Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Sub.Blu-Ray 4 - Shinobu Time
Just hours after the events of Mayoi Jiangshi, Mayoi and Araragi once again find themselves in one of their rambling, ridiculous conversations, when suddenly the pair are confronted with a malevolent Nothingness. They can't see it, they can't not see it, they can't fight it, they can only run. After escaping with the help of Yotsugi, Araragi struggles to discover the true nature of this strange apparition - but after Shinobu relates her own tragic encounters with the Nothingness, he learns that this may be the first challenge that is truly beyond him. Some monsters can't be defeated by running away, or even by facing your fears. Sometimes you have to say goodbye.
Monogatari isn't just one stable show, with a central narrative and single genre you can use to describe it. It is many shows at once, meaning any given “Monogatari fan” can absolutely love one arc and have no interest in the next. One arc will be a slow-burning exorcism narrative, the next will be a thoughtful journey through a character's psychology… and the third will be a bunch of go-nowhere banter and loli-molesting jokes. Season two is largely about saying goodbye to childish things, but before the show can send off Mayoi Hachikuji, it has to once more indulge in everything that makes her (and Araragi by extension) one of Monogatari's most polarizing elements. So I hope you like self-indulgent wordplay, jokes about groping kids, and fanservice in general, because Shinobu Time features all of that in spades.
Shinobu Time's narrative is one of the simplest Monogatari stories - Araragi, Mayoi, Yotsugi, and Shinobu are chased by an unknowable darkness, which is slowly given context through stories from all of Araragi's companions. That bare-bones frame leaves plenty of room for stuff like Araragi and Mayoi discussing the differences between slugs and snails, or Araragi professing his desire to molest all the girls as they run around and tut-tut his lecherous ways. Mayoi and Araragi's relationship has been largely static from the end of their first adventure together, so there's no real character development being dug at here - it's pure indulgence, meaning you'll either be laughing at Monogatari pulling the same dumb jokes it's always pulled or finding the whole affair both dull and creepy. There's no way around it - the first three-quarters of Shinobu Time features some of Monogatari's most brazenly meaningless, self-indulgent, and fetish-pandering material.
It also features one of the show's most rewarding visual gifts. Daiki Konno has been making a name for himself as Shaft's go-to artist when it comes to ornate visual turns, and Onimonogatari stars his most ambitious and beautiful work yet - a tremendous scrolling tapestry that conveys the story of Shinobu's first visit to Japan, the initial source of her loneliness and despair. This scroll is an absolute wonder, and is perhaps one of the most pure expressions of what Monogatari often is - ornate, untrustworthy tale-telling set to beautiful, dramatically exaggerated backgrounds. The scroll is rich with color and detail in a classic style rarely seen in anime, and it does great work in elevating a Shinobu origin story that already lends itself to the embellishments of a coyote-esque tall tale. If the first three quarters of Shinobu Time have any emotional weight to them, it is in their constant evocation of the loneliness that informs the bond between Araragi and Shinobu, and the second episode's tapestry gives her condition all the gravity and beauty it could hold.
The show's usual visual storytelling techniques are all on display, as well. The way the color schemes and lighting shift in tune with Araragi's emotional states are a classic but always effective choice, and the show's use of shadow and sharply defined color palettes makes any given screenshot a rewarding exercise in composition and framing. Of particular note is the way Shinobu's red-white-yellow color scheme and angular design is used to inform backgrounds and architecture, as well as the evocative inversions of color and grayscale moments used to convey tension or awful realizations. The moment Araragi realizes Shinobu is missing, the color disappears from his world. When Izuko Gaen arrives, she carries all the colors of the rainbow with her.
The visual portrayal of the nothingness that is pursuing our heroes is also evocative, and the direction of the moments when they have to scramble to escape perfectly conveys their panic and speed. Like Hanekawa meeting the tiger or Nadeko panicking on the telephone, Shinobu Time knows how to convey a panicked character's headspace. And the music is also as consistent as ever, using a mix of sharp strings, soft, jazzy keys, and occasional unsettling electronic tracks to ably match the mood of the production. This arc may be largely dedicated to the characters doing a whole lot of nothing, but it at least demonstrates that Monogatari can make nothing pretty aesthetically compelling. The animation here is limited, but the art design is top notch.
Fortunately, after three episodes of molestation jokes and circular banter, the arc's last episode demonstrates something else - a remarkable sensitivity, and actual gracefulness. Most of Monogatari's big emotional moments have been loud and cathartic, but this episode brings to mind something more like the rightly famous “I'll give you the stars” scene from Bakemonogatari. Monogatari is a story about growing up and becoming yourself, and sometimes that entails letting go or saying goodbye. Araragi is often difficult to like as a person, but his internal struggle is articulated well. And this arc's ending features him at his most sympathetic, as his central flaw (a constant desire to sacrifice of himself in order to save others) runs up against a challenge it cannot overcome.
From his initial denial of the way this must end, through the way his final protestations to Mayoi come across as a kind of selfishness, Araragi's fatal flaw has never been more poignant than here. And Mayoi sells the scene as well, with her slow breakdown of composure demonstrating how she's been a kind of rock to Araragi so far. Both Araragi and Mayoi grow up a bit in this arc, and considering they're both close to my least favorite characters in Monogatari, the fact that their parting is so moving is a credit to the writing, the production team, and the standout vocal performances. Monogatari is a story about liars and why they lie - because they're not ready to grow up, because they can't accept a hard truth, because they care too much to accept what they cannot change. Here, at the end of all the lies and indulgence, Shinobu Time finally arrives at a beautiful moment of sincerity and loss.
Shinobu Time's packaging is as beautiful as the rest of the Monogatari releases, coming in a sturdy slip case and including a set of postcards, summary booklet (complete with Fire Sisters scripts), and a lovely mini-size wall scroll featuring the Tale of Kiss-Shot. Overall, Shinobu Time is certainly one of the weaker Monogatari arcs, containing far too much of Monogatari's most creepy, indulgent elements and not enough narrative to back it up, but it's somewhat redeemed by its usual stellar aesthetics and a legitimately moving ending. And with the Mayoi-Shinobu sub-arcs of season two concluded, the stage is finally set for the dramatics of Hitagi End.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Monogatari's aesthetics are as distinctive and beautiful as ever; moving finale demonstrates Araragi and Mayoi at their absolute best.
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