Monogatari Series: Second Season Review: Conclusions, Shifts, and Self Discovery
Since I had watched through the rest of Monogatari last summer, it’s no wonder that I decided to pick up the (at the time) ongoing second season (which, in actuality, is more like the fourth season given the weird release nature of the other installments) when it was only a few weeks in. Keeping up with Monogatari weekly for the first time had been quite a bizarre experience and I was quite impatient since I had gotten so used to being able to watch the previous seasons at my own pace without having to wait every week. In spite of that setback, however, Monogatari S2 proved to be an absolutely fascinating watch that built tremendously upon the foundations of previous seasons and truly made the most out of a majority of its characters. Monogatari S2 ultimately proved to be by far my favorite installment of the series and impressed me in a variety of ways. While there are some complaints I have about some parts of S2, they are quite minimal in comparison to the great enjoyment and fantastic developments I received from the watch overall, and I’d say there’s no doubt in my mind that those who enjoyed previous installments of Monogatari will find something to love from this season. Monogatari S2 remains one of my favorites of 2013 and there is but one 2013 anime that I enjoyed more (and I do plan on writing about that as well in due time). Monogatari S2 has so many merits and it’ll be difficult for me to explain just how much love I have for this season of the series without giving spoilers, but it must be said that Monogatari S2 really is a brilliant story and, in my opinion, the epitome of the Monogatari experience as of yet.
Monogatari S2 takes place after Nise and consists of 5 different arcs: Tsubasa Tiger, Mayoi Jiangshi, Nadeko Medusa, Shinobu Time, and Hitagi End. Tsubasa Tiger follows Hanekawa, who comes across a white tiger apparition. After this encounter, Hanekawa’s home is burned down and she finds that the tiger is indeed connected to the destruction. With Araragi missing and a very real threat present, the responsibility lies on Hanekawa to deal with the issue at hand as she comes to terms with her own feelings and circumstances. Mayoi Jiangshi takes place prior to Tsubasa Tiger and returns to Araragi’s perspective. Araragi and Shinobu decide to travel back in time to save Hachikuji and ultimately succeed in doing so, though they find that this action has resulted in drastic consequences for the rest of the world in the present time and the two seek a way to return to the world they know. Nadeko Medusa takes place after this arc and provides Sengoku’s perspective as she listens to the instructions of a snake god in an attempt to atone for her killing of the snakes in Nadeko Snake. Ultimately, however, Sengoku’s actions put her in direct conflict with Araragi and Shinobu, and Nadeko Medusa reveals much more about Sengoku’s character than what was initially presented. Shinobu Time takes place during the same time as Tsubasa Tiger and follows Araragi, Hachikuji, and Yotsugi as they are attacked by a mysterious darkness of sorts. Shinobu recognizes the darkness and explains her past experience with it as the group attempts to figure out a way to escape from it for good, though their discovery about how to get rid of it is far from satisfying. The final arc, Hitagi End, takes place after the events of Nadeko Medusa, and while there is little I can say about the arc as it would spoil the events of Nadeko Medusa, the arc follows Kaiki as he attempts to trick somebody and adds a great deal to his character.
Monogatari S2’s story is very well done and contains arcs that are among the best of the entire series. Tsubasa Tiger is a pretty enjoyable arc that provides a refreshing change of perspective and satisfyingly concludes Hanekawa’s story and major conflicts. One thing I enjoyed about Monogatari S2 is the perspective shift, as the storytelling is not limited to Araragi’s narration any longer but changes who the story follows depending on the arc. While two of the arcs do still follow Araragi, there are three arcs that follow Hanekawa, Sengoku, and Kaiki respectively, and as I’m sure you can imagine, this provides new insight and very interesting storytelling due to the drastic change from following Araragi. Mayoi Jiangshi is a very interesting arc that differs substantially from the typical Monogatari arc as it focuses on time travel and it is quite fascinating seeing how Araragi and Shinobu influence the Monogatari world by saving Hachikuji. The arc serves as a nice throwback to Bake in some ways and is a pretty enjoyable watch on the whole. Nadeko Medusa is among my favorites this season, and while most of the events themselves aren’t especially gripping, it is what they suggest about Sengoku’s character and how she develops through the arc that makes the arc so powerful, and Nadeko Medusa begins with a very shocking scene that chronologically takes place around the arc’s end. Shinobu Time was my least favorite arc of the series because much of it was uneventful and it’s the arc filled with the most of Araragi’s creeper lolicon tendencies, though it has a number of storytelling merits. First and foremost, Shinobu Time provides interesting world building that expands on the mechanics of the Monogatari world both through Shinobu’s flashback explanation as well as the suggestion of the darkness’s origin at the end of the arc. These provide more insight into how the Monogatari world operates as well as setting the foundation for developments that will undoubtedly take place in the series following S2. It should also be mentioned that Shinobu Time ends with a very emotional scene that has a dramatic impact on the story as a whole, and while the arc is still my least favorite of S2, this scene remains one of my favorites and was my initial reason for bumping up the score for this season. Lastly is Hitagi End, which proves to be by far my favorite of the entire series for a variety of reasons. The arc begins with very amusing interactions between Senjougahara and Kaiki but proves to have very meaningful interactions later on that suggest a great deal about both of their characters. The progression of Hitagi End’s story is fascinating not only because of the high stakes and tense nature of what is taking place, but also because it provides a substantial amount of depth to many of the characters involved. Finally, Hitagi End’s conclusion is brilliantly executed as the conflict resolution suggests a great deal about multiple characters and the arc (and the rest of the season, in turn) ends on a very sudden and shocking note with a strong sense of irony. It’s quite difficult for me to explain why I find Hitagi End to be so great without elaborating on the crucial plot events and developments, but there are a number of reasons why it is my favorite arc of not only the season but the series as a whole, and I would argue that the entire season (and even series) is worth watching solely for that arc, though that’s not to say the rest of the Monogatari package is without merit as the previous arcs do offer quite a bit and build up to Hitagi End very well.
