In light of the Kizumonogatari movie announced for next year, and the Nisemonogatari series green-lit for January of next year, this week’s anime review is Bakemonogatari. It’s a SHAFT production that aired from July to September, 2009, with three OVAs coming out afterwards detailing another arc. Bakemonogatari is based off a light novel, and the anime covers the first two volumes of the novel (the OVAs finishing the second novel). It deals with the everyday life of the main character, Araragi Koyomi. Of course, his ordinary life is anything but (wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise). For a variety of reasons, he constantly finds himself mixed up in different paranormal situations (each inexplicably involving some cute girl) and helps the girl resolve the issue.
Bakemonogatari is a pretty standard show in that it has all the hallmarks of wide-ranging appeal. Cute girls, funny humor, some action, and a mildly compelling plot. Well, a lot of shows nowadays can get by on the first two (of course, all of those points are arguable), Bakemonogatari manages to do well on all four counts. Unlike the last show I did, Hourou Musuko, there aren’t really any deep themes or dramatic scenes in Bakemonogatari, but that’s also not what it’s aiming to do. Through and through, it’s a fun ride and that’s all it tried to be.
To begin with, the plot of Bakemonogatari is split up into arcs. Each of these arcs deal with a different girl (though the other girls pop up as recurring characters in future arcs, sometimes playing important roles) and whatever individual problem they encounter. In addition to them usually having some sort of real-world problem (psychological or otherwise), there’s always some sort of paranormal aspect to their issues. Running through all the girls covered in Bakemonogatari, the arc titles are Hitagi Crab, Mayoi Snail, Suruga Monkey, Nadeko Snake, and Tsubasa Cat. So each girl’s woes are generally due to whatever sort of unfortunate apparition or paranormal creature decided to manifest in their lives. Each arc takes 2-3 episodes to resolve (though Tsubasa Cat is a little different) and each of the plots is, for the most part, self-contained within the arcs. As a result, besides the characters, there aren’t very many major developments that work their way through the series from start to finish (though there are a few).
The stories behind each of the specific arcs are fairly well-done. All of the stories save one are pretty compelling and definitely kept me interested throughout. However, I think one place the series really shines is the writing, particularly the dialogue between the characters. It comes off quickly and is generally pretty clever and funny. Subsequently, I’d say the greatest draw to Bakemonogatari is its humor, though it’s difficult to say whether the great dialogue should be attributed to the writers for the show or the author of the light novel. As I haven’t read the light novel, I can’t comment on that point specifically, though I’m sure the show’s writers added some quality material of their own in there (as is generally the case with light novel adaptations, there’s a lot of padding to be done).
Getting back to the plot for the series, the episodic arc format definitely does the series some justice, as it keeps certain characters just fresh enough to be entertaining (I’m looking at you, Mayoi!) without letting them become too stale. In addition, by allowing for recurring appearances later on, certain gags can be stretched within an arc, and then brought back to decent effect later on as a kind of surprise (yet again, Mayoi and her Arararararararagi thing). That being said, some of the plotlines can come across as slightly convoluted (specifically Tsubasa Cat), and others could be hit or miss. A lot of people love Hanazawa Kana’s Nadeko, but if you’re one of the few that don’t, you’ll be glad that she’s only in the spotlight for two episodes. In a way, it lets people who have favorite girls enjoy their favorite girls for a bit, without shoving certain others down their throats TOO much. So kudos to the series for that.
As I said before, the stories themselves are fairly compelling. The very first one, Hitagi Crab, deals with some pretty dramatic issues that come to a head with, as always, some form of paranormal creature. I did enjoy the pun in the creature’s name, though. What possesses her is an “omoikane”. Kane is crab, but omoi can either be 重い, which means “heavy”, (weight-wise) or 思い, which means “thought” or “feeling” or something to that effect. Of course, both meanings come into play during her story, and indeed they are both pivotal to the resolution of that plotline. The subsequent plotlines aren’t as strong as Hitagi’s was (though I believe that has a lot to do with character personality), but they’re all interesting enough (except, yet again, Tsubasa Cat). As with Hitagi Crab, all of the girls suffer from normal issues (ranging from broken families to plain old jealousy) that get compounded with the appearance of some sort of paranormal creature that feeds of their misfortune. Of course, that’s where Koyomi comes in (after generally meeting the girl by chance) to save the day.
One stark difference between the first two stories (Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail) versus the following two (Suruga Monkey and Nadeko Snake) was the way the two facets of each girls’ problems meshed. In Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail, both paranormal occurrences were linked with and supported by their personal problems. As a result, when Koyomi solves the paranormal issue as always does, the personal issue is also addressed and solved (to a degree). This gave each of their stories a certain depth that I feel Suruga Monkey and Nadeko Snake lacked. In those two stories, while the origins of their paranormal misfortunes were definitely grounded in some personal issue (Suruga wishing to win a race and Nadeko suffering some jealous rage from her classmate) eventually whatever paranormal occurrence happens to the two takes the forefront for their plotlines and their personal issues are mostly forgotten. As a result, I much preferred the stories of Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail to Suruga Monkey and Nadeko Snake.
