This miniseries encompasses the "Tsubasa Family" arc, a prequel to Bakemonogatari, elaborating upon the events leading up to the "Tsubasa Cat" arc. The story focuses on Araragi's relationship with Hanekawa and his first encounter with the entity possessing her.
It is probably a testament to my faith in this series and my own dogged persistence that I did not drop this arc within the first episode. For the better part of these first twenty-six minutes, one could easily be fooled into thinking that one was watching a rather bawdy harem comedy, unusually clever dialogue and bizarre visual direction less undercutting than underlining the increasing tastelessness of the humour. That this treatment turns one of the most sombre scenes from arguably the most compelling arc in the first series only increases one's sinking terror with familiarity: Are they really doing this? Worse yet, in light of the excesses of the first half of the arc which immediately precedes it: Are they doing this again?
The glibness is so extreme as to become metafictional. A character comments with dismay that this is not what was supposed to happen in this scene, this memory. All pretence of verisimilitude implodes.
The credits roll.
And then, the last scene, and the tone has... resolved itself. A line that seemed perverse is given a sad weight. The perspective has been inverted. The show has tricked the viewer, teased them, and then taken its best shot at the height of the distraction.
To put it another way, I was trolled hard enough to break a rib. But I should have expected no less. This weapon-like use of tone and subversion of narrative authority is what drew me to the series in the first place, and for better or worse, Nisemonogatari had made a meal of it. I was prepared.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the rest of the OVA. Even setting aside the obvious symmetry in episode numbers between each half of the first season and the parallel in focus of their final arcs, Nekomonogatari (Black) is a continuation of Nisemonogatari's aesthetic and thematic preoccupations; and yet, by the same token, it is a closure of them, as well as a transitional segment forming the first half of a story that is only completed in the second season.
As a continuation, Neko explores the same themes of sexual frustration and personal agency that haunted the first arc of Nise, but in a decidedly different context. "Karen Bee", in all its meandering glory, saw Araragi subtly tormented simultaneously by the growing independence of his younger sisters, the increasing pressure of the yet-unfulfilled sexual dimension to his relationship with Senjougahara, and the conflict between the objectifying nature of his saviour complex and the personalities of those he helped refusing to be so reduced—nearly all presented through an intensely sexual lens, although not necessarily a "sexy" one. "Tsubasa Family", to the contrary, is a simpler story of unrequited love, and how it may be confused with or merely include unsatisfied lust. The eroticism is less extreme here, but the principle remains the same, and we see Hanekawa as Araragi does: He is, as Senjougahara would later put it, fascinated.
Yet what makes Koyomi Araragi who he is has not changed, and indeed, this being the tale of what led up to present events, he has not yet had his convictions challenged: His saviour complex here is even worse than at the beginning of the show, and the way that it drives him to frightful acts of self-destruction and flattens his initial understanding of Hanekawa and her predicament even as he is driven by his idolisation ultimately bites him in the rear in the worst way... in "Tsubasa Cat", months later and episodes earlier. That one only knows the true stakes of that confrontation after Neko yet feels them nonetheless says a lot about the quality of that first arc.
Alas, Neko isn't up to that level. At the very least, it makes better use of Koyomi's younger sister Tsukihi than her own arc did: She is easily the best thing about that first episode, sudden gut punch aside.
But this story is not complete. For the black half, there is a white: "Tsubasa Tiger", which opens Second Season and is the first arc in the greater Monogatari series to not be told from Araragi's point of view, instead seen from the perspective of Hanekawa herself. We have already seen how Koyomi sees Tsubasa, first as a friend and then, before, as his first love, but the final piece of the puzzle has yet to drop into place. We know how she feels about him, but we have yet to see it. Only then can the triptych truly unfold.
That, however, is the subject for another review. This one is getting long enough as it is and I haven't even talked about the technical side of things, or the OP! God, I haven't even made a cat joke yet.
Well, predictably, the quality of some of the slower moments isn't stellar, at least not in comparison to the often gorgeous detail given to some of the most languid scenes in Nise, but I suppose that's to be expected. The direction and the more intense sequences are still more than good, and the comedic timing shown in the editing and weird stylistic shifts remains extraordinary. The opening sequence, always a strong point with this series, may actually be my favourite in the franchise thus far, musically and visually gorgeous; and, as ever, Hajime Ueda provides a wonderful ending to the show, although musically he remains somewhat ill-served—the song is fine, but when compared to Supercell's contribution to the first series, one can't help but feel like something has been lost.
And, uh, that's it. Still can't think of a sufficiently good-bad cat pun to close this with. Or much of an ending at all. And isn't that appropriate, for an ending that's really just the beginning?
Potentially a light four for Monogatari diehards, although a strong three seems more fitting. Dock a star if you're allergic to catgirls. — Julian Malerman
Recommended Audience: While less relentlessly pervy than Nisemonogatari, that's really not saying much, particularly for the first episode. And that's not even getting into Black Hanekawa's non-wardrobe. Perhaps more concerning is the sheer level of graphic violence in the latter episodes—we're talking Texhnolyze levels of nasty at points. All that aside, the themes are best understood if one has already been a teenager.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source.
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Nekomonogatari (Black) © 2012 NisiOisin / Kodansha / SHAFT
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