Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Through its many winding episodes, Monogatari has told stories of bloody sacrifices and narrow escapes, stories that shook the foundation of its world, stories that redefined how its heroes understood themselves. But not all of Monogatari's adventures are grand ones - in between their dramatic escapades, Araragi and his companions have also experienced many quiet moments, and wandering conversations between friends. Here in Koyomimonogatari, we witness a broad sampling of these quieter moments, and learn how even our idle digressions can hide poignant, universal truths.
Even for the defiantly, deliberately weird Monogatari franchise, Koyomimonogatari is a particularly strange entry. Originally released as a collection of short stories, it eschewed the Monogatari franchise's usual style to tell even smaller vignettes, stories that were so brief and lacking in structure they almost felt more like thought experiments conducted between Monogatari's characters. Reflecting its “Calendar Story” title, these twelve stories were scattered all across the timeline of Araragi's seriously eventful year, ranging from days after that fateful spring break to literally seconds before the beginning of Owarimonogatari's second season. And when adapted, these stories weren't treated like a conventional season - they were instead released specifically for phones, as a collection of fifteen minute micro-episodes that only now are packaged as any kind of meaningful whole.
And yet, in spite of all their chronological and structural and release format weirdness, once you start into these episodes, their style feels immediately natural. Monogatari has always been a story that builds larger philosophical or psychological points out of rambling conversations between quirky characters, and this season simply reduces that formula down to its barest form. Each of these episodes essentially covers one little thought experiment and one larger conversation, offering a mix of endearing idle banter between Monogatari's characters, scattered insights into other happenings in the world during Araragi's big year, and chewy, satisfying little parables.
Most of these stories reflect on Monogatari's general thematic obsessions; the ambiguity of truth, the variant ways we create meaning and reality, how our external and internal worlds reflect each other, etcetera. For example, the first episode is titled “Koyomi Stone,” and centers on a tiny, poorly constructed wooden structure housing an old stone at Araragi's school. Noticing this makeshift shrine has started to receive offerings, Araragi wonders to Hanekawa how this stone gained such meaning - if it was worshipped because it became an apparition, or if it became an apparition because it was worshipped. Preoccupied by this question, the knot is eventually untangled Gordian-style by Oshino, who reveals the answer is “your school had a woodshop elective two years ago, do the math.” The episode thus turns into a tidy parable about overthinking things that also reflects how meaning is created - the stone and the rock were individually meaningless, but together turned each other from loose lumber and a random rock into an object of worship. And in the end, after disposing of the shrine that he eventually remembers he himself created, Araragi realizes this isn't even a real stone - it's made of concrete.
Most of Koyomimonogatari's stories are like that; more idle thought experiments than fully realized narratives or didactic lessons, offering a combination of engaging conversations between Monogatari's well-established cast and neat little philosophical riddles to unravel. There's a story about a mysterious tree that reflects on our propensity towards groupthink and inherent fear of the unknown, and a story about a ghost that offers caution regarding how even our reverence for logical thinking can blind us to obvious truths. There are discussions that, without getting technical or unapproachable in the slightest, meditate on how the truth of an object is always a negotiation between signifier and signified, and even advice on the philosophy of the con from con master Kaiki himself. There's even an episode where Araragi spends most of the running time being carried around perched on Yotsugi's fingertip like some kind of exotic pet bird, sure to please whatever audience desires that particular absurd image.
Along with the engaging thought experiments, these episodes are also stuffed with goofy little tangents between the main characters, which are a bit more of a mixed bag. It's actually very rewarding to see Araragi and his friends hang out and communicate in a non-life threatening context; this show has built up these characters for many dozens of episodes, and at this point, simply watching them be the weird friends they are carries an inherent slice of life appeal. That said, the fact that these stories are all self-contained mini-narratives means the show doesn't really have the time to build up to its usual grand emotional climaxes; instead, there's a whole lot more silly banter and random fanservice, which plays out as inconsistently as ever. Though I did really enjoy when, after an episode of reflecting on how the different faces you might see when looking in a reflective pool all might indicate some fundamental truth of your temperament, Kanbaru responds to Araragi's “what do you see in the water” with “my boobs, of course.” Way to keep it real, Kanbaru.
Oddly enough, Koyomimonogatari's weakest episodes are actually those that directly reflect on the show's principle narrative, and set up the pieces for its Owari finale. These segments provide some important exposition and setup for the finale, but that's pretty much all they do; they're basically just preamble for the season to come, and lack the engaging conversations and strong thematic hooks of the more self-contained episodes. On top of that, the material they center on, regarding the movement of shrines and nature of energy pileups, has always been some of Monogatari's weakest. The show shines when it tethers its fantasy worldbuilding to emotional truths, but when it instead focuses on them as purely fantastical conceits with their own internal rules and whatnot, the narrative suffers.
Aesthetically, Koyomimonogatari sticks closely to the visual blueprint established across Tomoyuki Itamura's long tenure as Monogatari director. The show possesses all the head tilts and chapter breaks and generally crisp design work reflective of post-Oishi Monogatari, but is definitely more conservative in terms of both visual invention and animation than the show proper. These vignettes were designed for phone screens, and it shows; though there are occasional cute visual digressions or striking single images, these episodes are mostly a mix of talking heads and clean mid-distance shots, looking consistently polished and appealing, but rarely beautiful. The music is similarly “default Monogatari” - no standout soundtrack additions, just a sturdy mix of the same melodic themes that have carried the franchise this far.
Koyomimonogatari comes in Aniplex's standard slip case, containing the show on bluray, a collection of character art postcards, and the usual pamphlet breaking down the episode content. This particular pamphlet is significantly more noteworthy than usual, as in addition to the standard character art and episode summaries, this one also contains a timeline that slots all of Koyomimonogatari's episodes into their locations in the overarching Monogatari timeline. All in all, while you only actually need to see the last few episodes of this season to understand the beginning of Owarimonogatari Part Two, I'd say this collection as a whole is a humble but very worthwhile addition to the Monogatari canon. After spending all this time watching these kids suffer through adolescence, it's nice to sometimes just let them be a goofy, thoughtful group of weirdos.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Offers a mix of endearing idle conversations between Monogatari stars, compelling thought experiments, and ominous setup for the finale to come.
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