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Original title: 化物語 | A Monster Story
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
Running time: 15 Episodes
Cast: Hiroshi Kamiya | Chiwa Saito | Emiri Katou | Eri Kitamura | Kana Hanazawa | Miyuki Sawashiro | Takahiro Sakurai | Yui Horie | Yuka Iguchi
Written by: Miguel Douglas
Bakemonogatari – Review
by Miguel Douglas on February 18, 2012
Koyomi Araragi is an aloof boy who holds a strange, supernatural secret that inadvertently leads him to others with similar stories. Gods, spirits and afflictions can be pesky things, taking important memories or causing unusual tendencies – a fact that Koyomi and others are unfortunately aware of. Using the help of an eccentric homeless man, Koyomi is able to help new friends he meets along the way with their own paranormal conundrum.
Based on the collection of light novel series by author Nisio Isin, Bakeomonogatari is a series that is clearly a difficult one to truly define. While merging genres such as romance, action, comedy, and even horror, the series remains equally as impressive through its methodical visual references and astute technical prowess, elements that culminate in an impressionistic approach towards the series as a whole. With its heavy reliance on constructive word play and self-referential humor, the series lends itself a highly experimental quality that is far above many approaches taken by contemporary anime series. Bakeomonogatari is one of those series where, to thoroughly comprehend it, one has to pay particular attention towards its cornucopia of visual cues and character interactions to understand the entirety of what the series is conveying. With this in mind, Bakeomonogatari is not a series that everyone will enjoy due to such a distinctive visual style and extremely elaborate narrative structure, especially those viewers who expect simple gratification from their anime viewing. Even with this consideration though, Bakeomonogatari is a series that is carried primarily by its well-developed characters and artistic creativeness.
While any series concerning the notion of supernatural entities may rely firstly on that particular element to promote its narrative, Bakeomonogatari’s assortment of interesting and diverse characters takes precedence as the central component of the series. Centered on characters that have all been affected emotionally, the series constructs their tribulations around the notion of mythological spirits inhabiting their bodies—and where their emotional difficulties originate. Whether this derives from one character’s bodily violation as a child, representative through the likes of a crab apparition, to another’s wandering ghostly presence viewed through the apparition of a snail, the series always returns to focus upon the feelings and interactions shared between its characters rather than paranormal activities. Viewed roughly through the subjective perspective of Koyomi, the series finds commonality with his plight as essentially an individual willing to help those around him, with this further extending towards his relationships with his female companions as he attempts to rid them of their arduous situations. Allocating tangibility towards the emotional bondages that these characters face through supernatural endeavors is surely a compelling way to implement such into a series that focuses extensively on its characters.
While some may appreciate this approach, the attentiveness that the series requires may dissuade some viewers from actually finishing it. With its swarm of calculated interchanges and blistering visual cues within practically every scene, the series requires the utmost attention from viewers to fully engage and envelope them within its world. Those with attention deficiency may find the series somewhat confusing, and many times—due to some lengthy segments consisting of entirely dialogue—even tedious to watch. This is not a series that one can lackadaisically watch; it asks you to be completely aware as to the clues it displays onscreen, as well as information needed to better understand future episodes. One good thing that I believe the series does to counter this is by structuring its narrative within arcs, with each eliciting a framework that can be easily followed amidst the rather frenzied nature of the overall series itself. For example, the series may bring about a character in one arc, but only for a quick moment as they are to be allotted their own episode later in the series. Once the series focuses on a particular character though, it really delves into their personal dilemma alongside that of Koyomi’s relationship with them. This expands the depth of the series as one dedicated towards its characters rather than simple gimmicks, and is one direction the series fortunately subscribes to. This is a series where dialogue is both important and abundant, both crucial elements used to expand our understanding of the characters—even at times where it seems utterly consumed by its own witty interactions.
Koyomi is certainly a likeable protagonist that doesn’t necessarily fit into any sort of archetype. His interaction between characters is seemingly natural—particularly with that of Hitagi—as he showcases a willingness to help them out no matter how awkwardly they treat him. This may seem surprising as the series also shares many aspects from the harem subgenre, where Koyomi could’ve easily become a complete pervert for sake of appeasing the male demographic, but it presents Koyama as a guy with rather perceptible concerns and emotions. This is not say that Koyomi isn’t susceptible to these concerns, but they are conveyed in a practical light. The relationships he forms with the women throughout the series contain actual substance instead of focusing entirely on superficial interests, which is refreshing considering Koyomi’s placement as a man surrounded by beautiful women who at times showcase some fondness towards him, in shall we say, provocative fashion.
With the rather frenetic atmosphere of the series, the narrative of Bakeomonogatari shares a rather unique correlation with that of its animation. With animation being provided by studio Shaft, the series’ hyperactive nature is reflected through its visual style and is perhaps one of the main elements in producing Bakeomonogatari as a uniquely aesthetic experience. From its usage of minimal, geometrical landscapes that lend the series’ environments an almost mechanical look, to the fast-paced and vibrant confrontations between Koyama and the apparitions, to even the small scenes of dialogue shared between two characters amidst the architecture of a children’s playground, the look of the series is one of its highlights. Considering this strength though, one would suggest that perhaps Shaft should’ve utilized more of it. The series isn’t necessarily abundant in movement—there are scenes aplenty that just show two characters chatting with one another about the events with their lives. While these are integral towards developing the characters, they often appear as a missed opportunity for Shaft to further showcase their superb technical ability as animators to the fullest degree. This is perhaps due more to Akiyuki Shinbo as a director and the source material in general—with more focus on the writing rather than animation—so it’s not necessarily a surprise that this route was chosen. This approach may again conflict with some viewers as Bakeomonogatari is not really centered on character movement to begin with, but rather its characters communicating with one another. With its glimpses of energetic action, some may be disappointed to find the series is not actually an action series at all—it’s but one element of many in which the series encompasses.
Overall, Bakeomonogatari is one series that is both enjoyable and frustrating to watch at times. It’s a series that relies heavily on its showcasing of character development to drive its narrative, and while well-implemented through its use of clever dialogue, it may appear as entirely monotonous to some viewers. With direction by Shinbo, the series retains many of the quirkiness of Isin’s novel series—even to the point of having entire episodes centered on the humorous and earnest conversations held by two characters. That central element of the source material remains, but the abstract presentation of Bakeomonogatari is key here as it removes it from being simply a tiresome series filled with only social discourse. With a diverse range of characters—each with their own unique personality—the narrative is nicely done because it allows us to view the conflicts and desires these characters share. With metaphoric imagery, the artistic style of the series is one that plays well into the actual narrative of the show. This approach makes for one very interesting story, and with its adherence towards integrating multiple genres, the series isn’t one to easily define. This distinctiveness found in practically every technical area throughout Bakeomonogatari results in a series that is as compelling as it is creatively executed—even if it a series for one with an acquired taste.