Review: Kizumonogatari Part 2: Nekketsu-hen
Kizumonogatari is the best animated film in theaters, and it’s not even over yet.
The arrival of the first film in the three-part Kizumonogatari theatrical adaptation, which sacrifices most of the original novel’s banter for a lean screenplay that lets the mesmerizing images tell the story, arrived unlike anything I expected. The machine-gun dialogue and inscrutably Japanese wordplay the series is known for morphs into something else in the film to seek sophistication through simplicity. Every line in the script is meticulously arranged, while the visuals work a crimson-hued ferocity that only suggests what the real action will be like. The first part poured out a few precious drops to sate a torturous thirst that has lasted several years, but that wasn’t enough. Now that SHAFT has given everyone a look at their playbook, the initial impact of the Kizumonogatari anime existing in the first place has come and gone. We know what it looks like, and we know what to expect. But that was just the first part.
Part Two is, before anything else, a film, and as carefully as Part One spliced elements of and improvised upon the novel, the second entry in the trilogy comes at you like a shot put ball to the face. After employing a masterful arthouse cinema touch to move through the exposition and setup, Part Two acknowledges that this is what you really came to see — all the gratuitous blood and guts and panty shots that the novel itself joked would never be adapted into anime. Much like the first film, this one begins loaded with a mountain of expectations that it crushes right out the gate.
Assigned to collecting the missing limbs of his vampire savior, Araragi Koyomi confronts the three vampire hunters holding possession of said severed body parts in a series of superpowered battles in which he is completely out of his depth (armed with little more than a beginner’s guide to Aikido). Once Araragi gets torn to bits the first time, Kizumonogatari Part Two becomes the film the majority of people expected Part One to be, with all the sex and violence we’ve come to expect from the series, taken to heights never risked on television.
Part Two is a lot funnier, sexier, and more violent, in a familiar Monogatari sort of way, and for the most part, it remains as comprehensive an entry point for those that haven’t seen the past four TV series and handful of OVAs. If Part One is characterized by the steely cleanliness of its presentation, Part Two loosens up and charges forward with a maniacal glee – washing the world in theatrical arterial sprays and small intestines uncoiling in mile-long arcs. I’m only slightly sore that one of the novel’s best comic bits, the one where characters continuously run into graphic scenes that worsen the chance at getting an anime adaptation, is missing. When Kizumonogatari was published, the prospect of an anime was a mere twinkle in Nisioisin’s eye – nothing more than the setup of a running gag. Now that there really is a Kizumonogatari anime, there’s a joke somewhere here that’s unfortunately nothing more than a missed opportunity now.
Part One, presented in a wide-format, Cinemascope release that every shot strives to fill, acknowledges the importance of adapting Kizumonogatari Part One the first time I saw it, doing so is not exactly possible within a single viewing of Part Two. It’s a dense hour of animation that doesn’t let up until the credits. Even then, the post-credits trailer fires off one last firecracker of a final line to end the show. The art direction in Part Two remains as bold and dynamic as the first film by moving effortlessly through a range of styles that has characters engage in deformed slapstick comedy and ultra-serious gory violence within the space of a single shot. Once again, the environments are supersized for effect in the film. Why bother rendering a humble gym storage shed for an anime of this magnitude when you can have a whole gym storage warehouse? Why shouldn’t the school football field in the book reside inside an arena stadium? Part Two is littered with these flourishes — all these additional things no-one would have bothered with if Tatsuya Oishi and his staff hadn’t taken the last five years of their lives to work out exactly how this title was supposed to be while the Monogatari Series was ballooning in significance and as Nisioisin and his deep body of work achieved mainstream critical and commercial success. That kind of pressure doesn’t fall on any modern anime at all. I wish someone would tell me the truth — that the project didn’t come together until the last moment in a fit of inspiration, and everyone working on it just happens to be extremely talented. Otherwise, I’m burdened with the knowledge that it will take another five years to make anything remotely on par with Kizumonogatari.
While it’s obvious I deeply enjoyed Kizumonogatari Part Two, there are a few things I need to mention lest this subjective review be considered an uncompensated, sponsored post. For the degree of content compressed and injected into its brief runtime, this chapter is where it’s made obvious that there are lots of things cut out from the novel. For the sake of the film, most of these cuts are intelligent, but there’s one glaring detail that’s not explained very well for people who haven't read the novel. By shooting off into a meteoric pace in its final seconds, Part Two fakes me out and blows up my theory as to where the second film would end. This is almost absolutely perfect…unless you haven’t read the novel to understand the meaning of a certain line. Otherwise, the scene just feels like “well, I guess that just happened.” There’s already so much going on at the end that the small cut to the conversation that’s supposed to make sense of it is completely lost in the spectacle. I wouldn’t care as much if I hadn’t been convinced for nearly two hours that this adaptation stands alone from the novel, but it’s one obvious instance of “read the book” in a film that was doing so well without it.
As far as the novel is concerned, Part Two has “the best parts.” And not to betray a little bit of concern, but Part Three has a hell of a lot to live up to without much of the actual text left to adapt. However, as the record stands at two for two, I’m fully onboard for whatever direction the last film decides to take. It’s jazzy. It’s devious. Kizumonogatari is the best animated film in theaters, and it’s not even over yet.