Review: Bakemonogatari

 

When I first got into anime, this is a show that seemed to be more on the fringe; some anime fans knew of its existence, but even fewer have actually seen it. (This is not so much the case nowadays, I feel.)

My first experience was actually when I was very heavily into Vocaloid (I was introduced to Vocaloid before anime). I came across a Vocaloid cover of one of this anime’s openings (Renai Circulation), and I had the hardest time remembering its name because it was so long and just sounded so odd.

Eventually, though, I sat down one day and simply decided to give it a try. And I must say, I’m glad I did.

An Introduction

Crab. Snail. Monkey. Snake. Cat.

Not too long after dealing with his own encounter of the supernatural kind, Koyomi Araragi finds himself running into new and different situations with various girls. All also of the supernatural kind.

All around us, and yet also nowhere at all, live these supernatural beings, these apparitions. Some are just lowly spirits, not intentionally causing harm, but the range goes up to demons, spiritual gods, and other scary forces to be reckoned with. And either by sheer unluckiness or his unceasing desire to help all those before him, Araragi finds himself tackling these problems, one by one.

These girls are Hitagi Senjyogahara, the weightless “tsundere”; Mayoi Hachikuji, the lost grade-schooler; Suruga Kanbaru, the raincoated athlete; Nadeko Sengoku, the cursed childhood friend; and Tsubasa Hanekawa, the class president among class presidents.

Although Araragi can certainly rely upon Hanekawa and Meme Oshino (a self-proclaimed apparition expert), and the lingering abilites from his time as a vampire, will that be enough for him to solve all of these problems and still keep his own life?

The Plot and Characters

These characters and the apparition-filled world they inhabit set up for a really interesting story to unfold that lasts well beyond these 15 episodes. I was captivated by the characters’ distinctly unique and memorable personalities and mannerisms, and by the world’s constant mysterious forces that meddle in affairs and make nothing straightforward.

The 15 episodes are divided into 5 arcs, each one dedicated to each girl and her affliction. After a girl has been saved, she winds up appearing in later arcs either to just hang around and cause more trouble for Araragi, or to begin actively helping him with later cases and to provide support. These arcs are, for the most part, formulaic: Araragi encounters the girl, she explains her problem to him, and they run off to Oshino who, usually by that very night, has her problem solved. However, the formula here doesn’t quite bother me as much; Bakemonogatari’s plot structure really isn’t what makes it interesting.

What’s really the most interesting is the show’s writing and the various conversations that are had. Each of these characters have their own quirks and styles of talking, and most have distinct catch phrases/running jokes. You can quite noticeably sense a difference between each of their tones, from Hitagi’s scaldingly vile insults, to Suruga’s kinkiness, to Hanekawa’s upstanding intelligent remarks. Araragi, for the most part, acts as the straight man, from grumpily responding to the insults casually flung at him, to yelling out loud retorts to the more ridiculous and off-topic statements. Every scene with these characters is just fun to watch, just to see these different personalities shine, even if Araragi bounces off each of them in a similar way.

Bakemonogatari’s characters and writing are relatively aware of the anime culture as well, using references to other shows and utilizing terms – sometimes with a twist – that fans themselves will use. They even go to approach topics of sexual acts and sexuality without fear or hesitation, unlike most other anime. However, like most things in this show, they’re not the most direct about it.

Bakemonogatari is called, jokingly and unjokingly, the “a lot of talking” anime. It can sometimes take a character up to a whole minute to reach the point they could easily say in just a few seconds, but this anime loves to indulge itself with word riddles, double meanings, and straightly-told puns. This whimsical, fascinating, and somewhat-rambling dialogue helps to give this show its charm, but the most impatient of anime fans may see themselves saying “what is the point of all of this?”

For those of you who do enjoy the metaphors and things having deeper meanings beyond what’s said and shown, though, Bakemonogatari will have you covered; people on the Internet have analyzed nearly every moment of this show, and it provides you quite a bit to look into. It doesn’t require you to get waist-deep into the analyzing scene, though, and you can still follow along the show fairly well as long as you just pay attention to the dialogue. There are a lot of interesting extra bits of information and such that can be discovered by discerning and quick eyes, but you can still get just as much enjoyment without doing any of that; the main plot is told right to you (albeit after some rambling). It appeals to both crowds in that way.

I’d say my biggest issue with this show is how little time we actually get to spend with these characters. While this issue can certainly be seen as a “always leave them begging for more” type of thing, I kind of see it a bit more as a flaw. If each character’s arc wasn’t just relegated to two or three episodes, we’d actually get to spend more time with them and grow to become more attached to them. These characters and their problems are resolved by just that day alone, and then we’re done with them. That’s it. I would also say this is kind of a flaw of Araragi, the sole narrator, as well – he seems more primarily interested in just helping people around him, rather than actually developing a true friendship with them. (In fact, to be fairly honest, Araragi is probably the least interesting character in this show, although it probably helps market the female characters.)

Tsubasa Cat, the final arc, is an exception, though. Not only do we get even more time with Tsubasa and Hitagi, which is well appreciated, but Araragi grows a little bit as well, becoming something more than just a rescuer that yells retorts. The episode that stands out the most is episode 12 – most Monogatari series fans will remember this episode. I won’t really say much about it, but it is really something special, and it still makes me tear up even after multiple viewings. At the risk of ruining its specialness, I do wish Bakemonogatari had more moments like this episode.

