Review/discussion about: Owarimonogatari
(As supplementary material for this review, please refer to my essay on symmetry and asymmetry, Owarimonogatari, Symmetry, and Asymmetry.)
I’ve always grown up loving math; I’ve always grown up performing well in math. I’m still unsure if both of these are mutually exclusive or not, but I like to think that some connection exists.
The fun of mathematics comes from the complexity. Using variables, taking integrals, and memorizing formulae turn the field from crunching numbers into a brain-powered game. Of course, there are certain areas that can be tiresome – I’ve always had trouble with graphs and graphing – but it wouldn’t be math without a difficult derivative or two.
Owarimonogatari may not feature sines and cosines, but it does have math. And symmetry. And intrigue. All of this (and more) come together to equal one of the best entries the Monogatari series has seen so far.
Owarimonogatari acts as both a prequel and a sequel. Taking place after some important arcs and before others, this iteration is meant for folks who have seen (most of) the series already. However, while it expects one to know and understand certain events, and that these events are closely (and obviously) tied to everything else, the tales told stand on their own.
And they’re wonderful.
The season is essentially split up into two halves: Sodachi’s arc and Shinobu’s arc. Technically Sodachi’s arc is three separate ones – Ougi’s Formula, Sodachi Riddle, and Sodachi Lost – but they all more or less build upon each other.
On a surface level, the different tales have their own goals, their own direction, that make them interesting to watch. Ougi Formula goes creepy, using a constrained setting for its foundation and a strange mystery for its backbone. Sodachi Riddle uncovers bits and pieces of Araragi’s past, a past that has largely been ignored up until this point. Sodachi Lost gets extremely real and serious and sad.
Shinobu Mail is a longer, fuller arc, and, for that reason, it goes beyond just a singular mood. The introduction of an all-powerful, samurai-armor-wearing demon creates anxiety and tension. Kanbaru arrives to bring comedic relief and sage advice, depending on the circumstances. Shinobu brings both forgiveness and sadness. It’s a bit much to declare this arc as emotional, but the arc certainly makes the audience experience various thoughts and feelings over the course of just six episodes. All the more so since, to reiterate, this tale is meant to be watched after seeing nearly everything else the whole series has to offer.
And while it may almost go without saying, the dialogue of Owarimonogatari remains as top-notch as always. The long-winded conversations that rarely dip into tedium. The witty banter between Araragi, Kanbaru, and the rest of the cast. The signature catch phrases and laughs and wordplay. It’s all there once again.
This level is just the surface, though. Going beyond reveals that Owarimonogatari is just as strong in its execution at even the deepest depths.
Simply breaking the surface lets one discover two important themes in Sodachi’s arc: time and relationships. Diving further reveals that these same themes also exist in Shinobu’s arc, too. This parallelism already demonstrates the focus of Owarimonogatari (and an important motif explained later).
Across both arcs, time stands as an essential obstacle. Sodachi’s rage festered for years and years. Her brooding prevented her from finding peace and jumpstarted her hatred for Araragi. For her, time does not heal but rather exacerbates. Seishirou’s feelings are a bit more complex, but he, too, had time (400 years to be exact) act as a catalyst for his current mood and actions.
In this manner, Owarimonogatari argues that time may not necessarily heal all wounds. It heals some but not all. Be it half a decade or half a millennium, something else is needed to make amends. That something is the second theme: relationships.
Relationships are important regardless of context. They can provide happiness, opportunities, and connections that people thrive on. For Owarimonogatari, however, relationships are vital to the culmination and conclusion of the events.
For example, Sodachi’s entire arc revolves around a mystery motif. It’s not until Araragi talks with Sodachi, reestablishes his relationship with her, that the truth is revealed and their friendship solidifies. Shinobu’s entire arc is the same way. The problem of an onset, immortal demon originates from a previous relationship that went sour back then that she had refused to sweeten until just now.
So it’s more than just relationships heal wounds and let people move on. It’s that relationships start new beginnings. They unveil characteristics and thoughts of those involved. They give life meaning. As Senjougahara says, no relationship is perfect. That’s fine. Because what matters most is being that special person who can share that special relationship.
But beyond all of this lays Owarimonogatari’s most amazing triumph.
