Bakemonogatari is one of those slightly ubiquitous, love-hate shows in anime fandom, and a series I feel no small amount of ambivalence towards. On the one hand we have the rather intriguing setup involving the various characters personal problems manifesting themselves and being explored through usually less-than-amiable confrontations with the occult, with lots of sharp, layered dialogue and fantastic audio-visual direction to back it up, not to mention one of the most dynamic, well-written romances in all of anime. On the other hand we have a harem set-up, copious fanservice, and shameless nerd viewer-insert fantasy that’s played uncomfortable straight at times. Nonetheless, I came out of it with a largely positive view of it, and whatever else it was, it was utterly fascinating, so I was looking forward to Nisemonogatari with no small amount of glee, in what was otherwise looking to be a pretty dull season. However, when airing time came around, I watched a couple of episodes, wrote a few angry comments on forums, and just kind of stopped caring. Not a hopeful start, I know, but I got round to watching all of it just recently, and it is at least worth talking about, so let’s do this thing.
As is no doubt apparent from my belated viewing, it’s not a strong start. Well, that’s not quite true, we open with Araragi chained up in the old, decrepit cram school, and are immediately treated to the sort of witty, over-the-top banter we’ve come to expect between Ararararagi and Senjougahara. Great, straight away the show knows what its selling points are and are capitalising on them.
Unfortunately, everything that follows is a long, tedious, three-freaking-episode long reintroduction to the characters as Araragi wanders about chatting to, being abused by, and sexually assaulting the various main characters of the previous show, and pointedly avoiding anything that might move the overarching narrative a single step forward. Nisemonogatari is a show of many flaws, it’s smutty, inconsistent, and full of unfortunate implications, but what I find most unforgivable as a piece of entertainment is how mercilessly it is padded. You could fit all the events and exchanges of any worth into half the episode count. Bakemonogatari was a dialogue-heavy show, for sure, but the dialogue was always pointed, it always served the narrative, the same could be said about the fanservice, to a lesser extent, but in Nisemonogatari it feels like it’s all the other way around. The narrative is there to facilitate the fanservice and the various “comedic” conversations that occur.
I’ve brought up fanservice, but I’m not going to go into this point at length, because, well, it would feel hopelessly quaint to even bother criticising it. Everyone’s noticed it, everyone’s already spent plenty of times criticising it, if anything its overt nature is a plus. It ain’t foolin’ anyone, and that makes it feel a lot less offensive and insipid than the many shows that try to hide their offensive content.
Alright, I’ve talked enough about everything that’s wrong with Nisemonogatari, oh, I’m not done, not nearly, but let’s break it up a bit with some of the things I actually really liked about the show. Ghostlightning over at We Remember Love brought up an ongoing theme in Bakemonogatari that seems obvious in retrospect, but that I never really appreciated when I watched it. In short, authenticity vs inauthenticity. I won’t go into this point here, because it would just end up being a pale carbon copy of ghostlightning’s own posts, but if that idea stirs any interest at all, I suggest you head over to We Remember Love and check out ghostlightning’s wonderful array of post on both series. The relevance of this theme is that it’s explored somewhat, well, not deeper, but more overtly in Nisemonogatari, in fact it’s essentially the core theme (the title does roughly translate to “Fake Story” after all). This made for an interesting theme, and its exploration definitely made for some interesting moments. Episode 7 was most certainly the pinnacle of the show, culminating in a wonderfully nuanced three-way conversation that really brought home the arc and called into question some of the fundamental assumptions of the show. This victory was in no small part due to how terrifying a “fake” like Kaiki Deishu (the current villain) could be.
We are introduced to two characters similar to Oshino, each in a different position on the scale of how they interpret the worth of authenticity. Keiki, a remorseless, nay proud fake, Kaganui, who values authenticity, and Oshino, who sees value in both. I like that Oshino’s position in the centre is portrayed as the best, while Kaganui, who considers herself a true good guy, is shown to be dangerous in her extremism. It’s not much, but it shows a little more complexity than a simple good/evil dichotomy. I won’t much go into this theme, because there’s little subtle or nuanced about how it’s explored, so I’d only be reiterating what the series itself overtly proclaims.
What else did I like? Well, I have to admit, I love SHAFT’s animation style, and Bakemonogatari’s take on it in particular, so it’s no surprise that I found Nisemonogatari exceedingly easy on the eyes. Not that it was flawless, the fight scene between Karen and Araragi was stupidly over the top, without the supernatural involved my willingness to suspend disbelief is significantly reduced, and this screen-cap in particular stands out as glaringly off.
The sound direction was fine, but doesn’t compare to the stellar work of its predecessor. The ED is catchy, but you won’t find a Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari here.
I think the aniblogosphere needs to collectively get over Senjougahara, but I’ll certainly admit her presence is an asset to this franchise, and she livens up any scene she’s in immensely, you can throw in just about any scene she’s present for into the things I liked about Nise, but she got relatively little screen-time, so she doesn’t win the show many points in total.
Honestly though, I’m drawing a bit of a long bow for most of these points, I liked the theme, and it had its moments, but boy was it drawn out for the sum total of conclusions we got on the matter. Particularly speculative is the conclusion to the Karen Bee arc. Episode 7 was generally great, and a high point of the series, but a few things in it still stunk to high heaven. Ridiculous fight scene aside, we get a proper explanation for why Araragi refers to his sisters’ vigilantism as a game, and to them as fakes. He claims that it is not their authentic will, they they are pursuing the idea of justice, not enacting the justice that comes naturally to them. Araragi is not trying to be a hero, his selfless actions are simply a natural part of his behaviour. It all ties into whether or not an inauthentic action can have the same value as an authentic one, which is all interesting and great, but what stinks to me is how Araragi presumes to understand his sisters’ authentic will. Existentialism teaches that value is derived from our autonomous will, but truly knowing our own autonomous will is problematic, yet Araragi presumes to know his sisters’. Well, it annoyed me, anyway.
The Patches hit the nail on the head with his review. “If the prequel was everything people said of it, the Spring 2012 show is definitely worse.” It’s padded, the narrative takes a back seat to fanservice and meandering, hit-or-miss comedy, but it’s not entirely worthless. For all my complaints, I don’t regret watching it, and fans of Bakemonogatari are sure to find enough here to warrant seeing this one. I’m sure I could rant on, but I’ve said everything I really wanted to say, so I’ll leave it at that.
When you said that you were ambivalent about Bakemonogatari and that you had a lot of thoughts about this subject, I immediately checked out your blog out and found this post. I have to say, it mirrors a lot of what I think about this series! I think people like us can “get” Monogatari in terms of its ideas and what it’s trying to do, but the overall product just clashes and messes with us on a gut level. Maybe that’s the very definition of postmodern? Hahaha…
In any case, I think I understand Monogatari a little better after reading this, although my ambivalence is not going away any time soon! … Unfortunately.
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