A Kizumonogatari: Nekketsu Review
Kizumonogatari really goes out of its way to look and feel different, doing so in a fashion so gratuitous yet overwhelmingly desirable that I can’t help but want more. Starting with the setting itself, Nekketsu follows up on Part 1 with its continued use of a 3D rendered setting. Normally you might expect the combination of 2D and 3D to not work out well, with either the characters or the environment feeling out of totally out of place. In this however, it’s an awe-inspiring mixture of extravagant animation and the skillful mimicking of live-action cinematography. Kizumonogatari makes use of this combination in ways that you wouldn’t expect to actually look good, utilizing tilts and pans which you might assume would make the 2D character models appear even more flat, and instead creates shots that are much more compelling and intense.
The attention to detail in the 3D setting is most likely the greatest contributor to actually making the computer generated images “work” (although the quick and precise camera work has a large part to play as well). Specifically, the lighting, shadowing, and reflections all have a major role to play in making the world of the film look ideal, and in a lot of ways, real. Light and shadow are critical in creating believably 3-Dimensional objects, but to create a truly realistic setting you mustn’t neglect the many reflective surfaces of everyday life. Kizumonogatari doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the details, and it exhibits a complete and utter mastery that surpasses any and all reasonable expectations. All that, paired with grandiose architecture and scenery that the monogatari series is known for, this film manages jaw-dropping scenes of an impressive variety ranging from the fabulously intense to the astonishingly serene.
Moving on to a focus on the characters, as well as a focus on the camera’s focus of the characters, it’s utterly delightful how much expression is delivered through the close-ups of this film. Though predominantly Araragi and Hanekawa, almost all of the characters make complete use of their close-up time in conveying emotions. Their facial expressions exemplify so much of what they’re feeling at any given moment; it’s remarkable just how excruciatingly painful things look when just given the facial expressions of Araragi, or how imposingly malevolent Episode seems to be in the heat of battle. And outside of the fights, feelings of reluctant embarrassment and cheeky skepticism come off just as strong.
Another signature of the monogatari series, the editing of this film is just as sharp, agile, and wildly hilarious as you’d expect it to be. On a personal note, one of the things I love most about the series is how it’s able to inject comedy into any situation, going much farther than you’d think is possible without overstepping the boundary of where it becomes hokey and depreciative. Kizumonogatari amplifies this even further, making some gags hit especially hard with jump cuts and non-diegetic imagery. The whimsical and avant-garde nature of the film makes it so much more than just a viewing experience. It’s as if the movie itself is playing with its audience and going the extra mile to make sure we’re all having a fun time.
But as wonderful as it was, this film was not perfect. I mean, I’ll give it a 10 anyway because I’m a biased SHAFT fanboy and numbers are pretty meaningless to me anyway, but I do have a few gripes that somewhat relate to the consistencies between the novel and the movie. I normally don’t like comparing a movie to the books they’re based off of, because adaptations are not inherently meant to precisely embody its source material, and making judgements based on how it didn’t live up to the base that exists in a different storytelling medium is usually pretty unjust. That all being said, I thought the villains in the film lacked a lot of dialogue and consequentially a lot of character. In the book, they’re given plenty of lines, and Episode’s even given a catch phrase. However, in the film’s interpretation, they’re just obstacles to be overcome. Having villains with depth is obviously preferable in most instances, at least for me, because that essentially raises the stakes. Understanding motivations for the hero is one thing, but being able to see the point of view of the antagonist, and being able to relate to them on some level, can be much more thought-provoking.
Other than the villains not being compelling characters however, I’d say this film was an absolutely marvelous experience. Kizumonogatari: Nekketsu knows how to experiment and perfect almost every single aspect of itself, presenting its unique mastery of visual design, cunning cinematography, and brilliantly whimsical editing, to far exceed our necessary requirements of captivation. And I haven’t even addressed the musical score, which is full of fantastic jazz renditions that really add to the whole “film noir” motif that the movie also has going for it. While it does suck that film was arbitrarily cut into three parts, it’s still incredibly satisfying to witness an hour of this extraordinary piece of art.
So here I am with another review of an hour-long episode that I paid fifteen bucks to see. And once again, I happened to see another anime movie that same day for half the price (Miss Hokusai), and yet was structured way more like a movie than how Shaft has been handling this "totally not worth the wait" prequel, which still baffles me. I know Japan has a different culture to the West, but I'll never understand what it is they love about airing anime episodes in theatres and expecting their audience to pay full price for them. Was this how it was like to experience the big screen when the Looney Tunes were popular? I bet if I somehow time-travelled to that period, I'd be calling all of you guys paying ten bucks to see Daffy get blown up for six minutes a bunch of crazy fucks.
But enough about the price. Let's talk about whether Kizumonogatari actually lived up to its promise this time with its second installment. In case you've forgotten, the first part of this serial movie release had Shinobu get turned into a little girl for reasons that I can't be assed to explain the biology of, and Araragi must use his newly acquired vampire powers to defeat a group of supernatural individuals "shonen tournament"-style in order to get the body parts our Heart-Angel-Blade needs to swallow in order to go from "you masturbate to her and you'll get arrested" to "you masturbate to her and you'll get humiliated". Thanks to his newly acquired vampire body, Araragi is basically a non-shining version of a Twilight vampire with his toned body and fighting skills, along with the usual regenerative powers, so of course the movie will exploit the shit out of it with over-the-top fight scenes, Araragi bleeding like a geyser in order to showcase how dangerous his opponents are, and making fangirls squee harder than when Sora in Kingdom Hearts II sung "Under the Sea". This is what all those years of production were for, fanboys. Pure fanservice that I seem to recall Madhouse accomplishing with a far less time-consuming schedule back when attaching their name to an anime actually meant something.
