After being blown away by the first film and immensely enjoying the second one, it's no surprise that I was looking forward to Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen, the third and final instalment in the Kizumonogatari film series. The slight drop in quality (and originality) of part II had me slightly on edge, but as it turns out that fear was completely unfounded. Reiketsu-hen is a more than worthy finale and helps the series back on track to become one of the landmark anime releases of the '10s.
Part one gave me quite the shock the first time I watched it. Even though Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen consists of very recognizable anime extremes, it is constructed in such a way that it still feels completely alien and otherworldly. The second part was a slight letdown because it didn't really add much to Tekketsu-hen, instead it merely reiterated the novelties and original ideas that made the first one stand out. While still very enjoyable, that sensation of being utterly perplexed was completely gone, leaving behind a feeling of familiarity that simply didn't suit this film series.
Luckily Reiketsu-hen does away with that slight feeling of disappointment completely. While there are plenty of familiar elements present, tying this film to the other two, Reiketsu-hen either takes a fresh approach with them or supplements them with original ideas. The plot itself may be a direct continuation of the first two films, this third instalment feels like a stand-alone feature that just happens to be a part of a film series. It's a tough and tricky balance to pull off, but Kizumonogatari is all about getting away with tricky, implausible balances.
Story-wise, the film simply continues where part two left off. Araragi has assembled all of Kiss-Shot's body parts, so she can finally be whole again. This also means that Araragi can become human once more, leaving his short but well-lived vampire life behind. But Araragi is quite uncertain about what to do next. He can't go on as a vampire as he still feels connected to the human race, but he also has a hard time leaving Kiss-Shot behind, knowing she need to feed off of his kind. It's a pretty tough conundrum that's about to come to an explosive conclusion.
Visually there's a lot going on. The animation itself is the easiest to get a grip on, as that part is constantly impressive. It's clear there's major talent at work here and the budget was definitely there to back them up. It's the art style that's a little tougher to grasp. It's not that it is actually lacking, it's just that there are a lot more conflicting ideas there. Parts of each frame are delicate and intricate, while other parts feel consistently clinical and empty. What binds these two together is an amazing level of detail, even though both styles give off a very different vibe. It reminds me a little of those pictures that hold two different images, depending on how you look at them. On the one hand there's a deceptive simplicity to the art style, at the same time there's a lot intricate details that are hard to take in all at once. And it's not just a mistake or happy coincidence either, as this can be seen and felt in every single shot of the film.
The music too plays its part in confusing the audience. It there to help and dictate a rhythm that makes very little logical sense, but works on a more primordial, visceral level. The film has a wonky space-time continuum and all the jumping around between different visuals styles and stylistic ideas could've turned it into a big old mess, but somehow the soundtrack provides a flow where it all comes together. That's not to say Oishi and Shinbo merely see the soundtrack as glue, there are plenty of times where it's just as surprising and conflicting as the rest of the film (often in the use of peculiar sound effects), but it's probably the single most coherent element of the film. The voice acting is on point too. I'm not even sure if there's an English dub for this one but Kizumonogatari provides such a distinctly Japanese experience that it's not even worth bothering with any dubs. Just watch it a second time if you feel the subtitles take away from the visual experience.
The sheer genius of Reiketsu-hen lies in the fact that it plays on conflicting feelings and structures. Oishi and Shinbo are constantly trying to align elements that don't belong together, while at the same time contrasting elements that are meant to go along well with each other. On the one hand it's all about balance, when at the same time it's about chaos and discord. And what makes it truly special is that it's incorporating this schizophrenia on all possible levels. Be it the clear segments within this film that still draw in influences from the other segments, or simply the constant flux in pacing with a single scene, the film keeps you on your toes at all times.
After seeing 7000+ films, it is kind of rare to find a film that can still surprise me, but it does happen from time to time. What's truly rare and precious though is when I find a film that actually manages to confuse me, and that's exactly what Reiketsu-hen accomplished. I realize I used a lot of expensive words reviewing this film, but Reiketsu-hen is just as easily described as a lewd, juvenile anime that is more preoccupied with boobs and gore than it is with presenting something artistic and thoughtful. I personally wouldn't be surprised if it's exactly how many people will end up experiencing it, but that's just half the story and Kizumonogatari is really about these two conflicting halves constantly fighting for dominance.
The bottom line is that, all things considered, Reiketsu-hen shouldn't work as well as it does. I can give a hundred examples of things that I'd hate when I'd see them pop up in any other film, but somehow Oishi and Shinbo are able to manage the film's schizophrenia up to a point where I'm simply at a loss for words. The Kizumonogatari experience is impossible to recommend, rather it has to be experienced. Reiketsu-hen provides perfect closure to this film series and conjures up the genius of the first film once more, but I'm well aware this won't be everyone's cup of tea. That said, just watch it.