Especially considering it’s a Shinbou Akiyuki work for Shaft, the word I’d choose to describe Bakemonogatari is ‘stillness’. Part of that is plot related, with the second mini-arc of the story revolving around not leaving a particular place, but almost every episode largely features its cast standing still and talking at length in extended single scenes, with odd imagery usually based on colours or typography flashing up and plenty of typically Shinbou pastiche stills.
‘Bakemonagatari’ is a portmanteau combining ‘bakemono’ (monster/supernatural creature) and ‘monogatari’ (tale), which by happy coincidence can be easily, albeit clumsily, mirrored in the English ‘GhoStory’ – and while the entities dealt with here are not necessarily ghosts, the term ‘ghost story’ does tend to encompass various other supernatural creatures like the animal spirits who dominate this story. The anime is an adaptation of a series of light novels, and has been enough of a hit to spawn two sequel series, Nisemonogatari and Bakemonogatari as well as Monogatari Series Second Season and related Katanagatari.
Our main character Hiraragi-kun, whose hairstyle that covers one eye is not the only echo of Mushishi here (listen carefully to the music), is an unassuming but likeable high school student with a colourful past. When he discovers the strange secret of the standoffish but beautiful Senjougahara – that she has no weight at all – he pursues her and eventually breaches her prickly, even somewhat disturbing, defences to offer his aid. After all, he too has been afflicted by a supernatural ailment – he was bitten by a vampire and helped by a strange laid-back mystic. After helping Senjougahara and putting up with her advanced case of tsundere-itis, the two begin to date. But this action only brings him to the attention of various other girls, and his harem begins to gather.
It is undoubtedly a harem, and probably a cuter one than in most series. The girls here are all quite lovely, and all much more to my liking than the threatening and blunt Senjougahara. There’s the adorable loli, who Araragi shows the most personality with when he mercilessly teases her and gets a bit edgy with his molestation humour. There’s the tomboy who not only has the usual bokuko haircut, athleticism and adorable my-pace personality, but is actually an out lesbian, which is refreshing. There’s a quiet cute one, the bookish one who has always admired Araragi from afar, and then the mysterious little blonde girl who was the original cause of Araragi’s ‘condition’…as well as his saviour.
Underneath the witty dialogue, detached and cynical style and relentlessly odd imagery is a rather conventional story of a boy meeting a variety of girls who have some mysterious background, solving their problems and then having them become his close circle, to help out others when they come along or form rivalries.
I have to say, while I didn’t dislike Bakemonogatari, I struggle to see why it was quite the hit it was. It certainly didn’t charm me like various other Shinbou works, and the style kept every single character at arm’s length.
There’s a fair bit more Bakemonogatari, as well as various related materials. There’s the sequel Nisemonogatari, and then a second season of Bakemonogatari, as well as the strange but fun-looking feudal story that I think is somewhat related called – I believe – Katanagatari. I don’t feel much attachment to the girls here, nor do I much like Araragi, but there was enough silliness, banter and action to keep me coming for another series.
Just…rather like the other series this reminded me of despite the different levels of humour, Jigoku Shoujo, I expect the viewings of the episodes of progressive sequel series will become less and less a priority for me.