Yotsugi Ononoki is a shikigami doll, in as much as she’s no longer human; her cuteness belied by a perpetually empty expression and green eyes glazed in a far off stare. Her true nature is phantom and as such she struggles with the concept of human society, as her interactions, all whimsy and eccentricity, take place opposite other phantoms, or those affected in some way. She’s at the heart of this bite sized arc, which posits, in typical Shaft fashion, the intricacies of being human. And by exploring what that means, we can better understand and appreciate the non-human.
Set after the events of Koimonogatari in Monogatari Series Second Season, but before the events in Hanamonogatari, this four episode arc sees the college entrance exams rapidly approaching. While these years are typically associated with physical changes and mental development, in Koyomi Araragi’s case, that’s taken to otherworldly extremes.
Araragi discovers he no longer has a reflection and learns he’s turning into a vampire – it’s karmic retribution, the divine consequence of his experiences. On seeking Shinobu’s council (her own erstwhile vampire powers lost at present), she tells him to see the specialist Yozuru Kagenui. Doing so, however, is far from simple. Suffice it to say, winning Yotsugi from a claw machine was the most straightforward part of their meeting.
In order to keep the transformation at bay, Araragi must no longer rely on his vampire powers, which means living like a human, these parameters then defining humanity in the context of the show. Tsukimonogatari is one of the franchise’s more, um, pervy chapters, at least among the more recent releases. It encourages, exonerates and simultaneously belittles Araragi’s kinky hijinks and adolescent outlook, revealing a character that’s still so caught up in being human, despite the supernatural demands placed upon him.
The scatter-shot and exuberant images that continually set Shaft apart from any other studio are unveiled here at a slower pace, or at the very least, with that much more focus. The complex geometry of the backdrops and settings has all the rhythm of the conversations themselves. It also boasts some of the studio’s most exiting environments: a subterranean slew of colour; snow-capped stones, a babbling stream and stripped bare trees; and one curiously like Superman’s fortress of solitude. It’s these images, the beautiful, mundane and vespertine, which linger and fascinate, more so than the meandering talking heads. It might be the thematically dense light novels of Nisio Isin that Shaft are adapting, but it’s the studio’s own sense of style and complexity that make this franchise essential. And this arc is no different.