There’s a fundamental problem with prequels. Whatever unique twists and turns they take, we know the ultimate outcome can only go one way. Just as we know Anakin eventually betrays the Jedi and turns into Darth Vader, fans of Bakemonogatari know Araragi-kun somehow overcame his vampire curse and became human again.
Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu gets around this problem in an interesting way: by emphasizing style over substance. If you already know the plot, says director Akiyuki Shimbou, I might as well show it to you in the coolest way possible.
Kizumonogatari, the long-awaited film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Monogatari creator Nisio Isin, has had a bit a of rough production history. The film was announced way back in 2011, and a trailer was released in 2012. Finally, late last year, it was announced Kizumonogatari would be released in three parts over the course of 2016, and part one, Tekketsu, premiered January 8.
Even using the word plot might be a bit of a stretch, in fact, at least for this first film. Koyomi Araragi, a loner high school student, runs into classmate Tsubasa Hanekawa while wandering the streets during the break before his senior year. Despite his seeming lack of interest in people, Hanekawa decides to make friends with him, telling Araragi a rumor that lately a vampire has appeared in town.
Later, Araragi walks into the city, which is seemingly devoid of people. He enters a subway station to find a limbless, bleeding vampire named Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, who begs him to save her by sacrificing himself to her. After a doubt of indecision, he allows her to suck his blood.
Waking up turned into a vampire himself, Araragi finds Kiss-Shot has taken the form of a young girl. He learns from Kiss-Shot that to return to human form, he has to defeat three vampire hunters, and in order to do so, he makes a contract with the mysterious Meme Oshino.
But just describing the story doesn’t really get at what Tekketsu is all about. Chief director Akiyuki Shimbou (Bakemonogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica) is known for being a very visual storyteller, and in this film it feels like he’s been given the freedom to run wild.
All the tropes of the Monogatari series are here: text flashing on screen, spirals, clocks, and a distinct color palette – but it’s as if everything’s been cranked to 11. This is definitely a Monogatari made for the big screen, and it is a beautiful experience.
“Experience” is probably the exact word, in fact. In the hour-long film, we’re only really given any solid information in the final twenty minutes: before that, it feels like we’re on a trip through someone’s (Araragi’s? Shinbou’s?) id. Especially impressive was the opening of the film, in which Araragi wanders through a building with no dialogue at all for about ten minutes. An audacious move, for sure, but it helps that the film looks so good.
Before signing off on a totally positive note, let me vent my all-too-frequent complaint: this is yet another movie split into multiple parts, meaning to see the whole Kizumonogatari story theatrically, fans will eventually be paying ¥4,500 (about $40). This is not cool.
But for its short runtime, Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu is quite a film, a mad Monogatari tone poem where the style is the substance.
Kizumonogatari hits the U.S. in limited theatrical release February 26. For more information check the official site.
Matt Schley is Otaku USA’s man in Japan and e-News editor. He’s got more hits that Sadaharu Oh.