What’s the show? Bakemonogatari (2009).
Bakawakawhat? Don’t worry you’ll get used to it. It translates to ‘Ghost Story’, but nobody calls it that.
So it’s about ghosts? No, not exactly. It’s about a high school boy called Koyomi Aragi and a girl called Hitagi Senjogahara. He used to be a vampire but he’s mostly over that now, and she’s cursed with an illness that makes her weigh nothing. Except it’s not really about that because she gets ‘cured’ pretty quickly, and so then they start dating, but it’s not really about that either.
So what is it about exactly? Well, Aragi seems to run into a lot of girls with problems. One of them can’t find their way home, one of them has a powerful monkey arm, one of them is being strangled by invisible snakes and one turns into a promiscuous cat girl when stressed. And being the gentlemen that he is, he tries to help all of them with their ‘curses’.
Okay… I think I’m following. So what, it’s like a fantasy series? Is it ever as simple as that? It has fantastical elements but it’s set in an approximation of the real world, current day. It has horror elements but it never dwells on them. It has intense action but so sporadically entire episodes could pass without so much as a punch thrown.
Well that’s interesting. What else can you tell me about it? Stylistically it’s probably the most unique anime I’ve ever seen, it varies animation style on a whim, cuts in live action components and flashes walls of text on the screen that are impossible to read.
Why? That’s a question you could end up asking a lot with this show, it’s better to just sit back and revel in the weirdness than try and understand its intent.
So is it ‘weird for the sake of weird’? Maybe, I suppose the individual mileage for this kind of stuff might vary. But everything feels intended, even if it doesn’t make sense. It’s a very deliberately paced show too; some episodes are just back and forth conversations between two or three characters. Like literally, there’s one episode that takes place entirely in a park as the two main characters talk to each other.
Just talking? Doesn’t that get boring? Ah! But herein is perhaps Bakemonogatari’s true strength, it’s dialogue is so good. The characters jibe at each other with the kind of wit and wordplay you’d expect from an episode of the Gilmore Girls.
Wait, you watched Gilmore Girls? No but I’ve heard good things.
But if it’s in Japanese doesn’t that make it hard to pick up on things like puns? Well, yeah, mostly, the subtitles do a pretty good job at explaining references when it’s something that can’t come across through translation alone. Like jokes about how some kanji looks or sounds like other ones will have helpful explanations in brackets within the dialogue.
So is this an anime you have to be smart to watch? It couldn’t hurt.
Wait, does that mean you’re smart?! Why do you sound so surprised?!
I don’t know, I just never pegged you for a smart person. So is it a difficult show to watch then? You will need to concentrate; perhaps more than a normal subbed anime, you certainly can’t be snapchatting or tinder banging or whatever it is you young people do these days while watching TV.
Me? Young? I always got the impression you were the young one and I was the old one, the way you have to answer all my questions about anime. I don’t think either of us is old or young, I think… and I don’t want you to panic, but I think we’re just text on a page!
Oh my god! I’m having an existential crisis? Who am I? What is life? The show can get kind of ‘meta’ too, so if you’re not into that kind of thing you might get annoyed.
Oh I see what you were doing, trying to make me think I didn’t exist so you could make the point about meta-fiction? Very bold of you sir. No I think you’ll find that you are in fact the bold one!
But is the show good? You’ve talked a lot about its individual components but I’m not really getting a sense of it as a whole? This is probably where this fails as a review; I’ll be the first to admit it, because I will praise this show fervently as it is key to my aesthetic, not just as a fan of media but as a person. I love everything about it, I love the characters, I love the wordplay, I love the pacing, I love its unexpectedness, I love its weirdness. But…
But? But there will be people, who can’t stand it. And then there will be people who get hung up on one of the things that make it unique for me and for them it will make it insufferable.
So final recommendation and score? If you want something different, a little out of the mainstream then take the chance, but don’t go expecting an easy viewing experience. For me though, it is one of my favourite anime shows and I give it a lofty 97 out of 100.