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 cameÂ in with similar expectations, which might have been unfair for a sequel that aims to be little more than a mere continuation of the firstÂ film. Nekketsu-hen wasn't a big disappointment mind, but it never raised the barÂ 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 aÂ story is supposed to be novel, fresh and exciting while the finale holds all theÂ big build-ups and emotional payoffs. The middle part functions as the connection betweenÂ 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 directÂ continuation of theÂ first one, meaning you can't really treat this as a series of stand-alone films. Order is of utmost importance here. WhileÂ the story itself could maybe stand on its own (at least toÂ a certain degree), there are too manyÂ references andÂ unexplained parts to make sense (or as muchÂ senseÂ as possible)Â of the events in Nekketsu-hen. If you want to counter the mid-arc lull you could possibly wait andÂ 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.Â If Koyomi wants toÂ become human again, he has to returnÂ all stolen limbs to Kiss-shot. In order to do that he needs toÂ 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 theÂ 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 aÂ superb visual experience.Â The downside is that nothing really new was added. The first film introduced all these cool visual tricks, this second film does very little toÂ build on that. It's still aÂ sight to behold,Â but the wonder and surprise of the first film are definitely gone here.
The same can beÂ said about the music. The strange mix of jazzyÂ and electronic soundsÂ hasn't lost any of its appeal and stillÂ functions as a great differentiator, but it doesn't really offer anything extra compared to the previous film. It's still a greatÂ score and it fits the film like a glove, but it didn't quite exceed my expectations.Â And of course the voice actors are the same too, thoughÂ 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 andÂ instantly recognizable voice, but he has a pretty limited part. No English dub is available forÂ now, which is a blessing as the film is soÂ entrenched in anime culture that anything besides Japanese audio wouldn't make sense.
I compared the first film to FLCL, based onÂ 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 areÂ treating theÂ three films as a single entity, which makes for a slightly different experience. It's difficult to fault them for theirÂ decision, as right now theÂ anime industry isn't asÂ 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 still aÂ jolly bundle of weirdness and a breath of fresh air compared to most other contemporary anime productions out there.Â And with this middle part out of the way, the road is wide open for a sprawling finale.Â I'd wager that seeing the three films back to back is probablyÂ going to be the best way to enjoy Kizumonogatari,Â 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.