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by Nick Creamer,



Long before Koyomi Araragi ran into a girl as light as a feather, long before he crossed paths with a lost snail or tangled with a jealous monkey or got bitten by an angry snake, even before a girl shared her misery with a dying cat, there was a golden-haired woman under the streetlight, dying in a pool of blood. Calling out to the ordinary high-school boy, the woman demanded he save her - commanded him to offer her his own blood. And though he was frightened and confused and knew better, Araragi stepped towards the woman, surrendering his life for the first of what would become far too many times. And so begins the Wound Tale, a story of blood and sacrifice and misspent trust, a story that ends in misery for everyone.

Kizumonogatari has become something of a white whale in anime fandom. First announced for adaptation half a decade ago, the anime has idled in stasis over the course of the publication and subsequent anime adaptation of numerous other Monogatari properties. Bakemonogatari's director Tatsuya Oishi seemed to drop off the planet, allegedly working on Kizu behind the scenes as he put in next to no appearances elsewhere. Fans who'd read Kizu often stated it was crucial for appreciating the context of the series overall; and considering it was the first chronological story of the series, the one that explained the first meetings of several of the show's primary characters, that didn't seem like an unfair claim. And now, here at the tail end of 2015, we're receiving the Kizu bounty all at once - not only is the film actually on schedule for release, but even the novel itself has been translated and released. So after all this time, is it true that reading Kizumonogatari is an indispensable part of the Monogatari experience?

Well, not really. But indispensability aside, Kizu is both a great read and a lovely piece of added perspective on the series, both in terms of actual narrative context and in terms of understanding the complex relationship between the books and anime. If you're into Monogatari, you're into it for the long haul - after three televisions series and three OVAs, if you want to know if Kizu is worth a pickup, the answer is “definitely yes.” Yes to Monogatari fans, and a more hesitant yes to general fans of young adult fantasy - though in that case, I'd still say Bakemonogatari is a better starting point.

But this is Monogatari, so there's obviously more to explore beyond the product sell. So what makes Kizu special, what makes it different, what makes it tick? Let's dive right into it.

Right off the bat, it's clear the Monogatari anime has done a stellar job of maintaining the narrative tone of the series. The show's style of interiority is maintained and even elevated in prose, unsurprisingly - interiority is one of longform fiction's greatest strengths, after all. Araragi's descriptions of his world and headspace come across as far more consistently lyrical than the anime (which already has some of the best dialogue in that medium), which is a definite credit to the translators. The silly jokes that often drag out whole scenes in animation are here just tiny asides, and Araragi's self-assigned role as the straight man is actually somewhat validated through the brevity of the comic bits. Araragi is still a lech, and his preoccupation with boobs can still take a hatchet to the narrative/emotional tension at times, but that stuff neither dominates the material nor seems out of place for his character.

As in the series, the narrative mostly takes the form of an insecure running conversation, with Araragi's descriptions generally focusing far more on his own thoughts or mental responses to what others do than traditional descriptions of action or scenery. This style of prose adds some nice context to the anime's decision to use backgrounds more as stage play scenery, emotional touchstones, or simply beautiful images than as a grounded place; the source material never really valued scenery, so the anime is free to use it to its best and least grounded visual effect. In spite of its rambling tone, the story also moves very well. Kizumonogatari is a far more conventional story than most Monogatari arcs, with that opening hook of Araragi meeting Kissshot leading into a series of actual villains Araragi has to fight, a tangible set of objectives, some twists, some betrayals, and everything else you might expect from a young adult page-turner. Compared to the purely character-focused nature of an arc like Suruga Devil or Sodachi Riddle, Kizu is a fast-paced and breezy read.

And yet, in spite of that structural surprise, the story definitely “feels” very Monogatari at all times. The character voice is excellent, as is the dialogue, and as are the limits of character perspective. This is best illustrated through the story's use of Hanekawa - she shows up consistently here, and establishes a strong and very strange friendship with Araragi, but it's clear at all times that he has next to no clue as to what drives her. Hanekawa's actions come off as alternately baffling, heroic, and even frightening to Araragi, both because he lacks context and because he's just not a very emotionally intelligent person. But to either a neutral observer or (particularly) a Monogatari enthusiast, her every action here is laden with sad, self-destructive intention. Everything Araragi would eventually become is clear in his unbalanced relationships with Hanekawa and Kissshot, and everything Hanekawa would eventually struggle against is obvious in the ways her model student facade strains against an underlying desperation and violence.

As usual, Monogatari's focus on adolescent identity extends to the awkward flailings of young sexuality. Araragi's girl obsession creeps up in sometimes regrettable ways throughout, but the one major scene that might be considered “fanservice” on the whole was actually one of my favorites in this book. The Monogatari anime is generally careful about framing sexuality through the eyes of its characters, but it can at times come off as lecherous in universal, non-character based terms. Here, when the teenage protagonists really are trying to talk themselves into intimacy, the scene comes off as fumbling and mutually embarrassing. Monogatari is a story about uncomfortable, hormonal teenagers, and it's great to see that even the source material respects the honesty of that experience.

Beyond its base merits as a smoothly written young adult novel about blood and sex and whatnot, the way Kizumonogatari fits into the show's current chronology also makes it a fascinating artifact. Ideas that would come up in Bakemonogatari through the very latest episodes of Owarimonogatari are all touched on and reflected here, right at the beginning of everything. Nadeko's embrace of and subsequent rise above “playing the victim” appears as a quality of Araragi here, as does the “cruelty of kindness” that Kanbaru speaks of when lecturing Shinobu. Conflicting ideas of sacrifice and the meaning of suicide are contrasted between Araragi and Shinobu's first servant, and the meaning of having Araragi's aberration be the self-destructive vampire is directly explored. Hanekawa's flawed image of normality, the distance between humans and monsters, imposition into another's life as a form of love, relationships of mutual trust based on codependency, the human need to trust in others, sexuality as it pertains to identity… nearly every idea Monogatari will later interrogate shows up in one form or another through these pages, implying a bewildering net of layered intention that informs the entire series.

These ideas aren't just mentioned and discarded - most of Kizu's thematic interests are physically illustrated through the underlying progression of the narrative, as Araragi's trials demand more of him and demonstrate new truths about the relationship between himself, Shinobu, and Hanekawa. Though you could probably guess most of the events of this novel from the context provided by the anime series, Kizu still offers an excellent perspective on the overall story, and is worth reading purely to contrast the prose's strengths against the anime's as well.

As a standalone novel, Kizu definitely loses most of the context that makes it so rich to an existing Monogatari fan. In spite of that, it's still a smoothly written story with an idiosyncratic, almost Haruki Murakami-esque voice and a compelling central narrative. There are certainly points when the story can drag if you're not a natural fan of Araragi's voice, but most of the base material is quite good. It's also just an easy read (enormous credit to the English translator Ko Ransom) - three hundred large-print pages is a quick adventure, even if it's written more in a classic novel style than the dialogue-centric light novel convention. Overall, I strongly recommend Kizu to any existing fans of Monogatari, and tentatively recommend it to those who haven't checked out the series, but would prefer to start with prose instead of anime. Either way, I am happy Kizu has finally arrived.

Overall : A-

+ A great prose voice, strong central narrative, and endless thematic echoes make this a rich experience for Monogatari fans and likely a fun one even for newcomers.
Araragi's internal monologues can drag at times, some of his horny teenager talk is abrasive or tension-killing, and it's definitely a more rewarding experience for existing Monogatari fans.

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Story: NisiOisin
Licensed by: Vertical

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