Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu-hen
The first Kizumonogatari was the best thing I watched last year. It was an original mix of all things anime, a film that took me completely by surprise. This is a luxury Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu-hen didn't have. I came in with similar expectations, which might have been unfair for a sequel that aims to be little more than a mere continuation of the first film. Nekketsu-hen wasn't a big disappointment mind, but it never raised the bar like follow-up episodes of FLCL (its spiritual twin) managed to do.
Nekketsu-hen is the central part of a 3-part story arc. Even within the context of a traditional feature film, that middle part is always the toughest to get through. The beginning of a story is supposed to be novel, fresh and exciting while the finale holds all the big build-ups and emotional payoffs. The middle part functions as the connection between start and finish and that's exactly what this film aims to be, though Oishi and Shinbo do their best to add some extra spice where possible.
This second film is a direct continuation of the first one, meaning you can't really treat this as a series of stand-alone films. Order is of utmost importance here. While the story itself could maybe stand on its own (at least to a certain degree), there are too many references and unexplained parts to make sense (or as much sense as possible) of the events in Nekketsu-hen. If you want to counter the mid-arc lull you could possibly wait and watch the films back to back, but I simply wasn't that patient.
Now that Koyomi has become a vampire and with Kiss-shot still yearning for her lost limbs, the stage is set for a little battle count-down. If Koyomi wants to become human again, he has to return all stolen limbs to Kiss-shot. In order to do that he needs to defeat the three esteemed vampire hunters who stole the limbs from Kiss-shot. While any normal person would try to focus on the task at hand, Koyomi still finds the time to hang out with Tsubasa, the girl he has got an enormous crush on.
Visually Nekketsu-hen is pretty much on par with its predecessor. While that's definitely good news, it's also a little disappointing at the same time. The upside is that all the awesome parts of the first Kizumonogatari are still here. The zany editing and ridiculous pacing, the varying visual styles and the lush animation all add up to a superb visual experience. The downside is that nothing really new was added. The first film introduced all these cool visual tricks, this second film does very little to build on that. It's still a sight to behold, but the wonder and surprise of the first film are definitely gone here.
The same can be said about the music. The strange mix of jazzy and electronic sounds hasn't lost any of its appeal and still functions as a great differentiator, but it doesn't really offer anything extra compared to the previous film. It's still a great score and it fits the film like a glove, but it didn't quite exceed my expectations. And of course the voice actors are the same too, though that's only natural considering it's a direct continuation of the storyline, with pretty much the whole cast of characters intact. The only notable addition to the cast is Hochu Otsuka, a man with a very unique and instantly recognizable voice, but he has a pretty limited part. No English dub is available for now, which is a blessing as the film is so entrenched in anime culture that anything besides Japanese audio wouldn't make sense.
I compared the first film to FLCL, based on novelty value, creativity and surprise. But where a series like FLCL tried to improve upon itself with every new episode, Nekketsu-hen tries to consolidate the strengths of the first film. Oishi and Shinbo are treating the three films as a single entity, which makes for a slightly different experience. It's difficult to fault them for their decision, as right now the anime industry isn't as open to experimentation as it used to be, but personally I would've preferred a more daring approach.
If all of that sounds a bit negative, it's because the first film set the bar pretty high. Nekketsu-hen is a jolly bundle of weirdness and a breath of fresh air compared to most other contemporary anime productions out there. And with this middle part out of the way, the road is wide open for a sprawling finale. I'd wager that seeing the three films back to back is probably going to be the best way to enjoy Kizumonogatari, seeing how connected the films are, but I still found a lot of greatness in this second part. This film series is a real treat for people with a soft spot for anime, though I'm not sure I would recommend it to others.