Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Tsukimonogatari: Yotsugi Doll
After a full year of flirting with girls and battling apparitions and generally abusing his semi-vampirical nature, Koyomi Araragi's crimes are finally beginning to catch up with him. Stunned one day to find he can no longer see himself in the mirror, he quickly learns that it's his own reliance on supernatural powers, and his inability to let those around him save themselves, that have led to his own growing inhumanity. With no way to reverse the process and the people closest to him once again in grave danger, Araragi will have to come to terms with his own powerlessness, or else let a power he should never have been given consume his humanity forever.
Koyomi Araragi is a problem. His personal existence reflects and embraces all of the fanservicey, indulgent stuff that makes Monogatari divisive. When an arc centers itself on his perspective, you can be fairly sure it'll be rife with lechery, incest jokes, and “I love little girls.” If you're into that stuff, his arcs will likely come off as either hilarious or possibly sexy. If you're not, they can be tedious, gross, or just emotionally distancing. The camera is often a slave to character perspective in Monogatari, and when we're in Araragi's perspective, the world becomes a very specific kind of place.
Koyomi Araragi also has a problem. Several problems, in fact. Tsukimonogatari opens with Araragi cursing the sound of a ringing clock, which represents his first dilemma - time. Araragi has spent most of Monogatari existing in a comfortable adolescent stasis, getting away with his personality and way of solving problems, but he's getting older now. Not only does he have to worry about college entrance exams, he also has to grow beyond his instinct to sacrifice himself for the sake of others, a central flaw that has haunted him from the very first episodes. In this arc, Araragi finally begins to face some consequences for those decisions, as he learns his constant reliance on his half-vampire nature is causing him to become more fully and completely a vampire. There is no cure, but he can stop the process from continuing, just so long as he gives up on ever using his vampire powers again.
Unfortunately, in addition to his personality troubles and fast-approaching future, Araragi also has a much more immediate problem. Driven by an urge to destroy all immortal apparitions, the specialist Tadatsuru has kidnapped his sisters and Kanbaru, leaving Araragi with few options that don't involve breaking out the old vampire powers. And so, with Yotsugi at his side and Shinobu waiting in his shadow, Araragi will have to solve one more case before putting away his fangs for good.
Tsukimonogatari presents a classic Monogatari arc, of the kind we haven't actually been getting lately. Season two branched out from the original “Araragi on the case” format, letting characters like Hanekawa and Nadeko tell their own stories without Araragi's overpowering influence. This choice ended up being just what the show needed, and recent arcs like Hanamonogatari have seen Monogatari reaching regular insights and emotive heights it only inconsistently approached with Araragi at the wheel. But Araragi's always been Monogatari's central figure, and the show was destined to return to “you can't save everyone, and you have to grow up sometime” eventually.
Araragi's problems do tie into Monogatari's overall themes, but it takes a specific kind of arc to make him feel like a character worth tolerating, and Tsukimonogatari is inconsistently that. It certainly has plenty of the fanservice and slapstick you'd expect from his presence - Araragi spends a good half of the first episode naked with Tsukihi, and later spends about ten minutes strategizing while flipping Yotsugi's skirt. But outside of the Araragi basics, he needs characters to riff with in order to get into the kind of conversational gymnastics that make his material work, and this arc lacks good conversation partners. Instead of Senjougahara or Kanbaru, he mostly spends this arc talking to Kagenui and Yotsugi, characters who are too direct to really bring their exchanges to life. Shinobu is still here, but instead of the combined wit and underlying sadness of arcs like Kabukimonogatari or Onimonogatari (arcs that highlighted both the bond these two share and the loneliness it just barely staves off), she takes a background role, generally spending time growling at Kagenui or throwing snowballs with Yotsugi.
The arc fortunately ends well, as Monogatari arcs almost always do. The final confrontation with Tadatsuru ends up furthering the underlying Ougi narrative while also presenting a dramatic representation of someone refusing to go with the flow, choosing total destruction over a path they didn't want to follow. Araragi's questions regarding his identity and future are given smart, consistent articulation throughout the arc, and even his lecherous instincts serve a narrative purpose in representing the person he's being asked to grow past. From his discussion regarding the future of the fire sisters to his thoughts on his vampiric nature to the final points regarding his friendship with Yotsugi, “some things change, but some things stay the same” rings loud and clear in every beat of this story. Tsukimonogatari lacks the new insights, engaging characters, and emotional catharsis of Monogatari's last several arcs, but it's still a layered and smartly told narrative.
Tsukimonogatari's aesthetics are also something of a step down from the show's recent arcs. There's nothing to match the cut-paper flashbacks of Hanamonogatari here, but the arc does have its own visual rewards. The snowy night setting allows the show to create stark two-tone compositions contrasting dark forest with white powder, and the sequence of shots representing Yotsugi's early days bloom in vivid colors. Scenes set in the old burned-out building or on train tracks also have a strong visual appeal, with some of the best shots contrasting the pure white of power lines against a burning black moon. The focus this time seems to be on compositions that mirror their characters - Yotsugi's technicolor aesthetic infects the scenes she's starring in, while Shinobu's scenes are shot in understated orange and maroon. This choice leads to some very beautiful scenes, but others fail to hit their mark; in particular, the ice castle sequences in Tsukimonogatari's middle episodes come off as more tacky than beautiful, a rare misstep for a show that can generally be counted on to at least be very pretty.
Tsukimonogatari's animation is also very limited, though the show again uses Yotsugi's distinctive color scheme to create one of its most engaging opening songs yet. Outside of that song, the music here is understated; much of this arc is dedicated to flat exposition, which certainly makes creating emotive tracks more difficult, but the show doesn't really do much to elevate its storytelling through sound. The best new track is likely just the piano reprise of the opening song used to close out the final episode.
Tsukimonogatari comes with the usual Monogatari accoutrements - a cardboard box, set of Yotsugi-focused postcards, and character/episode booklet. Overall, Tsukimonogatari unfortunately stands as one of the worst arcs in the series - unable to elevate Araragi's fundamental conflicts through engaging conversations or uniquely beautiful aesthetics, it sits in the shadow of the fantastic arcs preceding it. It feels tired, frankly; much of what occurs here is a retread of established conflicts, and I have to assume that even for those who enjoy them, Araragi's usual shenanigans must be wearing thin. Tsukimonogatari is a clear and unfortunate demonstration of how much better Monogatari gets when its ostensible protagonist gets out of the way.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Many of Monogatari's vivid visual tricks are in attendance here; the layers involved in Araragi's conflicts are smartly illustrated in every element of the story.
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