The second new series of the season brought to us by the SHAFT/Shinbo team is Bakemonogatari which apparently literally translates to “monster stories” but to mimic the wordplay of the Japanese title it’s being translated as “Ghostory”. I didn’t know how it would compare to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei but I could at least be assured that it would not be visually boring or generic.
Rating: episode 1 – 11/12A+
Rating: episode 2 – 10.5/12Strong A
Rating: episode 3 – 10.5/12Strong A
Anticipation Level: 4.5/5 –High
And – Surprise!! – it was neither. Yeah, I know, it’s not that big of a surprise, especially since I put my ratings above.
The story, for those unfamiliar, is centered around a senior in high school by the name of Araragi. Until recently he was a vampire but with the help of a mysterious figure he was able to recover his humanity with only a few small side effects like being able to heal quickly and being to read from extreme distances. One day, he witnesses a girl, Senjougahara, slip and fall off a very high balcony. He rushes to catch her and is surprised to find that she weighs practically nothing – the start of a great friendship, as the saying goes. Araragi is able to convince Senjougahara that he knows someone that might be able to help her and turns out he’s right. From here they’ve already dropped a few hints that other people around him are also unnatural and so the rest of the series will probably consist of short arcs centering around these individuals while building the larger story.
I could have written this post up after the first episode because I knew with absolute certainty that Shaft/Shinbo smashed a grand slam with this one but I decided to wait for an indication of if Shaft would be unable to maintain the breathtaking animation of Bakemonogatari. So I waited three episodes and am now satisfied that Shaft won’t shaft us with falling animation quality. So let’s start my impressions with the animation.
If I had to try to quantify how great the animation is, a comparison comes to mind because of the current chatter in the blogosphere. Remember how awed you were when you watched Haruhi back in the spring of 2006; the animation of Bakemonogatari makes me feel like that but in comparison to today’s shows. Yes, some of it is because of Shinbo’s unique visual stylings but I’ve watched several of his shows so that part is hardly new. It feels almost like this is the first time Shaft was given enough money to do the animation and we’re finally seeing their fullest potential.
Animation alone wouldn’t push my anticipation level for this show as high as it is. For that, I need to be hooked by the story and/or characters and even at this early point I think Bakemonogatari has both. What we’ve seen so far of the story shows a interesting contrast between a normal school life type story and a more exotic (and serious) story involving humans becoming intertwined with the Japanese supernatural. I really liked how the supernatural part of the story was able to provide a unique angle towards a very non-supernatural act and it’s repercussions.
As for the characters, the two that appear to be the main characters (Araragi and Senjougahara) are very interesting and have a great chemistry together. How good became apparent with the third episode because it was essentially just the two of them talking in a park. It should have been yawn inducing but it wasn’t. The dialogue was intelligent, quick, and full of interesting moments; it really highlighted the true nature to the characters and gave some weight to them. (Ha ha I can write lousy puns as well.) One part I found particularly interesting from a language standpoint was a discussion of the characters that make up the word moe and the term that Senjougahara prefers which was translated as “fascination”. I’ve never really liked the word “moe” (which is why I almost never use it, in case anyone was wondering) since it feels redundant but I think “fascination” is a much better word. I still think the word “kink” might be the best word to use but “fascination” isn’t too bad.
If you permit me to go a little tangential now, thinking about this show and the current brouhaha surrounding the ever repeating Endless Eight of Haruhi, the thought came to me to wonder if Shaft had gotten to do Haruhi instead of KyoAni. Heresy I know but thinking about it, we have the characters Senjougahara and Araragi who are not that different from Haruhi and Kyon. The animation of Bakemonogatari awes like Haruhi did back in 2006. The story of both Bakemonogatari and Haruhi involve some comedy and some seriousness (more of the former for Haruhi and more of the later for Bakemonogatari). Also episode 3 shows that Shaft knows the power of dressing their characters in different outfits and wearing ponytails – another area that KyoAni has excelled at for many years. Then there’s the consideration that Shaft might have been already on the third or fourth season of Haruhi at this point instead of where we’re at now with KyoAni.
I almost forgot to mention the voice work. The few characters that I’ve heard so far have all been great. Araragi’s voice is the same guy, Hiroshi Kamiya,that does Mr. Despair from Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Natsume from Natsume Yuujin-chou. For Bakemonogatari he voices Araragi’s voice somewhere in the middle of those but when he gets excited he sounds a bit like Mr. Despair and when he’s really mellow he sounds a bit like Natsume. Certainly not a bad thing, since I gave Hiroshi Kamiya my best male vocal award last year for his portrayal of both characters.
So, if it sounds like I’m highly praising the show, I am. At this point in the season I think the show is one of the top shows and that pretty much everyone should give this show a chance. I’d even recommend it to people that find Shinbo’s other stuff hit-n-miss because of his unique visual style since in the case of Bakemonogatari, it’s still evident but it’s not quite as heavy handed as with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.