Let me tell you a story. Bakemonogatari has been and will probably always be my favorite anime of all time. This is a story about how its second sequel lived up to and, in some cases, outperformed its predecessors. This story is filled with spoilers (and a lot of summary too) for an extremely pivotal point in the the Monogatari series – so readers who have not seen Monogatari Series Second Season (hereon MG2) have been warned.
The main thing that MG2 does unquestionably better than Bakemonogatari is character development. That is not to say that Bakemonogatari is lacking in development, but the paradigm Bakemonogatari focused on was introducing a character, resolving their issues and using them in a supporting role for the remainder of the series (notably not as a supporting role for Senjougahara or Araragi for the series). While MG2 takes a similar approach in that it deals with characters in mini-arcs for each character, it does a fantastic job diversifying all of the characters the series previously introduced.
Our first arc begins with Hanekawa becoming a vagrant because her house burns down and having some…we will say “interesting dialogue” with Senjougahara. We also spend the first 4 episodes without Koyomi. Admittedly, I was worried these first few episodes. I didn’t want MG2 to have a fate anything like Nisemonogatari – owner of the weirdest scene in anything, ever:
But I was fortunately pleasantly surprised that after the series got the “oddities” out of the way, it had quite a bit of depth and went beyond my expectations.
Hanekawa’s character improves significantly in this arc. Frankly, she spends the majority of Bakemonogatari as a pretentious fool and I always had a hard time liking her as anything other than Black Hanekawa.
The flaw in Hanekawa’s character is in the fact that she allows herself to repress her negative emotions and for people to trample her. It is quickly revealed that Kako, the tiger that burns down Hanekawa’s house is actually Hanekawa’s repressed jealousy. She eventually realizes that her negative emotions must be dealt with and that she can’t simply isolate herself from negativity.
This really allows Hanekawa to develop some strength because she finally learns to draw on negative emotions like jealousy and anger to be jealous and angry when it is warranted. Her jealousy allows her to finally admit her love for Araragi (followed by his rejection, which humbles her) and her anger finally allows her to stand up to her family and ask for her own room. All in all, this season greatly influences Hanekawa’s character and makes her far less commonplace. And she gets spiffy new black and white hair to symbolize her acceptance of Black Hanekawa and Kako the Tiger!
While the second arc of MG2 is entitled “Mayoi Jiangshi,” the arc is much more about the deepening of Shinobu and Araragi’s relationship (one of the things Nisemonogatari did well) than it is about Hachikuji.
The entire arc is about time travel when Araragi, on a whim, wishes to return to the past to complete his summer work. Shinobu grants this wish, but they end up going into the past to the day before Hachikuji dies (which it is revealed that Araragi had as a secondary intention). They end up saving Hachikuji, but with extremely negative impacts for the timeline.
We find that Hachikuji positively impacted Araragi by being a ghost and that Shinobu was not so willing to accept Araragi without Hachikuji’s advice. This resulted in the entire world becoming partial vampires – consumed by Shinobu who has nearly destroyed the world in this alternate universe.
For me, this was one of the best arcs in the MG2. It reveals that Araragi’s relationship with Shinobu is incredibly important and that even the slightest change in events could have negatively impacted the outcome of things in the series.
Fortunately, we get a little fan-service of an adult Hachikuji who brings Araragi a message from Oshino about saving his timeline. The menacing Shinobu of this alternate universe is defeated through Araragi’s presence and they return to their own timeline.
The great thing here is that Araragi proves, again, that he can handle these situations through his words and through his relationships. While I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to keep the adult Hachikuji, it was worthwhile to see that our timeline’s Araragi had made the right choices in his relationship with Shinobu. It is also fantastic to see that Shinobu and Araragi’s friendship is real and not fabricated by Araragi’s dominion over Shinobu.
Without a doubt, the Nadeko arc contains the most development for a character, who was previously unlikable. Throughout the arc we realize that Nadeko views herself as a victim and deludes herself into believing that she has become possessed by a snake apparition looking for its corpse.
