Nekomonogatari Black Review
Publisher: Vertical Inc. (US)
Translator: Ko Ransom
Price: $15.95 (Official Site)
Release: 8th December 2017
“Why is a gaming site posting a Light Novel review?” you may ask, well, because this fairly unknown medium caught my interest in recent months. During the past year, I spent a lot of time watching the Monogatari anime, which quickly became one of my favourite series of all time. Unsurprisingly, I desired to discover more about the source material, luckily Vertical Inc. began to translate them not too long ago and so I found myself in the web of NISIOISIN´s amazing writing style, along with my love for Light Novels.
Dialogues, a way of storytelling both effective and dangerous for any book. Either because the task to write realistic conversations is nearly impossible or they lack the tension to create an interesting experience, boring the reader as a result. The Monogatari series, however, is an entirely different story, relying almost completely on human interactions, only occasionally throwing in comments of Araragi, the main protagonist. Due to its heavy usage of puns, jokes, 4th wall breaks and many more strange devices, NISIOISIN is both able to create one of the most unique as well as one of the hardest to translate novels out there. With the return of translator Ko Ransom, after James Balzer´s truly horrible translated Nisemonogatari series, the seventh book in the series Nekomonogatari Black symbolizes yet another pinnacle of excellence.
After having told how he became a vampire in his summer break, gained new friends by helping them, began dating Senjougahara and shed light on his sisters, it´s time for Araragi to tell yet another central story of the past, namely, how Hanekawa became a cat during Golden Week. Taking place a short time after Kizumonogatari and before Bakemonogatari, the constantly referenced events are unravelled in this self-standing Volume, Nekomonogatari Black.
Though, it wouldn´t be Monogatari if NISIOISIN would focus completely on one thing. In fact, the first third is actually a conversation between Araragi and his younger sister Tsukihi about basically everything thoroughly forbidden. From the slowly evolving belief that he might have fallen in love with his summer break saviour Hanekawa to panties, the beginning often reminds one of the frequent perverted monologues seen in Kizumonogatari, just executed way better. Especially as someone who watched the anime first and noticed how faithfully SHAFT adapted the source material, Tsukihi literally did her best to prevent any such thing here. The constant 4th wall breaks, puns en masse, hypothetical situations definitely not meant for kids mixed with an enormous amount of foot fetish content, transport the series’ smart stupidity to new heights. It´s a wonderfully entertaining passage, able prepare the main plot´s arrival while evolving on Araragi´s perverted nature in an unrivalled funny way, only Monogatari could pull off.
Once Nekomonogatari Black actually begins its main tale though, someone who didn´t already fall in love with Hanekawa may very well be worried about the quality. During the previous novels, there never was a whole lot of background regarding her past, mainly concentrating on establishing her almost perfect outer appearance. Only in Tsubasa Cat, at the end of Bakemonogatari, slight characterization attempts were made, just to be overshadowed by Araragi and Shinobu. Fortunately, NISIOISIN manages to circle back with a punch, obviously sparing the best for the end.
Finally fully thematising the Tsubasa family´s broken bonds, the suffering daughter and her inevitable transformation into a cat. Every single character trait established so far is questioned the deeper we dive into the abuse Hanekawa endured until Golden Week. Was her whole self merely a protecting shell? Is her love for Araragi even real or another anchor to stay sane? Those questions are core aspects of what makes this novel so believable and surprisingly human, lacking many cryptic metaphors in form of apparitions.
Since we already know the general story and how it ends, the usual huge conclusion at the end is exchanged for a more consistently tense pacing. As a result, the writing stays more serious, dialogues, while still throwing 4th wall breaks here and there, have a better grip at balancing the dark theme with comedy. Especially after five volumes which offered the exact same structure, Nekomonogatari Black´s different approach is a perfect fit to symbolise the transition from the first to second season.
In the end, the last volume of Monoagatari´s first season is also the pinnacle of NISIOISIN´s writing so far. Every aspect is condensed and brought to its utter limit in Nekomonogatari Black, bringing forth a focused story, much-needed character depth and masterfully created comedy unrivalled by many other Light Novels. Given, only fans of the series will actually be able to fully understand the events and appreciate the work that went into translating such a pun-heavy book but it definitely is the high point of season one.