Of course I left out Tsubasa Cat, the final arc, on purpose. It was without a doubt the weakest of all of the character arcs. This was due to a variety of reasons, first and foremost was the fact that Hanekawa Tsubasa is the weakest of the five main girls covered in Bakemonogatari. Her personality is the weakest, and she doesn’t have any important gimmicks to say in the watcher’s mind. Hitagi has her sharp tongue, Mayoi is cutely poor with pronunciation and spelling, Suruga is lesbian and Nadeko… Also isn’t very interesting, but she stuck out to me by being voiced by Hanazawa Kana. To contrast, Hanekawa Tsubasa is kind of boring. She’s smart, and I guess acts as some sort of voice of reason, but that’s pretty much it. She’s simply not that interesting. Which is unfortunate, because she has by far my favorite character design (glasses + braids is pretty much love).
To compound her issues, Tsubasa Cat was handled rather poorly in the way it was released. It was due out as an OVA (well, ONA to be specific, as it was released to the internet first), but the timing ended up being poor and there were several delays with its releases. While the first episode of the Tsubasa Cat ONA came out in November of 2009 (to compare, the series ended in September), the next one came out in February of the next year, and the last one came out at the end of June. The problem an avid viewer runs into there is the story is becomes incredibly disjointed.
For me specifically, by the time the last episode came out, I had no idea what went on in the previous two episodes. After I finished it, I skimmed the last three episodes to put together the story. And that runs into the next issue with Tsubasa Cat, the story. It comes across as kind of convoluted. All of these events happen that don’t have too much to do with the main issue at hand, and Hanekawa’s issue isn’t even all that interesting. She built up a lot of stress in her life (she’s a perfect student and all) and she has some unrequited love for Koyomi, and the stress manifests itself in a cat form, which pretty much goes berserk and attacks people. Compared to the other stories (particularly Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail) it’s fairly uninteresting and lacks that dramatic component the other stories had to really make you feel for the character. All in all, Hanekawa Tsubasa’s arc was really weak in comparison to the rest of the series.
While I covered Tsubasa in some detail, the other characters in the show are really interesting, and what really drives this series to be special. The most important of which is Senjougahara Hitagi. She’s the main girl for the first arc, and as a result becomes rather close to Koyomi as she accompanies him and plays a role in most of the subsequent stories. Hitagi has an incredibly sharp tongue (in fact, the only sharper one comes from Yozora in Bokutachi wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, though she’s in her own league). She loves to mercilessly tease Koyomi, and the conversations the two of them have are quite funny. As the series goes in (in fact, by the end of Mayoi’s arc) Koyomi and Hitagi enter a romantic relationship, though Hitagi’s personality is mostly the same. As a self-proclaimed tsundere, she’s pretty mean to Koyomi (though not with the physical violence/humor normally associated with the title), but also has her cute side. Her interactions with Koyomi are actually pretty adorable, and the last aired episode of the anime really drives that point home.
The entire episode is a date with the two of them (though the first half or so involves Hitagi’s father driving them to the destination, which is pretty hilarious) and the interactions between the two range from “ha ha funny” to “aww that’s so cute” and I really appreciate their relationship for that. Next up is Hachikuji Mayoi, who takes the spotlight arc 2, Mayoi Snail. She’s an elementary school girl who has her own set of issues, but she’s just trying to get home. She only really interacts with Koyomi, but their interactions are generally pretty funny. One particularly funny gag of Mayoi’s is the fact that she cannot pronounce Koyomi’s family name, Araragi. She always adds too many “ra”s to it, to rather cute effect. Her character design is kind of made to showcase her as an elementary school girl, what with the twintails and the oversized backpack she always has with her.
The next two characters are Kanbaru Suruga and Sengoku Nadeko. Suruga is a sporty girl who’s totally enamored with Hitagi (and along that vein is rather jealous of Koyomi). She’s a self-proclaimed lesbian, and her antics with both Hitagi and Koyomi are generally pretty funny, even though her arc was a little hard to follow at times. Her character design isn’t particularly special in any way though I guess it gives her the appearance of being an athletic kind of girl. The last girl is Nadeko, and a lot of people think she’s terribly adorable due to her voice and mannerisms. I must admit I was swept up as well at first, but looking at her a bit more objectively now, she’s about as bad a character as Tsubasa. Not particularly interesting, and the way her character is so unassuming is almost annoying. She seems to have a crush on Koyomi, (well, at this point, who wouldn’t?) but I honestly cannot remember any particularly notable character trait of her’s. That being said, her character design is pretty cute, what with the hat and the jacket and t-shirt combo. That’s another part of her appeal, I guess, but insofar as her personality and mannerisms go, she’s not so great.
