Despite being an anime fan since the age of 6, I have never watched a single episode of anything from the Monogatari series. In fact until recently I knew next to nothing about it, save it has a bizarre naming scheme that makes it difficult to find on alphabetised DVD store shelves, it was apparently broadcast out of chronological order and some of the volumes were rated “18" by the BBFC (roughly equivalent to an American “NC-17” rating) and therefore I surmised it contained either horrific, exploitative violence or tentacle rape. Both of those topics generally get a NOPE from me. However, after a discussion on the AniTAY chat, it transpired that Monogatari’s closest analogues are Garden of Sinners and Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, two titles I absolutely love. Dilkokoro, this (eventual) series of articles is your fault. Let’s hope we don’t both learn to regret your encouragement. Also - thank God for CEX - the only way I could get these volumes at a halfway decent price. Thanks for nothing, Amazon.
So... the series kicks off with the 15-episode Bakemonogatari, which for the UK Blu-ray release has been split into a 2-disc 8 episode set for volume 1 and a 2-disc 7 episode set for volume 2. I watched all of the first 8 episodes in one go, and what follows here is a record of my opinions immediately following that possibly unhealthy binge. Where to start? Well, despite being the first episode, this makes it clear from the outset that it is not the start of the story. In fact the very first scene is a lurid close-up panty-shot with apparently zero relevance to the plot. Just as well I decided not to watch it with my wife. It’s difficult enough to convince her to watch anime with me without coming across like a pervert with a voyeuristic fetish for Japanese schoolgirls flashing their underwear. Following the panty-shot is a disjointed melange of quick-fire images that still don’t make any immediate sense to me.
What becomes clear very quickly is that this is an intensely stylised show, I guess that should not have come as a surprise, coming from the same studio that animated Madoka Magica (which I also love). I was unsure if I was expected to be able to read the barrage of text that assaulted my eyes like flashcards on acid, or whether I was meant to view it mostly with freeze-frame, but the effect was disorienting to say the least. I decided to go with it and let it flow over me, it’s not like I needed to write a dissertation on it. I suspect the OTT flashiness is perhaps there to distract from the fact that most of this show appears to be dialogue scenes - clever and witty dialogue, with a huge amount of basically untranslatable Japanese puns and wordplay. I can see why this is subbed only, I can only imagine the brain-melting trauma a poor prospective dub director might suffer when attempting to adapt this show.
The debt that Bunny Girl Senpai owes to Bakemonogatari is obvious from the outset - this too is about a fairly snarky male high school student who keeps stumbling into girls with bizarre supernatural problems and feels obligated to fix them. Koyomi Araragi is a more interesting protagonist than the average boring harem anime audience-insert character. Apparently sometime previously, he’d been turned into a vampire and somehow his associate Meme Oshino managed to (mostly) turn him back to normal. He now has miraculous self-healing abilities that come in handy when he is (frequently) maimed/attacked/disemboweled. There are also several allusions to other events over the prior Spring Break/Golden Week so I expect the details of that to be filled in at some point later, including whatever it was he did to help his studious bespectacled class president.
This set is split into three distinct stories - the first - Hitagi Crab parts 1 and 2 deal with the first encounter between Koyomi and the sterotypically tsundere (even referred to as such by the other characters) Hitagi Senjogahara. Despite being classmates for nigh on 3 years, they had never spoken. Also, Hitagi presents as an utter psychopath, jamming a retractable pen plus a stapler into his mouth (and stapling his cheek!) Any normal guy would have called the police or stayed the hell away, but no - Koyomi pursues the crazy girl where she demonstrates her absurd stationary-fu. Her secret power appears to be the use of her body-weight in pens/rulers/sharp things that she keeps hidden up her sleeves. Of course her weight totals only 5kg after a psychedelic god-crab stole away 90% of her weight along with the memories of her abusive mother. Yep, this show is weird.
Together with the help of the aforementioned Meme, they manage to resolve her issue and Hitagi warms up to Koyomi. A bit. She still insults him constantly. I’m not sure if that’s meant to make her attractive, somehow? I guess some guys like to have their egos ground into the dirt. One problem I had with the first two episodes was how fixated the camera was on her legs, bum and groin area. Why was she framed like a character in an ecchi show? That (mostly) didn’t happen to any other character and I found it distracting. The scene in her room where she stands naked and dripping in front of Koyomi after her shower seemed so out of place. Teenage girls do not act like that with guys they hardly know. Or if they do, I obviously hung around the wrong types of girl when I was a teenager. Anyway, the incongruous fan-service I could do without, thankfully there’s much less of it in the following six episodes.
The second story (Mayoi Snail parts 1-3) follows Hitagi and Koyomi’s developing relationship along with the problems of a new girl - the much younger Mayoi Hachikuji who is eternally lost, searching fruitlessly for her mother’s house. Most of these episodes are set within the same playpark and the lack of variety in setting I did find boring until the final part of the story when there is a clever switch of perspective in regards to what Mayoi’s problem actually is. Although the ecchi elements are kept to a minimum, there is still a shot of little-girl white panties, if that’s your thing. (And if it is your thing, please seek help.) The other questionable content involves the physical fights between Koyomi and his little girl tormentor. Granted, she does bite him repeatedly, but knocking out a little girl - twice - is not cool and I did not find it funny.
One thing that I did not see addressed: due to plot-sensitive reasons, Koyomi can perceive the existence of one character while Hitagi cannot. It was not explained why class president Tsubasa can also see them. Perhaps I missed the explanation for this, or maybe it will be explained later? Also Hitagi more or less forces Koyomi to become her boyfriend and demands an unambiguous verbal assent from him. The answer he gave did seem very ambiguous, and again I wonder if I lost something in translation there? I guess if I was in his position I might not want to turn down a very attractive, if bonkers, violent and threatening girl.
Finally, Suruga Monkey Parts 1-3 round out the set. With this I started to notice a pattern. A couple of episodes of playful banter and conversation followed by a concluding episode where the plot is explained and what little action there is, happens there. I wonder if the rest of this series will stick to this formula? The conversations are witty and mostly entertaining, but I do wonder if they would be even more so if I could understand spoken and written Japanese. Trying to follow subtitles for both voices and translations of the myriad title cards is exhausting. I do not want to have to resort to freeze-framing, it interrupts the flow of the narrative.
The new problem for Koyomi to solve in the third story is that of Suruga Kanbaru, who has a literal wish-granting monkey’s paw (really a demon’s arm) grafted to her arm that with each twisted wish will devour her soul and take over more of her body. Suruga has an unrequited lesbian attraction to Hitagi and now that Koyomi is her boyfriend, her sublimated rage and jealousy manifests itself through the demon arm in repeated, bloody attempts to kill him. There’s a lot of splattered blood in this, granted in some scenes it is stylistically rendered in bright cyan blue, custard yellow and princess-dress pink. Hitagi proves that she’s more than just a super-jealous, possessive and crazy girlfriend and actually saves Koyomi this time. Yay Hitagi! Maybe Koyomi didn’t make too bad a choice going out with her then. God help him if he ever wants to leave her though.
Overall, the first 8 episodes of Bakemonogatari were... fine, I guess. I think If I’d been watching this streaming week-to-week I’d probably have dropped it already. I appreciate that it looks pretty and the characters are interesting and clever, but the quick cuts and random title cards are irritating, especially as I don’t understand the significance behind them. I feel I’m missing out on a lot of the meaning due to my lack of Japanese language understanding. I figure that this show must be popular for a reason though, so I’ll stick with it. The fact that I already bought the subsequent 4 volumes in a job lot helps, I suppose.
See you after I battle through Bakemonogatari part two!
Bakemonogatari Part One Blu-Ray
Writer: Fuyashi Tou
Adapted from the light novels by: NisiOisiN
Original Japanese TV air dates: July 3rd - August 28th 2009
UK Blu-ray Release Date: 26 Aug. 2013
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Run Time: 192 minutes (8 episodes)
Region: Region B
BBFC Classification: 15
Distributor: MVM Entertainment