Directors: Tatsuya Oishi, Akiyuki Shinbou
Writers: Yukito Kizawa, Munemasa Nakamoto
Aired: July 3, 2009- June 25, 2010
I’ve been especially struggling with how to start this review. I really don’t know where to begin with Bakemonogatari. It’s an anime that has been difficult to convey my thoughts on due to its sheer unique nature. I really haven’t watched anything quite like it. I can say it’s a very love it or hate it kind of anime. Either someone will think it’s a unique, visually amazing and atmospheric show with an unconventional way of telling its story, or someone will think it’s nothing more than pretentious harem garbage. I am the former person, because while not perfect, Bakemonogatari is an engrossing, unique watching experience.
Bakemonogatari is the first anime that is based on a popular series of light novels called the Monogatari series from Japan by author Nisio Isin. The anime covers the events of the novels titled Bakemonogatari. The plot is…well there really isn’t an overarching plot to this anime, just a series of episodic events that become slightly more interconnected by the end. The “plot” is that high school student and partial vampire Koyomi Araragi solves the supernatural oddities such as invisible snakes and cat spirits going on in his town amongst different girls he encounters. That’s it really. Story arcs will introduce a new girl with a spirit that is causing them problems, Araragi with the help of his semi-mentor Meme Oshino will exorcise it, and the girl will become his friend and/or admirer. The final arc has the closest to what the anime’s main antagonist will be. If you’re looking for a story with original ideas writing-wise or one with more singular focus, then you’ll be disappointed. Bakemonogatari isn’t concerned by what story it’s telling but how it tells a story.
Bakemonogatari’s biggest strength is its unique visual style and direction. The usage of color, especially red is extremely striking amongst often grey backgrounds. Nearly every scene in the anime is incredibly beautiful to look at due to scene being shot at creative angles that create a surreal atmosphere that you would expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch film, which should be expected of Shaft’s famously unique visual style and director Akiyuki Shinbou would go on to create and direct the darkly beautiful and subversive Puella Madoka Magica. Many times, conversations between characters will be interrupted for brief seconds with stills of text from the original light novels. Flashbacks will have a film reel sound effect playing in the background, with some using live action stills. Settings will be entirely empty of people save for the main characters, as if the city is a ghost town. The surreal atmosphere is further enhanced by Bakemonogatari’s blending of genres, strange cast of characters and dialogue. Araragi, our protagonist is the most normal character in the anime, and he’s partially a vampire that can heal from any wound! The girls he aids have their own personality quirks, such as the first girl Hitagi Senjougahara being disturbingly cold and prone to threatening violence on Araragi. This is because Bakemonogatari is both an urban fantasy mystery and a busting of the harem genre. The character Senjougahara is outright called a tsundere in the anime, and she very much is one, she’s just a darkly comedic parody of one. The other girls are on the surface character types you’d see in your usual anime harem show, but are truly the archetypes given substance and depth. To top it all off, we are given an utterly beautiful soundtrack that is wide in range from as creepy, strange and mysterious as the world and characters of Bakemonogatari to surprisingly chipper and calming.
This is an extremely self aware and meta anime. It takes jabs and makes observations of itself and anime conventions as a whole. It straddles the line between endearing, and obnoxiously having its head stuck up its ass. It definitely flirts with the latter, but luckily has the sense to stay closer to the former. Nonetheless, the anime definitely has a huge amount of pretentiousness and smug satisfaction in its own admitted cleverness that can be a bit distracting. Less tolerant viewers will probably be rolling their eyes at its hubris.
Bakemonogatari’s other inescapable flaws are the cultural boundaries between its native Japanese and English speaking audiences and its story feels like you missed a previous season. This is because in the Monogatari series timeline, Bakemonogatari is not the first story for a number of these characters. Now the original light novels were published in an out of order timeline as well, so it is entirely possible that this problem is mitigated in its original format, but this creates a sense of confusion that can easily cause someone to turn away from the anime after the first episode. The former flaw is that Bakemonogatari has a great deal of wordplay that will likely go over some of the heads of a number of English speaking viewers, myself included. While there were plenty of scenes I understood the humor, I’m sure there were moments that I didn’t get which is both my fault and the anime’s.
As for voice acting, everyone does a very good job and brings their characters to life. There’s even one very humorous scene in one of the anime’s later episodes where one character proceeds to vaporize the fourth wall and use the fact they have voice actors and actresses to hilarious effect. Just watch it, the moment completely catches you off guard and is a moment of genuine cleverness.
Bakemonogatari would probably be a masterpiece if it weren’t for its own occasional arrogance, some of the humor being lost in translation, and being a bit too vague and hard to follow at times for its own good. Yet it’s also the kind of show that begs for a re-watch sometime in the future so you can see what you missed and dissect everything. It’s a hard recommendation due to its unorthodox nature and hard to penetrate story, but I would ask that you do watch it even if you find yourself disliking the very first episode. It’s an anime that dares to make its viewer confused and downright uncomfortable at times and if nothing else, you’ll certainly never forget it, love or hate it.