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Bakemonogatari Anime Review
In Japan, there exists a popular medium known as a visual novel. A visual novel is essentially a linear story told mainly by text wherein the player can decide where the plot advances to next during certain, pre-specified, points. The ridiculous amounts of text are also usually accompanied by visual aids, such as character drawings, landscapes, and whatever else the developer decides to include. Visual novels also contain audio, ranging from sound effects such as doors opening, to original music written specifically for the game (visual novels also have the ability to make the soundtrack cause you to want to punch something by the time you are done with the 40-to-60 hour story).
A popular kind of visual novel is the bishoujo visual novel, which, other than being one of the things that westerners immediately think of the second that "Japan" or "visual novel" is uttered, is characterized by the player being in the role of a male protagonist who suddenly becomes surrounded by young and attractive anime girls. It is not uncommon for visual novels of this nature to be made into an anime series. Popular titles that this has happened to include: Steins;Gate, Clannad, Fate Stay/Night, and Kanon. However, in 2009, an anime series known as Bakemonogatari was produced which follows young whippersnapper Koyomi Araragi as he attempts to solve the supernatural issues of every female character that exists within his hometown. Most who have some semblance as to what a visual novel is would likely guess that Bakemonogatari was based on one. Unfortunately, this is incorrect, as the series only likes to make viewers think that it was based on a visual novel, which is one of the many ways that it uses common preconceptions in order to confuse viewers as it begins to deliver many other concepts which come straight out of left field.
Bakemonogatari (literally "ghost story" in English) is a 15-episode anime series released in 2009 which doesn't really have a definitive genre but contains elements of drama, comedy, action, and romance. The series was animated by Shaft, a company known mainly for its work on the Madoka Magica series. Shaft also has a reputation for using many odd or innovative techniques, such as characters tilting their heads in a fashion that isn't humanly possible, for no apparent reason.
Bakemonogatari is based on a series of light novels by Nisio Isin. It is the first release in the Monogatari series, followed by Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari (Kuro), Monogatari Series Second Season, and Hanamonogatari, though Nekomonogatari (Kuro) occurs canonically before Bakemonogatari. The main protagonist, Koyomi Araragi, is a high school student who is also part vampire, which allows to heal from injuries and wounds much more quickly than a normal human being, albeit not as quickly as Wolverine. Araragi wanders around his hometown which seems to quite literally be populated only by characters that are important to the story. He meets five different girls who have recently become affected by different deities which cause different kinds of disharmony within those that they take over. These deities are based on common folklore or fantasy tales from the real world, such as the "Suruga Monkey" arc being based on the English short story "The Monkey's Paw." Each of the arcs seems to have a different theme associated with them, usually dealing with something that happened in the affected character's past that relates to the behavior and actions that they commit when under control of their specific deity.
Most of the dialogue within Bakemonogatari takes place as a one-on-one conversation between Araragi and the heroine of the current arc. This, in a way, is a step away from common story telling in which there are a lot more scenes with three or more characters conversing. Of course, conversations with two people involved instead of three, four or more often makes things a lot more intimate and also requires more involvement on the part of both participants.
All of the characters in Bakemonogatari are very distinct in both personality and appearance, leading to a behemoth amount of interesting dialogue. Koyomi Araragi follows the standard archetype of "the nice guy" that is seen commonly as the protagonists of visual novels and a lot of romance-centric anime. Contrary to this, Araragi is not the submissive, easily disheveled type and will always stand up against those who oppose him no matter what the odds are. His ideals are also correct most of the time, making him appear quite intelligent. This is further evidenced by his inner monologue, which often expresses his distaste for something that he did.
Hitagi Senjogahara is a tsundere character who has the composure that makes it seem as if she knows what she is doing, which she does a lot of the time, but she still is very naïve when dealing with some events. She is very slow to show her soft side, which, when it appears, is shown in the fashion as if she were still hiding beneath her tough exterior.
Meme Oshino, a man experienced with the dealings of the supernatural, often comes to the aid of Araragi and others. He appears very stoic at times and always seems to tell Araragi exactly what he is thinking. He comes off as somewhat of a father figure to Araragi, which is considerably odd since Oshino is said to be a man in his thirties.
Tsubasa Hanekawa is a fairly intelligent girl who was acquainted with Araragi prior to the events of Bakemonogatari. She displays a slightly arrogant demeanor towards him, but still has some respect for him, just like all of the other characters do. Throughout the series, Araragi continually asserts something along the lines of "is there anything you don't know" to Hanekawa, to which she always responds, "I only know what I know."
