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Anime Amateur: BAKEMONOGATARI #2

I'd make a pun about 'light nudity,' but you'd have to watch the show for it to make any sense.

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.

Get it, guys? Because of her powers? GET IT?
Get it, guys? Because of her powers? GET IT?

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.

See this meticulously detailed doorknob? It was on screen for a tenth of a second. THAT POOR ARTIST.
See this meticulously detailed doorknob? It was on screen for a tenth of a second. THAT POOR ARTIST.

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 stuff like this that keeps me watching.
It's stuff like this that keeps me watching.

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!

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!

metalsnakezeroon Sept. 9, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.
SHAFT can really get away with things like fan-service by showing something strange. And if you thing about it, Senjougahara personality kinda pushes the fan-service aside.
Turambaron Sept. 9, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.

SHAFT's habit in the animation of shows is the attempt at infusing near every moment with some degree of fanservice, whether it be referential in nature, or something a bit more obvious. And while this episode is no exception, the way Senjougahara behaves in the first half fits in the thematic tone of the episode in a very ironic nature.

She is a young high school girl wanting to gain 35 kilograms. Just think about that for a moment. I have confidence that Shaft did not give Senjougahara such a burden haphazardly. She believes her lightness a curse that makes her a monster despite it being a physical ideal for a person in her social position. The gratuitous display at the beginning only goes to further emphasize the ironic nature of her wish. That is, she is physically perfect.

There is also the fact that Senjougahara is putting full faith in a man that promises to cure her, requires a monetary reward, and tells her the cliche phrase that "only she can save herself." This is the description of the kind of people that ruined her life, took her mother away from her, and even tried to rape her. So why put faith in one of them now? That can be attributed to a great degree of faith she seems to have in Araragi and a willingness to expose herself both to him, and because of him, in an intimate setting.

Can the first 10 minutes be redone to display these tones in a less gratuitous fashion? Probably. But regardless, "pandering to the lowest common denominator with boring smut" is not at all what it is.

Oh, and funfacts about visual cues in the show: you'll notice that Araragi's ahoge (that bit of hair that seems to stand up) will become more and less erect depending on when he himself is also, er, erect or not.

Also each character with a burden of some kind will in someway hold a resemblance to the animal that is holding them. In the case of Senjougahara, in the first episode where she had her arms out stretched and each hand holding a multitude of office supplies, her form resembled a crab. Something to look for in future episodes especially if you're enjoying the artistic and stylistic aspects of the show.

InfiniteGeasson Sept. 9, 2011 at 6:22 p.m.
I wish this show got localized.
Babylonian staff on Sept. 9, 2011 at 10:10 p.m.

@Turambar said:

SHAFT's habit in the animation of shows is the attempt at infusing near every moment with some degree of fanservice, whether it be referential in nature, or something a bit more obvious. And while this episode is no exception, the way Senjougahara behaves in the first half fits in the thematic tone of the episode in a very ironic nature.

She is a young high school girl wanting to gain 35 kilograms. Just think about that for a moment. I have confidence that Shaft did not give Senjougahara such a burden haphazardly. She believes her lightness a curse that makes her a monster despite it being a physical ideal for a person in her social position. The gratuitous display at the beginning only goes to further emphasize the ironic nature of her wish. That is, she is physically perfect.

There is also the fact that Senjougahara is putting full faith in a man that promises to cure her, requires a monetary reward, and tells her the cliche phrase that "only she can save herself." This is the description of the kind of people that ruined her life, took her mother away from her, and even tried to rape her. So why put faith in one of them now? That can be attributed to a great degree of faith she seems to have in Araragi and a willingness to expose herself both to him, and because of him, in an intimate setting.

Can the first 10 minutes be redone to display these tones in a less gratuitous fashion? Probably. But regardless, "pandering to the lowest common denominator with boring smut" is not at all what it is.

Oh, and funfacts about visual cues in the show: you'll notice that Araragi's ahoge (that bit of hair that seems to stand up) will become more and less erect depending on when he himself is also, er, erect or not.

Also each character with a burden of some kind will in someway hold a resemblance to the animal that is holding them. In the case of Senjougahara, in the first episode where she had her arms out stretched and each hand holding a multitude of office supplies, her form resembled a crab. Something to look for in future episodes especially if you're enjoying the artistic and stylistic aspects of the show.

Whoa! Thanks for the fantastic, extremely thoughtful comment. This is my first outing with a SHAFT joint (I'm actually not well-versed in anime at all), so I totally bow to your expertise here. It's totally possible that I was underestimating them - and I'd like to believe I was, because I love everything else about this show so far!

I do stand by what I wrote: fanservice, ironic or otherwise, is something that's always kinda skeezed me out. But you've gotten me to look at this episode in a new light, and that's something I'm super grateful for.

Also: the hair boner thing is ridiculous. I'll definitely keep that in the back of my mind as I continue working through this show, hahah.

Thanks again! :3

Daniel_Newton moderator on Sept. 10, 2011 at 12:57 a.m.

Wow, you're really going for it, huh Nick? It's really cool to see you so genuinely excited about anime, these articles are really well written. I could certainly learn a thing or two from them.

I was definitely interested in this show after your first article but even more so now, I'll have to check it out.

@Turambar: Wow, that's one of the best posts I've ever seen, like, anywhere. That's some deep stuff. Kudos sir!

Bocamon Sept. 10, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.

One thing you should know about Bakemonogatari is that there will be much more Fanservice. This was actually in the novels, though in the anime its toned down quite a bit. The chapter this arc is based on is already fully translated. So maybe you'd want to give that a read.

Which version are viewing, the TV Broadcast or the Blu Ray rips? If you are watching the TV Broadcast, you should certainly think of tracking down the Blu Rays once you get to the later arcs as they fixed a lot of mistakes they made due to them having to rush to finish.

Great read, hope you continue.

ltcolinsaneon Sept. 10, 2011 at 5:51 p.m.
Nick Robinson: i could be wrong but from when i watched it a few months back for the first time the explanation for  Senjōgahara's scantily cladness in that episode when in the same room as Araragi is part of the curse she is under, she asked the crab god thing to take away her pain from what happened with her mother and in doing so took away her sense of shame.
 
I swear i remember Oshino explaining that towards the end of the episode. Either way Senjogahara is never really seen wearing that kind of revealing outfit again for the rest of the series.
endaroundon Sept. 11, 2011 at 4:04 a.m.

Just a warning, if this made you uncomfortable there are things coming up that are really going to bother you.

zaldaron Sept. 11, 2011 at 8:06 p.m.
all of the comments are now are white text on a white background for me...if this is a setting by me sent me a note on how to fix it please.  Was not like this yesterday though...
Turambaron Sept. 11, 2011 at 9:36 p.m.

@zaldar: There's already a bug report thread on the issue. It's a site glitch. Top men are on it, will be fixed once the work week actually starts.

bonkerson Sept. 15, 2011 at 4:40 a.m.

Your reaction to that scene seems a little prudish (not saying you're totally wrong....just kinda OTT). Other than that, nice write-up.

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