Bakemonogatari Part 1 (Episodes 1-8) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 193 minutes approx.
Koyomi Aragari is a high school boy and former vampire destined to help the girls of his school deal with the various demonic apparitions that blight their lives, with the help of the mysterious hippy like Meme Oshino.
For the first time in my six years as an Anime reviewer I am actually stumped as to what to write, such is the perplexing and abstract nature of Bakemonogatari. Based on the light novels by Isio Nisin, the title is a portmanteau of the words “bakemono”, meaning ghost or monster, and “monogatari” meaning story – so it’s a “ghost story” if you will.
The plot may be simple, hence the vague outline above, but the content and presentation takes the surreal and esoteric manifesto to new and often baffling and obnoxious levels of mind jarring. If you think you’ve seen it all in shows like FLCL or Mawaru Penguindrum then think again, with this title arguably likely to prove to be more contentious than these two combined.
To expand a little on the plot, Koyomi was attacked by a vampire during the school holidays but rescued and reverted back to human by Oshino, although he still has some lingering side effects like being able to see in the dark and can heal abnormally quickly. This actually happened before the main story begins and is not fully revealed until episode four, making the confusing prelude to the first episode designed to get us up to scratch on a story that hasn’t actually begun even more baffling. The series is split into mini-arcs – each with its own bespoke opening theme song and credits – in which Koyomi, with assistance from Oshino and a small vampire girl named Shinobu, helps girls confront the demons burdening their lives.
First off, Koyomi catches classmate Hitagi Senjōgahara as she falls down the stairs, noting she is weightless. As a reward, Hitagi staples Koyomi in the mouth so he’ll keep quiet. Instead he offers to help her regain her missing weight, and learns from Oshino that it was taken by a crab demon or “weight god”, representing the absence of Hitagi’s mother in her life. Next Koymoi meets Mayoi Hachikuji, the ghost of a child carrying a huge backpack, who claims to be a lost snail. The final spook stricken student is Suruga Kanbaru, an athletic girl whose use of the mystical wish granting monkey paw yields dire consequences.
Nisin is covering somewhat familiar ground with his story ideas, in which he explores many of the distinctive facets of Japanese modern life intertwined with folklore and superstitions that are tied in with certain animals and the demonic curses related to them. It may sound bonkers to us here in the West but in Asia it’s their equivalent of the Boogeyman, yet provides us with the opportunity to experience something fresh and unique. With such visual potential the transition to anime seems inevitable but Nisin’s personal twist has resulted in something quite remarkable, in both its visual splendour and its audacity with its often viewer unfriendly presentation.
Noted animators Shaft have delivered an eye catching feast that mixes standard animation with 3D imagery and photo cut outs, blended with the laziest of get outs for not animating something by telling us they can’t be arsed to animate it. A coloured screen will (literally) flash before your eyes informing us of the shot which we would have seen, complete with its shot number while the dialogue continues.
Not content with this, vital bits of information, exposition and back story appear on our screens at hyper speed, giving the viewer no time to read let alone comprehend what it is, for reasons that are apparent only to the producers themselves. There may only be eight episodes in this two disc set but after the endless pausing and rewinding one goes through to read these often congruent and necessary tidbits, it will feel like one has sat through a five hour viewing marathon! I’m sure for some this will add to the show’s eccentric charm while others will find it a source of immense frustration.
The promise of grisly horror stories may result in disappointment as the gore is kept to a minimum, at least until Suruga’s arc, and any violence hitherto shown is largely for comic effect. This is a character driven and dialogue heavy series; its verbosity should not be much of a surprise considering its literary origins. Koyomi and co are a fascinating bunch who spend a vast amount of time swapping philosophical musings sometimes relevant to the case in hand, sometimes not. There are some acerbic and witty observations made during these verbal discourses, usually with Koyomi on the receiving end of a tongue lashing or two, but at least he is able to draw out the root of the emotional problems from the young ladies to aid the search for a solution.
Releasing a subtitle only title here in the UK is something of a gamble but such a niche presentation as this, MVM may be licking their wounds with this one. Let’s clarify something here: Bakemonogatari isn’t a bad series. It’s certainly different and takes many risks with its unabashed dismissal of the viewer’s knowledge of the source material, but different doesn’t always mean bad.
To that end, this might be the show that breaks the mould for many anime fans who are tired of the same old mecha, harem comedies, shonen fantasy adventures, moe, fan service output and want something fresh and challenging. But mavericks and mainstream don’t necessarily make for good bed fellows and the chances are this show will turn as many people off as it does delight the more discerning and adventurous viewer.
I still don’t know if I liked Bakemonogatari but I know I didn’t dislike it and that is either its greatest strength or its biggest undoing. The best advice therefore that I can give is see it for yourself and make your own mind up.
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 Only:
Eps 3 to 5 Textless Opening Theme
Eps 6 to 8 Textless Opening Theme
Eps 1 to 4, 6 & 7 Textless Closing Theme
Ep 2 Ending with Alternate Credits
Ep 5 Ending Theme and Textless Animation
Ep 8 Ending Theme and Textless Animation
Ratings – ***
Man In Black