Bakemonogatari Season 1 (Anime TV series)
Review by Dennis D. McDonald
Mild mannered teenager Koyomi Araragi, recovering from a vampire bite but still imbued with great strength and healing powers, attempts to live a normal life while attending high school and cramming for his exams. As luck would have it, he keeps running into (or catching as they fall from the sky) different girls who have very different personalities or who are experiencing some kinds of spiritual or supernatural malady. Driven by his charitable nature Araragi tries to help each girl. Over 12 episodes he and the girls find themselves mixed up with sometimes bizarre and sometimes terrifying supernatural experiences.
At first I thought this was going to be just one more poorly animated Japanese high school harem anime. Then I saw online comments about the show’s unique visual style. More importantly, Shinbo Akiyuki (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) was listed as one of the directors. That show’s surreal story and style had impressed me. I decided to check out BAKEMONOGATARI.
I’m glad I did. If you can live with much talking, frequent departures to provide backstories, and repetitive but clever use of highly stylized animation, the shows weirdness, oddity, and charm shine through despite the storyline.
The characters are fairly standard designs but well animated with distinctive body language and facial features. There are few adults pictured in the series. I also don’t recall seeing any crowd scenes. This is a curiously underpopulated school and world these kids live in! Occasional fan service and nudity are more matter of fact than erotic; it's useful to remember, too, that the characters who appear in this show may not actually be as young as they appear.
There are vehicles on the streets but if you watch closely you’ll see that they are almost always the same; another animation money saver, I suppose.
It all adds to the charm and you quickly realize that these kids do not inhabit the real world either physically or metaphysically. Yet, despite their supernatural and ghostly stressors, the episodes are littered with standard high school situations including test cramming, rivalries, awkward love, sports, rules, after school clubs, bicycling, parents as chaperones, younger siblings, and the trauma of dealing with virginity.
I think a good case can be made that BAKEMONOGATARI is really an extended metaphor about the horrors of having to live through adolescence without the benefit of parental support or giant robot suits. Besides, what young man hasn’t fantasized about pretty girls with cute cat ears?
Review copyright © 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald