by Nick Creamer,
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Monogatari has returned, and this time it seems the show is attempting to do everything at once, with our focus once again squarely on Koyomi Araragi. Through all the introductions and explorations of its various focal characters, Araragi's own problems have been possibly the most central thread of the series. Much of this series is dedicated to playing out the consequences of Meme Oshino's “people can only save themselves” mantra, and Araragi's journey towards embracing that truth has been the slowest of anyone. Having started the series feeling his own life had no value, he's gradually gained the support network everyone needs, finding close friends and acquaintances who rely on him not to solve their problems, but be there for them emotionally. Though he's still got issues with sacrificing of himself to save others, he's slowly moving towards being a more well-rounded and mature person.
Sodachi Oikura doesn't have much interest in this touchy-feely self-awareness crap. Thrown into Monogatari as both a new “mystery case” character and a direct reflection of Araragi, she might as well represent the antithesis of Oshino's philosophy. To his “we have to save ourselves,” she counters “people can't be happy unless someone else saves them.” Two years ago, she assigned Araragi to conduct a trial over who was responsible for cheating on their class's math test. In the end, the verdict was decided by pure, irrational voting, and Oikura herself was blamed even though it was really their teacher's fault. That event shook a belief in justice Araragi had been building through a long adolescence of living in the home of two police officers - but as we learn in the first two episodes of Sodachi Riddle, the relationship and parallels between Araragi and Oikura go back even further than that.
Challenged by Oikura to “go find out what created him” (again, basically every word from Oikura attacks the ideas of identity and responsibility championed by the rest of the series), Araragi and the trickster-detective Ougi end up visiting first Araragi's middle school, and then an old decrepit house. There, Araragi speaks of the girl who five years ago taught him the joy of mathematics. In afterschool sessions over one summer, he learned to find amusement in equations, and was essentially “rescued” from his own slow decline. Strung along by Ougi through a series of unpleasant personal recollections, he slowly learns that the payment for these sessions was supposed to be Araragi informing of his parents of Oikura's broken home. He was supposed to save her, but he was too self-involved to see his own responsibility. He is "not a person Oikura could rely on."
This arc represents an attack on everything Araragi has been attempting to learn, an attack coming right as he arrives at a new identity crossroads. As clocks chime in the background and traffic lights switch from green to red and back again, Araragi is attempting to leap from his adolescent self to a new one, one ready to take on the responsibilities of college and a larger world. The world around Araragi looms in baffling geometry, reflecting both the limitations of his own reasoning and the world of mathematics that binds him and Oikura together. And Ougi always stands before him, grinning that empty grin and swinging her pendulum back and forth.
It's fitting that Ougi is our truth-seeking guide in this arc. Seemingly able to switch gender at will and even manipulate time, Ougi has always been meddling with the insecurities of Monogatari's various characters, always prodding them at their weakest points. It was Ougi who was responsible for pushing the rolling snowball of Nadeko Medusa down the hill, and Ougi who almost tricked Araragi into embracing his vampirism in Yotsugi Doll. In contrast to heroes like Hanekawa, who eventually comes to accept her own limitations, it seems like Ougi really does know everything. Her winding limbs and pitch-black eyes hang ominously over these episodes, adding a mocking hint of menace to Araragi's journey.
Monogatari's aesthetics are as strong as ever in this arc, making great use of bizarre geometry and stark, shifting color schemes to visually portray the emotional battles of the characters. Oikura's old house offers plenty of opportunities to create beautiful compositions, and stylistic digressions like the shoujo manga fantasy Oikura demonstrate the breadth of Monogatari's visual vocabulary. It's a fine articulation of what's shaping up to be one of Monogatari's best arcs so far, an exploration of a compelling new character that doubles as a thorough and satisfying attack on Araragi's hard-fought emotional gains. Whether Araragi rises above or is crushed by Ougi's challenge, I'm excited to see the fireworks.
Owarimonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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