A few days before my high school graduation it struck me. I was staring out of our front bay window past the dying spider plant that hung on the right side looking towards the cloudy sky and thinking of nothing in particular.
It was the morning after a lock-in party that my school organized for the senior class as part of our senior week. I had been up all night. The day was empty with no classes, no senior activities, no preparation work, and no parties. My college had already been decided upon months ago and I had already attended pre-orientation where I had registered for classes in the coming fall.
I had nothing to do but catch up on sleep lost from staying up for over 24 hours, yet I had crossed a particular overtired threshold that looped back into being wide awake. In that moment, the day ahead seem to stretch out endlessly. School life, especially in junior high and high school, is regimented and organized. Without that order, I came to the realization that I would never have it again.
My high school life was over.
For Koyomi Araragi, this same realization — and ensuing confusion or emptiness — comes on the first morning that his younger sisters don’t wake him up. Part of Araragi’s high school routine was a loud, often physically violent, wake up dressing down from Tsukihi and Karen Araragi. The day after he graduates, this part of his routine is gone. In that moment, he realizes that he’s no longer a high school student.
More than any of the oddities Araragi faced, it’s this fact that confuses and troubles Araragi the most.
“The thing that clearly distinguishes this graduation from my previous graduations is that what will follow it is not yet known.”
-Koyomi Araragi, Zoku Owarimonogatari, Episode 1
In all of Araragi’s oddity-related adventures, the monsters, ghosts, oddities are all related directly to the sins, guilt, or deep-seated emotions of the person harboring the peculiarity. The true monsters of the series are always, at the end of the day, born of human emotions or humans themselves. This is reiterated through the existence of Ougi Oshino and her role in challenging the motivations of Araragi’s actions throughout the second season and into Owarimonogatari. Even Ougi the catalyst was Araragi all along — accepting her is the final missing puzzle piece towards accepting himself, rather than equating sacrifice with self-worth.
Zoku Owarimonogatari comes after a story that is already finished and is aptly titled as a continuation of the ending story. Araragi’s emotional narrative effectively ends alongside his high school career. It’s fitting that Zoku Owarimonogatari‘s first episode comes the day after, with a morning that seems to stretch out endlessly before him, uninterrupted by his sisters’ usual wake up call. A reverse of Lewis Caroll’s Alice, who drifted off to sleep and stepped into the looking-glass world of her own volition, Araragi is in the process of his morning routine — trying to wake himself up, while reestablishing a routine in his new world as a former student — when he’s involuntarily pulled into the world of the mirror.
The mirror world that Araragi discovers is similar to Alice’s looking-glass world. In Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, the world beyond the looking-glass isn’t a simple inversion, but in most cases, inversion of reality. In the real world, Alice commands inanimate chess pieces. In the looking-glass world, she must operate by the rules of the lively chess pieces themselves. The same things exist in both worlds, but take on completely opposite existences within the respective hierarchies of their settings.
Araragi goes from a real world where he is suddenly unsure of everything — despite everything looking exactly the same — to a mirror world where everything is inverted. The once-tall Karen is short, but she’s still Araragi’s sister. The once-expressionless Yotsugi Ononoki is suddenly overtly and awkwardly expressive but still lives at their house. Mayoi Hachikuji is an adult not a child — and acts similarly to how Araragi acts with child Mayoi in the real world — but she’s still the god of the North Shirahebi Shrine. This is accompanied by images like the one above, that resemble kaleidoscope imagery that appears intermittently throughout this first episode.
For me, the uneasy feeling disappeared once I began another routine, this time at a college for my undergraduate degree. For Alice, she works her way up to the position of queen while gaining confidence and control over her surroundings as she journeys. For Araragi, his epiphany will likely come in a similar fashion — acceptance, and then the necessary step forward. The mirror world isn’t likely created by a true oddity, but simply born of Araragi’s own uncertainties and momentary refusal to take that first step.