Hanekawa also shows up for no reason other than fanservice. No seriously, that's it. Her cat powers don't seem to exist as of yet and she contributes nothing to the plot but overlong "comedic" banter without the humor and giving Araragi a motive to fight harder, because apparently his loli-fetish for a vampire who doesn't wear underwear is not the best choice for drawing out his true inner strength. She also has this weird habit of just teleporting to where Araragi is at the most plot-convenient moment, just in time to get her guts ripped out or to discover that the only teenage boy that seems to exist in this world is going to be young and hot forever. And because nobody seems to exist in the Monogatari universe but the main characters, it's really distracting how much this movie doesn't bother to clarify why she'd be wandering around these battle arenas in the first place, especially given how these fight scenes always take place in the middle of the night. Is her favorite grocery store in the area? Is her internal clock set in Western Hemisphere time? What?
I'm having a really hard time describing the plot to this thing because it's not really up to much. There's not really more to the movie than Araragi fighting vampires (and a vampire hunter), getting closer to Hanekawa, and that cliched "you risk becoming a monster with these powers" narrative with no original ideas whatsoever. Exactly how am I supposed to write a few paragraphs about your story when that's all you're giving me? Describe the fight scenes? I guess I could say that I liked how Araragi won some of them due to tactical planning rather than Dragonball Z-logic, although the overblown emotional nature of the second and third fights was pretty silly, and the comedic nature in the beginning of the first fight was fucking dumb. And because the camera is constantly swinging, it's hard to appreciate any existing choreography that might have snuck in amidst all the power level clashes, although to be fair, I recall the camera being more calm during those scenes than the talking ones.
As for the animation style, what do you want me to say? Nothing has changed from the last Kizumonogatari or any of the other ten Monogatari iterations aside from a little more blood and a little less fire. Nekketsu-hen does increase the amount of humor, so of course that means an increase in the amount of annoying sound effects and stupid reaction faces that would only be funny to twelve year olds who think it's appropriate to make fun of a woman's vagina whilst calling attention to the fact that you're making fun of it as a free pass. Every time Hanekawa banters with Araragi regarding his perverted tendencies and the amazing appeal of the panty she may or may not be wearing, I wanted to reach into the screen and beat both of them up with each other's faces for wasting about half the movie's runtime on something that in any sane universe would be considered "filler", but in the Nisio Isin universe is considered "solid gold".
Please explain to me the appeal of two characters purposefully making bad jokes and calling attention to the fact that said jokes are bad for long stretches of something that's only an hour long. If I was watching Danganronpa, said jokes would be accompanied by someone getting murdered or going through a villainous breakdown in order to keep the energy going. Monogatari though seems to have that stupid mindset that characterization for its own sake is engaging, and self-aware humor where you just do something stupid and point out that said thing is stupid was funny when Mike Myers did it. And that's what's always annoyed me about this series' usage of irony: it doesn't go far enough or attach that irony to something with momentum. Every time characters converse, the plot basically grinds to a halt in order for the actors to banter with each other like a deleted scene that somehow made it into the final cut. Also, someone please tell me the appeal of sexual harassment as humor. What the fuck is the punchline of those sorts of jokes anyways?
Finally, there are the new characters, who I honestly don't remember a thing about because they have no characterization other than being antagonistic and not above playing dirty to get what they want. Honestly, I can't even remember what they look like or what their names are. They don't have any good chemistry with Araragi, making them very pointless villains that makes Doc Ock's relationship with Spiderman look like something from DC comics, and they're never mentioned again after they're defeated, so Araragi might as well have been fighting moving gargoyle statues. It occurs to me that if you had cut out Hanekawa's very existence from this movie and given all that screen time to Araragi and his vampire opponents bantering it up instead, at least it would have given the action more meaning, even if risks falling into that other DBZ trademark of drawn-out anime action by doing so. But then again, Nisio Isin just doesn't seem to like the concept of male-on-male conversations. Why else would Oshino leave the story right the first series?
All in all, Nekketsu-hen just gets a big meh from me. I don't care for the animation because it's the same Shaft-style it's always been except of higher technical quality, but lacking in strong visual metaphors deserving of said quality, and full of so many quick cuts, annoying reaction faces, and title cards that I'm surprised I came out of the theater without a seizure. The story actually goes somewhere in this part so it's not as torturously boring as last time, but anyone who thinks that Araragi sacrificing his humanity to protect those he loves is an engaging tale obviously does not watch monster movies. Not to mention, since this is a prequel, we know he and everyone else are going to make it out okay, so there's no real tension to anything that happens to the established cast unless you were curious regarding whether Hanekawa actually got through the whole ordeal with her virginity intact.
At the end of the day, I just don't understand why this prequel needed to exist. All it does is show us stuff that we already knew happened, except being shown to us visually. And there's nothing being conveyed to us through these visuals that's new and refreshing unless you count another stupid usage of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey new and refreshing. It's basically what's inevitably going to happen with that new Star Wars movie focused on the spies who stole the Death Star plans, and if there's anything worse than getting compared to the prequel trilogy, it's getting compared to Disney's brand of mediocre nostalgia cash-ins.