This post has been postponed far too long, so I first apologize for the long wait. It’s good to be back talking about the franchise known for talking.
First of all, I have to applaud the writers for not making two major characters seem forced in the story despite sharing screen time equal to that of a cameo. Higasa, Karen and Ougi(now male) seem fitting as sources of exposition since they’re a part of her current social life, but characters such as Araragi and Kaiki could easily seem out of place considering one is now in college and the other was thought to be dead. Thankfully, the show manages to avoid this disconnect by having us believe that they’ve gone through significant change between the two arcs. Seeing a friendlier side of Kaiki and a mature side of Araragi puts them in a new light that affects Kanbaru just as much as them. At the same time, their relevance in the plot being restricted to that of advisors reminds us that after the events of Season 2, Kanbaru is very much alone.
Making up for her absence in 2nd season, this arc doubles as a character study of Suruga Kanbaru and her farewell as a romantic candidate. When broken down to her basic elements, she’s still the perverted, bisexual tomboy that we’ve grown to love. But for once we see a glimpse into what her family woes have done to her, how it convinced her into accepting the devil’s arm, and how it shaped her views about jealousy. And since most of the other characters have either graduated or disappeared, they also focus more on how she’s changed thanks to them and what’s matured throughout her absence. Despite actively trying to kill him in the past, she’s arguably gotten the most influence from Araragi than any of the other girls. Not only does she share his values of actively helping others, but she fits the role of a negotiator and investigator quite well. Sure she has some insecurities about continuing to follow such a path, but the progress she makes by the end is enough to start an entire spin-off show around her adventures.
But the character that steals the spotlight throughout this arc is an old rival of hers named Rouka Numachi. First being introduced as a con artist tricking people into believing she’ll solve their problems, she immediately crushes that shallow image by taking away her cursed arm, thus relieving her of her biggest worry. And throughout the rest of this story, she fits the role of a tragic villain, a twisted hero, a former friend and proper foil for Kanbaru really well. Her backstory explaining her departure from basketball and her quest for gathering devil parts is a fascinating tale of lost dreams and morbid curiosity with a twist at the end that genuinely shocked me. And while her selfish, pessimistic, amoral tendencies contrast greatly with Kanbaru, the striking similarities between their darker moments, their interactions on the basketball court, and the chemistry they share really sells the idea that they were close friends (possibly lovers) who drifted apart.
This contrast also serves as a dividing factor when discussing the arc’s theme: helping others. Numachi argues that most people can solve their own problems themselves, and asking help from others is a naive action that only leaves them vulnerable to the supporter. Both the victims of the devil parts and those that claim she’s the devil are proof of this. They’re cursed by their own wish and ask for sympathy from a person that pities them. Those that depended on her either fueled her hunger for misery, and those that benefited from her help were simply adding to her collection. It didn’t matter to them that her joy came from their sorrow or the help they got was from stealing, because the result of having their problems fixed painted her as a saint.
So I really like how this lack of antagonism towards Numachi plays a part in Kanbaru’s growth as the voice of reason. She starts off confident in her beliefs of helping other with a clean slate, but slowly loses that confidence as Numachi barrages her with both believable reasons and successful results. She questions her actions in the past, her current involvement in this mess, and even lets out her frustration by mindlessly running toward nothingness. And I really like that what reconfirms her beliefs is by admitting it’s just as selfish as Numachi’s. Trying to solve other’s problems and showing genuine sympathy isn’t as selfless as it sounds, but it’s what saved her in her darkest hours and ultimately what saves her former friend.
Having been deprived of any Monogatari goodness for over a year, watching this 5 ep mini-series is a breath of fresh air for me. While it definitely feels like it’s reaching a conclusion, this franchise still has a lot to offer. There’s already an announcement for another 4 episode special on New Years Eve, and you can bet I will talk about it here.