iSugio

Nisemonogatari – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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In Bakemonogatari, the story centers on Koyomi Araragi, a third-year high school student who has recently survived a vampire attack, and finds himself mixed up with all kinds of apparitions: gods, ghosts, myths, and spirits. However, in Nisemonogatari, we pick up right where we left off and follow the Araragi sisters as they face similar supernatural problems as Koyomi’s. With the black swindler Kaiki Deishu, who once deceived Hitagi, returning to town to spread the incantations as well, Koyomi must help fight against the curses that have been plaguing his family and friends.

Similar to the preceding series, Bakemonogatari, director Akiyuki Shinbo’s Nisemonogatari is equally part psychological, humorous, and incredibly bizarre. These three elements culminated in Bakemonogatari being a staunchly original offering, developing an artistic flair and astute narrative that made it one of the most creative and memorable series of 2009—for those who could appreciate its uniqueness. With that series being based on the collection of light novel series by author Nisio Isin, the writing was sharp and witty, encapsulating the metahumor that Isin is known for. Bakemonogatari was surely a difficult series to comprehend at times, mainly because its approach differed so greatly from our conventional understanding of anime as a legitimate art form. It most certainly was a show that stretched that limit to its fullest capacity, relishing in its own self-gratifying humor and inventive style. With Bakemonogatari establishing a significantly high bar in terms of creativity, Nisemonogatari finds itself somewhat at a crossroad; unable to rekindle the originality viewed in its predecessor but still expressing traces of those promising elements that gave the previous series its alluring charm.

Structurally, Nisemonogatari is very much the same as Bakemonogatari in almost every way. Evoking a narrative that once again follows Koyomi’s peculiar interactions with his female peers, the series focuses more extensively this time on his familial relationships with his two younger sisters. While Bakemonogatari was structured in a way that allowed for an assortment of compelling characters to be introduced, focused upon, and then reach some form of emotional realization, Nisemonogatari spends much of its time on the plight of Tsukihi and Karen, and save for perhaps Hitagi, characters from the previous series get very, very little time here. With just two primary characters—including Koyomi—which the series focuses on in the span of 11 episodes, one can begin to see that the elongated nature of the overall series gets pushed to incredibly unnecessary lengths. In other words, if one thought that Bakemonogatari’s pacing was significantly drawn-out, prepared to be astonished at how Nisemonogatari effortlessly surpasses that.

Obviously, character development is a key element for most series to be successful, but in Nisemonogatari we get some minor, superficial understanding of both Tsukihi and Karen, with the remainder of most episodes being delegated towards inane situations that are annoyingly prolonged in an attempt to deliver some sort of contrived artistic merit or harp on some unusual fetishism. While Bakemonogatari may have followed a similar direction, it was certainly more innovative due to its interchanging characters arcs that did an adequate job in keeping the series fresh and spontaneous enough to watch, not stunting—at least for too long—character growth. When Nisemonogatari does get around to fleshing out its characters, the series does it in substantial fashion—but the viewing process in getting there is arduous at best. It doesn’t necessarily help that the series spends an unusual amount of time on Koyomi’s rather odd connection with his sisters, with numerous moments bordering on being incestuous given their heavy sexual connotations. It’s not that these moments aren’t comical in any fashion; it’s just that the series elaborates on them to the point where they become increasingly tiresome and even strangely unsettling to watch as the series progresses. A prime example of this would be the tooth-brushing scene that takes place in episode eight, and although amusing to a certain degree, is a segment that seems targeted directly towards an even smaller niche audience than the previous series.

And that’s one of the unfortunate aspects of Nisemonogatari being the successor to one of the most creative series to come about in some time—it simply can’t replicate the newness that Bakemonogatari offered. The series continuously pushes itself further towards the realm of the bizarre in an attempt to remedy its absence of any considerable substance, certainly delivering the series into the hands of an even more niche audience than the previous series did—and where style over substance takes precedence. What Bakemonogatari did so well as a series was uniquely combine elements of humor, art, and drama, which in turn made the series refreshing to watch due its attempt to break new grounds within animation. While Nisemonogatari is enjoyable to watch from a purely aesthetic point of view, more attention should’ve been given towards exploring the rationality of its characters instead of prolonging their development only to extrapolate on fanservice. Even the protagonist Koyomi, who showcased considerable development as a character in the first series, gets very little growth here, which is unfortunate given his stature as a prominent character within the entirety of the show. Fortunately, the series does resolve the personal dilemma faced by Hitagi Senjogahara in relation to her broken family. Her growth as a character is appropriately handled here, as it truly broadens her identity as a conflicted individual as well as her relationship with Koyomi.

Studio Shaft once again returns to animate the series, and it’s one of the most significant improvements Nisemonogatari makes over its predecessor. Most of the episodes return to being minimalistic in their showcased environments, which again allow the series to focus on the interaction of its characters. Whether this is viewed from the wide-open living spaces seen within Koyomi’s home, to the desolate landscapes of his neighborhood, the series’ settings do a fantastic job at establishing the tone of the overall show and complementing the emotional inclinations of the characters within it. With its sizable focus on the writing of the series over its animation, Akiyuki Shinbo once again decides to focus on the dialogue shared between the characters rather than movement. Those hoping for a more action-oriented approach than what was suggested in Bakemonogatari may be disappointed to see it considerably lacking once again here, but the writing is where Nisemonogatari finds its strength. With an abundance of self-referential jokes within practically every episode, the frenetic nature of the dialogue in the show is what makes it stand out as a series invested in its clever and entertaining writing—and where fans of anime will appreciate its satirical approach even more so.

It’s rather unfortunate that Nisemonogatari couldn’t surpass its predecessor in terms of offering a creative narrative, as it rivals and even excels at other elements found within Bakemonogatari with considerable ease. If given more time to flesh out its characters in a way that didn’t attempt to humorously address their rather serious predicaments, the series would’ve been much more practical in terms of developing its characters. Bakemonogatari presented us with characters in which we’d grown to care about and truly understand throughout its course as a series—whether its Hitagi’s fight to overcome the memories of an attempted rape, or Suruga’s inability to confess her love for her classmate, or even Mayoi’s unsuccessful attempts to locate her mother, the series presented us with the solemn nature of these characters and their experiences. Couple this with Koyomi’s helpful involvement in trying to rectify their issues, and you begin to see that series as seemingly more authentic when compared to its sequel, and where their psychological and emotional resolutions were made all the more poignant as well. Nisemonogatari seems to unabashedly ignore this approach, instead attempting to expand its creativeness just for the sake of being creative, never resolving the plight of its characters in a fashion that is completely reasonable or thoughtful. While Nisemonogatari suffers from that one significant impediment, it still remains a series that is creatively executed—even if it doesn’t exactly assist in remedying its strained narrative or strenuous pacing.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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