The Premise: Nekomonogatari Black tells the story of the fated Golden Week shortly before the events of Bakemonogatari. Araragi tries to sort out his feelings for Hanekawa, the girl who helped him survive his own bizarre and dangerous Spring Break. But Hanekawa has troubles of her own, even before her body is possessed by a mischievous cat spirit.
Jel’s Thoughts: If I were to quickly sum up my thoughts on Nekomonogatari Black I would simply say the Monogatari series is back. After indulging his fantasies in Nisemonogatari, NisiOisin has put the handcuffs and toothbrushes away in favor of the darker, creepier vibe of the original Bakemonogatari series.
The return to form has a lot to do with the timing of the story, as looking back in time finds our Hero (or “Star” if you want to get into NisiOisin semantics) in a much lonelier, confused state of mind. I always chalked up Araragi’s social awkwardness to the simple fact he stars in a harem-structured anime. Going back and seeing him even MORE awkward was almost painful to watch, but the reason why makes a lot more sense – he’s not really human! He gave up his humanity when he became a vampire. It’s such a simple explanation I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me. Between that and seeing just how deep his feelings for Hanekawa really are, I feel like I understand him much better.
Of course this being a “Cat Story”, it stands to reason the Cat Girl would be the real focus of the plot. In her original “Tsubasa Cat” arc, Hanekawa never quite got the same amount of attention as the other girls. By then the entire cast had been assembled to steal some of the spotlight, and her incident then was clearly a minor aftershock of something worse. Well, welcome to something worse! Her conflict and resolution this time around is much more intense and insightful, only reinforcing my opinion that the Monogatari series has one of the strongest ensemble casts in recent memory. I’m not sure I totally love Hanekawa’s flawless persona (anyone else think Medaka Box?) and I was little uncomfortable with Oshino’s roundabout logic on domestic violence, but at least we have a better idea of where she’s coming from.
What I find most fascinating about this little flashback is pondering how different it would have felt if we had seen this story before the others. Araragi always talked about how much Hanekawa meant to him, but we could only take his word for it. The real heart of the Monogatari series is his relationship with Senjougahara, and when they suggest Hanekawa might actually be a threat to that I never took it seriously. But now I totally understand why Senjougahara is afraid of her. Think about the scene when Hanekawa offers to do ANYTHING for Araragi. He practically breaks out into cartwheels and song. Compare that to his relatively nonplussed response when Senjougahara makes the same offer in Bakemono episode 3. Go check it out, I’ll wait… see the difference? Sure, his more subdued reaction definitely shows how he grew as a character, but it also highlights the contrast between his feelings for each of the girls.
As always, all the delicious dialogue and character development is wrapped in notorious director Akiyuki Shinbo’s schizophrenic art styles and sexy camera angles, not to mention an even more stellar soundtrack than usual. My only complaint really is this 4 episode block is just a tease, reminding me of how good this series can be when it’s at its best. Consider me officially excited for the “2nd Season” of Monogatari later this year.