Consider both arcs. Both are about someone who does not want to rekindle a relationship (Sodachi with Araragi and Shinobu with Seishirou). Both center on a group of four characters (Araragi, Sodachi, Ougi, and Hanakawa, and Araragi, Shinobu, Kanbaru, and Gaen). Both deal with ruined lives (Sodachi slowly dwindling, and Seishirou slowly regaining). Both deal with envy (Sodachi wanted Araragi’s perfect life, and Seishirou wanted Araragi’s place). Both have puzzles that need to be pieced together by all-knowing people (Ougi for Sodachi and Gaen for Shinobu). Both have…
…them visiting important landmarks (Sodachi’s mansion and the hilltop shrine). Both have the main antagonist being “the past” (Sodachi and Seishirou). Both have a character that diffuses tension (Hanekawa and Kanbaru). Both have a small aside with Senjougahara (when she punches Sodachi and when she talks with Araragi over the phone). The list goes on and on.
This symmetry reveals an astounding revelation: Owarimonogatari is the same tale told twice.
It’s not just the anime being able to essentially repeat its contents that makes it so grand. It’s how this symmetric presentation reinforces its themes on time and relationships. That is, time is the same for everyone, and relationships are the same for everyone.
And that is remarkable.
And to top everything off, there are the subtle yet beautiful ways in which each tale ends. Araragi not revealing what was in Sodachi’s letter to him, acting as their own, personal mystery, is so heartwarming and unbelievably fitting. And Shinobu overcoming pride and fear by forgiving her long-lost minion, in about as respectful a manner as she could, is amazing on a bunch of narrative and emotional levels.
The entire season comes together to be one of the best pair of stories that the series has provided to date.
Owarimonogatari continues its stride with its animation and its art.
Starting with the character designs, the returning cast remain relatively the same minus a few outfit switches or changes based on the outcomes from other parts of the series. For instance, Araragi still wears his metaphorical ahoge, Hanekawa proves that she dyes her hair, and Ononoki dons a bathrobe.
Where the character designs get quite interesting are with the newcomers. Namely, Ougi, Sodachi, and Seishirou.
Ougi takes first place when it comes to the best new design. Her all-black eyes, hidden hands (which are covered by black gloves seen for a brief moment), and pale skin turn her into the creepy and manipulative character that she loves to be.
Sodachi’s hair is faded, signaling the stress she has experienced over her life thus far, but it’s her plainness that fits her best. To Araragi, she was forgotten, so having a design that follows this motif is more than perfect.
As for Seishirou, his strange, red-filled eyes, long ponytail, and smaller stature make him effeminate, blurring the line between friend and foe.
Animation-wise, the series does not actually have much of it for long periods of time. Lots of speaking while standing or sitting is common, leading to characters hardly moving on-screen. That’s not to say no movement exists because there is animation. And what is given is quite nice. Slow-motion segments, free-flowing hair, and up-close mouths all have top-notch animation, demonstrating the anime’s animating chops.
And to be fair, those areas where talking and standing take over are filled with the series’ signature style. Imaginative scenarios, crazy angles, and those all-important head-tilts return to make the show feel at ease alongside its prequels and sequels.
Of course, these descriptions say nothing of the different lights, colors, and perspectives provided. But best of all is how the visuals tie back in with the symmetry of the story. That is, the anime makes heavy use of symmetry and asymmetry to construct not just cool-looking shots but also visuals that convey meaning for the narrative and the cast involved.
It’s all a treat to behold.
The cast of Owarimonogatari is more positive than negative, but, at the minimum, it’s a clear step down from both the story and the art.
This time around, the cast has to be split up into two categories: those who are not important and those who are. The former camp holds Hanekawa, Kanbaru, and Izuko Gaen. The latter camp holds Sodachi, Ougi, Shinobu, Seishirou, and Araragi. Other characters, like Senjougahara and Episode, while having an impact on the proceedings, are notextremely relevant to the stories at hand.
At any rate, Hanekawa, Kanbaru, and Gaen are present in the season, but they are characters that do not develop whatsoever. That’s perfectly fine. Hanekawa and Kanbaru serve the role of tension diffusers – Hanekawa leads, Kanbaru protects, and they both have their own sexual asides. They also act as people who can relate to their respective, distressed counterparts. I.e., Hanekawa had trouble at home as Sodachi did, and Kanbaru had romance issues just as Shinobu did. Plus, they have already had their time in the limelight. Twice each.
Gaen has technically never had an arc (let alone two) all to herself, but what she does best is showing up, injecting her wisdom, and then disappearing until she is needed once more. Just like all of the other apparition specialists. Meaning, she is excused, too.
That just leaves the important characters.
