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.
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!
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.
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!