As awesome as the story is, however, I feel it’s really the characters that shine in Monogatari S2 and they are what make the season as enjoyable as it is. Araragi does have a fair share of screentime, though more than anything it’s the rest of the cast that gets development, as the only major characterization moment for Araragi that truly comes to mind in S2 relies more on his contrast with Kaiki and how Kaiki had been characterized up to that point. Many of the heroines from Bake are fleshed out a great deal in S2, though sadly the Fire Sisters don’t get more development and we have to be content with the Nise content as is. In any case, S2 acts as the culmination of development for some of these characters, particularly Hanekawa as she finally confronts her own feelings on many fronts and concludes most of her personal conflicts that have been established since the beginning of the series. Shinobu is fleshed out more both through events in Mayoi Jiangshi and the flashback she has during Shinobu Time, though I still can’t help but feel that much of her character relies on material from Kizu, which still remains unadapted. Hachikuji also gets stronger characterization as the story gives more insight on her mindset and feelings as well as giving her one of the most powerful scenes of the season. Senjougahara’s screentime is quite limited in this season, though she does appear in the first and final arcs, displaying more sides of her character than presented before and giving attention to her interactions with Hanekawa and Kaiki, serving to add to characterization for all three. Sadly, Kanbaru does not get screentime this season, though Hanamonogatari (which is set for August and feels pretty far away despite being relatively close) is dedicated to her arc so Kanbaru fans can rejoice once that is released. With all that said, there are a couple more things I need to elaborate on. While characterization across the board has been very well done, there are two characters that stand out to me much more than the rest in this season: Sengoku and Kaiki. Sengoku’s development proves very interesting as we see a different side of her, especially given the very limited scope provided by Nadeko Snake from Bake. Nadeko Medusa takes a much darker spin and adds many dimensions to Sengoku’s character, making her significantly more captivating and contributing brilliantly to the season’s themes. Even more than Sengoku, however, it is Kaiki that shined the most for me in this season. Kaiki seems distant and difficult to like in Nise, and this is precisely the character he was presented as and that even he himself opts to be. However, S2 reveals much more about his personality, the motivations behind his actions, and the subtleties behind his choices as well as the irony of his own actions in an amazing fashion. Kaiki seemed like a cold, greedy villain in Nise, but he proves to be much more than that in S2 with his characterization and is fascinating on many levels, proving to be not only clever and calculating but also tragically misunderstood, as he is not nearly the heartless being he attempts to present himself as. The story’s direction with Kaiki is one of the highlights of the series for me and after seasons of being unable to pinpoint a favorite character from the Monogatari series, it was very easy for me to decide on Kaiki as my #1 Monogatari character by the end of the season and Kaiki remains one of my favorite anime characters in general. Before I conclude with the character section, however, there are two more important individuals I must mention: Izuko Gaen (the senpai of the Meme/Kaiki/Yozuru trio) and Ougi Oshino (a bizarre girl who claims to be Meme’s niece). While the two receive minimal development in this season, it is clear that development for them is not the purpose as the season merely introduces them. Gaen and Ougi are both surrounded by mystery and seem to have a great deal of knowledge, power, and influence. From what I’ve seen in S2 as well as what I’ve heard elsewhere, it seems the two are in constant conflict in their actions and I imagine this will become a very relevant plot point in future Monogatari installments. Gaen and Ougi only have some screentime this season, but it is made clear that they have major involvement in the events taking place, even if it is behind the scenes, and there is no doubt they will play major roles in the series later on so I am quite curious about how the story will handle them in the seasons ahead.
