Ah the Monogatari series… There are not many anime series out there with as many seasons, sequels and OVAs as the sprawling Monogatari series. And amid such a sprawling series, which I love as a whole, there are bound to be some branches of the franchise that don’t bear much fruit. There will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.
Owarimonogatari is a mixed bag for me. I was on board with the first two arcs Sodachi Riddle and Sodachi Lost, mainly because they finally put the spotlight on Oshino Ougi, the mysterious and sinister girl that appears to be the end boss of the Monogatari series, or at least a frighteningly good puppeteer. If there was anything I want from Monogatari, it would be the Kizumonogatari story where Araragi first becomes a vampire and some kind of resolution with regards to Oshino Ougi. Neither of these happened but at least in Sodachi Riddle and Sodachi Lost Ougi played a large enough role that it felt like the story was really moving forward, even though this arc is not the latest chronologically, that honor goes to Hanamonogatari. By comparison Shinobu Mail was a dull and boring addition to the series. This especially weird because I have always liked arcs where Shinobu played a major role, hell I even loved the episodes in Shinobu Time where they explained Shinobu’s history in Japan, despite the fact the entire episode or two was a just a stylized slide show with loads of exposition. But Shinobu Mail was just flat and uninteresting. Another thing that was so weird about this arc is that at the conceptual level I was on board with the return of Shinobu’s first partner. But the execution was dreary, if anything it just felt like a filler arc to pass the time. It reminded a little of Nisioisin’s Katangatari, no relation to the Monogatari series but both are written by the same guy, specifically episode 5. In episode 5 of Katangatari the male lead, who is still just learning what it means to be human is confronted by the following situation: He is fighting an opponent that has connections which would be extremely valuable to his mistress regardless of whether the opponent is weaker or stronger than the main guy, connections valuable enough to make the main guy worry about being replaced. The thing that made this episode work is that even though we the audience knew in advance the mistress would never discard the main guy, he does a really good job of conveying his uncertainty and anxiety to make the situation one we can get invested in. If Shinobu Mail had a similar set up, where Araragi wavered and worried about whether he was the right partner for Shinobu this arc could have been good. But neither Shinobu or Araragi ever give any indication that the first servant could come between them in any way, so there’s nothing to really get invested in and no conflict which was resolved. That may have actually been the point given that Araragi literally narrates that nothing was resolved and no one was happy at the end, in which case I give Nisioisin major credit for being dedicated to his artsy way of storytelling, but it still results in an arc that was unsatisfyingly flat. Also I found that while I like Gaen Izuko in small doses, I was not as on board when she’s the main source of exposition and dominates the scene. Anyway, the point is I liked the early parts of Owarimonogatari and was left disappointed by the lackluster final arc. I was glad I saw it, but it was not my favorite Monogatari series by any stretch of the imagination.