Sodachi is the first new character this season to be added to the series’ cast. She also takes the title as the best character that Owarimonogatari offers.
Her character unfolds in a complicated manner. First, Sodachi from a couple of years ago is shown. Then it jumps back to the present. Then it goes back five years or so. Then even further back in time. Then back to the present only to head immediately back to the past. Finally, when the end is reached, she looks ahead towards an uncertain yet hopeful future.
This confusing back-and-forth pattern of character development reflects her as a character: conflicted and scrambled. She was accused by her classmates (and her teacher, the true culprit) of cheating. Her mother passed away unbeknownst to her. The “household” she lived in had abusive parents. In essence, her whole life has been nothing short of unfair.
She’s a tragic character. Arguably the most tragic that the entire series, let alone Owarimonogatari, has ever seen. Her troubles not only reveal just how good Araragi has it – a nice family, a girlfriend, numerous friends, a college-going future, and so on – but also how good the audience has it. The majority of people have never experienced hardship on the level Sodachi had, causing the audience to appreciate what they have in their own lives.
But she does more than impart self-reflection. Indeed, her most important character contribution is a subtle one, a forgetful one: going unnoticed. The majority of people are not like Sodachi, but there are people who unfortunately go through similar circumstances. Yet, like Araragi, people are not always aware of someone else’s tragedy. It’s not that they don’t have sympathy; it’s that they just don’t know. So while her character can be pitied, she has hopefully allowed people to think about the situations that others may be going through.
Her tragedy turns her into a person with an unbelievable amount of negative emotions: anger, envy, sadness, and so on. And that leads into probably her only problem as a character – her turnaround is a bit too quick. She goes from despising to reconciling within the span of an evening despite broiling with hate for years on end.
Still, she brings a new perspective on life and on people that is not often thought about. The doors she has had to open in her life have been filled with nothing but goats. But now, as she continues forward, that shiny new car remains on the horizon. Probability demands so.
From tragic to creepy, Ougi is quite the strange person even for the series’ standard. Her stand-out trait is her spooky behavior. She invites herself into most of Araragi’s affairs. She invades the personal space of others constantly. And she invents solutions to the mysteries at hand at a pace that seems almost impossible.
Ougi also has another defining trait: She acts useless. During some conversations, she will outright say so, calling herself an “unreliable underclassman” (episode one) or declaring “And yours truly, though unworthy…” (episode two). She pretends to be innocent to trick others (most noticeably Araragi) so that she may manipulate them even more than she already does.
And just like many of the cast members, she, too, has a signature phrase. A phrase that describes her all-too-well: “I don’t know anything. It’s what you know.” The first sentence calls back to her faux uselessness. (She clearly knows a lot.) The second sentence calls back to her keen interest in others. (She always investigates problems of people.)
Altogether, Ougi becomes a character that forces others to act. In her short time, she did a lot: She had Kanbaru introduce her to Araragi, made Araragi confront his past, and even caused Hanekawa to offer up her chest. The first and the third are arguably minor points, but the middle influences Araragi to an enormous extent. She may not develop as a character, but, without her meddling, almost nothing would have been accomplished.
Ougi gets traded in for Gaen in the second arc, and Sodachi gets traded in for Shinobu. Shinobu, however, does not see nearly as much attention as Ougi and Sodachi. She has her cute moments and her intimidating moments, but nothing too grandiose. Except her interaction with Kanbaru. As Araragi describes it, it’s the first time she has ever lost a “battle,” so getting to see the top-tier Kiss-Shot be put in her place (and later on actually showing some human emotion) added another dimension to her character.
Seishirou – the “first minion” to follow Shinobu – is arguably the only weak character in the season. The audience first learned about him through a tale that Shinobu told during a different season in the series, but, in Owarimonogatari, he makes his grand entrance. The problem? He’s not around enough. The anime builds him up as this pivotal character, but he ends up barely being around. Less time means less to learn about him. Less time means fewer interactions between him and other characters. Less time means less of an impact on the overall story.
Last but not least and rivaling Sodachi’s character is none other than Araragi. Up to this point in the whole series, Araragi has not had a whole lot of focus. Understandably, it’s been on the other girls in the harem – Senjougahara, Hachikuji, and so on – and he has been there doing what he can to support them. But the stories have never reallybeen about him. Until now.
