I’ll be the first to admit that my viewing of the Monogatari franchise is patchy at best. Over the years I’ve reviewed parts of it for this site (see here, here and here) and for other publications. In all those years I’ve built up an admiration for the anime, and the three-part Kizumonogatari film series may be the franchise at its most disturbing and sublime.
The movies together serve as a prequel to the beloved Bakemonogatari, the first of studio SHAFT’s adaptions of Nisio Isin’s light novels. The first instalment showcased the original meeting between high schooler Koyomi Araragi and the vampire Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade. Except all her limbs have been severed by vampire hunters. Araragi saves her, becoming a vampire in the process and, in the second instalment, faces down the hunters and gathers up all her missing limbs. The third movie, Reiketsu, is the restoration of Kiss-shot and Araragi’s realisation that she needs to be stopped in order to safeguard humanity. By the end of the movie, Kiss-shot has been defeated and turned into the adorable little Shinobu fans know and love, and Araragi exists somewhere on the fringes, not a vampire anymore, but not quite a human either. It’s a bittersweet ending, one befitting the journey that feels not only earned but appropriate.
In terms of visual audacity and experimentation, the film is right up there with The Tatami Galaxy and Mob Psycho 100, shows that use the freedoms of animation to play with reality, to visualise abstractions and, when all’s said and done, to entertain. Here it’s used as camouflage. Being a prequel, there’s few real surprises to be had, even as the characters come to terms with their own revelations. We always knew how this was going to end, it was just the getting there that mattered and filling in blanks, and so here the avant-garde animation and spectacle is put into overdrive. The climax of the movie comes with the fateful showdown between Kiss-shot and Araragi, and oh what a fight. It’s preposterous and violent in the extreme, at times I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or recoil – often it was both. It was the bloodiest, most gut-churning I’ve ever seen the series, with sequences that made DEVILMAN crybaby look tame. It wasn’t the first instance of violence either, the movies are littered with it. An earlier scene sees Kiss-shot chewing the face off a severed head as though it was only an ice cream.
But bookending this violence are moments of tenderness and beauty. It’s always been at its quietest that Monogatari has excelled, whether that’s in long philosophical conversations, a meandering monologue or, in this case, a sequence of Kiss-shot on a building top, her long hair fluttering in a twilight breeze. Of course, this is Monogatari so there are moments of awkward eroticism, but at least here, Araragi isn’t perving after little girls.
As with all other instalments, Reiketsu is another messy masterpiece. And like its predecessors and, no doubt, its successors, it invites interpretation at every turn but defies any easy categorisation or definition. It exists at an intersection of hypnotic music, hallucinogenic animation, big ideas, bigger spectacle and quiet moments that linger long after the credits have rolled. It’s by turns beautiful, mournful and disturbing, confounding its pretensions and overindulgences for a wild mix that could only be Monogatari.
Extras: promos & trailer