Next is Mayoi Hachikuji. She appears as an elementary-aged child who is always seen schlepping around a large backpack. Despite her appearance, she seems knowledgeable in a lot of ways. Her behavior towards Araragi is usually polarizing, meaning she either will talk to him as if he is a complete stranger or the exact opposite. A common concern with this character is whether or not Araragi's behavior towards her promotes lolicon-like actions. It is true that he sometimes sexually harasses her, but these scenes quickly evolve into the two of them physically hurting each other. After this, the two just start talking to each other as they would normally, implying that these scenes aren't meant to be taken all that seriously.
Then there is Suruga Kanbaru, a highly eccentric and athletic girl who goes to the same school as most of the other characters in the Monogatari series. She doesn't normally show weakness and often suppresses her true feelings for others, a predicament that causes one of the major conflicts in Bakemonogatari.
There is also Nadeko Sengoku, who is somewhat of a childhood friend of Araragi, Shinobu Oshino, a vampire, and Araragi's younger sisters, all who have fairly small roles in Bakemonogatari.
Even though many would consider the Monogatari series as a whole a harem, I find that Bakemonogatari has many merits that separate it from anime series such as Love Hina and To Love-Ru. Primarily, Koyomi Araragi is not what someone who would typically be the protagonist of a harem series. He typically stays true to his words and isn't really afraid of anything. This leads me to believe that he actually deserves the attention he gets from the other characters, other than typical harem protagonists who seem to have no reason for the amount of attention they receive. Also, Bakemonogatari seems to hold up very well as an avant-garde or intellectual piece. The plot manages to explore many concepts that plague the everyday minds of humans, such as rejection or non-displayed affection. Finally, there is the humor. It is rare for me to actually laugh at anything, but Bakemonogatari managed to make me do so frequently with its wide variety of witty and sarcastic humor that sometimes breaks the fourth wall.
There are still some problems I have with the overall story. For one, there isn't really an overarching storyline over the entirety of Bakemonogatari and the only character who is constant throughout all 15 episodes is Araragi, making it kind of lackluster in terms of character development. Since Bakemonogatari is first in a series of shows, this later proves to be false.
Shaft is well known for their distinctive art style, in which things in the environment seem to stick out easily due to their contrasting and bright coloration. Bakemonogatari uses these techniques to full effect, making the world feel very unrealistic and vibrant at times. This fits the themes and characters of the series to a T. The art style also often shifts into a very-cartoon-like design during comedic moments, but this doesn't feel out of place since the world never seemed very believable to begin with. The animation, as a whole, is exemplary by my standards, with little error to be seen. The animation also helps liven dialogue-heavy scenes by rapidly switching camera angles or positions at random intervals.
The entirety of Bakemonogatari is also heavily ridden with text "slides" that appear at varying lengths. These "slides", although often add nothing to the story and say something like "black scene" or "red scene", are used mainly to portray the thoughts of the protagonist or something else within the context of the story. These "slides" mainly are used to add to the atmosphere of the series, (or maybe they're just there because Shaft felt like being weird) but many people find them annoying. Sometimes, they are frequent and quick enough to the point that they could be potentially seizure-inducing. I, however, really enjoyed these "slides", mainly because they did something unusual and grabbed my attention.
There are five total opening songs in Bakemonogatari. The opening song used for each episode is meant to indicate the main heroine in that particular episode. All of the songs are quite good, but I can't help but think to myself "where in the hell did Shaft get all of this money?" whenever I am reminded of the fact that there are five opening songs in a 15-episode series. The rest of the soundtrack also serves to add a lot to the overall feeling of the world in which Monogatari takes place. Each of these tracks hold up on their own, and there isn't really anything that sticks out more than the remaining songs.
Currently, there is no English dub for Bakemonogatari or anything in the Monogatari series, and there probably never will be. This is likely because it would be ridiculously hard to work around all of the Japanese culture references and general Japanese speech elements to the point at which a dub cast in most other languages would likely end up telling a vastly different story from the one intended. Likewise, it takes a basic understanding of Japanese speech and culture to understand the story to its fullest. As for the actual voice acting, I think that the voice actors all did a reasonably good job as far as emotional display and such, but there's not much else I can say about it since I am not a native Japanese speaker nor do I speak it on a regular basis.
On its own, Bakemonogatari is a massive achievement in storytelling, animation, and sound. The only place where it really fails is that there isn't a whole lot that connects each of the story arcs. Besides this, there are few flaws that exist to scratch the gloriously shiny surface that is Bakemonogatari.
I do not recommend this to everyone though. Those who don't enjoy scene after scene of dialogue will probably not like this show, and so will people who don't like weird things or text that flashes up on the screen that doesn't give ample time for reading. If you don't fit under any of the previously mentioned categories, you might have just found one of your new favorite series, since nothing in the anime world even comes close to being like it.
Next in the Monogatari series: Nisemonogatari review