Just for fun, I had a look at the BBFC’s website to see why this and the next volume were rated “18”.
Episodes 1-4: Contains some sexualised nudity. Ok. Nothing new. Deep breath, I can handle that.
Episodes 5-7: Contains sexualised nudity and moderate sex references. Ok. Ok, more of the same. Got it.
Episodes 8-11: Contains strong references to sex and incest, and strong gore.
Sorry, what? Incest? Seriously? Are we going there? Do we have to go there? Wasn’t that a creepy fetish you could have missed out, Monogatari? Clearly not. Anyway, this is a review of the first set which has 2 discs that cover up to episode 7. I guess the real test of my resolve is yet to come.
Out of the 5 sets I bought in one go, this is the only one I got as a DVD because the blu-ray was so much rarer/more expensive. Now I’m not sure if this is an effect of the lower resolution or whether it is the change in director, but I don’t feel the colours “pop” as much as they did in previous episodes. There are also not as as many intrusive, repetitive quick cuts and title cards, though the bonkers scene composition and abstract backgrounds remain.
At 7 episodes long, “Karen Bee” is the longest story in the series so far and takes up the whole set. Karen is one of Koyomi’s younger sisters, who are together dubbed “the fire sisters” locally as they both seem pretty intense. Karen is very physical - she’s a black belt in Karate and her yellow/black striped costume not only evokes an association with bees but also references Bruce Lee’s famous jumpsuit. (Or perhaps Kill Bill is a more obvious recent reference?) Koyomi’s other sister Tsukihi seems more feminine and demure but apparently also has an extremely fiery temper, not that it is explored in detail during these episodes.
Whereas the previous set’s Tsubasa Cat certainly benefited from an extended number of episodes, I can’t say the same for Karen Bee. This story is overlong and takes forever to get to the point. The dialogue is obtuse, circular, repetitive and hard to follow. In some scenes I lost the will to retain consciousness and actually started to drift off. In the middle of the day. That is not a good sign. Although Hitagi Senjogahara’s teasing can be fun sometimes, in this I just wanted her to get to the god-damned point and speak plainly. The first three episodes are pretty much Koyomi checking in on each of the various members of his extended harem. I guess it’s nice to have a bit more character development, but it slowed any story progression to a worse than glacial pace. And of course each encounter came with its own creepy fanservice, worse even than anything in the previous two Bakemonogatari sets.
Koyomi continues his weird predatory/off-colour comedic relationship with Mayoi, the wandering ghost of a 12-year-old girl. I see how this is meant to be played for laughs but I do not find sexual assault of children funny. In the first scene, Mayoi seems appropriately upset. In a later scene she bizarrely claims that if Koyomi isn’t going to sexually assault her every time they meet, then he’s essentially dead to her and shouldn’t bother talking to her at all! Recontextualising this as a consensual in-joke between friends does not help. Sexual behaviour between an older adolescent and a child is still assault as a child cannot consent. Thankfully our laws in the real world do not follow the example given in Nisemonogatari. I deal with the aftermath of sexual assault at work on a distressingly regular basis and it should not be made light of like this. This continued problem completely mars what should have been an entertaining and fun conversation about the use of the modifier “the courage to” before sentences, that led to some interestingly dark places.
Nadeko is portrayed as a bit older than Mayoi, but she’s surely only around 14 years old. Younger teens do often display more overtly sexualised behaviour in real life, but the way she was framed in this still felt very uncomfortable to me. I do not appreciate being made by the camera’s wandering eye to leer over a schoolchild’s body, whether this is meant to illustrate the oversexed protagonist’s gaze or not. I was so glad Nadeko’s mother arrived home before their game of horny Twister could progress. She did strike me as a more realistic character than Mayoi though, with understandable (if base) motives.
I’m conflicted over Suruga’s character. I do find her funny. She is self-described as lesbian but is not above ferociously flirting with and teasing Koyomi. Her frequent/prolonged nakedness in this seems more of a tease to the audience, though. I like the surreality of her bedroom filled with books. I’m not sure she has much depth - her only purpose in the story seems to be as a tease and I suspect nothing would change if she were to be edited out completely.
Oh lord. An entire episode about 17-year-old naked Koyomi bathing nakedly with a naked 8-year old Shinobu? Did I mention they were both butt naked? In the bath. Together. I understand she lives in his shadow, they have a complex interdependent relationship and she is always watching whatever he is doing (which does bring up some uncomfortable questions about privacy and voyeurism). But this scene... was pure, despicable kiddie-fiddler fanservice. This is not right.
