After narrowly surviving my first foray into the bizarre media maelstrom that is the Monogatari series (here), I have returned to relate my experiences from my brave plunge into the second half of the first segment. The Bakemonogatari Part 2 Blu-ray set contains 2 discs spanning episodes 9-15. There’s only 2 stories in this set - the 2 episode Nadeko Snake and the 5-episode Tsubasa Cat, although there is a hilarious single episode interlude partway through the second story about the weirdest first date ever. We’ll get to that later.
Nadeko is yet another new, younger girl - in fact one of Koyomi’s little sister’s friends. As an only child herself, it’s pretty clear she’s got a massive crush on her substitute “big brother” Koyomi. Cursed for rejecting the advances of a boy her own age - “as she liked someone else” (likely Koyomi) - she’s been inhabited by a snake spirit that is slowly crushing her to death. To try and relieve her curse, she’s been ritualistically killing snakes, chopping them up and nailing them to the trees at the local snake-worship shrine. You know, like one would commonly do on a spare Sunday afternoon. Funnily enough, it’s not been working so in order to gain Koyomi’s help, rather than just explaining to him what’s going on, she obviously has to strip down to her underwear. Oh, not quite - Suruga lends her a pair of gym shorts that does not even slightly detract from the fetishistic presentation of this prepubescent girl’s body. I mean, what the hell?
Yeah, I guess we and the characters get a good look at the snake scale marks covering her body but that could have been illustrated with her leg, or arm or neck. There was no need to strip her naked. Nor was there any need for a close-up tracking shot across her gym-shorts-clad crotch. Gross! She’s a child! It would be bad enough to objectify an adult woman in this way. Anyway, Koyomi does his whole self-sacrificing thing again and sheds yet more blood in order to free Nadeko from her curse. (During the exorcism Nadeko of course has to groan and moan and writhe while tight invisible coils constrict around her. Does the director have a kiddie bondage fetish?) Despite successfully freeing her, Koyomi regrets his inability to destroy the snake spirit as it will return to the kid that set the curse and kill them instead. That’s pretty dark.
Tsubasa Cat - the second story starts to fill in some of the previously hinted backstory. This focuses mainly on Tsubasa Hanekawa, Koyomi’s studious class president who helps him to study. In previous episodes it was hinted that she did not have a happy home life - here she confirms that she does not live with her biological parents, she does not get on with the adults in her household and at one point they tried to send her to an orphanage. Oof. No wonder she doesn’t like to spend time at home. As soon as she graduates from school she wants to get the hell out of her hometown and travel the world to expand her horizons. Good on her. Unfortunately Tsubasa is possessed by a cat spirit and during the previous Golden Week she embarked on a rampage attacking not only her family members but random people too. Her inability to manage stress led to the cat emerging and last time it was only with the vampire Shinobu’s help that the cat spirit’s fury was quelled.
Tsubasa’s cat self is unleashed once more when a new stress is added to her ongoing situation - and this time it is Koyomi’s fault. Surprise surprise, another of his female friends is in love with him and Tsubasa was too shy to own up to her feelings, sublimating her anger, jealousy and frustration at how Hitagi swiftly latched onto Koyomi and entered a relationship with him. Koyomi is too clueless to notice this and took everything Tsubasa said at face value, including her claim that she never lied. In fact she lied about everything. Now her stress levels have reached boiling point and her hair changes to white, she grows cat ears, changes personality and starts to talk with a stereotypical catgirl nya-inflected speech pattern. This show really does intend to cater to every common otaku fetish, doesn’t it?
With five episodes, this story does have more room to breathe than the others and I think it may have been the best so far. Tsubasa Cat herself does have an attractive and dynamic character design. (Oh no - does that mean I am a furry now?) She is a fun agent of chaos that, just like a cat, toys with Koyomi and at times brandishes her claws. She wants to resolve “her mistress’s stress” and that mean Koyomi either has to break up with Hitagi and go out with Tsubasa instead, or else die. Koyomi reasons that if he allows Tsubasa to kill him, then Hitagi would probably kill Tsubasa. So his entire reason for fighting back is to prevent his insane girlfriend from committing murder. Nice.
One interesting part of this story is how it writes out Meme Oshino. In a way, this was a relief to me. It could have become very repetitive storytelling for Koyomi to be faced with more problems, only for him to consult Meme each time for a solution. With Meme gone, Koyomi will have to think for himself . Mind you, it is only by sheer luck he gets out of this one, when he discovers that the previously missing Shinobu now lives within his shadow and presumably can be summoned at any time to eviscerate his enemies/drain their blood.
I did try to take an action screencap of Shinobu beating the crap out of Tsubasa Cat but I couldn’t post it here. Want to know why? Yeah, in the action shot you can see right up this little vampire girl’s skirt to see she is wearing no underwear and has nothing but a sticking plaster/band-aid over her vulva. Once again, what the hell, Monogatari? I would not have noticed that had I not freeze-framed. Don’t tell me she’s like the little vampire from Let the Right One In who looks like a girl but is in fact a mutilated boy? Um, anyway, no gratuitous child-vulva shot for you today, dear readers.
