SHAFT did it! They got the movie out on time. Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu dropped as announced in Summer–August 19th, to be exact–continuing the grim and gruesome tale of Araragi Koyomi, Hanekawa Tsubasa, Oshino Meme and Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade.
Where as Tekketsu opened by letting the audience slowly soak in Araragi’s circumstances and the Kizumonogatari world, Nekketsu gets right to it. Rather than the stern and sovereign taiko that opened the first film, Nekketsu opens with a thumping techno beat matched to minimalist wire-frame visuals à la the third Pani Poni Dash opening. With Tekketsu setting the scene for Kizumonogatari, Nekketsu dives straight into the battles with two of the three unsavory characters who stole Shinobu’s body parts–Dramaturgy and Episode. Between these dynamic battles, Araragi and Hanekawa’s relationship deepens, and the story of Kizumonogatari draws close to its climax.
One thing that sticks out about this entry into the series first and foremost is the colossal amount of gore. The Monogatari anime series has a reputation for splattering around huge buckets of ketchup when it gets excited, right from its very first entry–Bakemonogatari–when Kanbaru spun Araragi around by his intestines. While that scene’s colorful and abstract spray of multicolored body fluid was Made for TV, Kizumonogatari is a movie goddammit, and all the blood is a beautiful, deep red.
Honestly, it’s very refreshing to see an anime in this modern day and age royally open up the floodgates for extreme blood and gore. It’s an excellent callback to older Japanese animated works, where characters were walking sacks of red goop that exploded at the slightest prod. That said, while the gore is entertainingly excessive, there is a significance to it. The battles the film depicts are between supernatural entities with supernatural strength, and the severity of the violence and gore really drives that point home.
While Goku can survive a direct energy blast with a few scratches, a solid kick from Dramaturgy sends Araragi’s arm flying, complete with a “weeeee~” sound effect for good measure. The intensity of the bloodshed effectively emphasizes the high stakes at hand, making for a pair of very compelling fights. This extreme atmosphere works well to communicate strong emotions as well. Without going into too much detail, the film features a couple of scenes with a slight tinge ero guro nonsense, which go even further to solidify the seductive and gruesome nature of Kizumonogatari’s vampire story.
Aside from the gore, the composition and presentation of the action alone does well to illustrate the supremely intense nature of these fights. Dramaturgy’s footsteps are huge, loud stomps, while his movements are full bodied and athletic. Punches, kicks–any manner of attack is heavy. When he throws Araragi through multiple glass walls, it looks like it really hurts. Episode–enemy No. 2–fights with a giant cross. Rather than shooting it, he flings it like a boomerang. Its flight is violent, crushing the ground on impact. It is very deliberately presented as a tool made to produce seriously vicious violence and damage. Meanwhile, Araragi’s movements are light and agile, letting him win fights on ingenuity over the brute strength of his opponents.
Dramaturgy’s fight in particular is complimented by a ferocious rainfall, exhibited by way of huge bounds of rain rendered as thin white curves flying off the characters, and buckets on the school grounds overflowing with very realistically rendered water. This extra attention to detail with regards to setting the scene goes a long way towards injecting higher doses dynamism, excitement and an enticing visceral edge into the battles.
Now that Araragi is a vampire, most of the story occurs at night, in a dark and lonely Tokyo. Vast, empty streets; twisting highway interchanges populated by identical cars; and silhouettes of familiar Tokyo landmarks provide an intimidating and lonely–but familiar–stage for the characters, taking the larger-than-life story of battling vampires down to a very intimate and relatable level. While this heavily dark aesthetic results in the film not being quite as visually arresting as the first one, SHAFT’s keen design sense is consistent, and makes it all work together well. They go out of their way to drive important points home in certain scenes with their signature abstract visual flair–one example comes at the climax of the film, where Araragi rushes to where he needs to be, sprinting through Star Wars hyperspace. Meanwhile, interiors are intricately constructed and moodily lit much like the first film, complete with another appearance of Shinbo’s trademark checkerboard floor patterns.
While this all sounds very deep and moody, keep in mind that limbs make a “weeeee~” sound when kicked off. Characteristic to the Monogatari series, the film knows how to bring things back down to Earth in order to keep from getting too heavy. While both of the main battles in the movie are intense, they both have strategically placed moments of comedic relief. Watching the film in Kabukicho, the end of Dramaturgy’s battle inspired me to head out to the batting cage there. Meanwhile, the battle with Episode opens with this track, transitioning to a gypsy jazz guitar solo with constant cutbacks to Episode’s maniacal laughter, bringing about allusions to the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Ghost of Stephen Foster or Hell videos. Moreover, Araragi and Hanekawa have to undergo moments of somewhat tedious drama for their story to proceed, but that is also skillfully interluded with claims by Araragi that he wants her family fortune–claims which Hanekawa rebukes, stating that her family isn’t rich at all. While this is Monogatari’s typical MO, the balance of humor versus drama in Kizumonogatari is even more careful than previous entries in the series, keeping it all from getting too heavy, and making the dramatic moments in the film hit harder.
Speaking of Araragi and Hanekawa–most of the character interaction is between them in this film, where as Shinobu spends most of her time sleeping. Along with the two main battles, another main point of this film is Araragi and Hanekawa’s budding friendship. This is actually somewhat disappointing, as their interaction is very similar to the way they act around each other in Bakemonogatari and after. The only difference is that there is an initial push back from Araragi (the above-mentioned drama) against Hanekawa. I suppose if one were to actually watch the series in chronological order this would be fine, but otherwise one expects a little more from the first big meeting of these two principle figures in the Monogatari world. I guess one thing the film has going for it is something of a sexual tension between the two, with Hanekawa touching Araragi’s ripped body, and showing off her panties yet another time (a more erotic pair) in this film. In short, it all works out well.
Pacing wise, the film moves at a slightly faster clip than the first entry into the trilogy, being very battle focused. While there are the typical Monogatari “let’s chill out and chat” scenes, the film powers through well to its cliffhanger ending. Capping it all off is a beautiful and melodramatic French (?) ending song, setting an appropriately somber tone for the final film. I have yet to read the Kizumonogatari novel (that said my boi Ko Ransom translated the English version, so go get that) so I am anxious to see how the story will wrap up. Between the final scene of this film, Bakemonogatari’s opening scene and the lines uttered during the preview for the next film, things promise to be good…
…especially given Hanekawa’s, “Araragi-kun, feel up my breasts” line that closes off the film, sticking with you as you leave the theater.