The last couple of characters aren’t as important (yet, anyway). Oshino Meme is kind of a mentor of sorts to Koyomi and the go-to guy on all sorts of paranormal phenomena. He’s generally the person that knows what to do and how to resolve a paranormal incident. His character design is particularly distinct, just for the crazy blonde hair and Hawaiian shirt. He’s an alright character, but the story is never really about him. He lives in an abandoned building with Oshino Shinobu, who’s slightly more important. She’s a vampire, just like Koyomi, and their story is properly expanded upon in the prequel movie Kizumonogatari, which is due out next year. Her character design is pretty cute, kind of like Nadeko’s in that it is a little unorthodox. Well, maybe moreso than Nadeko since she just wears a simple white dress with a motorcycle or pilot’s helmet (don’t really know the kind), complete with goggles. It’s fairly unique and lets her stick in your mind. The last two characters show up in the anime, though only briefly. They have much bigger roles in the sequel series, Nisemonogatari. They are Koyomi’s sisters, Araragi Karen and Araragi Tsukihi. As it stands, I know next to nothing about them, and they’re not too important until the sequel anyway.
Moving on from the characters and on to the art… Well, I already gave preliminary impressions on character designs. I can’t really speak to the technical side of art since my artistic skills are about equal to that of a wet walnut, but as to how it looks to me it’s nothing special. The colors the show uses are generally more subdued. This is especially true for the settings used. It makes the tone of the series seem a lot more somber and serious than it actually is. The color scheme contrasts oddly with the humor rife within the show, highlighting all the jokes and almost making them seem like the only brightness in a dark world. In addition, the characters themselves generally have pretty bright personalities, which also contrast with the color scheme. So the art style, particularly where the color scheme is concerned, serves to highlight the characters and their dialogue, which are definitely the more interesting parts of the show. In that respect it’s a success, but the art itself doesn’t seem anything really special to me.
One of the most notable features of Bakemonogatari is the animation. From watching the first episode, anyone would notice something incredibly odd. There are a lot of times where you’d just see a blank screen, where SHAFT was seemingly too lazy to animate the scenes. From what I understand, SHAFT didn’t really have enough animators on hand to handle the scenes, but still wanted to keep up with the weekly release schedule. As such, there are several areas within the series where the show cuts to some sort of blank screen (with maybe some clever text on it) instead of having the show being fluidly animated. Other than that glaring issue, the animation in the show is alright. There are a few action and fight scenes sprinkled throughout the show, and they’re generally done pretty well. However, the cuts to blank for the fight scene during Suruga Monkey were rather annoying. Other than that, it seems SHAFT is really fond of the quick perspective change, in that it likes to quickly cut to different scenes. Particularly during the conversation scenes, the show will quickly switch between, say, Hitagi’s face, Koyomi’s face, and some scenery. There’s nothing particularly wrong or even cool about this kind of technique, it’s just something interesting to note.
The last section I’m going to cover for Bakemonogatari is the music. I’ll begin with the bad news. The background music is nothing special. I can’t even remember one track of background music in the show. On the bright side, that means nothing was so bad that I do remember it. So overall the background music is not very memorable, and not in the best of ways. However, the series easily makes it up with the theme songs. For each arc, each of the heroines sings their own theme song, which is the opening theme for that arc. The first opening is staple stable by Saito Chiwa, then Kaerimichi by Katou Emiri, followed by Ambivalent World by Sawashiro Miyuki, then Renai Circulation by Hanazawa Kana, and finally sugar sweet nightmare by Horie Yui. In particular I enjoyed staple stable, sugar sweet nightmare, and Renai Circulation. To be fair, I cannot quite remember Kaerimichi and Ambivalent World. However, the three I enjoyed were quite good.
One curious point to note is that the Idolm@ster girls have done covers of the Bakemonogatari opening themes. In particular, Takane’s staple stable actually sounds better than the original. Definitely the best song from series though was the ending, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari. It’s done by the rather popular (now, at least) supercell, which was primarily a group doing Hatsune Miku music. However, they held auditions for an actual singer, and came up with Yanagi Nagi, who did a wonderful job with all the music she did for them. Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari is a great song and it fits in really well with the end of the twelfth episode of the series (the broadcast end of the series). So all in all, the background music for the show isn’t anything special, but the opening and ending themes are pretty good. Of course, I’m a huge supercell fan, at least so far as Nagi is concerned, and maybe one of their new vocalists, Chelly. Now, for the final rating…