The last episode of Bakemonogatari left us not so much with a cliffhanger as a slight sense of embarrassment, as we found ourselves wondering where to look in the face of a naked middle school girl. With scales. Regardless, it appears that it's time for Araragi to come to the rescue of a damsel in distress once again.
Of course, young Nadeko is the damsel in question, and for once with this series it seems as though everyone has got the situation more or less correctly appraised even without Oshino's assistance - Nadeko has been cursed by a snake (a constrictor no less) on account of upsetting a friend by rejecting a guy who liked her, and Nadeko has been trying to lift the curse by going around and killing snakes at the shrine we saw last episode. The trouble is, she's been going about lifting the curse the wrong way despite doing broadly the right thing, so Oshino explains the proper procedure to Araragi and urges that Nadeko needs to perform the required ritual as soon as possible as her life is in imminent danger. Of course, lifting curses is never as simple as it first seems within this series, and while Nadeko's curse looks set to be lifted so complications arise that force Araragi to take drastic action.
While Nadeko may be the enabler of this particular Bakemonogatari story arc, there can be no doubt as to who the centrepiece of this story is - Quite simply, it's all about Koyomi Araragi. So the last episode saw Hanekawa chastising him for getting too close to Kanbaru and not understanding Senjougahara sufficiently, so this episode showcases Araragi's weaknesses all the more succinctly. For starters, he appears completely and absolutely oblivious to Nadeko's true feelings, missing all the obvious pointers as she discusses the "other guy" that she likes, how she used to admire Koyomi and so on, before not so much as raising an eyebrow as Nadeko implores him to "look at her" before starting the cleansing ritual. If that isn't bad enough, Araragi later endangers his own life by trying to tackle a problem in the name of trying to save everybody rather than simply accepting that he's helped Nadeko and that this is the limit of his abilities on this occasion - Almost an exact carbon copy of his reckless behaviour when handling Kanbaru's problems in the previous story arc despite his dressing down by Hitagi on that occasion.
All of this makes for yet another fascinating character study at the hands of this series, the kind which begs more questions than it answers - Is Koyomi a good guy for caring about everybody and not wanting anyone to ever get hurt, or is he naive to the point of doing more harm than good? Similarly, is his inability to understand others feelings towards him a side-effect of his good-natured manner, or is it actually hurting the very people he claims to be helping and protecting? I'd be really interested to see how this story arc affects people's perceptions of Araragi, as it turns him into a character that I imagine people will love or hate dependant on how you view his actions - Be sure to let me know what you think after watching this episode, as I'd be fascinated to hear it.
That aside, this was another brilliant episode all things considered, although I did feel like budget constraints were evident throughout, particularly during what would have been more action-packed scenes which were reduced to a number of simple "cut" sequences instead - I'm all for SHAFT's artistic interpretation and the way they love to play with everything they depict in such ways, but on this occasion it actually detracted from what was going on and started to grate a little. What it didn't do however is detract from the story, and thankfully that was strong enough to shine through an episode using only stick figures, let alone the largely polished effort we see here, thus continuing to allow Bakemonogatari to hold its place as my favourite show of this season.