Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 27th 2014
Sub.Blu-Ray - Tsubasa Tiger [Limited Edition]
On her way to school one day Tsubasa Hanekawa meets a tiger. An enormous, snow-white, talking tiger. That afternoon her house burns down. Her first night of homelessness she sleeps in the abandoned school building where Araragi, currently off on an unknown mission, makes his base. When a distraught Senjōgahara tracks her down, she agrees to stay Senjōgahara's for the night. The following day Senjōgahara scams Araragi's sisters into sheltering Hanekawa for the remainder of her homelessness. That night the abandoned school burns down. Realizing that the tiger apparition is torching her resting places, Hanekawa must discover the origin of the feline arsonist and thwart it before its flames reach their next target: her best friend's home.
NisiOisin and Akiyuki Simbo dip once more into the life of unnaturally even-keeled Tsubasa Hanekawa, continuing the process of enriching and complicating her pointedly unnatural persona. Being the third time the series has put Hanekawa under the microscope, Nekomonogatari: White necessarily lacks the freshness of previous Hanekawa installments—there are no startling insights here, merely a furthering of points already made—but what the arc lacks in novelty it makes up for in pure, satisfying emotional evolution.
Like any Monogatari story, White is basically a long series of conversations. The difference this time being that the person meeting and talking to everyone is not Araragi but Hanekawa. Hanekawa talking to Senjōgahara. Hanekawa talking to Karen and Tsukihi. Black Hanekawa talking to Shinobu. Hanekawa talking to Black Hanekawa. Like all Monogatari conversations they are meandering, eclectic things, collecting ponderings on food and justice and love and family, wandering down dead-end paths and whimsical detours, delighting in the use and play and occasional dissection of words, banging opposing viewpoints together to see what shakes out, delving deep into Senjōgahara's view of Hanekawa and Hanekawa's view of herself, following Hanekawa as she turns inward in her search for the pyromaniac apparition, realizing along the way that something deep and fundamental must change lest she go on cleaving parts of herself, creating, as the apparition himself puts it, "a vast army of monsters, as she herself stays pure white."
It's when she attempts that change that White hits its one big stumble. (That is, its one unique stumble; all of Monogatari's ongoing stumbles—the hyperverbality, the fondness for anime archetypes, the persistent emotional distance—are still out in force.) To get to that stumble we must first return to Araragi, or more specifically, to his absence. He's simply not a part of this story, which is one of its primary delights. Not because we don't like him or don't miss him, but because it changes things up, providing the series with new, non-Araragi combinations of conversational partners and allowing the strong female cast to take center stage, steering the story with their own hands and applying their own wisdom and their own abilities to their own problems. Which is why it's such a disappointment when, even after another character has specifically stated that only Hanekawa can resolve the tiger issue, Araragi pops in at the very last minute to rescue Hanekawa and resolve the tiger issue. It's such a clumsy, stupid, obvious move that it very nearly sours the whole experience.
And it would have if it wasn't also the catalyst for the arc's emotional resolution, which finds a reassembled Hanekawa finally bracing her feelings for Araragi. It's a lovely, bittersweet sequence: formerly impervious Hanekawa, having gathered her orphaned emotions and embraced her messy humanity, putting her newly vulnerable heart to the ultimate test. It's the closest yet that the series has gotten to closing the emotional distance that habitually haunts it, and for that we can forgive a blunder or two. Even one as unforgivably blundery as this.
Simbo is nothing if not consistent when helming Monogatari. Visually this installment is closer to the bright surrealism of Nisemonogatari than it is to the dark fabulism of Nekomonogatari: Black, but the essentials stay the same: wildly fragmented editing, dryly funny violations of continuity, inventive effects (Black Hanekawa's flights are communicated by mashing the locations she passes into a dizzying montage), and settings that are as much expressions of subjective mood as they are comprehensible real-life spaces—all adding up to a look that synergizes perfectly with NisiOisin's equally experimental storytelling. This time out there is less action—all of it given over the Black Hanekawa, who spars spectacularly with the tiger—and not so much spooky atmosphere, meaning that Satoru Kousaki's pleasingly spare score doesn't get as many chances to be eerily beautiful. The fan-service continues to be a lesson in lasciviousness done with art and class—mainly during Hanekawa's stay at Senjōgahara's, which is basically one long feast of world-class titillation. About the worst thing you can say about the series' presentation is that the animators clearly haven't studied tiger anatomy and locomotion as thoroughly as they've studied those of lovely women.
Aniplex's Monogatari releases aren't cheap—even with discounts, this set works out to about twelve bucks an episode—but they're worth every penny. The set comes in a snapcase fitted into a nice cardboard slipcover, with enough spare space to fit in both a lovely color booklet and a collection of seven excellent postcards, illustrated by a variety of artists. The booklet is mostly plot synopses and character bios but looks great and features invaluable translations of the text in the next-episode previews.
On disc are your clean OP (very nice), clean ED (shrug), PVs and CMs (double shrug) and also the recap episode that separated Nekomonogatari: White from Kabukimonogatari in the original broadcast (located in the extras section, where wastes of space belong). Again, though, what makes these discs worth the damage is their video quality. The episodes are divided across two blu-rays—three on the first, three on the second if you count the recap—which allows for an absolutely pristine transfer: sharp as a fresh-stropped razor, blemishless as a newborn babe's bottom. You can't even look at other companies' hi-def releases after watching one of these.
The decision to package each of the series' individual arcs in its own set, by the by, is absolutely brilliant. It makes each one a satisfyingly self-contained experience and, not incidentally, allows you to cleanly skip whichever arcs you don't care for.
If you think of the Hanekawa stories as a Nekomonogatari trilogy, then this is the concluding installment. It leaves our heroine happier and more whole, a different and better (certainly more human) person than she began: at peace with the world and herself, her major conflicts all nicely tied up. If you aren't a Hanekawa fan going in, you will be coming out.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Big, satisfying developments for Hanekawa; puts the strong female cast front and center; as gorgeous and clever as ever; top-shelf treatment from Aniplex.
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