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Part 1 Cover (Image sourced from Hanabee)

Part 1 Cover (image sourced from Hanabee)

The Hanabee release of Bakemonogatari [1] is a stunningly beautiful set of discs, and possibly more so than this somewhat difficult series from Studio Shaft deserves.

The Presentation

Part 2 Cover (image sourced from Hanabee)

Part 2 Cover (image sourced from Hanabee)

The discs for both part 1 and part 2 are presented as hardbound books [2] with a superb set of liner notes. Within each part the discs are in envelopes rather than the usual press in holders.

Given that I’ve already managed to drop one of the discs whilst trying to slip it back in, I’m not convinced that the envelopes are a particularly good idea.

That aside, the Bakemonogatari discs are really beautifully presented and Hanabee deserve a round of applause for the production values.

The Concept

Bakemonogatari is adapted from a light novel series by Nisio Isin dealing with an unusual high school student Koyomi Araragi who ends up rescuing a range of girls from various supernatural problems.

Many of the supernatural problems are triggered by mundane problems such as abuse or parental abandonment, and these aspects are often handled fairly well [3].

The Stuff That Works

I did like that the series set up a core relationship for Araragi and Senjyogahara rather than making this into an outright harem anime. It helps that Araragi is a reasonably decent sort, and commits to the relationship fairly early on [4].

As mentioned above Senjyogahara has a history of abuse. The moments where she rises above this history to commit to the relationship are simply beautiful. One of these moments ties into the end credit song, and makes an already lovely song that much more meaningful.

The 15 episodes are divided into 5 chapters focussing on a different girl in turn, and this structure worked well. It kept the storytelling focus tight, and also meant that individual stories are wrapped up quickly.

Visually there’s a lot to like in Bakemonogatari with some striking art choices that I’m beginning to associate with Studio Shaft [5]. The stark, often carefully themed, backgrounds build a sense of isolation, of alienation from the human condition that fits the story well.

The Stuff That Doesn’t Work

Visually there is also a lot to dislike in Bakemonogatari. Each episode has a sequence of rapidly changing screens of text that culminates in the title card.

These are impossible to keep track of, or comprehend. I got some of the text, but I simply couldn’t be bothered trying to still frame through them to get them all [6]. After a while this simply became annoying, a visual tic that the series really didn’t need.

Then there’s the fan service.

Is there a close relationship between GAINAX and Studio Shaft that no one’s told me about? Because the fan service in Bakemonogatari approaches GAINAX “I want to slap the entire studio” levels.

This was especially frustrating when the fanservice came just after one of the deeper moments of the series.

Related to the fan service, there are scenes when Araragi acts inappropriately, that generate a certain level of “ewwww, don’t do that” from me.

These incidents, and the fan service, didn’t totally shatter my suspension of disbelief but they did damage my overall rating of Bakemonogatari.

The Extras

There is a wide variety of openings and closings in Bakemonogatari, and most have textless versions in the extras. In essence each of the featured female characters gets at least one opening tailored to her story and this does make watching the openings entertaining.

There is also a “character commentary” option for the dialogue, which I haven’t listened to but sounds like an interesting option. Note that these discs are Japanese only, and there’s no way to disable the subtitles (which is fair).

The Verdict

Bakemonogatari is a strange experience to watch that mixes rewarding character moments with gratuitous fan service. The story wins in the end, but it is a close run thing.

Bakemonogatari is also a very stylish piece of anime to watch, there is never any chance of confusing it with anything else. This is usually a big selling point, but this time the style didn’t quite work for me. I’m not confident that it is a style that is sustainable for a franchise as big as the various Monogatari series seems to be.

Overall this is definitely a series that should be seen once, but I’m not sure that it is a series that I want to keep or re-watch.

[1] According to Wikipedia Bakemonogatari is a portmanteau of bakemono (ghost or monster) and monogatari (story), and is essentially “Ghost Story”.

[2] As I write this I’ve just received the review copy of Nisemonogatari from Hanabee, and that is presented the same way.

[3] Although to be honest ef: a tale of melodies, also from Studio Shaft, tackled these topics much more effectively.

[4] It takes a little longer for him to admit that he’s committed to the relationship, but Araragi’s commitment is absolute and critical to the final arc.

[6] It is also arguable as to whether making the attempt to still frame them would work at all. I’ve often noticed that subtitles disappear when still framing.