Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Owarimonogatari Second Season
The tale of Koyomi Araragi is finally coming to an end. After a series of winding adventures involving an immortal vampire, snake god, and all number of other apparitions, Araragi is actually finishing his tumultuous last year of high school. Of course, getting a passing grade on his college entrance exams won't matter if he's dead, and as Araragi wakes up, he finds he's already passed into the great beyond. Araragi has worked to save many dear friends over the course of his adventures, but his very willingness to defend others also reflects his own lack of self-regard. Can Araragi finally come to value his own life? At the end of it all, can Araragi save himself?
The Monogatari franchise has spiraled out over most of a decade now, with new episodes or short films coming out irregularly since 2009. Its story has grown to encompass many smaller stories, its initial focus on Araragi and his immediate friends ultimately twisting into scattered reflections on identity, abuse, aging, love, revenge, duty, and whatever else Nisioisin could think of. It's spun through five separate narrators, and danced among a variety of genres. And now, with these last three arcs of Owarimonogatari, it's finally coming to an end.
Nisioisin is already writing more Monogatari stories, of course, but in spite of the franchise's seeming immortality, this really does feel like a meaningful stopping point. As always, the characters themselves underline the narrative significance of the moment - Araragi himself frames this as the “end of my adolescence,” and everyone seems to understand that a major story is ending here. Resolving not only Araragi's academic struggles, but also the lingering stories of Mayoi, Ougi, and Shinobu, Owarimonogatari demonstrates an almost shocking degree of narrative cohesion. This story has wandered everywhere, but Owari makes it seem like it always knew where it was going.
The story opens with Araragi literally waking up in hell, having been dispatched by Gaen at the end of Koyomimonogatari. There he runs into Mayoi Hachikuji, a girl he never thought he'd see again, and learns that even his physical death was part of a larger plan. After a joyous and ridiculous reunion, the two of them set off through the winding paths of hell, witnessing endless visual marvels as they march towards freedom. It's a strange way to begin a final act, but like everything else in Owari S2, it ultimately feels like the only possible choice.
Owari S2 offers both a coherent ending to the Monogatari story, and also a welcome reprise of everything the franchise has offered so far. Araragi begins the story at the point his constant self-sacrifice would inevitably lead, having lost his own life due to his unwillingness to give up on others. From there, his journey through hell acts as both a literal interrogation of his past choices, and also a firm declaration of his own value. Passing by reenactments of scenes like his first meetings with Kiss-Shot and Senjougahara, Araragi wonders what mistakes he's made, before ultimately affirming the validity of his choices. As Araragi and Mayoi trudge past flying whales and vivid impressionistic backgrounds, Araragi begins to come to peace with his choices, his determination to escape reflecting the fact that he's beginning to value his own life. And then at the end of his path, he learns the full scope of Gaen's plan.
Of course, people can't change quite that easily - in fact, one of the central points of Owari S2 is that even as we grow, we are still the same people. Presented with a gift as grand as physical resurrection, Araragi immediately protests that there must be other, more deserving people. As always, it takes the support of a friend to push him further on his journey, and into an arc in a different genre altogether.
One of Owari S2's great strengths is that it offers an even sampling of nearly all of Monogatari's disparate tones. There's little action here (in fact, the animation is pretty conservative all around), but both the first and third arcs offer plenty of the silly banter the series is known for. The second arc, largely focused on Araragi and Senjougahara's final high school date, acts as a knowing reprise of their Bakemonogatari date, even down to the stargazing. The third offers reflections on Araragi's relationship with Shinobu, as well as direct debates on growing up and the distinction between rightness and goodness. Whether you enjoy Monogatari for its comedy, its romance, its psychological interrogations, or its philosophical ramblings, all of the franchise's pillars are well-represented here.
In addition to offering a satisfying sendoff to the show's various modes, Owari S2 also impresses through how neatly it addresses the franchise's many lingering threads. Some of these came in the form of direct narrative echoes - like the date between Araragi and Senjougahara, we also got a reunion of Araragi and the adult Kiss-Shot that clearly evoked their brief period of comradery in Kizumonogatari. The nature of the North Shirahebi Shrine ended up neatly dovetailing with a satisfying resolution to Mayoi's dilemma, and even Hanekawa's trip around the globe ends up being narratively indispensable. And in the end, it all comes together in a final confrontation at the old cram school, where Araragi and his finale opponent faced off at the true end of Araragi's adolescence.
Araragi's ultimate choice reflects both who he has always been and the man he's grown into, demonstrating both clear growth and the undeniable truth that makes others believe in him. Araragi finds a way to stay true to his self-sacrificing nature without letting that become a self-hating pathology, demonstrating the necessary self-love he's been avoiding for dozens of episodes. Owari S2 ends on a firm affirmation that we are all okay, and that we deserve to love ourselves for who we are. For a series based on grappling with our own demons and ultimately coming to know ourselves, believing we are all worthy of self-love is the most positive message imaginable.
Execution-wise, Owari S2 holds pretty close to the standard set by most recent Monogatari installments. Mayoi Hell is a particular standout, with its creative backgrounds, great expression work, and clever implementation of Hajime Ueda's stylized character art offering a unique vision of the underworld. The following two arcs are significantly more conservative, leaning heavily on still mid-distance shots and lacking much visual experimentation. The underlying narrative material is strong enough to survive the mediocre execution, but it's still disappointing that this release can't match the standard of something like Hanamonogatari. Owari S2's music is similarly middle-of-the-road - there are some fine orchestral tracks and reasonable electronic melodies, but nothing that actually drives the narrative or sets the tone on the level of Kaiki's theme.
Overall, Owari S2 offers a remarkably cohesive conclusion to the Monogatari saga, offering a mix of welcome reprises, narrative tying-offs, and thematic conclusions that collectively feel like exactly how this story had to end. I personally didn't feel these arcs matched the peaks of arcs like Hitagi End or Hanamonogatari, but those arcs had the benefit of only concerning themselves with their own narrative. In spite of its aesthetic failings, Owari S2 succeeds not just as a series of entertaining arcs, but as the capstone of a story eight years in the making. A modern classic has come to an end.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Offers a satisfying conclusion to basically every remaining Monogatari narrative, mixes great callbacks to key moments with a message aimed toward the future
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