Well, I just finished Bakemonogatari for the first time and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. The problem I’ve been experiencing since the final ending theme has been making those thoughts and feelings cohesive, even to myself. Since they’re all still too scattered in my mind to make a full article out of them (for now), I thought I’d just offer a few of my initial thoughts upon completing one of the best selling anime series of all time.
If I were to attempt to describe Bakemonogatari in a single word I’d have a difficult time deciding on one that completely sums up the shows intentions and impressions. Intriguing comes to mind, as does fascinating. I’ve heard it described as a bit pretentious, and although I’m not really fond of that word, I can understand where they’re coming from. I suppose I’d probably end up summarizing it as innovative. From the direction to the soundtrack, the editing to the flow of the story, and the characters to the art and color design, this show broke boundaries. One of the things I find most interesting about Bakemonogatari is that none of its individual facets are original by themselves. The show combines bits and pieces from the horror, romance, harem, drama, suspense and thriller genres, all of which have been done extensively in anime. What makes this series so fresh and creative is the way in which all these individual parts work and flow together. I can name many, many shows with colliding, conflicting genre conventions, but none that work nearly as well as Bakemonogatari does.
If I had to offer an explanation as to why it works so well, I’d credit the driving force behind the show: the direction of Akiyuki Shinbo and his team. His use of colors, cuts, text and trademark shots (head tilts, eye close ups) is what allows the show to move from scenes of lighthearted comedy dialogue to heart pounding suspense in just minutes. These transitions are often bizarre, but never feel unnatural, forced or inconsistent. In Madoka Magica, due to its conflicting nature, Shinbo’s directing style changes after the third episode and continues to spiral into insanity as the show’s suspense continues to build, but in Bakemonogatari there aren’t any major shifts in style and flow depending on what the scene, it’s consistent. Meanwhile, the color designers and soundtrack composers make the scenes what they are, either comedic, dramatic or suspenseful, and I think it’s this system that allows each scene to flow into the next so flawlessly. Shinbo and his team have managed to come up with a style of direction that works for both comedy, drama and horror, depending on what the visual artists and musicians are doing, so that instead of jumping back and forth between thriller directing and harem/comedy directing, like shows such as Higurashi do, Bakemonogatari has a consistent feel that makes it memorable and allows it to stand out among its contemporaries, something I find completely genius.
Aside from Shibo’s genius direction, there are a few other things I like about the show and would like to briefly touch on. One of the things that caught my eye about this show from the very first scene was the character design. If you’re familiar with some of Shaft’s other works, such as Madoka Magica or the currently airing 3-gatsu no lion, you’re used to the studio’s knack for interesting character design that both looks and feels like anime yet has enough differences in outlining and other features, such as the eyes, to set it apart from similar characters. Bakemonogatari is similar, but in a different way. While all of the characters generally look much more anime-ish, for lack of a better term, than Madoka or 3-gatsu, it’s clear that the designer put an extended amount of thought and effort into the designs to make them stand out, both from each other and from similar characters in other franchises. These unique features are so small and unnoticeable on their own that I still can’t put my finger on what sets them apart from your typical anime characters. For some reason, they just pop out of the screen.
The shows plot is interesting to me, at least in some ways. Bakemonogatari is a supernatural mystery/romance show that follows our lead character as he attempts attempts to help people [read: young (perhaps too young), attractive women] with their supernatural calamities, such as possession or spiritual oppression, since he, himself, was once turned into a vampire and has some experience with the supernatural. One thing I appreciate about the show’s plot is that not only are the conclusions surprising, often the mysteries themselves aren’t what they originally seem. While the romance isn’t particularly appealing to me, it has it’s heart warming moments of good development, particularly in the last arc. Additionally, the writing, especially the dialogue, is flawless. I remember when the ending theme started playing at the end of episode three, I realized that I had just watched twenty minutes of two people talking to each other in a colorful but simple setting and hadn’t even noticed any time had gone by. It’s smooth, witty, and interesting to read all on its own. At this point I might attempt to explain the appeal of the show’s unique use of colors, setting and sense of space to set the tone for its each of its scenes, but this aspect of the show is really something better experienced than told about.
In conclusion, I’m not really sure I can count Bakemonogatari among my favorite shows, on a personal level. Even though it had some genuinely heartwarming moments, it didn’t really bring me to tears like Madoka did, and isn’t as crushingly relatable as 3-gatsu no lion. It took a long time for me to start enjoying. It was only during the Snake arc that the show really took hold in my mind, and I started looking forward to each episode more and more. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Bakemonogatari, and for all the right reasons; flawless writing, directing, storytelling and fun and memorable characters. It’s definitely not a show for everyone, but personally, I can’t wait to watch the next season.