Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching. For clarity’s sake, I’ll emphasize this: the review isn’t meant to be so much holistic as it is coverage of what I believe is of core importance to the show.
When it came to the Monogatari Series, Shaft seemed to have this unspoken rule designating atmospheric shifts in mood with color coding. The show also seems to have a similar preoccupation with hair styles, most notably hair length. Someone from the creative staff may or may not have a hair fetish, but there’s a point to it. It’s a marker of character development having taking place, and Hanamonogatari makes that explicit, with flowery words as well as flowers.
If the events of the past Monogatari installations have anything to express, a lot has went on by this time, one of the more noticeable changes being that Koyomi Araragi and Hitagi Senjougahara have graduated high school. Suruga Kanbaru’s moved up to third-year, like her senpai before, but while her hair’s grown rather long, a couple things haven’t changed. She’s still cursed, cursed by her devilish arm which still hasn’t returned back to normal, cursed by her guilt for devilishly wishing for it to murder Koyomi out of jealousy. Outside of visual cues, both are demonstrated by her inability and/or unwillingness to play basketball again.
A rather physical encounter of sorts occurs one evening with a past acquaintance, a former rival in middle-school named Rouka Numachi. Both used to be rising stars, and both ended up quitting it due to incapacitatation. Suruga with her arm and Rouka with her leg, broken so badly that she the doctors told her she could never play again, let alone walk without crutches. The next day, Suruga wakes up with her arm returned to normal, and, curiously enough, she goes to great lengths to retrieve it back, as much for others sake as it is for herself. In more ways than one, Rouka and Suruga especially are at a basket-ball themed crossroads, of where they will continue with their lives from there.
This show loves playing with the audience’s expectations using unreliable narrators, and Suruga’s narration of her reality, unlike previous narrations via Koyomi’s perspective, is one that’s straightforward of surprisingly limited in perverted antics and pervasive in melancholy and reflection, her perverted antics, shown in the series previously as obnoxiously brazen, suggested to be overcompensation for her self-conscious reservations. Monogatari visual detail is more detailed and focused this season in a that gives meaning to the narrative to the story while being undeniably Shaft in how unconventionally quirky and surreal it can be. It’s also pretty gorgeous to look at, in my opinion.
The dialogue’s has the same shades of color as anything Monogatari is used to, but in a testament to Monogatari’s mastery of the unreliable narrator, there’s a lot less meandering and whimsy as the show is shot through Suruga’s perspective.
Prominent in Monogatari is its literal and metaphorical usage of the supernatural to represent each individual character’s various insecurities, egotisms, and general neurological disorders. However, this creates a dilemma with characters who mistake their apparitions as the symptom of some other character deficiency as something beyond their control to right. Hanamonogatari exploits this premise further by ridding Suruga of her affliction to highlight the lingering issues of guilt that made her lingering oddity as problematic for her as it ever was psychologically, despite it not acting up like before. From jealousy and rage came self-contempt and self-loathing, and that’s abnormal.
Monogatari also has this great knack for lining up the literal things that happen on screen with the themes its trying to address. Most pronounced of these metaphors, matching rather perfectly with Suruga’s dedication to track, is the act of “running away.” Rouka’s learned to run away from the melancholy of her disability by sating herself with the insecurities of others as a phony white knight to make herself feel empowered. On the other hand, Suruga’s been insecure all along, running away from the opportunity to leave her sins behind by following self-planted signs that have her running towards them.
Suruga is forced to wonder if Rouka is right or not to believe that running away from her disability and insecurity rather than confronting and overcoming both. Let alone overcoming both issues, confronting them is painful, painful enough to drive some people to suicide. And if it appears that nothing but pain lies down that path, one is better off believing there are no absolute truths. Adding on to Deishuu Kaiki’s philosophy of phoniness, if there are no absolute truths, then she can do whatever she wants, because she can dictate that whatever she wants is correct. If it is correct, it will make her happy.
And yet Suruga is troubled by this, and the audience is indicated it should too. Like what Nadeko Sengoku once attempted to do, Rouka was attempting to tamper the central theme of Monogatari by becoming a devil and justifying it using Kaiki’s words. Kaiki hates gods and loathes devils. He advocates against the conceit of dependency, because ultimately, Rouka doesn’t so much dictate by what she thinks will make her happy as she unequivocally defines herself by it. She is, and will always be, this awful person, and like Nadeko previously, she embraces that.
Suruga’s guilt may hamstring her, but Rouka’s path is no better, if not worse, and it is with this revelation that informs Suruga, no longer able to camp at the crossroads, of which path to take from there. She wants to choose her own destiny with what’s in her power to do, and she also wants Rouka’s to choose hers as well without compromise. We may be in awful circumstances due to dumb luck, and we may even realize we are awful people, but the world changes, and as human beings, we have the capacity to change, to transition and evolve. Awful circumstances will turn, and awful people don’t have to stay awful, but making the most out of this capacity requires will. It’s through Suruga’s will, Suruga’s choice, and how Suruga handles triumphs and travails down the road to discover, beyond dependency, her own identity. That should not be dictated by whoever is telling her otherwise, even if that whoever happens to be part of her.
With one last basketball game, a moment is shared, hair is cut…
…and a folded-up flower signifying yuri, adolescence, and her…
Management: For further reading on Hanamonogatari’s themes, I suggest scanning through Bobduh’s write-up of the show. For more on Hanamonogatari’s cinematography, I suggest checking out this link.