Kizumonogatari III: The Final Battle

Originally planned for release in Autumn of 2012, the completion of the Kizumonogatari saga has finally come to pass in this bright new year of 2017 with the release of Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu. With this film being the trilogy’s grand finale, it’s very difficult to examine it without revealing key plot details about the ending. That being the case, I highly advise those not familiar with the story to refrain from reading any further.

Reiketsu opens on a somber rainy day upon the conclusion of Araragi’s battle with Guillotine Cutter. He has achieved his goal, and Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade has returned to her original form. Despite initial anxiety on the part of Araragi, he quickly realizes that he can relax with his mission accomplished. However, an uneasy tension continues to permeate through the air. After Araragi and Kiss-Shot enjoy an extended conversation on the roof of their hideout, the two are about to celebrate the end of their short time together. Happy ending, right?

Not with an hour of the film left, it isn’t.

While Tekketsu and Nekketsu worked together to tell one complete story of Araragi VS the Vampire Hunters–featuring all the twists, turns and climaxes that sort of story entails–Reiketsu resets. Starting back at zero, the film’s tempo makes a gripping and steady rise, culminating in an extravagant climax that is extremely satisfying.

Here’s the big twist: Araragi finds out that Kiss-Shot consumes human beings as sustenance to stay alive. Despite Kiss-Shot having lived for hundreds of years, Araragi is only the second person she has ever bitten, so it would seem that she was not taking in the required amounts of human blood to stay alive. In lieu of that, the super-powered vampire was devouring people whole this entire time. Araragi learns this unpleasant fact after returning from a run to the convenience store to get some snacks for their celebration. He returns to find the dismembered corpse of Guillotine Cutter splattered across the floor, in the midst of being devoured by Kiss-Shot. She stands up from her meal, clutching a cold, CG-rendered version of Guillotine Cutter’s severed head… which she proceeds to chew at from the chin.

This scene boasts amazing contrast in both atmosphere and visuals, hitting hard and playing to SHAFT’s strength in exaggeration. Guillotine Cutter’s cold CG-rendered remains purposely clash with the 2D-rendered surroundings, and he looks like a gazelle caught by a lion, his parts scattered out across the dark classroom. On top of this bleak image is a jubilant Kiss-Shot chomping away at his flesh, illustrating effectively how natural these actions are for her. Faced with this reality, Araragi goes into shock, and the scene morphs into one of SHAFT’s signature acid trips, rendering our hero’s face multiple times (in various stages of disgust) across the screen in different colors while intense Buddhist sutras can be heard in the background. The scene appropriately cuts in Buddhist imagery to match the audio, which abruptly cuts to an SMPTE screen with the Japanese characters for “curse” hidden in the corners.

In comparison to the first two films, the third is the most visceral. While Tekketsu and Nekketsu place a heavy focus on building up the characters, Reiketsu depends on the audience’s established knowledge of the cast. This film thrusts our heroes into a situation far above and beyond the level of danger and uncertainty present in the first two films, and watches them react. Reiketsu shows these characters as people with nothing left to lose–digging deep into the ugly and embarrassing parts of their psyche.

I love it when stories go to places like these. The main Monogatari Series was always too level-headed and pretentious to do this, so it’s good to see the franchise let its hair down.

The film’s visceral nature takes shape both violently and sexually. Araragi is angry and conflicted, realizing that he has no other option but to engage with Kiss-Shot in mortal combat. Faced with the prospect of certain death and having not known the touch of a woman, he calls up Hanekawa for reasons that need not be explained. While Araragi’s horndog desires meekly stop at wanting to feel Hanekawa’s breasts, she had visited him mentally prepared to become a woman. “Oh, I just thought I’d have my first time in an abandoned school gym storage room,” she states with an inevitable tone in her voice. The scene is played for laughs as is typical for the franchise, but it does bring to light interesting aspects about these characters and how they act when forced to make decisions that might be their last.

The final battle between Araragi and Kiss-Shot builds upon the previous films’ standard of visceral and extreme violence, elevating it to pure absurdity. By accurately depicting the “reality” of a mortal battle between two immortal vampires trying to take each others’ lives, the final battle is delightful, irreverent nonsense–or in Kiss Shot’s words, “the stuff that vampire combat is made of!” Blood flows by the gallon, limbs are sliced off only to return instantaneously, and even heads come back in one piece after being snapped off. One memorable cut in the battle features multiple rolling heads (Kiss-Shot’s laughing) littering the battleground as the two vampires continue to be unsuccessful in inflicting damage on each other.

But more so than the absurdity, the final battle is simply awesome. As the combat becomes more intense, the lines become sketchier, and the bloodshed gets more intense. Araragi finds clever ways to use his severed limbs to his advantage in combat to maneuver quickly, while Kiss-Shot fires off hellfire blasts that blow away anything Goku could deliver. It’s all really quite gross, but the film manages transform what could be ordinary gore and violence into super dynamic gore and violence. The results are unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere–extremely imaginative and with no regard for rhyme or reason. These are vampires after all, they do not operate on our human logic.

Much like previous SHAFT and Monogatarti works, the film is very stylish and visually-inventive. Given the rather straightforward nature of the story, the film isn’t quite as playful as previous entries, but it maintains the same distinctive aesthetic and amusing visual motifs.  Of note, the final battle is hilariously Olympic-inspired, opening with a giant torch being lit to signify the commencement of the fight. As Araragi and Kiss-Shot attempt to land their final blows, they are accompanied by radio excerpts from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, announcing the appearance of Japan’s athletes at the opening ceremony. Throughout the battle, the characters run as if they are track and field athletes, adding more to the absurdity of the scene.

There are of course many distinctive moments in the film with keen visual flare, such as a striking shot of bat-mode Kiss-Shot sleeping upside-down with her winged friends. She also gets a slickly designed paper-cutout flashback segment, likely animated by a member of Gekidan Inu Curry. Like many other SHAFT works, faces are really expressive–the final battle is defined by a clash of insane death stares via Araragi and Kiss-Shot as they proceed to tear each other apart.

Driven by a very satisfying narrative arc and enhanced by heavy helpings of insane violence, Reiketsu closes off the Kizumonogatari trilogy with a huge bang. After the all of the exposition and build-up of the previous works, this final entry makes for an incredible, imaginative, and emotional payoff. In the end, the film very satisfactorily answers a number of lingering questions, adequately setting the stage for 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Yes, the wait is finally over.

Unless you had already read the novel…

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