Nekomonogatari: Kuro is the third adapted installment of the Monogatari series, an array of light novels written by Nisio Isin. It serves as a precursor to Bakemonogatari and features Tsubasa Hanekawa during the events of Golden Week, in which she becomes possessed by a neko (translated as “cat”) and indiscriminately attacks people on the street to relieve her built-up stress. Viewers of Bakemonogatari may recall references and flashbacks to this incident particularly in the Tsubasa Cat arc, and here we finally see it divulged in detail.
Now coming from the markedly huge success of both Bakemonogatari and the controversial Nisemonogatari, fans may likely enter this third installment with a few qualms. After all, Nisemonogatari occasionally acted like a completely different series than its predecessor Bake, with the most divisive issue being its more prolific fanservice. And now viewers are left wondering whether Nekomonogatari will continue the footsteps of Nise or tread back towards the more “conventional” success from Bake (well, at least more conventional than Nise). The result?
A mixed oddity.
Structurally, Nekomonogatari is like a bizarre child born from a vile yet oddly alluring incest between Bake and Nisemonogatari. It takes the most successful aspects of both series and tries to mash them into its own masterful direction. But the end result is less a full-on masterpiece than an overall great but not perfect special: Neko thrives and yet occasionally suffers from the very compiled aspects it relies on.
On a holistic level, the story follows Bakemonogatari’s arc formula quite closely. It starts off—much like a visual novel or eroge—with several cameos of the “see girl then talk to girl” type. Here, it stays light-hearted in its comedy while tossing in some witty dialogue between our sexually frustrated Araragi and one of Nekomonogatari’s several supporting characters. The overarching mystery is then introduced, some character development and macrabre-like drama ensues, a solution is finally realized, and the status quo is achieved again.
While this formula is nothing new coming from the five alike arcs in Bakemonogatari, it is nonetheless executed in a well-woven and highly enjoyable manner. Really, this alikeness to Bakemonogatari is actually one of Neko’s strengths, as it keeps the plot structure fresh and interesting coming from the slower and more casual pace of its predecessor Nisemonogatari. Even the sudden, fast-paced action scenes involving some form of an Araragi massacre continue to be outlandishly eye-gripping and exciting, not only in its sudden change of pace coming from the heavy dialogue, but also in its vivid detail and fluid animation. It is no exaggeration that these extremely gory scenes keep viewers on their toes and high on the suspense, even if these scenes are just part of the arc formula to reach the end conclusion. After all, being the subject of mutilation is Ararararagi-kun’s modus operandi, a lose to win scenario, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint in being the best loser there is (I’m bad at puns).
Now aside from the story structure, what the Monogatari series truly shines in is its engaging, witty dialogue. Nekomonogatari is certainly no sloucher, as it touts some of the best soliloquys in the series and continues to make great use of its art direction in keeping the dialogue-heavy script truly captivating. Regarding the subject of much of the dialogue itself, Nekomonogatari acts more like Nise in employing a raunchier perversion and boning up the sexual tension to the largest tip. This isn’t to say in contrast that Bakemonogatari is the Virgin Mary of anime, but the sexual undertones and fanservice in Bake is arguably done in a more playful and “intellectual” manner, though it still has its fair share of ecchi(-ish?) slapstick comedy and deadpan humor.
This brings us to the most controversial topic in the series—fanservice.
Whether you may be in the “too much” or “too little” category, there is no doubt that the Monogatari series lives by its unique art direction, strong characters, and witty, often sexually charged dialogue. All of these elements, including fanservice, are just as frequent in Neko as they were in Nise, and whether it’s discussing porn and fondling breasts with your sister or licking desks and gaping at a scantily clad Hanekawa-nyan, Nekomonogatari does not hold back on its fanservice—for better or worse.
However, there is a lot to be said about the source material here. This four-episode series stays pretty true to the light novel it adapts to, and does quite a good job at condensing the entire novel into only 96 minutes. That said, the fanservice could have been a lot more prevalent given the elaborate detail and flamboyant panache of the novel (where’s our 2-page rant on Tsukihi’s pantsu??). Personally, I find the occasional subtle fanservice more enjoyable than the crude masturbatory imagery done in most fanservice-inducing series or specials; and in this respect, I think Neko does a decent job at providing enough fanservice to stay true to the novel and pander to fans, but not so much that it completely bars one from enjoying the story or characters.