This season sees Araragi earning quite a bit of attention character-wise. In Sodachi’s arc, his past is revealed, the audience learning more about where he started, how he got there, and what his brand of justice meant to him. In Shinobu’s arc, Araragi learns where he stands in relation to those he cares about: Kanbaru regards him as someone she would do anything for, Shinobu regards him as her (currently) only companion, and so on.
In short, Araragi comes to understand more about himself. He comes to understand who he is as a person today, and who he wants to be tomorrow. He comes to understand how fortunate he is. He comes to understand that he’s a different “special person” to those he cares for.
He puts it best right near the end, tying everything back to the themes of the anime in an asymmetric manner: relationships don’t always bring joy. But that’s what time is for. While there may not be an endless supply, time allows people to take chances, start anew, and perhaps, just maybe, find that happiness.
So while the cast may not be amazing, they are certainly more than purposeful.
Voice acting takes the crown in the sound department with ease. Returning characters have their respective voice actors and voice actresses reprising their roles. Hiroshi Kamiya as Araragi and Miyuki Sawashiro as Kanbaru bring their normalcy and silliness in droves. Kaori Mizuhashi as Ougi does a nice job as well, elevating the girl’s creepiness through a calm and conniving voice.
But it’s Marina Inoue as Sodachi who steals the show. Her performance as the grief-stricken, math-loving student, with inflections ranging from depravity to simple acceptance, made the character more than the sum of her parts.
While the rest of the music does not top the voice acting, they still hold their own. Ougi’s OP takes on quite the techno tone; a different vibe from her usual self. Sodachi’s OP has a mysterious and cool composition. (Her other OP was not used during the televised airing.) Shinobu’s OP goes cultural, adopting a poetic feel aided by its shortened length.
But, similar to Ms. Inoue as Sodachi, the ending track wins hands down. From the gentle choir to the wonderful composition to the ending optimism, the whole ED comes together in resounding fashion.
The remainder of the original soundtrack does not reach the same level as the OPs and the ED, but they do hit that atmospheric mark. In particular, the frantic, tension-fueling track – played when Araragi and Sodachi’s class are quarreling about the culprit and when Sodachi meets Araragi in the present – and Kanbaru’s piece – with its high energy and silly sounds – make their respective moments that much stronger.
And to top it all off, Owarimonogatari plays with its sound on occasion. Special sound-effects during certain sections are used, like when Ononoki’s foot on Araragi’s face made squishy noises (matching the absurdity of the action) and Gaen’s explanation sounded like an old-timey film (matching the conversation being about the distant past).
The first half of the season – i.e., Sodachi’s arc – was easily my favorite. Stellar moments such as Ougi laughing, Senjougahara punching Sodachi, and Hanekawa giving perhaps the definitive “I can’t believe this person right now…” face. That’s listing just a few of my favorite scenes. Sodachi alone had stellar moments too: her tirade, her unable to pronounce Araragi’s name, and her following through on (part) of her promise got reactions out of me.
The second half – i.e., Shinobu’s arc – was not as strong, but that’s not saying a whole lot. Nearly all of Kanbaru’s antics, from her “Okeydokey” to her background perverseness, had me smiling, laughing, or both. Senjougahara’s part, while small once again, also managed to be a highlight. Araragi’s quick reference to The Shawshank Redemptionin episode ten had me cheering.
However, if I am being honest, there are negatives. I did not much care for Seishirou and his plight no matter how bittersweet Shinobu’s forgiving happened to be. Also, despite me liking both Ougi and Gaen, I am (still) not a fan of seemingly infallible characters. Yes, that’s how they are designed and used, but when a character never does anything remotely wrong or a character is always right, I simply get peeved. They admittedly have slipups, but they are inconsequential or so tiny that they barely register as such.
Still, the anime was fun and dramatic and entertaining – which is pretty much all I could ask it to be.
Owarimonogatari nails almost everything. The story is meaningful, the art is slick, the characters are purposeful, the music is passionate, and the entertainment is high. Simply put, this entry in the series graphs well above average.
Story: Great, themes on time and relationships, a symmetric presentation, and beautiful moments create a wonderful narrative through and through
Animation: Great, nice character designs and animation with an awesome artistic direction
Characters: Good, while Seishirou ends up as a weak character, Sodachi, Araragi, and the rest of the cast make up for many of his shortcomings
Sound: Great, nice OPs, awesome ED, strong VA performances, an atmospheric OST, and nifty design choices
Enjoyment: Good, stellar, funny, and interesting, with only a couple of negatives to speak of
Final Score: 9/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3