The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials


Title: Bakemonogatari
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: Shaft
Format: 15 episodes
Dates: 3 Jul 2009 – 25 Jun 2010

Synopsis: High school senior Araragi Koyomi is abruptly introduced to fellow classmate Senjogahara Hitagi one day when she literally falls from the sky into his arms. To his surprise, he realizes that she is weightless. While she threatens to kill him if he reveals her secret, he reveals to her that he is a survivor of a vampire attack, and introduces her to Oshino Meme, a mysterious man with an extensive knowledge of the occult who can cure her of her supernatural illness.

The Highlights
Visual style: Minimalist, with Shinbo Akiyuki written all over it.
Dialogue: Witty, fast and engaging.
Romance: Slow and compelling.
Ending: Incomplete.
Senjogahara Hitagi: Sublime.

Shinbo Akiyuki and Nishio Ishin are a match made in heaven. Any veteran of Shaft‘s works (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Maria Holic, Hidamari Sketch) should be familiar with Shinbo‘s quirky and unique visual style, often relying on clever use of typography and colors to abstractly represent characters and situations. While this approach may seem slightly inappropriate for some other anime he’s produced (and certainly, it often seems that Shinbo tries a little too hard to indiscriminately jam his visual style down viewers’ throats), it fits perfectly with Bakemonogatari. The original light novel, penned by Nishio Ishin, features rapid-fire dialogue and constant wordplay, the perfect environment for Shinbo to wreak visual havoc. The words coming out of characters’ mouths and the text being displayed on screen are often two different interpretations of the same conversation. Bakemonogatari is a symphony of typography and color. Most visual elements are stripped down to their bare essentials: backgrounds are monochromatic, details are eschewed for simple geometric shapes, flashy animation is replaced by paper cutouts and black-and-white photographs. The show leaves much to the imagination of its viewers, and refrains from spoon-feeding viewers small morsels of plot.

In contrast the simple minimalism of the background, the show’s characters are exquisite. Visually, they are stunning. Elegant and colorful, they seem to glow – adding vibrance to the monochromatic and geometrical world around them. Their radiance indicates to the audience that they are Bakemonogatari.

And indeed, they are. Senjogahara Hitagi, the heroine of the show, is stunning. Self-deprecating, witty and bitingly sarcastic, she is one of the most unique and memorable characters to come out of anime in recent years. The interplay between her and Araragi, the show’s protagonist, is an absolute delight to watch. The show is theirs – in its purest form, Bakemonogatari is a love story between Araragi and Senjogahara. Their love is free of overly dramatic confessions and poorly made Valentine’s Day chocolate. Much is left unsaid between them, which makes their relationship so much more compelling and realistic.

Each of the show’s five arcs explores a specific aspect of their relationship: contact, confession, injury, jealousy, infidelity. Superficially, Bakemonogatari seems like five separate stories about supernatural phenomena. Yet, beneath the surface, Araragi and Senjogahara’s relationship always plays a role throughout the entirety of the series, and links the five unrelated stories together. Even when Senjogahara isn’t on screen, her presence and influence upon Araragi can be felt. Their relationship is marked by a quiet, unbreakable bond of trust, forged and developed through shared trials and tribulations. Senjogahara begins the show a cold, bitter and angry girl, harboring murderous malevolence towards Araragi. Throughout the course of Bakemonogatari‘s story, she slowly warms to him, developing an unspoken confidence in him which eventually blossoms into an unconditional and passionate love. Her relationship with Araragi is marked by mutual benefit and reciprocity – unlike most anime heroines, Senjogahara never becomes a subservient doormat for Araragi to step on.

The supporting cast in Bakemonogatari truly supports the main characters. They are many and varied: classmates, former lovers, childhood friends, strangers wandering the streets – but they all strengthen the story’s main narrative. At the same time, Bakemonogatari‘s mysteries are filled with imagination and are compelling and solid short stories in their own right. The fast pace of action helps keep viewers engaged and interested in every new episode while Araragi and Senjogahara’s romance is developed slowly, at a comfortable and realistic speed.

Unfortunately, the show’s ending left much to be desired. It felt extremely underwhelming compared to the brilliance which marked the rest of the series. Much hand-waving went on during the final few episodes, and the final resolution to the last arc reeked of deus ex machina. Few things were explained, and the show wrapped up without much conclusion. After fourteen episodes of top-notch storytelling, it honestly felt like SHAFT decided to take it easy. Regrettably, the ending of Bakemonogatari is the only thing which separates this show from perfection.

Still, Bakemonogatari is a tour de force of storytelling and visual style. The character development is sublime, and the main narrative is captivating. Undoubtedly one of the greatest series to come out of Japan in the last five years, Bakemonogatari will be remembered for years to come as an example of excellence in the the minds of thousands of fans.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Akira

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