Monogatari S2 was a lovely watch for a great many reasons (great development, powerful themes, sheer enjoyment factor, etc.) but perhaps one of the most satisfying things was how S2 is, in some ways, the payoff of the series. That’s not to say previous installments didn’t have payoff, and surely Monogatari had a number of great moments back in Bake, Nise, and Neko: Kuro, but like I mentioned before, S2 is the culmination of development in a number of ways. S2 acts as a conclusion of sorts for some of the characters, and while S2 is far from being an ending for the series as a whole, it does act as the climax of characterization for some of the characters and it’s hard to imagine them having bigger moments to top what has happened here, though it is possible there is more to expect from them and either way this is not true of the entirety of the cast. S2’s among the most eventful of the Monogatari installments, and while there may not be one specific goal in mind, each of the five arcs is significant in the growth of the characters and the progression of the story with some of the most memorable moments of the entirety of the series. While the characters are fleshed out a great deal strictly by virtue of the nature of the events of this season, S2 does tremendously in handling characterization and perspective by shifting the point of view and providing the direct thoughts of different characters from Araragi. This certainly contributes to Hanekawa’s characterization and does even more for Sengoku and Kaiki, who are drastically different from the appearances they present, and in that way one could say that Monogatari S2 is about appearances and the deceptive nature of first impressions. Time and time again, S2 flips viewer expectations upside down by tearing apart preconceived notions about certain characters with reveals and developments and it becomes clear that things are not simply as they seem. While the trickery of appearances is certainly most true with Sengoku and Kaiki, it applies for many other characters as well, and perhaps even the Monogatari world itself. This connects quite well with the nature of existence presented in S2, particularly pertaining to Shinobu Time as things that have been accepted as normal in the Monogatari world to us viewers are actually in conflict with the functionality of the Monogatari world and should not exist, and vice versa.
It’s hard to pinpoint any specific themes uniting the entire season, as S2 has a wealth of ideas connected with its characters: confronting emotions, trusting and accepting others, contentment with the nature of one’s existence, whether one should be content if they cannot exist as is, complacency with an unrequited love, hiding one’s individuality, uniqueness and irreplaceable value vs. disposable wealth, accepting outside intervention vs. facing one’s own ordeals, and probably countless more ideas that I’ve forgotten about in the months since watching S2. S2 (and Monogatari overall) truly provides a number of themes that one could write essays about with enough time and inspiration and there’s a lot to be explored with the ideas offered and the character interactions presented. If there’s anything I can point to as a unifying theme overall in S2, however, it’d be the matter of self discovery, or perhaps more than that, self identity. Each arc involves one or more characters coming to terms with their identities and how the nature of their lives fulfills their individual existences. Hanekawa addressing her own feelings, Hachikuji accepting the responsibilities she faces as a ghost in her own situation, Sengoku finally letting loose with what she truly feels and wants, Kaiki’s conflict between what he has established for himself in line with his image and what he truly feels and wishes to do as his heart tells him, S2 focuses a lot on what lies beneath the surface and the true nature of self for each of these characters. The fact that the series goes a different direction by providing these direct perspectives (some of which are very different from Araragi’s) shows just how far the series aims to dig in revealing the truth about the identities of these characters and what they truly think and desire. Much of what was hidden in previous installments is revealed as many dimensions of the characters are unveiled and motivations become revealed, for better or for worse. While this is not true on all fronts (largely in relation to Gaen and Ougi), there is a lot to say about the individuality of the characters here and many of the characters acknowledge their own thoughts and desires, or perhaps are forced to come to terms with them given the circumstances. A lot of interesting things happen as a result and it really does make the most out of quite a few of the characters.
And with all that said, Monogatari S2 really is something amazing and I wish I could say more. I hope I haven’t spoiled too much and I worry that I might have revealed more about some of the characters than should be known prior, yet there’s just so much to say about the development in this season and how things progress that it’s really hard to contain myself. S2 was quite an entertaining watch week after week and while I might not have seen how all the pieces came together early on, it truly does prove to be a solid package, particularly Hitagi End. Like I said in the beginning, Monogatari S2 is among my favorites of 2013 and remains my #2 series of that year. I would very much recommend this series and if you enjoyed any Monogatari prior, it goes without saying that I would encourage you to watch this one. There’s only one 2013 anime I enjoyed more, and that one is among my few (and happens to be my latest) 10/10s. Some of you might already be aware of which one that is and it’s not too hard to find out if you go see my profile on MAL, but for those of you who aren’t aware yet, I very much look forward to writing about that one as there’s a lot for me to say. But anywho, as far as Monogatari S2 goes, I’d give it a 9/10, or really more like a 9.5/10. In fact I might even go as far as to say that Hitagi End alone is practically a 10/10, though I do feel that arc stands above the rest quite a bit. If I haven’t already emphasized this enough, Monogatari S2 is definitely something to watch, and I imagine those of you who have already seen it have gotten something worthwhile from the experience.