Review: Bakemonogatari Episodes 1-2
By Humberto Saabedra
After years of waiting I finally get to see what the fuss is about with Bakemonogatari, being that I wasn’t able to catch it during its first run in 2008 and the act of pirating just annoys me at this point.
For those that don’t quite get the reference, the anime series is an adaptation of a long running series of Japanese serial light novels written by NisiOisin, all with differing prefixes ending in-monogatari and being interconnected via disparate plot threads, of which Bakemonogatari centers on two characters, Koyomi Araragi, mild-mannered high school student and typical deviant along with Hitagi Senjougahara, another high school student with a biting wit and sharp tongue hiding an even darker, painful secret.
Fair warning, spoilers are present past this point
The first episode actually starts off in medias res, as the opening animates select scenes from the prequel novel in Kizumonogatari where we see Araragi and a much older woman clearly fighting against each other and alludes to a plot thread in the overall series with implications in Bakemonogatari.
The rest of the episode sets up the universe that Bakemonogatari resides in, which is a stark representation of modern day Japan with visually arresting elements designed to keep the viewer’s attention, as the original novels prose focused on the interplay between characters at the expense of describing the environments they interacted in as sparsely as possible.
All of the credit for the visually arresting art and scene design belongs to director Akiyuki Shinbo for bringing the novel to life without much in the way of prior help from the author and it shows where his interpretation of the material is a net gain for the anime adaptation.
One thing that really struck me about the first episode outside of the art direction is the way that elements of the given episode’s plot flash by within micro second length scene cards with heavy text, which intersect with the spoken dialogue. Many would and will find this practice annoying as it portends that the cards need to read in order to fully understand what’s going on, but this is actually not the case.
The text heavy cards actually represent the large amount of subtext and noise contained within the spoken dialogue and can be ignored as the interplay between characters, especially Araragi and Senjogahara contains a heavy amount of absurdist meta humor as they engage in verbal sparring matches while they get comfortable with each other, which the cards are intended to clarify. Before I get ahead of myself though, I will state that the way that both characters meet, with Araragi catching Hitagi in his arms after seeing her fall from the school’s staricase is rather trite until the revelation that she has no physical weight throws the trope into supernatural territory.
Hitagi as a character is interesting to me, mostly because of her predilection for degrading and demeaning Koyomi whenever possible and doing so in a sadistic, yet more intelligent manner than most characters, simply for the fact that she uses her perception to really zero in on Araragi’s many faults and even goes as far as to injure him shortly after their encounter, by stapling his cheek. Normally this would drive many into excruciating pain, but Araragi surprises her by pulling the staple out and showing her the lack of injury, which shocks her as she does not know that he was previously a vampire that was later cured. This may also explain why there are so many BDSM-themed Senjougahara doujins, not that it’s a bad thing, some of them are quite entertaining by themselves.
To wit, her predilection for using school supplies as deadly weapons is taken to its logical, if humorously absurd conclusion after Araragi agrees to help her gain her weight back and travels to the decrepit run down apartment of a strange man named Meme Oshino, but not before being subjected to more absurdist, if entertaining banter between Hitagi and Araragi, with Hitagi seemingly always gaining the upper hand before Araragi shuts her down with his own brand of logic, which only serves to endear him further to her and adds to the entertainment value for me.
Senjougahara meeting Oshino brings the story of her apparent “weightlessness” to the forefront, with Oshino asking her a series of questions that reveal the source of her trauma, that being her mother being led into a cult due to Hitagi’s previous ill health that ultimately ruined her family and caused it to collapse, but not before being sexually abused by the cult leader in the name of healing her while her mother stood by and watched, which led Hitagi to drift apart from her mother and ultimately stop caring about her. That half of the episode is one of the most gripping and emotionally wrenching for me, especially after Hitagi begs the crab god for her weight and her feelings for her mother back. It’s hard to believe that it’s just the second episode of a total of 15 and it sold me completely on the series.
After watching both episodes of Bakemonogatari, I can clearly see why its gained such an intense, fervent fanbase despite the fact that the light novel series isn’t officially available in English. The writing and animation is top notch while being engrossing and delightfully absurd at points, only to be balanced by emotionally intense moments that also provide for character growth. If this is what I can expect in terms of entertainment and impact from the series, then I’m definitely watching the rest and buying the Blu-Ray boxset.
You can watch Bakemonogatari on Crunchyroll, which is streaming the series with new episodes being added every Friday.
Humberto Saabedra is the Editor-in-Chief of AnimeNews.biz. When not working on the news, he can usually be found contributing to Crunchyroll News and Ani.me as a news editor and columnist respectively as well as writing commentary on the business side of Japanese pop culture on AnimeNews.biz.