manipulates his past, leaving him by the end of this episode primed for an insecure return to the relationship that initially cast him adrift from self-confidence and even self-love.
This assault on Araragi's identity plays nicely into where Monogatari is at overall, as well. We're reaching the point where Araragi's need to move past his high school identity is becoming an inescapable problem, meaning it's the perfect time to bring up the ghosts that brought Araragi to who he is now. The ominous clock that opened Tsukimonogatari's narrative is here given significance as a marker of school's end, a token relevant to this episode's central flashback that also reflect the end of Araragi's school life altogether. And learning about how Araragi came to disregard school adds some nice melancholy context to his current struggles with studying for college exams.
Beyond the serious meat of the storytelling, Owarimonogatari also represents the Monogatari series in top visual form. Almost the entire episode takes places within a single classroom, but the show uses that set in all manner of inventive ways, alternating framing the room as a prison cell, a courtroom, and occasionally a vessel flying through galaxies of purple and blue. Ougi and Araragi are framed as trapped within either shadows or the geometry of the class, and as the mood shifts between them, the episode's color schemes shift as well. The threat of Ougi is also nicely represented through her physicality, as her snakelike motions, unblinking eyes, and constant impositions into Araragi's proximity make her a looming presence even when the show isn't actively casting her shadow halfway across the room or framing shots from beneath her corpse-white chin.
Overall, this double episode represents a strong return to form for Monogatari, and promises an arc full of compelling new variables to come. Sixty-some episodes in, Monogatari is still finding new ways to demonstrate it's one of the sharpest shows around.
Owarimonogatari is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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