What results is a little shocking. Tsukihi cuts off Nadeko’s bangs (haircuts in this series and others often signify a personality change) and she finally snaps and lashes out in anger at her teacher and class because she can no longer hide her face and emotions.
I for one wasn’t sure if I expected a yandere snap out of Nadeko, but she definitely fully realized the trope. Quickly, she becomes a god (not just an apparition) and uses her new Medusa hair to stab Araragi and Shinobu repeatedly. Senjougahara delays their death until graduation, but the character of Nadeko is forever changed.
This arc was incredibly surprising. It begins with the Nadeko we all hate, the quiet and victimized pushover and we end up with one of the best yandere snaps I have seen. It was extremely intelligent to push Nadeko’s character in this direction and one of the best decisions they made in this season.
The following Shinobu arc ends up dealing more with Hachikuji than it does with Shinobu. We learn some extremely interesting things about Shinobu’s backstory – her time as a god and of her first minion, but all to explain that Hachikuji is being chased by a dark being because she was not performing as a proper apparition just as Shinobu was not performing as a proper apparition by pretending to be a god.
Hachikuji’s fault is that she no longer leads people astray as a ghost because she simply wants to spend time with Araragi. It’s great to see that the relationship between Hachikuji and Araragi has developed to this point, but this happiness is quickly met with a bittersweet end to one of everyone’s favorite characters as she tells Araragi that she loves him and kisses him goodbye.
Even though we want to be happy that Hachikuji has been able to move on, this scene is incredibly depressing. It is excellent, however, that the show realizes that Hachikuji is not a character that can exist indefinitely and gives her a fitting ending with Hachikuji “biting Araragi’s tongue”.
Also, I guess we’re okay with the loli kiss here because she’s technically 20-something.
The final arc of the series ends with my personal favorite, Senjougahara, and Kaiki (one of my new favorites) figuring out how to deceive Nadeko into not killing Senjougahara, Araragi and Shinobu. This is another arc that lacks Koyomi but the change is perfectly fine when we find that Kaiki is just as charismatic and entertaining to follow.
We find out that Kaiki is not as bad as we were led to believe and also that, almost definitely, he and Senjougahara were once a thing. As much as I don’t want to imagine Senjougahara with anyone other than Araragi, he is clearly not that bad of a guy. Well, at least Ononoki thinks so. Yay Peace Peace.
Despite the hard work that Senjougahara and Kaiki put forth, Kaiki is technically unable to “deceive” Nadeko resulting into her going full yandere crazy on him.
Kaiki instead draws upon a part of his character we see develop throughout the final arc – his wisdom and experience. He convinces Nadeko that she should pursue her ambitions rather than be pushed into others’ views of her and that she should also stop pretending to love Araragi to escape having to reject other people properly.
While Kaiki speaks to the snake apparition, it is clear who the real snake in the conversation is and that Kaiki is better at speaking honeyed words than any other character in the series.
Anime doesn’t do chaotic neutral characters very well usually, but they nailed it with Kaiki, who quickly became one of my favorite characters.
We’re left with a huge cliffhanger that makes me want to pick up and read the light novels. Kaiki is wounded (and probably dies) at the final scene and we find out that it is probably Ougi Oshino that is behind all of the oddities in the Monogatari series. Looking back, we realize the connections that Ougi has had with all the characters in the series so far and the negative impact she has on each of those situations. Now we wait to figure out who exactly Ougi is, if Kaiki lives and what will become of the rest of our characters in this intrigue.
While I don’t like the open-endedness here, it definitely makes me wanting more to the point that I absolutely cannot wait for the next season. MG2 was definitely what I had hoped to see out of the Monogatari series again and rekindled my passion for the series. Despite some early flaws and the Monogatari series’s love of fanservice, I can honestly say I enjoyed MG2 as much as Bakemonogatari. I’m not sure how the characters will be developed in future installments, but we now have a clear enemy and a lot of characters who finally have more than just one face.
For me, this series gets another 10/10.