Character development-wise, the story explores Araragi’s love for Hanekawa in great detail, as he questions whether his newfound love is one based on romance or one based on lust. There is certainly a plethora of great analysis here given Neko’s connection to Bake and Nisemonogatari. For one, we have a clear juxtaposition between Araragi’s relationship with Hanekawa and his relationship with Senjougahara. In Neko, for instance, Araragi discusses Hanekawa’s cat problem with Oshino, and Araragi promptly asserts, “Only she can save herself.” And yet in early Bake, Araragi discusses Senjougahara’s crab problem with Oshino, and it is not Araragi but Oshino who spouts the very same line. Is Araragi perhaps more willing to save Senjougahara than Hanekawa? More interestingly enough, this becomes ironically subverted: Senjougahara essentially overcomes her crab problem by her conviction alone, while Hanekawa overcomes her cat problem not by her own will, but by direct intervention from Araragi himself (well, technically it was Shinobu but you get the point).
Hanekawa’s development alone is also quite strong, though little can be said without spoilers. In a very early scene where Hanekawa explains to Araragi why her step-father hit her, she undermines herself in her step-father’s defense, saying that she was a “seventeen-year old that speaks like she knows everything,” a subversion of her very well-known catchphrase, “I don’t know everything, I just know what I know.” Ah, what a woman.
Other supporting characters get a fair amount of detail as well. While Nekomonogatari features a smaller supporting cast (for continuity’s sake), this is actually quite convenient given the limited 96 minutes, as Neko doesn’t have to deal with adding short fanservice cameos to every single character in existence. This isn’t to say that Nekomonogatari doesn’t suffer from this problem however, as Karen makes an awfully short cameo with a small role in the story and a big role in the fanservice.
At the very least, however, the rest of the supporting cast get their just deserts. We get some much needed interaction with Tsukihi, who was largely lacking in Nisemonogatari as her sister Karen took up almost all the spotlight—even in Tsukihi’s own arc! Oshino also makes a few great cameos in Neko, and it’s interesting to see his character again considering the discussion surrounding his philosophy from Nise’s finale. And perhaps an even more vital character, Shinobu gets a good deal of much needed air time as well. With her intimidating yet all the more cute capriciousness, she continues to be the looming lolicon vampire guardian that we’ve all come to love from the past two seasons, possibly the most fleshed-out character of the supporting cast. While she still hasn’t gotten the attention she deserves as a prospective main lead, it will certainly be interesting how her role will play out in the events of Kizumonogatari.
Animation-wise, SHAFT artwork in general has always been controversial. Some consider it a beautifully original direction while others consider it an expensive slide show. Nekomonogatari is certainly no different than its predecessors in its production quality. As such, we get a fair share of one-liner screen slides, SHAFT head tilts, eye-cropped shots, and outrageously comical blown-up views to make the current situation more over the top than it already is. The series can immediately shift from cheaply made 5-second-long stills to the most beautifully hand-animated artworks in existence, taking the “sudden shift in art style” trope to the utter extreme. Nekomonogatari’s attention to detail here is excellent, with a vibrant array of colors and overall strong use in appropriating the lighting and physical setting to suit the current atmosphere. Really, if you’ve watched the previous installments or any modern SHAFT work, then you know exactly what to expect, and at the very least, it’s undisputedly better than two talking heads in a fixed panned-out shot. Whether you’re a fan of SHAFT’s eccentricities or not, animation style is all about complementing and enhancing the story, and a dialogue-heavy series—however good the script may be—just wouldn’t be all too compelling without fresh ways to keep viewers piqued.
Suitably in that regard, it is even more vital that the seiyuus do an excellent job at conveying proper emotion and keeping viewers entertained. And Nekomongatari certainly doesn’t disappoint, employing the same brilliant cast. The soundtrack is pretty decent, and as with Bakemonogatari arcs and their respective OPs, Nekomonogatari’s OP “perfect slumbers” is composed by Satoru Kosaki, lyrics by meg rock, and vocals by Hanekawa’s seiyuu Yui Horie. It’s a nice mellow tune featuring the beautiful Hanekawa, with a soothing yet melancholic mood revolved around loneliness. Dire fans (and/or the masochist-equivalent) may recognize that SHAFT certainly loves its train tracks and vibrant geometric imagery, and “perfect slumbers” is no slouch on either account.
All in all, Nekomonogatari doesn’t do much different from its two predecessors, combining a Bakemonogatari-like storyline with a more sexually charged dialogue and more rampant fanservice suitable to Nisemonogatari. And for a four-episode prequel, Neko does a great job at handling a focused cast and molding their characterization and relationships to fit its congruity with the rest of the series.