Apparently an entire year has elapsed since British viewers last received a dose of Monogatari goodness. To be honest I hadn’t noticed. Despite being a fan of the original series (Bakemonogatari) my enthusiasm for the franchise dipped ever so slightly when the follow up came out. Monogatari Series Second was still entertaining, but in terms of quality it lacked the consistency of its predecessor. Overall the chronologically confused series was a hodgepodge of excellent story arcs intermixed with some less than riveting tales. Perhaps I would have been more forgiving with the season’s missteps had all the episodes been bundled into one or two DVD sets? What we got instead was a series chopped up into several, consumer unfriendly, volumes. With the lengthy pause between releases now over, fans can finally cap off their season two collections by purchasing Hanamonogatari. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.
Hanamonogatari takes place after the events of Koimonogatari, which means that the protagonist baton needs to be transitioned over to a new star – because leading man Koyomi Araragi has since graduated (and heaven forbid that we get an anime not set at high school.) As you may have gathered from the box art, the honour of leading character is bestowed upon spunky carpet muncher Suruga Kanbaru. Long time fans of the show will recognize Suruga as the basketball ace who retired from the sport when a cursed monkey paw replaced her left arm with the limb of a hairy simian. Although Araragi no longer attends Suruga’s school it appears that the supernatural oddities he tangled with have not vacated the premises.
Gossip circulating around the academy halls tells of a mysterious devil that is aiding down on luck students with their personal woes. Suruga decides to investigate the rumours only to find that the fiend in question is her former basketball rival Rouka Numachi. Back when Suruga was famous for scoring three pointers, Rouka had the reputation of being an excellent defender who specialized in blocking shots. I apologise if my basketball lingo is inaccurate, but alas I have no knowledge of the game… I decided to avoid the sport completely after playing the horrible Shaq Fu on the SNES. Anyway, it appears that Rouka has become a counsellor of sorts after a leg injury forced her to quit basketball. Under the guise of a devil, Rouka spends her days listening to the misfortune of others. She also hunts down hexed primate parts and unbeknownst to Suruga is plotting to acquire her past adversaries’ appendage for her collection!
I am awarding Hanamonogatari a score of three stars. My opinion of this five-part story is that Hanamonogatari isn’t the weakest entry in the series, but it isn’t the strongest one either. The absence of Araragi and other fan favourite characters is especially noticeable, as it denies Suruga a partner to trade witticisms with. This ultimately causes her to change from a humorous exhibitionist to a rather glum heroine. Such a shame as banter, rich in puns, is what I enjoy most about the Monogatari series. More gags would have been nice to balance out Rouka’s lengthy monologues about the virtues of running away from life’s troubles. At times the dialogue dragged, not helped by the fact that Monogatari’s usually dynamic visuals didn’t feel all that creative on this occasion. Perhaps Studio Shaft is running out of inspiration after adapting so many of Nisio Isin’s books.
Despite my criticisms I did enjoy watching a new Monogatari adventure after all this time. I do however feel that the plot would have worked better as a concise movie, rather than a padded out quintet of episodes. On the plus side I enjoyed conman Kaiki’s cameo. It’s a relief to see that he survived his injuries, even if his miraculous recovery (and sudden panache for sprinting) is never explained. Viewers who loathe gore will also appreciate how this chapter in the Monogatari saga was devoid of violence, with the final conflict being resolved via a 1v1 duel on the basketball court. In closing, your average anime viewer won’t go bananas over Hanamonogatari’s monkey themed yarn. For fans of the series it will at least tide them over until the upcoming movie trilogy comes out and more of the light novels get localized.