It's been a long (and I mean looooong) time in coming, but Bakemonogatari's penultimate episode is finally upon us, with Araragi left having to deal with the appearance of the so-called "Black Hanekawa" and her feline form - A form he didn't expect to see again after it's previous Golden Week appearance.
While it's clear that the emergence of this oddity is related to Hanekawa's stress levels, Araragi is (rather naively) completely unable to comprehend what could have caused her sufficient stress for this to happen, and to make things worse the only other obvious solution to the problem is also no longer immediately available to him, as he learns that Shinobu has gone missing. What's a poor boy to do?
With Hanekawa seemingly under control, Araragi decides to make it his priority to find the wandering Shinobu, calling in all of the Hachikuji, Suruga, Nadeko and (of course) Senjougahara. Thus commences a handful of conversations which work out pretty much as you'd expect them to, packed full of the humour and amusing moments we've come to expect from this series while Hitagi steals the show by being both stubborn yet incredibly astute at the exact same time.
Oddly enough, it turns out that even "Black Hanekawa" wants to help with the search, and so ends up wandering the streets with Araragi to look for Shinobu, leaving the door open for plenty of the dialogue that has marked out this series, complete with a not-so-surprising (unless you're Araragi that is) confession come the end of the episode. What does the guy who always wants to help everybody do when helping one person puts him into direct conflict with another? I guess we'll be finding out in the final episode.
Although this episode perhaps took a little while to warm up (although maybe I just took a little while to slip back into my proverbial Bakemonogatari evening gown and pipe), it soon settled into the kind of rhythm we've grown to love from this series, with dialogue and conversation that shifts between the enlightening to the outright hilarious almost effortlessly. While it can sometimes be frustrating to be two steps ahead of a show's protagonist in understanding what's going on, somehow Bakemonogatari manages to make it delightful as we watch Araragi flounder and/or entirely miss the point of what people are trying to tell them, shifting between the nice, helpful guy and sex-centred pervert in the process. It's a delicate balancing act, but somehow this series has managed to pull it off consistently, and it's all the better for it. Roll on the final episode, and the conclusion to one of the most entertaining shows of recent years - While I'll be sad to see it end, that finale can't come soon enough for me.