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Anime Amateur: BAKEMONOGATARI #1

Stationary as improvised weaponry? Sure, why not?

Welcome to Anime Amateur, a feature where yours truly (Nick Robinson, Whiskey intern) comes out of anime-watching retirement and jumps into the deep end with some of the stranger shows the world of Japanese animation has to offer. Join me as I try desperately to find my bearings in this strange and often beautiful land. My goal? To filter these shows through a decidedly non-otaku perspective. Let's dive in!

I'm mad at you, Bakemonogatari. Not because there's anything truly wrong with you - you're actually amazing so far. No, I'm mad at you because you've put me in the unsavory position of having to defend a show that opens with a gratuitous panty shot.

Unbelievably, this actually isn't the most sinister shot of this character in this episode.
Unbelievably, this actually isn't the most sinister shot of this character in this episode.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Visually, Bakemonogatari is the most striking and impressive piece of media I've seen all year. Seriously. It's got a stunning look, a very specific sense of cool, preposterously high production values, and is generally just unbelievably pleasant to watch.

The name "Bakemonogatari" is a Japanese portmanteau that can be conveniently translated into English as "Ghostory" ('ghost' + 'story') - which means this show would already have a perfect title were it ever to get formally localized. I'm going to be a little light on plot specifics in this first Watch & Learn, for a couple of reasons: firstly, If I'm right in assuming that some of you are hearing about this series for the first time, I'd love to afford you the chance to go into it blind like I did (I'm a bit of a spoilerphobe); and secondly, because I was a liiiittle unsure of what was going on. This is one of those shows - the kind that throws you right in with no attempt to explain its universe to you. That not a negative thing, necessarily - weird example, but Scott Pilgrim was a series with no interest in explaining itself, and unfolding that universe provided me a lot of great "huh?" moments and made for a really fun read. This series might go that direction, or I might be just as confused 12 episodes from now as I am after seeing this first one. That remains to be seen, I guess!

I don't want to get hung up on the plot, though, because for me, that hasn't been the primary draw. This is a show heavy with visual flair, and it'd be hard to overstate just how impressive the resulting look is. I know the term doesn't really make sense when discussing anime, but this is an incredibly "well-shot" show. Every shot feels unbelievably well-laid-out, to the point that Bakemonogatari almost feels like a series of gorgeous desktop wallpapers. But with, you know, story and dialogue and plot and motion.

These things are, unequivocally, what make this show for me.

Let me give you a for-instance: the first full scene of the show is a conversation. That's it. It's a dialogue between two characters, neither of whom we know, about another student in their class. It should be boring, or, at best, a tolerable bit of exposition. Instead, it's a visual feast, full of fantastic shots like this one:

and this one:

See what I mean? Beautifully laid-out exterior shots setting up the high school. A couple of extensive, detailed, realistically shaky first-person sequences in which one character's eyes are deliberately (and intriguingly) obscured. A scene where the only visual communication between the two characters is the body language of how they stretch their arms over their heads. And, again, it's just two people talking.

Relentless detail. And that's before things even pop off!

You thought I was kidding about the 'food mutilation' bit, didn't you? Nope.
You thought I was kidding about the 'food mutilation' bit, didn't you? Nope.

It's the little things as well as the big ones that sell the look of this show: the maroon-colored lineart; the beautiful, Outland-ish silhouetting in a couple of scenes; the Chowder-style "patterning" effect on one character's Hawaiian shirt. When a show will go from kinetic typography to live action food mutilation in its first episode without missing a beat, you know you're watching something incredibly dense with visual ideas. The result is a mesmerizing, intense WarioWare of a show that grabs your attention and doesn't let go.

Alright, I'd feel like I'd be remiss to not describe at least one specific scene during this W&L, but I'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

I believe you have my... never mind.
I believe you have my... never mind.

There is a specific moment in this episode wherein one character is held at stapler-and-Stanley-knifepoint. Spefically, one character places both a retractable utility knife and a cocked-and-locked stapler inside another character's mouth and proceeds to hold them there for a considerable amount of time. It's a startling, high-tension "holy shit" moment that feels like it goes on forever - in a good way.

Like almost every other moment of this show so far, it looks and sounds incredible. From the sound of the stationary devices engaging (and, finally, retracting) to the guttural gasps of a person held on the precipice of severe pain, it's one of the most visceral things I've seen in a long time. Shades of the tooth extraction scene in Oldboy, even. It's a shaky, twitchy, slightly sadistic scene, and it's pulled off beautifully. I was grabbed immediately, and I reckon you will be too.

So yeah, there you have it. So far, Bakemonogatari is making a pretty good case for being the only genuinely good and artful thing that begins with an uncharacteristic, inexplicable, gratuitous upskirt. Onward to the second episode!

Nick Robinson is a Whiskey Media Summer 2011 intern and a journalism student. Won't you follow him on Twitter at @Babylonian? He'd be ever so appreciative!

Dunchadon Sept. 6, 2011 at 8:23 a.m.

For a moment there I thought this was about Katanagatari - another visually interesting and good anime. But this one... I'm certain I've seen the first episode but can't remember if I watched the rest. Though I can't think of a reason why I would've dropped this. I guess I'll have to take another look at this and see what's what.

Arc209on Sept. 6, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.

You have easily made this a show that I have to look up...looking forward to more.

Babylonian staff on Sept. 6, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.
@Dunchad said:

For a moment there I thought this was about Katanagatari - another visually interesting and good anime. But this one... I'm certain I've seen the first episode but can't remember if I watched the rest. Though I can't think of a reason why I would've dropped this. I guess I'll have to take another look at this and see what's what.

I'm pretty sure Katanagatari is a sequel or prequel or something - regardless, it's something I've kept on my radar for looking into once I'm done with Bakemonogatari. Thanks for reading!
shelson Sept. 6, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.
@Babylonian said:
@Dunchad said:

For a moment there I thought this was about Katanagatari - another visually interesting and good anime. But this one... I'm certain I've seen the first episode but can't remember if I watched the rest. Though I can't think of a reason why I would've dropped this. I guess I'll have to take another look at this and see what's what.

I'm pretty sure Katanagatari is a sequel or prequel or something - regardless, it's something I've kept on my radar for looking into once I'm done with Bakemonogatari. Thanks for reading!
The only relation between bakemonogatari and katanagatari is the author: NisiOisin, both original source novels were written by him, apart from that, bakemonogatari has a prequel movie already stated to premiere in 2012 under the same production studio.
Bakemonogatari is one of those shows that despite not being perfect, far from that, manages to get you hooked up. Be it for assembling a cast of  peculiar characters, good arc-stories and those stunning visuals and Shinbo direction, which makes a talking-heads scene look interesting.
sotyfan16on Sept. 6, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
I watched up to episode 5 I think when this first came out (what? back in 2009?). Don't remember why I stopped it but I need to go back.
 
@Babylonian:
There is no connection between the two.
Babylonian staff on Sept. 6, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.
@sotyfan16
 @shels:  
A friend of mentioned told me yesterday that Katanagari was a prequel "or something." I guess it falls in the latter category, hahah! Good to know, though. If I continue to dig Bakemonogatari as much as I have so far, I'll definitely check out some of the associated works.
ethan staff on Sept. 6, 2011 at 11 a.m.

Whiskey Media Interns cannot be stopped. Great first article Nick!

AURON570on Sept. 6, 2011 at 11:56 a.m.
I'm going to say first that I watched this show from a bad quality source and I don't speak japanese. I feel like if I had watched this series in good quality and knew japanese, I would have appreciated this series more.
 
I didn't really like this show. I thought I'd check it out for it's "striking visuals" and "amazing story". I thought the "striking visuals" just amounted to a bunch of post modernist-like garbage. I found the male and female leads to be insufferable. Essentially the story becomes a romance, with Araragi playing the dude, and Senjogahara playing the tsundere girlfriend. Then there's the other part of the story where they save girls from supernatural spirits.
 
I felt like almost none of what was happening visually (escpecially during conversation) actually contributed to telling the story. The anime often cuts to solid color backgrounds with text written on it which is supposed to add something to the conversation that is happening. But sometimes there is just a ridiculous amount of text on these things that I would imagine the only way to read all of it would be pause it. And usually it's just more post modernist "art", like a red background with white text saying "blood". 
 
Again, I feel like this anime would have benefited from me knowing japanese and if I had watched it in better quality, because there is quite a bit of word play going on, and the visuals are pretty solid, even though they are a bit obnoxious.
eldiaxon Sept. 6, 2011 at 1:01 p.m.
@Babylonian said:
@Dunchad said:

For a moment there I thought this was about Katanagatari - another visually interesting and good anime. But this one... I'm certain I've seen the first episode but can't remember if I watched the rest. Though I can't think of a reason why I would've dropped this. I guess I'll have to take another look at this and see what's what.

I'm pretty sure Katanagatari is a sequel or prequel or something - regardless, it's something I've kept on my radar for looking into once I'm done with Bakemonogatari. Thanks for reading!
Katanagatari is completely unrelated to Bakemonogatari, at least so far (I'm at the half-point in Katangatari). They have absolutely no connections except for the pretty art.
Gaffon Sept. 6, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.

@ethan said:

Whiskey Media Interns cannot be stopped. Great first article Nick!

This!

@AURON570: Bakemonogatari's director, Akiyuki Shinbo, has a certain visual flair, which at worst can seem overly pretentious and unnecessarily arty (see Maria Holic, Soul Taker - man, that show needed some gamma correction -) or at best beautiful and an enhancement to the story (Puella Magi Madoka, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Pani Poni Dash). This is going to sound like a terrible cop-out, but it's a matter of taste.

More specifically about Bakemonogatari, the original TV broadcasts in Japan were "plagued" with production problems: running out of time animating the story, leaving very noticable still frames of just words. Apparently these were fixed in the subsequent DVD and BluRay releases. It's turned into SHAFT's signature by now.

Turambaron Sept. 6, 2011 at 3:18 p.m.

I remember watching this show and like all other productions by SHAFT, finding myself extremely exhausted after a single episode. The amount of artist's notes, references, and just random easter eggs lying around every scene felt like a giant electric prod to by senses. And by god I loved that about them.

Also great write up.

InfiniteGeasson Sept. 6, 2011 at 3:20 p.m.
This is one of my favorite anime of all time. I just love the fast paced dialogue in it. Senjougahara is also the best tsundere of all time ever.
Popogeejoon Sept. 6, 2011 at 4:02 p.m.

Man, you picked a hell of a series to start off with. You mentioned the high production values which is interesting because when it aired it was infamous for production problems (art errors, unfinished openings, completely unfinished scenes and severe delays for the DVD only episodes.) It's well worth trying to find comparisons between what aired on TV and what got put on Blu-ray/DVD. At times it's like a totally different show. Sadly at one or two points this leads to "oh Japan" moments but for the large majority it's a crazy improvement.

Great stuff, Babylonian. For me these articles have been pretty much the only reason to check AV and you've delivered with style.

AgentJon Sept. 6, 2011 at 4:19 p.m.
PERFECT timing. I just started watching this the other day. 
Superevil225on Sept. 6, 2011 at 4:26 p.m.
Great article. I've watched the first episode (or part of it). I think my parents were in the room and BOOM panty shot and I was too embarrassed to continue watching it. Maybe I'll pick it up again after No. 6 and Hakuouki.
zaldaron Sept. 6, 2011 at 5:21 p.m.
Hmm I am intrigued.  This sounds like a show that even if it doesn't work....at least should be interesting and worth checking out.  So am I to take it this hasn't been brought over and needs to be received from "other' sources? 
 
For another show (live action) that SHOULD be boring as all most all of it is two characters talking but isn't check out in treatment....amazingly they make a show about a screwed up therapist ministering to his patients while trying to help himself amazingly entertaining.  Some of the finest acting I have ever seen.  Need to see if the Israeli original has been translated anywhere.
 
And yes VERY well written article.
blaakmawfon Sept. 6, 2011 at 5:44 p.m.
I liked this series.
metalsnakezeroon Sept. 6, 2011 at 7:55 p.m.
Bakemonogatari is by far the best anime I ever seen with lots of style, comedy, and interesting and deep characters. It also a series that had a lot a thing going against it like the slow pacing, large amount of dialog, and the strangeness about it. However, it stood strong and many people love it.
erreibon Sept. 7, 2011 at 9:33 p.m.
The panty shot is not gratuitous; its actually an important plot element. I'm serious, just wait for next year's Kizumonogatari.
Sonata moderator on Sept. 8, 2011 at 7:16 a.m.

I liked the show myself the characters intrigued me enough to keep watching:)

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