Before I move onto more positive thoughts, I have to call Bakemonogatari out on yet another super-creepy scene. Koyomi spots little lost girl Mayoi Hachikuji from a distance, creeps up on her while grinning and muttering to himself, grabs her from behind and gropes her breasts. This is not okay. In what version of the world is this okay? No matter if the character is actually a wandering spirit and is probably older than he is, this is presented as sexual assault of a minor and it made me deeply uncomfortable. The scene adds nothing to the story other than confirming that Koyomi is a creep that I would keep my own daughter well away from. He’d get a permanent entry on the sex offenders registry here in the UK for pulling that sort of crap. What is the purpose of this? Do people actually enjoy seeing little kids distressed at inappropriate touching from older people? If I hadn’t wanted to know what happened next in the story, I’d have switched this off in disgust and never returned.
Now that’s all my moaning out of the way, I’ll discuss the things I did enjoy - not that they excuse the previous skeeviness and ick factor. The aforementioned weirdest date ever episode was possibly the best episode of the whole series. I am certainly warming up to Hitagi - not least because she reminds me of my wife - I do have a thing for playful, strong-willed and filthy-minded women. The scene in the car where she whispers horrifying (thankfully obscured) obscenities into Koyomi’s ear before nibbling it was very funny in an uncomfortably familiar way. That she did this so that he wouldn’t think of her younger friend as an “erotic person” compared to his girlfriend fit with her contrary and abrasive personality. The look of panic on his face as she whispered seductively while rubbing his thigh while her silent father in the seat in front drove them into the night was priceless.
What sort of twisted woman takes her boyfriend on their first date along with her dad anyway? I really felt his discomfort when left alone in the car with him, but it turned into a really sweet scene where her dad thanked Koyomi for looking after Hitagi for him. That was then followed by a lovely stargazing scene where it was implied that Koyomi and Hitagi shared their first kiss. The episode had no supernatural shenanigans and no creepy paedophilic exploitation, which made a nice change of pace.
In my review of part 1, I mentioned about the grating stylisation, quick-cut scene changes and an overabundance of walls of indecipherable text. Those criticisms still stand, though I am getting used to them. Some of the quick cuts are used more like punctuation and are an interesting way to control the mood and pace of a scene. What I’d like to point out is the overall look of the world in this show. It is empty. I didn’t notice during the first few episodes, but now it has become abundantly clear that no-one but the main characters are ever shown. It gives the show a claustrophobic quality, even when there are outdoor scenes. Those scenes are always completely empty. Its as if Koyomi and his harem are the only people that live in a massive, pastel coloured city. In those few scenes that require the presence of other people, they might as well be card-board cut outs. Another more recent example of this technique would be in this season’s Sarazanmai, a show with some of its own creepy fixations. In the comments to my previous review, TheMamaLuigi mentioned that as the primary viewpoint character, Koyomi does not notice/acknowledge the existence of any other peripheral characters, hence why we as viewers do not see them. That makes him somewhat sociopathic, no?
The entire school is devoid of any pupils other than Koyomi, Tsubasa, Hitagi and Suruga. No teachers at all. The corridors are dark and creepy, as is the building where Meme lives. Outside, the city itself is sterile and stylised, trees are nothing but simplified fractals against oddly-coloured skies. I do like the aesthetic, it gives an otherwordly atmosphere. There is an air of heightened unreality throughout the entire production that gives it a very distinctive look. The other theme of note that stands out is in the importance of words. This is evident both in the appearance of the monsters - all of which have had a glowing words associated with their designs, and also with the preoccupations of the characters themselves. Hitagi will often quiz Koyomi on which characters he uses to form his words, as these reveal an underlying meaning. This is perhaps difficult to portray in English, which has only 26 letter symbols, though we do have homonyms - words which sound the same but have different meanings. Individual Japanese characters may have the same sounds but have very different meanings too, and this seems to be extremely important to the foundation of this entire story - it appears to be built on complex wordplay. Again, I think as an English speaker some of the deeper nuances of this story will forever elude me.
Finally, I should mention the music. I think it’s a really great touch that each of the main female characters gets their own theme song opener. I particularly like Hitagi’s Staple Stable. The ending theme’s pretty good too.
That’s it for Bakemonogatari, the first part of the wider Monogatari series. Despite my misgivings, I’ve not yet been put off. See you next time when I look at the second segment - Nisemonogatari Part 1. That set is BBFC-18-rated, so who knows what perverted traumas I may have to endure for your twisted reading pleasure?
Bakemonogatari Part Two Blu-Ray
Writer: Fuyashi Tou
Based on the light novels by: NisiOisiN
Original Japanese TV Air dates: September 4th -25th 2009 (episodes 9-12)
Original net broadcast November 3rd 2009 - June 23rd 2010 (episodes 13-15)
UK Blu Ray Release Date: September 23rd 2013
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Run Time: 168 minutes
Region: Region B
BBFC Classification: 15
Distributor: MVM Entertainment