Bakemonogatari – The Anime

This is the first of a maddeningly good pair of anime, based on a series of light novels. It is by turns clever, funny, erotic, perverotic, over the top, opaque, and incomplete. Monogatari (ものがたり, also 物語) means tales, or stories, or the story of. It applies both to national epics, like the 650 year old Tale of the Heike, and to modern collections of children’s stories. Here we have Bake (ghost, monster) stories, and later I will talk about Nise (fake) stories. They center on 3rd year high school student Araragi Koyomi, a human who was briefly a vampire and now retains a small amount of superhuman strength, rapid healing, and a vampire servant as a result.

The Bakemonogatari opening is actually from an early chapter of the prequel novel.

Unfortunately, we are never told in detail how he became a vampire, obtained a vampire servant, and turned back to human. See? Incomplete. For those who must know, he was turned by the ancient vampire Kissholt Reallylongname, and rejected being a vampire, but refused to kill her when he had the chance. As the result of that battle, and help from Oshino Meme, a middle-aged (all of 30) renegade shinto priest, he lost 90% of his vampire powers, becoming mostly human, and Kissholt lost 99.9% of hers, becoming an apparently 8yr old girl who literally lives in his shadow. This backstory appears in the prequel novel Koyomi Vamp, and is alluded to in the Bakemonogatari OP, which shows scenes from those events but does nothing to explain them. Opaque.

Bakemonogatari is a set of stories about Araragi encountering different monsters, what he calls oddities – people (OK, girls) who are afflicted by the supernatural (crab gods, snakes, demon arms, cats). The standard story arc has him meeting the person, finding out their story, and taking them to Oshino, who helps them cure themselves. He’s a student at an ultra-modern school that looks like it was originally built for some trendy software development company. You never see any of the other students, unless they’re in the cast, and none of the teachers — in fact, there’s no way to prove from the anime that the city (an industrial suburb) is inhabited at all, other than by the train and car traffic (and you can’t see any drivers in the cars). The art is all supercool ultramodern, with pastel structures surrounded by support elements, piping and such, in bright primaries. Even the bamboo forest in the Snake sequence looks like it’s the product of an industrial design class project. It’s worth buying for the art alone.

In the opening story Araragi meets Senjōgahara Hitagi through the simple expedient of catching her as she falls from three stories above him in their school — she has almost zero weight. Senjōgahara is armed with all kinds of what she calls ‘stationery’ (ぶんぼうぐ, and I’d call office supplies. If it has a sharp point and can be bought at an office supply store, she carries it. She threatens to staple his mouth shut if he doesn’t keep quiet about her condition. He perseveres, assisted by his vampiric healing abilities, takes her to Oshino, who agrees to help her get her weight back from the stone crab god who took it. They go back to her run down apartment to prepare, and one of the funnier, and least erotic, scenes in the anime is her stomping out of the shower, stark naked, looking for the clothes she forgot to take in with her. After regaining her weight Senjōgahara shifts from threatening him to deciding she wants him as a friend, and eventually becomes his official girlfriend. OK, I lied about the “stops threatening him” part (“If I kill you, that means I’ll be the one closest to you when you’re on your deathbed. Isn’t it romantic?”). He goes along with it despite the fact that she is well-known as a tsundere personality. I’d say it’s more like she’s bat-shit crazy, but superhuman strength and vampiric rapid-heal evidently changes one’s outlook on these things.

You’ve been talking to another woman!

There are very few action scenes in Bakemonogatari, although every story arc has its moments of high drama. Most of the characters time is occupied with conversations, often convoluted and with multiple meanings. Unfortunately, the non-Japanese speaker loses out on a lot of the nuances. For example, Hachikuji, the little girl with a large backpack turns out to be the lost spirit of a child who died ten years previously, and is variously called a lost snail and a lost cow. Oshino mentions that the kanji for cow is 牛, and the kanji for snail is 蝸牛, but don’t tell you that that first symbol is a totally obscure construct used only in ‘snail’ and ‘cochlea’. Lest someone think I can actually read these moon runes, the preceding sentence took twenty minutes and four different websites to put together.

