Nisemonogatari Part 1 (Episodes 1-7) (Cert 18)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 172 minutes approx.
Despite the title this not a sequel or a partner or an adjunct to Bakemonogatari; this is a direct continuation from that series, albeit one without any form of recap, re-introduction or “welcome back” gesture for the audience. So, if you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari you will be very confused viewing this title – the problem is that even if you have seen the first series chances are you will still be confused watching this one!
Thrown literally into what appears to be the middle of a story, the show opens cold with the protagonist from the previous outing, Koyomi Araragi, waking up in an unknown location, handcuffed to some pipes. Out of the shadows steps his captor, none other than classmate and supposed friend Hitagi Senjōgahara, whom he previously saved from a curse in the first series. What does Hitagi have planned for Koyomi and why she has captured him? We need to go back in time to answer that but the “long story short” version is that a mysteriously conman named Deishū Kaiki has been putting curses on schoolkids across town and one of his victims just happens to be one of Koyomi’s sisters, Karen.
That is roughly about the gist of what is laughingly called the plot of this second outing based on the light novel series by Nisio Isin, who is either teasing his loyal audience with a largely impenetrable and deliberately oblique piece of work to see if they will swallow any old guff he gives them and call it ice cream, or if the success of the first work has gone to his head and that head is now located somewhere up his own fundament! No doubt there will be Isin loyalists who will proclaim this a sublime work but for this writer, this is clear case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
What we essentially have here is the first of two arcs for this eleven episode series, the framework for which would probably stretch to one OVA episode, which director Akiyuki Shinbo has somehow eked out to seven episodes. Seven episodes of garrulous, pseudo-psychological, existential, info dump nonsense, sprinkled in between which are general non-sequiturs rampant with gratuitous sexual teasing and innuendo, including the uneasy Japanese obsession with underage nudity, which while not *completely* sexualised, don’t exactly endear themselves to western sensibilities over such issues. In short, this is verbose padding of the worst kind, which the pseuds out there will undoubtedly look for profound and rich meanings to but in reality, serve no purpose to the already threadbare plot.
The basic structure of the story sees Koyomi getting caught up in the problems of the harem he found himself with in Bakemonogatari, be it directly or indirectly, or even not at all, as in the case of snail girl Mayoi Hachikuji, whom he meets in the street on a couple of occasion, to what purpose is never revealed. The people most affected by Kaiki’s presence are Hitagi and Karen with Koyomi thrown into the mix as the role of big brother/noble protector – although the girls are all powerful in their own right. Hitagi has an existing beef with Kaiki while Karen was poisoned by him when she went to confront him about his cursing the junior townsfolk.
As if further salt is need to rub into the wounds created by the endless and aimless dialogue sessions, we don’t even get a proper conclusion to the story. There is a big showdown between Kaiki and Koyomi and Hitagi, but while the term “climactic” would usually be an apropos adjective, it is only applicable here when preceded with the word “anti”, such as it is a non-committed, damp squib of a so called resolve, which – no surprises – is all chat and no action.
This is a problem that hampers the entire premise – if Koyomi can waste so much time succumbing to the whims of his harem – including spending most of episode four having a creepy, intimate bath session with lolicon Shinobu – instead of showing some urgency in resolving the problem, where is the emotional investment for the audience? For all its articulate verbiage and cod-philosophical musings this show fails to engage the audience on this front and could result in losing their faith before the end is reached. Whatever unique and quirky charm was prevalent in its predecessor is not present here.
I won’t lie to you: I didn’t understand this show and truth be told, I feel a little thick for not getting it. Non-linear story telling is not a problem, nor is the abstract approach or having to decipher things for myself; this particular show doesn’t even display any intention of meeting the audience halfway even if one is on the same wavelength as Isin, which might not be many. If you are one and understood this then more power to you, but for this reviewer, it was buried beneath too many layers of psuedo-intellectual posing to have any real entertainment value.
However, it’s not all bad news though. SHAFT’s animation and visuals as always are the strongest selling point of this show and once again they have delivered another experimental but joyous treat for the eyeballs. Even if the script makes little sense the images on screen at least lighten the burden for the viewer and make it just that little bit more bearable. Thankfully the walls of flashing text that had us all reaching for the pause button last time are absent here, but the trademark flitting between art styles remains in place, retaining a semblance of identity and continuity from the first series.
Nisemonogatari is likely to polarise opinion. Some will love it, some may not but will say they do anyway to avoid embarrassment, while some of us will be turned off by being so brutally baffled by it all. This is about as niche as anime gets and will arguably set a precedent by being niche within a niche franchise. If that makes sense….
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 only:
Ratings – **
Man In Black