Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching.
I suggest clicking the “SHOT” links in order for novelty effect. For other Monogatari related reading material, I have a couple of other pieces I’ve written, Of Epistemological Positions: Monogatari and the Death of Gods and Monogatari: Is She My Sister?
He runs up a spiral staircase that’s seemingly never-ending.
He sees a girl falling in slow-motion from the top of the stairs, the radiance of her skin accentuated by the radiance of the light.
Dropping his things, he reaches out to catch her.
Their eyes meet.
She was light as a feather.
Welcome to the world of Monogatari. Bakemonogatari can be ostensibly summarized around Koyomi Araragi’s adventures as the protege of an occultist detective, going about throughout the course of the show saving girls, five of them, from the supernatural. It’s a premise that, ironically, isn’t too uncommon as far as anime’s concerned. It additionally gives way to the potential utilization of certain questionable tropes. One of them is the white knightism trope, one whereby a man, acting similar to a fairy tale’s knight in shining armor, rescues the damsel in distress. The girl falls in love with the guy, and they live happily ever after.
The problem with this idyllic ending is that it removes the agency of the woman and turns her into a prize. The woman’s always assumed to fall in love with her strong savior who will protect and care for them to the end of their days. It’s a power fantasy, through and through.
Admittedly, Bakemonogatari doesn’t avert the white knight trope. It plays around with it, before subverting it, and it does so through the supernatural.
Each girl is afflicted by a type of supernatural entity, an oddity or apparition. But rather than these oddities accosting random people, they target potential victims possessing an unnatural mental temperament. Possessions are effectively no different from products, as these apparitions are the products of neurotic backlashes, their particular internal conflicts, their specific agonizing insecurities, their denials of the self, gone supernaturally manifest.
And it hurts others. It hurts them. It hurts.
And how are they saved if not because of some white knight? Bakemonogatari’s white knight comes in the form of Koyomi, who goes at extreme lengths to do just that. He attempts to save them at times by himself to shoulder the entirety of their burdens and in the process, he usually ending up a torn up, blood and guts rag doll. The fact he can sew himself up via regeneration encourages him to continue at it like that, to mixed and impermanent results.
And they’re mixed and impermanent precisely because Koyomi’s only tackling the outward symptoms, the stop gap equivalent of a father locking his rebellious daughter in her room to calm her down. She’ll continue to lash out. Their symptoms will return, because the underlying issues, the disease, hasn’t been pulled by the root. To be truly saved requires nothing less than one’s own will. These girls must save themselves, because ultimately no one can overcome their own conflicts, insecurities, and denials except themselves. They can have help, but in the end, they must be their own knights, and yet they’ve yet to champion their only salvation.
An important thing to understand about Bakemonogatari’s narrative and, indeed, the Monogatari series’ narrative in general, is that runs under the auspices of an unreliable narrator. How the show perceives its plot and characters are based off how the narrator Koyomi, perceives them, and this filtering even extends in surreal ways to not only color the show’s content, but its direction as well.
Koyomi is an adolescent, mischievous, self-absorbed pervert boy prone to spurts of whimsy, hysteria, and a general of round-aboutness. The dialogue and monologue trail into long digressions and lengthy reflections that circle around the point or are general tangents of loosely-related to totally unrelated factoids, his libido, or nonsense.
His world is characterized by modernistic, geometric, reductionist simplications vacated by all except for him and the people he cares to notice.
The people whose knowledge he does acknowledge, whether by genuine care or plain eccentricity (or both), are illustrated in rather colorful ways.
But then the direction snaps into darker hues, finer details, and different framing whenever he gets serious.
The direction, courtesy of Shaft, may fit the narrative to a large degree while making long bouts of conversation, exposition mixed with witty and humorous banter, more entertaining for many. However, for many others, Bakemonogatari’s direction is the overindulgent epitome everything they dislike about Shaft’s style of surreal, abstract, punny, experimental, and plain unorthodox, as particularly exemplified with its highly frequent propensity for weird angle cuts, cut-outs, color coding, live action and head tilts. Even I was overwhelmed by its scale and seeming lack of specific relevance outside of foppery and whim.
Equal to the direction in love or hate is the show’s aforementioned obsession with lengthy speech varying between the subject of conversation and the object, oneself, another girl, etc. Even without the bias for lengthy speech must needs a general openness and interest in terms of the subject matter, ranging in form and content. Form is a range of formal and focused to colorful and digressive, while content is a mash-mash of diversity. Each conversational dynamic, in the presence of absence of particular cast members, establishes its own character, contains its own style, creates its own gags, and, more importantly, has its own unique material, which is both a significant help and a hindrance in palatability.
Some people may really like Hitagi Senjougahara’s aggressive and sexually suggestive behavior, and really dislike Tsubasa Hanekawa’s straightforward and overly calm demeanor. Some people may laugh at Suruga Kanbaru flustering Koyomi with her open adoration for Boys Love novellas, while loathe Koyomi’s habit of groping Hachikuji Mayoi or Sengoku Nadeko’s efforts to get
senpai Koyomi onii-chan to notice her. These demeanors can have the affect of distracting the audience from the message of Monogatari, or making the audience believe that Monogatari whole-heartedly endorses these behaviors, or endorses skeevy fan service in general, but it should be noted that such form and content are often symptoms ruptures to some rather serious issues roiling beneath the surface.
It’s a story of acquired taste, as much the epitome of Shaft direction as it is probably the epitome of the low-brow and high-brow working in, with, and against each other, Bakemonogatari is not afraid of digging low and in many places to reach high. It doesn’t work with every hole, but its message remains, and it remains very poignant and relevant.
It has weight.