Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Kizumonogatari Part 2: Nekketsu
It seems like an impossible task. Having been revived by the vampire Kiss-Shot, Koyomi Araragi must help her retrieve what she has lost - her limbs, all stolen by the vampire hunters who brought her down. Even though Araragi now has a vampire's powers, he has no idea how to use them. How can he possibly hope to bring down the killers who defeated a legendary vampire? With his classmate Hanekawa wandering dangerously close to the truth, Araragi has more on his mind than just survival. Sweat will fly and blood will spill in the second act of Kizumonogatari!
The key moment of Kizumonogatari Nekketsu comes after its second battle, after Araragi has just faced the half-vampire, Episode. Episode is defeated and almost killed, but Araragi can't relish the victory. Instead, he's curled up and screaming, huddled over the body of his classmate Hanekawa. Hanekawa was wounded in the fight beyond repair, her guts flying free and blood arcing in a vast circle, like a bullseye with her corpse at the center. Crouched over that body, Araragi does the one thing he can; stabbing deep into his own gut, he lets his vampire blood wash the death away.
That moment combines extreme violence and clammy, uncomfortable intimacy, the central pillars of this film. There's something primal and grotesquely sexual about Araragi's act - an exchange of fluids that shouldn't mesh, a raw and literal expulsion of his life into hers. Araragi's despair at Hanekawa's fate isn't rendered with lovely pathos. It's ugly and screeching and flecked with spit, dominated by a panic in his choking pleas to Meme Oshino. Hanekawa's injury isn't beautiful either, from the carefully rendered intestines to the way it painfully distorts a sexuality that's inescapable in every other scene. Araragi's sacrifice isn't beautiful, but it is beautifully rendered. It isn't heroic, but it is honest.
Honest seems like an odd word to describe this film. The actual narrative is fantastical madness, more a fable or fairy tale than a standard plot. With both its head and tail lopped off by a three-film structure, this is pure meat - all three of Araragi's opponents are faced in this installment, through increasingly desperate fights with physical stakes that become more and more abstract. Each fight offers its own treasures, but each fight is also defined by sacrifice. The violence is beautiful, but it's also too detailed to keep your stomach from turning.
The fight against Dramaturgy is the most traditional action sequence, making for a convenient template to cover Kizumonogatari's myriad aesthetic strengths. Nekketsu opens with a flash-forward to that battle, where thunderous clouds and pouring rain make an apocalypse of Araragi's high school. Nekketsu's sound design is possibly its most impressive feature - the sharp and propulsive instrumental track is one thing, but you can almost feel the rain for how well this film captures its presence. Araragi's moves are breathless, and we hear his breath. Araragi's footsteps are ragged, and we hear the squeal of sneaker on tile. Like his bloody sacrament, there's no poetry in Araragi's aural presence but the poetry of honesty. Even if we don't agree with Araragi's actions, the sights and sounds of his reality make his choices real.
The Dramaturgy fight also astonishes as a traditional display of action choreography. It opens with a bit of light humor, as Araragi attempts to put up a half-remembered martial arts stance, then swiftly has one of his arms severed entirely. Gaping and screaming, our partially dismembered hero stumbles around his school, the camera using the walls and desks of the classrooms to sculpt tremendously impactful layouts. Dramaturgy's presence is huge - he's three times Araragi's size, so their physical exchanges are a study in unusual character acting. Everything is beautifully rendered through Kizumonogatari's reliably loose cuts, and the conclusion feels utterly earned. It's easily one of the best fights I've seen in anime.
But fights are far from Nekketsu's only asset. The movie is a constant negotiation between violence and sexuality, with Hanekawa's increasing presence making for an awkwardly intimate drama. There have been times in the past where you could partition Monogatari titles: this arc focuses heavily on its philosophy, this arc is bawdy sex jokes, this arc is equal parts intimate character study and physical comedy. Nekketsu doesn't allow for such convenient compartmentalization, because it's all of these things all at once.
What that means is unless you're comfortable with a film gratuitously embracing such sexual extremes, there will be some tough scenes to survive in this one. Hanekawa's design is greatly distorted compared to the television series, with oversized breasts and constant low-angle shots. It's impossible to avoid the screen's constant objectification of her character, but this being Monogatari, sexuality doesn't exist purely for its own sake.
To put it bluntly, the two main characters of Nekketsu are incredibly horny, and the film is horny along with them. Araragi and Hanekawa's banter is laden with innuendo so heavy it verges on desperation, and each of them have repeated scenes of simply marveling at the other's body. Monogatari is about many things, but one of its central concerns is teenagers on the verge of sexuality, where their hormones and bodies are weapons they aren't yet certain how to control. Nekketsu's treatment of its characters' sexual urges is like a kiss that ends in teeth banging on teeth - embarrassing and amateurish, but undeniably earnest.
The film's comedy is also a consistent thread, fortunately far more effective here than it often is in the television series. In spite of the high stakes and bloody conflicts, I was laughing consistently through this film - its top-tier direction and sound design don't just enliven its fights and frolicking, they also bring many of its silly gags to life. Some of the comedy is Looney Tunes-esque physical stuff, like when Shinobu demonstrates how to eat her own leg. Others are based in wordplay or character personalities, like the ways Hanekawa consistently sends up Araragi's martyr complex. Nekketsu's kaleidoscopic tone actually makes its humor feel naturally integrated with the whole; sometimes we cry in relief, sometimes we cry in pain, and sometimes we cry because we're laughing too hard to stop.
Not everything in Nekketsu works, which is understandable for a film that tries to do absolutely everything. The film's focus on character interiority as expressed through sound and vision can't quite match the first film, which was almost solely dedicated to that pursuit. Instead, this is a more conventional movie - there are fight scenes, there are romance scenes, and there's a dramatic confrontation at the end. Some of the film's visual tricks felt more self-indulgent, like the ways the second fight undercuts its own seriousness with one gaudy repeated shot. The film's treatment of its characters' sexuality is unabashedly anime, from the over-the-top focus on panties to the ridiculous portrayal of Hanekawa's breasts. While both of these characters are driven in part by their untamed hormones, it's possible to convey that without devaluing the characters, and I don't think Nekketsu consistently succeeded in doing that.
For all these hiccups, Nekketsu is still rich beyond belief. Its combination of visual experimentation and pure animation acumen is ridiculous - not only is this film blessed with some of the best action choreography and character acting imaginable, but those highlights exist within a restless frame that's never willing to settle on one version of reality. The film's ostentatious use of real-life footage and CG environments makes its whole world an artificial stage, and yet the story being told on that stage is intensely personal. If any story would be negatively impacted by artificial visual devices, it'd be one trying to place you in a character's head - and yet that's exactly what Nekketsu consistently attempts.
All of this aesthetic wonder is somehow attached to a story that's actually worthy of its presence. Kizumonogatari's narrative peccadilloes are as questionable as its protagonists, but it ultimately tells a multilayered story of identity, personal connection, and the nature of being human. Araragi crosses a bridge of identity with every fight he undergoes, ultimately embracing something unmistakably inhuman to fight a human opponent capable of monstrous actions. Every word shared by Araragi and Hanekawa echoes their unspoken traumas, the feelings that make them capable of such unthinking selflessness. Araragi's one combat ability also reflects his fundamental nature - he may not be strong or smart or gallant or wise, but he is cursed with an endless capacity to give too much of himself, to bleed himself dry again and again.
Kizumonogatari II's packaging matches the first film's high quality release. The film comes in a sturdy cardboard case, this one echoing the film's own blue motif. That case contains a collection of postcards featuring character art, along with a small paper booklet. That booklet may be the greatest prize of this collection, filled as it is with interviews and reflections from key film staff. Famed character designer Akio Watanabe offers direct commentary on the designs of Kizumonogatari II's three villains, providing a welcome look into the interplay of character designer and director Oishi. Those comments are followed by an interview-slash-conversation featuring animation director Hideyuki Morioka and unit director Yukihiro Miyamoto (who also directed the Madoka Rebellion film).
Their commentary is a trove of great details regarding the production process, which really emphasize the collaborative nature of the film's success. Miyamoto describes Oishi as specifically instructing them that “it's fine if things differ from the storyboards” - that if the animators created something which might become the highlight of a particular battle, it was perfectly fine if that sequence outran its allotted time. They also describe how animation duties were split based on focus characters, and a variety of other neat details, like Oishi's tendency to actually record himself acting out the kinds of motions he wished to capture for big scenes. The booklet's last major inclusion is another great one - specific commentary by a series of key animators on major sequences they handled in the film. Overall, this booklet alone makes this collection a strong consideration for anyone interesting in the creator side of anime production.
The actual film is housed in a standard bluray case, which also contains the second part of the trilogy's original soundtrack. There are no meaningful on-disc extras, but the combination of solid packaging, soundtrack, and booklet creator commentary still make this a commendable collection.
Kizumonogatari II is an astonishing film, and this a very worthy release. It's a testament to animation's power to bring flawed people to life. It's draped in bodily fluids and festooned in every excess that anime can provide. It's ugly, incomplete, and ostentatiously beautiful. It is one of a kind.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : A+
Art : A-
Music : A+
+ Tells a thrilling and deeply personal story, bringing its characters' pain and pleasure to life through unparalleled animation and sound design
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