by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Most of Monogatari's cast began this series in a state of terrible isolation, either socially or emotionally. Hanekawa put up a brave face, but when it came to dealing with her home life, she had no one to turn to. Senjougahara pushed people away with violence, or clung to them with a ferocity born of self-denial. Nadeko hid in fear behind her mask, and Mayoi and Shinobu wandered the streets or crouched in the corner respectively. And right at the center of all this unhappiness, Araragi stood alone as well, existing absent of love from others and from himself.
Things have changed over the course of these arcs and seasons. Characters have come to understand themselves better, and that self-understanding has helped them move outside themselves, as well. Hanekawa has most clearly embodied this, with her many run-ins with the supernatural eventually leading her to become a likely next-generation specialist. But nearly everyone in the cast has learned to rely on others, and the beauty of their now sturdy relationships was on full display in this final, terrific episode of Owarimonogatari.
Feeling insecure about his bond with Shinobu and upcoming duel, Araragi opened this episode by doing something his old self never could have - calling a friend for help. Araragi has traditionally been defined by his tendency towards isolated self-sacrifice, but this time, he gave his lover Senjougahara a call, and asked for her advice. He first asked Senjougahara how it had felt to hear about Kanbaru's feelings for her, wanting to get some perspective on what Shinobu might be going through. And, blunt as ever, Senjougahara responded that they had felt like a burden - but that if she were to get together with Kanbaru, she'd “have to become someone who could bear the weight of her feelings.” Taking this line of logic further, Senjougahara later said that if someone with better qualifications were to confess to her, she'd “switch to that guy 100%.”
That line initially seemed cold, but her explanation for it was wonderful. “An absolute bond, when you think about it, is actually scary. That's why you need to work hard, so you don't get dumped for someone else.” Senjougahara and Araragi shouldn't each assume the other will always love them, and take that for granted. The characters of Monogatari have seen too much to believe anything lasts forever. But that doesn't mean they don't care for each other - in fact, it's because they want to keep caring for each other that they always try their best, always work hard to be worthy of the person who is special to them. “Even if you can't become a special person in general, you can become a special person for someone,” Senjougahara insists. It doesn't matter if Araragi is first or second or whoever in line to Shinobu - he is who he is, and he will continue to struggle and strive and do right by his friends.
Gaen attempts to shake this confidence later that night, when the duel is about to begin. Having finally learned Hanekawa and Senjougahara are in trouble (since these events are occurring at the same time as Tsubasa Tiger), Gaen tries to frame his decision as a cold choice between three of the women he cares about. But Araragi refuses to see it that way - after first asking Kanbaru to go help them (yet another reflection of how much he's come to trust and respect his friends), he says that he doesn't need to help because he believes in Senjougahara and Hanekawa, from the bottom of his heart. Love is one thing, but trust is another - it can't be bought or stolen or assumed, it has to be earned. And after all these episodes of suffering and sacrifice, these hard-luck kids have certainly earned their trust in each other.
Araragi wins his duel with the first minion. The setup for the battle is pretty cool, and there's a nicely animated sequence of Shinobu tossing down the sword, but overall, the fight is roughly as important to what this story's about as my description here implies. Really, what's most compelling about the fight itself is how tragic it feels for both Shinobu and her first minion. Though he normally sounds full of confidence, when he realizes Shinobu doesn't even want to be there, he hesitantly asks “is the dispute between me and you nothing but deeply troubling for Kiss-shot?” And when he's falling to pieces and sadly calling her name, Shinobu finally descends, and admits the truth of her fears. “You don't have to apologize. I forgave you. I'm the one who was at fault.” Her pain doesn't make Araragi feel better, but Kanbaru already warned them this would happen. One reflection of the trust these characters have earned is that sometimes they must hurt each other, because it's the right thing to do.
Owari finishes off with a pair of scenes clearing up loose ends, as Araragi meets with two characters who might as well be his shoulder consciences - Ougi and Yotsugi. Ougi arrives first, to do her usual villain act and reveal more information than she possibly could have, but it's Yotsugi's scene that really ties the whole story together. Listening to Araragi talk about how his bond with Shinobu “will make no one happy,” she cautions him against wallowing in his own assumed unhappiness. Putting up with misfortune isn't making a good effort, she says - it's what people would generally refer to as doing nothing. Araragi's complacency echoes characters ranging from Sodachi all the way back to pre-Bake Hanekawa, and Yotsugi's bond with Araragi means she cares about him enough to hurt him here. “You should aim for the happy ending,” she says. “Or do you want me to stomp your face again?” Truth to be told, the answer would probably be “yes” to that either way - but I understand what she's going for.
This week's Owarimonogatari tied together numerous emotional and thematic threads from all across the series, offering a satisfying conclusion to Shinobu's arc while also including great little character moments for half of the main cast. It wasn't the most visually interesting, but it didn't need to be; the raw material of the character work being done here was so strong it barely even required elevation. I'd originally thought Sodachi Riddle would be the highlight of Owari, but these last two episodes have been an absolute joy. Owarimonogatari demonstrates yet again what a special show this is.
Owarimonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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