Ultimately, I know that for the Monogatari series, this is just the beginning. This anime (and the two book volumes that it’s based on) is the springboard for a franchise that continues even today, with over 60 episodes and 3 movies under its belt. However, when looking at Bakemonogatari on its own, it feels like it only gives you a small taste, rather than let you really devour this world and these characters.

The Atmosphere

I’ve heard others describe this show’s visuals as avant-garde, which doesn’t really describe much about it beyond simply using a fancy word that means “unique”. However, I also am having a hard time really finding a way to sum it up in just a few words.

Both visually and audibly, Bakemonogatari pulls from a thick book of art and cinematographic styles, although it uses some more than others. Its art style is most distinct with its handling of backgrounds and of extra characters. Backgrounds rely upon a small amount of colors, lines, and shapes (with some detailed objects put in to make a place distinct), creating scenes that aim to be more stylized rather than realistic. It’s really cool and does give this show a unique identity. It’s a bit hard to describe through words alone, but it is certainly something worth witnessing.

When it comes to the show’s animation… there honestly isn’t too much of it, in comparison to other anime series out there. Whenever the show does animate something, it certainly does it justice; from characters walking around a room to full-on gravity-defying battles, they’re all animated well and they also benefit from the show’s interesting art choices. But since a lot of time is spent talking or doing other things, there’s a lot of characters standing or sitting around; the show alleviates the stillness in movement by cutting to static objects (such as phone screens and backgrounds), using weird camera angles, or putting characters in weird positions. There’s always something on the screen to keep you interested.

Bakemonogatari’s background music equally relies upon piano, guitar, synthesizer, and drums, with sometimes other instruments like voice, other strings, and even xylophone being utilized as well. The composer Satoru Kosaki knows the right times to have the right instruments play in the right way to give scenes precisely what they need. The result is a soundtrack that fits its scenes really well (if not a tad on the dramatic side), while doing so in a distinctly Bakemonogatari way. Although not all of the songs on the soundtrack may be memorable, I’d bet that if you heard any of them on their own, you’d say “That sounds like a Monogatari soundtrack piece”.

Going beyond this is the five opening and one ending songs for this series. Each arc has its own opening song (in the Blu-Ray release), and I’d have to say I like all of them. I enjoy how each opening sounds different and unique and the opening animation for each of them is also quite unique and different as well. It’s all pretty cool. If I had to rank them by how much I liked them, though, I’d probably do: 1. Staple Stable 2. Sugar Sweet Nightmare 3. Renai Circulation 4. Ambivalent World 5. Kaerimichi. I enjoy the ending song, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, quite a bit as well (especially since it was written by the band Supercell), and the ending animation is also cool – I just wish that they used special character versions for all of the arcs rather than just the last 2. The art style used in the ending animation is cool looking and helps it stand out as its own thing, and this style will continue to be used for further Monogatari endings as well.

There is no English dub for this show, so if you’re gonna watch it, it’ll have to be subtitles all the way. It’s not to say dubbing this show is really impossible, but the cost and effort needed to write such a dub probably was the dissuading factor. I do enjoy the Japanese voice acting, though, and each of the female characters’ voice actors, including the Koyomi sisters Karen and Tsuhiki, are all pretty dang good at delivering their lines. Hiroshi Kamiya doesn’t do a bad job as Koyomi Araragi, either, but you hear one loud Araragi retort, and you’ve heard them all.

There is some unfortunate news, however. If you’re going to be watching this online, most streaming services, including Crunchyroll, only have the first 12 episodes. The reason being is the last 3 didn’t air on TV; instead, they were released online so Studio Shaft could take its time to release them when they’re ready rather than sticking to a strict guideline (this, in the end, resulted in episode 15 releasing a full 9 months after episode 12 aired on TV).

If you’re going to watch the whole series, you’ll have to get a physical copy. In Europe and Australia, they run at an alright price. In the United States, however, it’s a bit of a different story. The series has only ever been released on “limited edition” Blu-Ray over here, and it is expensive! Annoyingly so, since the only special feature is character commentary – in which the characters themselves provide commentary on the episodes as you watch them (which is entertaining, by the way). It’s closer to the Blu-Ray prices in Japan, sure, but for the Western fan, it’s bothersome that paying this much is the only legal way to watch the last 3 episodes. If a friend or the local library has a copy of this show, I recommend just borrowing it from them instead, if you simply just want to get through the series. Personally, I bought the darn thing because I love the Monogatari series… so I suppose the price isn’t quite high enough to really be unjustifiable, but still…

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Bakemonogatari’s two most important things, in order, is its writing and its visuals. The visuals draw people into the show, and the writing and interesting characters get people to stay. Bakemonogatari is a treat to enjoy, and kickstarts the Monogatari anime franchise, as well as the original light novel kickstarting the Monogatari novel series, both of which are still continuing today. Through these 15 episodes, you’ll become interested and attached to (at least some of) these characters and the world they inhabit, and you’ll be wanting in no time to continue on to the later shows.

If you haven’t experienced Bakemonogatari, I suggest you go onto Crunchyroll or Hanabee and get a feel for the series. This is a very dialogue-heavy show, and although there’s almost always something on the screen to keep you interested, some of you may just not like a show with so little physical action. If you’re curious about something a bit more exceptional and breaking-the-norm, though, Bakemonogatari is a wonderful piece to watch. (Do note, however, that most online services will not have the last 3 episodes of the show, as I explain in the previous section.)

Rating: Near Perfect
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ fascinating characters and writing, unique and memorable visuals, great music
— only get a small taste of what all could be potentially offered, show is formulaic, lots of talking and not much action-ing

 

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