Similarly, the different episode titles use archaic kanji for ‘part’ and the associated number. In addition, the whole series is littered with text screens, some of them presented subliminally fast — so fast that it takes me several tries with the controller to pause them at the right spot. There is no pandering to the overseas market here. Despite this, the translated conversations are done well and are entertaining.

One of the story arcs deals with Kanbaru Suruga a freshman who had a crush on Senjōgahara in middle school, who now hates Ararage, because he’s her rival in love, and who has made a deal with a demon whereby her left arm is a ‘monkeys paw’ capable of beating up any opponent. Ararage cures her by arranging to fight the demon (if he wins, it can’t fulfill its conract, which then becomes void). He is losing badly, until Senjōgahara saves the day by telling Kanbaru that she still likes her but that if she kills Ararage, Senjōgahara will kill her. The contract can’t be fulfilled, and the demon withdraws. What’s interesting to me is that the voicing for this character is just about perfect — a throaty contralto — and it turns out that the seiyu is Sawashiro Miyuki, who I find voiced a number of other characters I really like: Claire in Red Garden, Aoba Tsugumi in Kannagi, and, of course Busujima Saeko in Highschool Of The Dead.

The final story arc of Bake is a bit of a cheat. It’s about the class representative, Hanekawa Tsubasa, being bewitched by a cat and stalking the city, draining the life force from people. What’s cheating about it is the fact that there’s only one episode of the arc presented on the DVD, and that’s an unsatisfactory summary. The other three episodes were released “direct to net” on the official website, and are now available only as an OVA. I won’t discuss them, since I haven’t seen them. (UPDATE: They are now available in the $150 special edition).

As a side note, the tales are being told out of sequence. The Tsubasa Cat episode takes place during Golden Week, at the end of April, but the opening story happens after that, and in fact, Tsubasa has lost all memory of the cat contremps, she just remembers that Araragi and Oshino helped her out, earlier.

The final episode, erroneously named Tsubasa Cat 2, is highly romantic. Senjōgahara decides they will go on their first date. You get a brief lesson in Japanese sentence construction as tsundere-girl stumbles through the “We are going on a date…no…Why don’t we go on a date…no…Would you like to go on a date…” options, trying to figure out the appropriate one. Araragi is overjoyed, until he finds out they are going on a date with her father as the driver. They stop far out in the countryside, and while Senjōgahara is “preparing”, her father tells Araragi that she has become a much happier person since she met him, and ends by saying “Take good care of my daughter”, which is evidently a formal acceptance of Araragi as a future son-in-law.

Senjōgahara returns and takes him to a secluded spot in the woods where they lay down on a blanket and…look up at the star-filled night, normally invisible in urban Japan — which suddenly makes the ED song meaningful: That’s Deneb, Altari, and Vega, Your finger pointed at the Summer Triangle. They pledge their love, and she says she can only offer him her help in his studies, her gruff, often absent father, and this secret place with the stars. She’s not sure she can ever offer him sex, because of an incident in her past, but she can offer him one other thing. “We are going to kiss…no…Why don’t we…”

The ED song is Kimino Shiranai Monogatari by Supercell, and the MP3 is available from Amazon.

UPDATE 05 Oct 12: There is more than one version of this anime floating around. I was watching the rebroadcast of ep 4 on Crunchyroll, and I noted that
1. There are several of those high speed text screens missing.
2. When Araragi and Hachikuji are talking about ‘touring’ by car, two different cars pass. In my DVD, only one passes.
3. When Senjougahara’s phone drops its GPS signal, my copy shows them standing beneath a cell phone tower, the Chruncyroll version shows them standing beneath a standard Japanese power pole.
4. In the ending ep of the Hachikuji arc, when Araragi and Senjougahara are talking by the playground’s jungle gym, in one their figures are in front of the structure, while in the other, they are behind it.

For my other reviews, click on the Anime tag below


Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Bakemonogatari – The Anime”

  1. darkness447 Says:

    Reblogged this on Just my guilty pleasure reblog. and commented:
    Don’t ask why. This anime cannot be passed up. It’s arguably my favorite anime series so I’m a little biased.

  2. Nisemonogatari – The Anime « FoundOnWeb Says:

    […] is the sequel to last week’s Bakemonogatari and again it’s a set (in this case a pair) of (mostly) disconnected stories, filled with […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: