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!
It'd be hard to overstate how much excitement I had going into the second episode of Bakemonogatari. In case you missed my earlier write-up, I enjoyed the first episode a lot. Like, A LOT. The show was gorgeous - so much so that it got me to clean my grimy monitor for the first time in ages. Unavoidably, this meant I went into the show's second episode with some pretty elevated expectations.
So did it let me down? Nope! Well, not really.
First, the bad: Senjougahara, the show's female lead, spends roughly the first ten minutes of this episode in various states of undress. This is a standard-length anime, and each episode falls around the low end of 20 minutes long. That means she's naked (or nearly) for roughly half of this episode. It's not just me, is it? That's excessive, right?
Sure, fine, it's visually interesting, but it's also a bummer to see a show this promising pander to the lowest common denominator with boring smut. The whole thing is played for laughs in a pretty lazy way, too; seeing that anime-ass "GIRL BEING CASUALLY NAKED AND DUDE FLIPPING OUT ABOUT IT" trope inserted into the middle of this relatively serious show, it's hard not to be a little disappointed.
Maybe I'm being too hard on Bakemonogatari. Yeah, sure, this scene a little fanservicey, but at least it's fun about it. I feel weird even writing about this, but the fact that the pattern on her...underthings is a clever nod to her powers? Kinda funny. Whatever. And, to be fair, this scene also has the first bit of dialogue genuinely funny enough to make me laugh audibly at this show, so there you go.
Much like in the first episode, things once again go nuts during this episode's latter half. Shinto garb is donned, prayers are had, a little underage drinking goes down, and before you know it, there's a transparent, 3D holographic crab pinning one of our protagonists against a wall. Like Tom has mentioned before, I too am not a huge fan of the CGI-on-top-of-traditional-animation look, but it works well enough here, especially since they incorporate it in a way that doesn't betray the show's graphic-design-driven art style.
Actually, can we talk about the art style for a second? Because it's still amazing. In film, I'm predisposed to more visual directors; the ones whose work you can tell you're watching within five seconds, because their direction is just that specific. Chan-Wook Park, Danny Boyle, Quentin Tarantino - these dudes direct movies that look like their movies and no one else's. Apparently, the same is true of my taste in animation, because I seriously can't get over the look of this show.
If anything, the visuals gotten even crazier since the first episode. The fast-paced, frantic editing has stuck around, but they've enhanced it this time around with unpredictable, brief mid-scene artstyle changes. Like the rest of the visual tricks up Bakemonogatari sleeve, its used to jarring and impactful effect here. Maybe the boldest visual in this episode is the sizable flashback scene that consists largely of actual photographs of actual people. There's even a moment or two of video! Full-motion video, even! In an anime! Anime Vice user Gaff pointed out to me in the comments that Bakemonogatari's visual flair is a hallmark of the show's director Akiyuki Shinbo, which excites the hell out of me - I could definitely see myself checking out this guy's work once I finish this show.
Still, the thing that's going to stick with me about this episode is how much of it was spent showing off the unclothed body of an high school girl. It's especially distasteful in the context of what's unveiled in the episode's second half. To watch a character displayed as a sexual object for half an episode, only to minutes later see that same character tearfully reveal that she was the victim of sexual assault is massively uncomfortable. The two scenes undercut each other, and if Bakemonogatari were doing it deliberately or ironically, that'd be one thing. Sure, I guess it's possible that the two halves were put in the same episode to make some sort of point, but sadly, I'm not convinced that was the case.
It's weird, because without having seen the first half, the scene where Senjougahara recounts her grim past is uncompromising, tasteful and artfully presented. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I can't for the life of me understand why someone would choose to precede this very serious, very good scene with an interminably long bit of fanservice. For now, I'll just write this off as anime being anime, but damn if it doesn't make me feel gross for watching it sometimes.
Despite all that, I'm still finding myself digging this show. Putting aside that first scene that I won't shut up about, it's a series that takes itself and its characters seriously. It looks fantastic, has had consistently breakneck pacing and has me genuinely curious about the direction it'll take. With two episodes down and thirteen to go, I couldn't be happier that there's more of this show ahead of me. Onwards and upwards!