The Monogatari series is probably the most hyped of any series that I have ever heard of. Fans are so passionate about this confusing series that I’m sure a lot of people like me were turned off to this. I mean, what’s worse than somebody constantly saying “you need to watch this!!” without giving any explanation why because it would be a ‘spoiler.’ Not only that, but this series has so many names, or arcs, in it that just glancing at them could confuse someone and thus turn them off even more.
Well, Vertical has released the third light novel in the series, Kizumonogatari, first because it’s the prequel to everything and chronologically it comes first in the story. I’ve heard many Bakemonogatari fans sort of fussing about this, but to be honest I really liked this decision. For someone who had no idea what this series was it offered me a concrete story to start off with, and even explained that this is the first story in the Monogatari saga. Now I bet you’re wondering if it was worth it?
Absolutely yes. I bought this on a whim when browsing my local book store, and while my curiosity for the overall series was a factor in my purchase it wasn’t the reason why I bought it. What really made me want to throw down my money was actually it’s size. Kizumonogatari is over 300 pages long, which when you’re talking about light novels is above average, but when I was reading excerpts in the store I was blown away at how fluid the writing was and how it read more like a book than the standard light novel. So I went to the checkout line and purchased my first entryway into the Monogatari series, and I haven’t regretted a thing since.
The story is very simple; kid meets vampire in a peculiar situation, kid turns into vampire, kid has to fight three opponents to regain his humanity, and everything is set in a school setting. And while this may sound like a standard story everyone’s probably seen or read a hundred times, I was surprised at how invested I got into this. I genuinely treated this as a book, and it was griping. The characters are definitely the best part, and because of this I didn’t even mind the simple plot, in fact I think it actually enhances the characters. Some stories tend to focus on plot to keep the reader engaged, but Kizumonogatari actually reverses that. It clearly states who the characters are, gives each one a unique personality, and allows them to grow and learn inside the story while the plot is merely there to advance the characters, and it’s this kind of writing that I just wasn’t expecting when going into this.
I have to give a tremendous amount of applause to the translator, Ko Ransom, because the words on the pages were just spectacular. Usually in translations I can at least point out either where the translation may have slipped, or didn’t accurately explain what they were trying to translate, but here I couldn’t find any flaws, nor was I looking for them. From page one the adaptation was so fluid that I forgot it was a translation. If you took out all of the references to Japanese culture and then gave it to me, I don’t think I would have realized that this wasn’t an English book to begin with. By far this has been the best translated book I have ever read.
As I said earlier, I was hooked more by the characters in the story rather than the plot. The first character you get to know is the vapmpire known as Kissshot Acerolaorion Heartunderblade. Try saying that three times fast. Anyway, what I really loved about her was not so much her character, because for most of the book she’s shrouded in mystery, but the fact that she was only really in this book to set up what vampires are, what rules apply to them, and ultimately gives the reader a door to the story’s mythology. Some of the mythology is predictable like crosses burning their skin, but there were a lot more tweeks and surprises I found myself enjoying about these types of vampires, and as I was reading Kizumonogatari I really liked how they handled vampires in a familiar, yet not your traditional way.
The book is first person narrated, which I absolutely loathe most of the time but surprisingly didn’t bother me in this, by Koyomi Araragi. Like most characters in recent anime he comes off as a loner with no friends who talks a big game but is completely a wimp inside, but again to my surprise I wasn’t bothered by this. In fact, he actually started to develop a character arc where he was becoming more social, and letting down his barriers. By the middle of the story he was definitely not the same character he was on page one, and to this it felt very refreshing to read. Although, I will say that because he is a hormonal teenager quite a bit of his inner thoughts revolve around girls, their panties, and their boobs. Sometimes he rambles a little too long on these thoughts, and depending on how many anime you’ve seen it might be jarring to some readers, but thankfully it’s at least limited throughout the story.
The last character of note was the class president Hanekawa. At first she came off as a stereotypical girl that didn’t interest me at all. I pegged her as a ditz and a character that was only there to rile up Araragi’s hormones, but to my utter shock I not only started to like her when reading the story, but she ended up being my favorite character. Every time she had a scene she kept breaking the cliches I was expecting. She was mysterious and a strong character that made me want to learn more about her, and I even begged the book to bring her back when she departed from a scene. Her chemistry with Araragi is just absolutely wonderful, and because of her Araragi gets his character arc. It’s because of her that he starts opening up and becoming more social. And while there are scenes were she’s really just to get Araragi’s hormones going, even then she’s not an eye rolling character. In fact she actually rolls with him! She’s not running away, not screaming her head off, she’s actually the first female character that doesn’t seem to mind the hormonal lead’s desires. There were actually scenes that shocked me at how far she went for Araragi, and it’s those scenes that made her really stand out from other characters.
As much as I’ve been gushing about this book I will say that it isn’t perfect by any means. Story-wise I have huge problems with the third act, or at least the last forty-ish pages. On a storytelling level I just didn’t believe it. I thought it quickly betrayed what the character arcs were getting to, and at times was questioning if it was even possible for these characters to do what they’re doing. Ultimately it felt to me like I was reading another book. Now, I have heard that people who’ve read Bakemonogatari, or seen the anime, loved this part, and maybe when I do get to Bakemonogatari it will make sense to me too, but I highly doubt it. Kizumonogatari felt like its own story, and thinking of it like that only makes me have more problems with the ending. After I read it my biggest question was if this was an obligatory ending, an ending that had to happen because this was the third book written, but the first in the story, and it had to tie in to the overall series. I don’t know. All I know is that it didn’t feel natural, and I felt like the characters didn’t learn anything from their progression that was already being made.
Other than that I really have nothing else to say. Overall I highly enjoyed this, and despite its size Kizumonogatari was a quick and fluid read. A real page turner if you will. I thought this was definitely a good way to get into the Monogatari series, and it left me interested in reading Bakemonogatari when that comes out. The ending wasn’t my favorite, but I definitely see myself rereading this at some point because it was just a blast to read. I haven’t had this much fun reading in a long time, and before the ending I was pleading myself to stay up longer each night to read the next chapter. Kizumonogatari is definitely a light novel that deserves to be on your shelf, and you won’t regret it.