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The Monogatari series at large follows high school boy Araragi as he gets involved in the lives of people plagued by the occult–from cursed monkey paws to wandering spirits and vampires. However, even with four TV series and several OVAs/TV specials, the story of how he himself first became involved in the occult had never been explicitly told.

The film series Kizumonogatari is that story.

In the first film, after stumbling across a dismembered vampire dying scared and alone in a subway station, Araragi gives his blood to heal her. But instead of dying, he finds himself reborn as her vampire partner, tasked with getting back her missing limbs and restoring her to her full power. Should he do this, she promises to return his humanity.

Kizumonogatari Part 2: Nekketsu picks up after this as Araragi prepares to face the first of the vampire hunters in possession of the ancient vampire’s limbs. While the plot of the film follows araragi battling the various hunters to restore the vampire, it’s really more about his burgeoning friendship with his classmate, Hanekawa, than anything else.

Araragi is in a tough place both physically and mentally. On one hand, he is having to battle vampire hunters. If he fails, he will remain a vampire at best and be killed at worst. On the other hand, the most attractive girl he has ever known is suddenly showing an intense interest in him, clearly wanting to become a friend if not more.

Of course, as much as he wants to get to know her, he fears getting her caught up in a life-or-death war filled with supernatural powers being thrown about willy-nilly. But no matter how hard he tries to push her away, Hanekawa keeps coming back.

Hanekawa is fascinated by Araragi, sensing a similarly lonely spirit. She knows he is one of the few people who could possibly connect with her on more than just a superficial level. Unfortunately, he sees her as the female ideal, while she wants to be seen as a normal, flawed person like him.

While often full of drama, the scenes between the two are the source of the majority of the film’s humor. Clever wordplay abounds–par for the course in this franchise–and it’s easy to see why the two are such good friends in the numerous adventures that follow.

And it is their friendship that leads to the main conflict of the film. Araragi wants to return to being human so that he can enjoy a normal life alongside Hanekawa. However, in order to bring that about, he must rely more and more on the monster side of himself to defeat the hunters and keep Hanekawa safe–pushing him ever closer to the point where he can never go back to being human again.

The most obvious aspect that sets Nekketsu apart from other anime is the color palate used. Unlike the various series that follow after–ripe with vibrant and bright colors in grand volume–Nekketsu almost exclusively uses colors that range from darker oranges and reds to browns and blacks. This muted color pallet should make for a visually boring film, but Nekketsu is anything but. It almost feels as if the creators decided to handicap themselves with the color pallet and make art regardless.

The main tool for Nekketsu visually is how it plays with light. The film takes place at night, in the rain, and at sunrise/sunset–all three granting distinct styles. Moreover, much of the film takes place in buildings where the indirect light shining through windows ads life to the environment. There are also any number of difficult composite shots combining dynamic camera movement with a 3D animated background with a traditionally animated character. All look great.

Of course, the film isn’t absent the visual quirks common to the Monogatari franchise. Title cards appear throughout, often hinting at the various characters emotional states–i.e., black for serious, red for rage. In the many comedic moments of the film, the art style shifts radically to add to the absurdity of the gags. So while Nekketsu often stands apart from the rest of the franchise visually, it still feels like a part of it.

As is the norm for the Monogatari franchise, there is more than a bit of sexual humor in the film–with the film’s fan service mainly serving as the punchline to these jokes. On the other hand, like Kizumonogatari Part 1, Nekketsu is surprisingly gory. There is graphic dismemberment a plenty and even a scene where someone is disemboweled–intestines unraveling in a long ribbon across the ground. There is also a lot of blood–but maybe that should be expected in any tale involving vampires.

For a story that’s been alluded to in the Monogatari anime since 2009 yet never directly explained, Kizumonogatari Part 2: Nekketsu certainly lives up to the hype. While darker in both visuals and tone than the rest of the franchise, its great character development and witty humor keep it on par with the best of the franchise. Now all that’s left to do is wait until January 6, 2017 to see if the third and final film can bring the tale to a satisfactory conclusion.

Kizumonogatari Part 2: Nekketsu was released in Japanese theaters on August 19, 2016. It will be released in US theaters in October 2016.

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