Home > Check-out Station > Check-out Station: Bakemonogatari (It was never really a harem. He’s just an awesome guy.)

Check-out Station: Bakemonogatari (It was never really a harem. He’s just an awesome guy.)

Everyone has problems.  Everyone has stress.  Everyone has a weight they have to carry with them wherever they go, whatever they do.  It reminds me very much of a scene from the movie Up in the Air where the lead character gives a seminar on life and his philosophy towards it.  Basically, it boils down to freeing your mind and traveling light.  It’s not that easy for most of us though.  If it was, the world would be a happier place.  Now imagine all that weight, all that stress, all those problems and attach an apparition to them.  Something that feeds on what ails you.  Do that and you generally get an idea of the problems addressed in Bakemonogatari.

A human’s weakness feeding an insecurity, in turn feeding a monster.  That’s my lovely Bakemonogatari.  I say my, because anyone who loves something generally lays claim to it some way, some how.  This show went from an intriguing, beautiful, wordy anomaly in the anime landscape to a true classic in my heart and in the anime world.  And it turned out to be a much longer journey than I ever suspected.  Still, it was worth the wait.  There was just so much for me to love about this show.  The characters, their relationships and that unique direction and atmosphere that this show pulled off so wonderfully.

A case can be made for this show being a harem.  It does focus on one guy interacting with a bunch of women/girls.  Koyomi Araragi is the male of this “harem” with which the show revolves, the only other male of any note is Meme Oshino and a brief interaction with Senjougahara’s father.  Araragi is a sort of half breed vampire with a strange personality, strange perverted thought processes and decisions based on them and most importantly a strange need to play to the hero.  A strange need to help, to save, to be sacrificed no matter the cost.  One of the more memorable bits of dialogue I heard from him was when he said he cared more about the state of his indebtedness to a character than their friendship.  It can come across as admirable, or more likely cold-hearted and foolish.  Despite his quirks he was still one of the more normal characters in the series, so this aloud the audience to relate to him and still see their own reflection in him despite some of his less desirable traits.

And those desirable traits are ostensibly judged by the females of this series.  Each given their own arc, unique personality and apparition.  There is first of all the beautiful and intimidating Hitagi Senjougahara.  The fact that I can easily type her last name is a sign that I’ve spent much time admiring her character.  I found it somewhat ironic that this fiery, often intimidating, often dangerous girl is initially labeled as the weak, quiet, sickly girl in the first episode.  We soon learn otherwise, and despite her abrasive personality and sharp, cold words (often just plain insults) she soon grew on me as and endearing character.  I loved the duality she exhibited by allowing the world to view her as sickly to keep her secret, but then openly branding herself as a tsundere to the one she loved.  My open love of strong female characters, her strangely appealing, teasing, damaged personality and her strong, beautiful, piercing character design all com together to make her an intoxicating character to watch.  Even looking at some of her screenshots and profile pictures can be intimidating.  By the end of the show, it’s clear that she is the best example of a woman in the series.  Flawed, fragile, traumatized, but still gorgeous and ferocious.  If you get a woman with her qualities you are a lucky man with a lot of work ahead of you.

Then there’s the two young loli/or grade school characters, Mayoi Hachikuji and Nadeko Sengoku.  Mayoi being a rather outgoing personality, and Nadeko being a very introverted girl.  They both seemed to be a bit fetishized in the series, which made me a bit uncomfortable.  Mayoi also reminded me a bit of my five year old daughter with her tendency to bite, that also made it a bit more uncomfortable.  Araragi’s tendencies to grope her didn’t help matters either.  And the whole snake situation also seemed to have slight erotic undertones as well.  Then again both of these girls were somewhat flirty with Araragi as it was anyway.  Their arcs were fluff or pointless though.  Mayoi’s arc was both sad and wonderfully satisfying by its conclusion.  While Nadeko’s arc felt like a clever way to focus on the overlying problem of Araragi’s lack of respect for his own safety.  And an added bonus point for Mayoi for that wonderful running joke of her’s with Araragi and his name.

Now I come to the very unique Suruga Kanbaru.  Let’s just say her apparition was one of the scarier ones.  This time Araragi’s not the person of interest, he’s in the way.  And you did not want to her apparition’s target.  I found her character to be a pretty fun one.  She had a lovable boyish charm that showed her and Araragi could be friends.  I loved her arc for the intensity it brought.  And I have small soft spot for lesbian characters.  Ha!  SPOILER!

I suppose of all the characters in this show, Tsubasa Hanekawa was the one that gave him the most trouble.  Who would have thought the character he had been confiding in through the whole series would turnout to be a ticking time bomb?  I have to say I’m rarely enamored with catgirls, but the cat spirit that possessed her was one of the most entertaining characters in the series.  It was an interesting thing to see this typical goody-goody class rep character take on this free and wild personality.  She’s no Senjougahara, but I couldn’t help but enjoy her very presence on screen.  The Tsubasa Cat arc also ended with some rather intense, introspective dialogue and scenes that I’m sure I’ll remember for awhile.

Though all these characters come together in some form or another because of Araragi, but I hardly find this series to be a harem.  The characters are anything but subservient to Araragi, and generally they don’t even listen to him.  I think Araragi and his relationships come down to a series of bonds formed due to his caring and sense of duty towards them.  Through most of the show up until the end, it’s clear that the relationship between Araragi and Senjougahara is the only one that is remotely romantic.  It would be nice to find a harem that I actually like, but Bakemonogatari doesn’t count.

The other aspect of the show I found myself in love with was just the presentation and atmosphere of the whole production.  Being a fan of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and its sequels, I was already familiar with SHAFT and the director, Akiyuki Shinbou’s style and tendencies.  But for some reason it worked exquisitely well in Bakemonogatari.  The strange, numbered or named cuts, symbolism and deliberate pacing all worked well for a series that was always looking deep into its characters.  It was always giving you hints into what the characters actually thought or were thinking or feeling.  The characters don’t always tell the truth, and its nice and also helpful that a little bit of storyboard is given to help guide you along.

Adding to the atmosphere of the show were its beautiful production values.  The use of color was bold and very artistic.  The scenes that took place at the playground always stood out to me for their use of almost all white in the area, with various poles, and structures with these vibrant colors standing out and framing or decorating the scene.  Often scenes in this series looked like art, or should I say a well crafted painting.  I can’t think of a higher compliment for a studio’s animation.  It never felt like they were being cheap anywhere or cutting corners.  Everything was amazingly consistent throughout.  That’s a big deal even in this modern age of computerized animation.  And possibly my biggest endorsement of the show’s animation is Senjougahara herself.  I have to say that she is one of the most beautiful characters I’ve ever seen in animation.

The music is also a personal favorite of mine.  The opening and ending themes are all different depending on the arc.  Sometimes they vary subtley, sometimes they are a rather drastic departure from anything else in the series.  The soundtrack itself is also full of easy listening and memorable music.  All of it incredibl appropriate and consistent with the feel of the show.  To this day, I still play songs from the soundtrack when I write or read or just to relax.

In the end, I fell in love with this show for its characters and its ability to make me look harder at them and the world that surrounds them.  The same applies to how I choose to look at real life.  Look at the surface, then look for the nuances and see if you can find something deeper.  Sometimes when you look you find something bad, but if you look deeper there’s a chance you’ll find something spectacular.  This show shows you the ugly, then brushes it off and shows you a diamond.  It’s the pattern you’ll see in every arc of this show.  And the way I choose to remember this masterpiece.  Farewell Bakemonogatari, it has been one hell of relationship.  Should we not meet again, I’ll remember you fondly.

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