Koyomi and his sister seem to have a fun sibling relationship - competitive but also caring. He’s held back on sparring with her recently because he’s worried his sort-of-vampire-powers might accidentally shred her to bits. She’s principled and overconfident, and this is what leads her into trouble when facing creepy fraudster bad-guy Kaiki. Kaiki appears to have at least indirectly caused some of the trouble Koyomi has had to clear up (most likely Nadeko’s snake curse, and Hitagi’s family situation) and in trying to confront him, Karen becomes cursed too. So of course Kyomi has to (thankfully off-screen) kiss his sister to relieve half the curse. She calls him a “kiss freak” afterwards, suggesting this wasn’t entirely consensual. Later of course he has to methodically towel the sweat off her hot, moist and glistening body. If this is viewed exclusively through Koyomi’s eyes, then he views his sister in a most unbrotherly way. Was the writer an only child? Nobody, unless they are broken and perverted, views their biological sister, whom they have grown up with, in this way. Who in hell’s name is turned on by this sort of stuff? At least their one-on-one fight was entertaining, even if the improbable collateral damage involved a smashed freeway flyover.
Finally, most of the actual character development and serious story concerns Hitagi who is almost entirely un-objectified in this part of the show. More backstory is revealed about what happened to her family and she gets to confront her “nemesis”. If only the ending wasn’t such an anticlimax. I get that the point is that the antagonist is just a con-man and didn’t deliberately harm people, but he really is despicable and is motivated entirely by money. I wish Koyomi had got to hurt him just a little bit... There’s also some hints about a deeper relationship between Hitagi and Tsubasa, where Hitagi seems uncharacteristically subservient. I wonder what that is about?
I’d describe my experience with Monogatari so far a bit like this: Imagine you’re attending a rock concert. It’s a pretty famous group, lots of your friends love them and have encouraged you to attend. You’re pretty excited by the prospect. You respect your friends and their tastes. You already like rock music, more than most people. The concert starts. It’s clearly a well-produced show, with sparkly lights and dazzling pyrotechnics. The lyrics are fun, the band members are talented and entertaining to watch. The music is catchy. Yeah, this really is pretty good, you think to yourself. The concert continues. It’s quite a long concert. Some of the solos start to go on longer than you would reasonably expect. Oh, you think. I didn’t realise this was prog rock. Ok, so it’s a bit self indulgent. Fine, I can accept that.
One particularly lengthy song is so goddamn long that your attention starts to drift during one of the (admittedly technically brilliant) guitar solos. The flashing lights are hypnotic. In front of it all, the lead guitarist is really into his solo. And I mean really into it. That guy is practically masturbating the neck of that instrument. Ok, you think. He’s really good at that. It’s a bit dull though, like being trapped at an endless jazz festival wondering when the interminable jamming is going to stop. So your attention wanders again. Those lights sure are pretty and I like what they did with the backgrounds. Oooh. Colours. Something draws your attention back to the lead guitarist. Something seems wrong. A bit... off. You realise that he is no longer furiously masturbating his guitar. He’s just... furiously masturbating. And those attractive backing dancers are wearing a lot less clothes than they did at the start. In fact they’re naked. And now they all seem to be middle-school age children. You can see the beads of sweat glint on their prepubescent skin. And they’re cavorting around the central figure, who continues to energetically wank himself into a wailing frenzy, as the lights and the sound rise to an intense crescendo... and it ends with a literal damp splut.
Sometimes metaphor is the best method for communicating one’s feelings. I apologise if the above seems offensive to some, especially those who dearly love this show. I’d like to ask you though - why do you like this? Is it in spite of the creepy paedophilia and female body objectification, or because of it? I don’t feel we should just sit back and accept whatever is pumped into our eyeballs by our favourite writers and directors. We should be mindful of what consumption of this content means for ourselves, or indeed what it is doing to us. What are the makers’ intentions for filling a story with this material? I have to admit I’m really disappointed by Nisemonogatari. I see a very interesting story with many positive stylistic flourishes being swamped by a tidal wave of prurient and exploitative fanservice and unnecessarily protracted, obtuse and circular dialogue. Does anyone ever question this stuff, or it is another case of pop-culture Emperor’s New Clothes? Because I’ve not been swept up in an adoring, orgasmic appreciation of this show does that mean I’m not smart or cultured enough? Because if I need to appreciate paedophilia and sexual assault to be culturally “with it” then I am most certainly OUT.
Despite my strong feelings of revulsion, I did promise to see this through. I’ll be back again to look at Nisemonogatari Part 2 which includes the infamous episode 8, which I have already been warned about. I suspect the above picture may be only a hint of the depths to which this show may yet plunge.
Nisemonogatari Part 1 DVD
Director: Akiyuki Shinbou (Studio Shaft)
Adapted from the light novels by: NisiOisiN
Original Japanese TV Air Dates: January 7th 2012 - February 18th 2012
UK DVD/Blu Ray Release Date: 16 Dec. 2013
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Run Time: 168 minutes (7 episodes)
Format: Region 2 PAL
Classification: BBFC 18
Distributor: MVM Entertainment