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Bakemonogatari Complete Series Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

12 min read

Solving the strange mysteries of a group of growing friends, in superior style.

What They Say:
Thanks to Meme Oshino, high school student Koyomi Araragi is able to remain a human after coming across a female vampire. However, since the incident Koyomi seems to meet girls who have apparition-related issues. Hitagi Senjyogahara doesn’t weigh anything, Suruga Kanbaru’s right arm becomes like that of a monkey’s, and a young girl, Mayoi, cannot find her way home no matter how many times she tries. Koyomi, a “Mr. Nice Guy,” ends up helping each and every girl solve her problem with the help of Meme Oshino.

Contains episodes 1-15 and a 36-page booklet featuring character designs.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is quite good for a stereo mix as it presents the original Japanese language using the PCM encoding. The dialogue here is what dominates the show to be sure as it comes hard and fast quite often with a lot of placement throughout. There’s some very minor action but the way the mix works is to handle the quick cuts, placement along the forward soundstage and to immerse you in it as best as it can. And it does it very, very well. The nature of the show is one where it has its quiet moments, but when it gets running with the fast paced dialogue and the way it shifts scenes so much, it’s impressive and comes across cleanly and beautifully here.

Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. With fifteen episodes to the set, it’s spread across six discs in varying configurations in order to keep the stories self contained, though the final five episodes are spread across two discs. It’s an unusual arrangement but one that in its own way does work. Shows animated by Shaft really require high definition transfers in order to shine and it does just that here, working the bit rate across the entire range in order to handle the fast cuts to new scenes, the stills and the strong, vibrant colors it chooses to employ. With a range if styles to be had, the transfer brings it all home in a really strong way with no loss of detail, solid colors and very fluid looking animation that stands out all the more because of the encoding. With so many detailed and interesting backgrounds, being able to soak them up when paused or enjoying them in motion is just all the better with what’s done here.

The packaging for this release is pretty good as we get a heavy chipboard box that holds all three single sized Blu-ray cases inside. The box uses some interesting and surprising shades of orange and pink to give it that sunset feeling but it works well overall. The front panel gives us the five main female characters from the series lined up together in their school uniforms while on the roof where we see some white shadowed birds flying around. The back panel gives us a shot of just Araragi sitting on the steps at the school with a large part of the building behind him. It brings in some of the same kind of sky background that helps to bring it all together very well.

When it comes to the Blu-ray cases, they’re really, really great pieces of artwork. The covers don’t use any text or logos on them and with each set holding two discs, the two main panels focus on the character artwork that reflects that particular disc. So we get a good selection of high quality artwork and backgrounds that really defines it well, the kind of artwork that you want to keep poring over. Each set also has artwork on the reverse side that focuses on a particular location that is again related to that particular disc and its story. It may not be pieces you want to reverse the cover with, but they’re good things to have behind the discs.

The set also includes a really enjoyable 30+ page full color booklet that gives each of the arcs two pages of exposition in English with artwork, two pages for each of the main characters with details and design artwork and several pages showing off all of the ending card illustrations. It may not be a truly deep booklet, but it has some good information and way of presenting the arcs and lots of artwork and character design material that I love just going over and savoring.

The menu design for the series is pretty good overall, though a little slow to load at first, as it phases in the character artwork for that particular story/disc against a soft white cloudy background with some gray to it. With the character artwork along the left having a vibrant feeling, the logo along the right brings some balance. The navigation is kept along the bottom where it tiers upwards as you make selections, though they’re all just a little too small and thin. The text is white on varied color backgrounds depending on the disc and it’s easy enough to read overall but could have used a little more definition. The navigation is easy to move though and the disc defaults to the Japanese language with dialogue only subtitles. It also has the option for dialogue+signs as well as the commentary track subtitles.

There are two layers to the extras here that will have varying value to viewers. They’re all spread across the six discs as we get the various clean opening and closings for the show as well as all the TV version endings and previews. I would have preferred them all in one place, but with the show spread across six discs it makes sense to tie them to where the episodes are. One of the more interesting extras to arrive in general in the last couple of years is on this set as each episode gets a “character commentary” in which the show is broken down with generally the lead character of that particular arc or episode and some supporting characters. It’s pretty cute and fun to watch/listen to since they can get a little snarky, but it’s generally fairly reverential in a way, coming across as how most of the press junket stuff does as it’ll mostly be praiseworthy of events, characters and situations. Still, it’s a fun little twist on the commentary side and is a welcome way to revisit the show after the fact.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the series of light novels by Nisio Isin that were illustrated by Vofan, Bakemonogatari is the first anime series adapted from the works. Clocking in at fifteen episodes, three of which were not broadcast, it’s brought to life through studio Shaft and director Akiyuki Shinbo. When it comes to the two main creators here, I’ve had very mixed results for a few years. With Isin, I really got into Katanagatari but I’ve been less than enthused about his Medaka Box manga series anime adaptation. Most of his works have not been brought over but there’s definitely a particular approach used. When it comes to Shinbo, it’s a far more diverse array of works that he’s directed, but you generally know what his approach is when he tackles a work. He’s grown a lot since his initial works, but the last decade has largely seen him doing the same kind of style applied to a range of properties. Some have worked for me, others have not.

With Bakemonogatari, he’s an ideally suited director because of that style. The show is spread across in multiple arcs that run varying lengths and each story arc gets its own disc here, though the final one is spread across two discs as they’re kind of subset arcs for each other. The central character of the show is a high school senior named Koyomi Araragi. He’s had an unusual bit of time recently as during spring break, prior to the series, he had an incident with a diminutive vampire girl named Shinobu that bit him, but did not turn him. In the time since, he’s lost some of the abilities that he had and is now down to more simple traits, such as quick healing and excellent vision. But you get the sense that these traits will eventually disappear overall as well, leaving him as a fairly normal guy. The other thing he still has is the ability to see and grapple with various apparitions and spirits that come into his life.

With Araragi as the lead, he ends up going through the arcs as the main central character that interacts with others, often bringing those he deals with along for the ride in varying degrees. The most interesting for me was the first one with Hitagi Senjyogahara, a fellow student who during the last Golden Week ended up losing all her weight, in that she looks the same but is incredibly light and has a hard time really doing normal things. She’s adapted and now Araragi is realizing that she’s had a run-in with an apparition of some sort and works to help her out. But she’s a complicated young woman with a past, both in the way she ended up this way and her family nature, that makes it an engaging viewing session because the dialogue is whip fast and smart as they play against each other while Araragi tries to figure out what happened and to get her to go with him to Oshino, a kind of modern day monk and spiritualist who knows how to deal with things like this. Araragi’s also got the secondary interest in her in that he really likes her a lot, but wants to make sure his help isn’t viewed as an ulterior motive angle, something that the two are aware of and turns into a great kind of banter and relationship over the course of the series. In fact, the date that the two go on towards the end of the set is nothing short of fascinating even if wholly unrealistic for how normal people act. But that’s part of the point.

As the show goes on, it brings in some rather predictable characters and situations overall, but it’s the execution that allows it to work. As we see the way the relationship is growing and being explored between Araragi and Senjyogahara, the stresses come out in how he deals with the other people he sees in straits. The first brings him into contact with an elementary aged kid who is lost named Mayoi. He’s the kind of guy that will help anyone and ends up drawn into what she’s going through, not realizing the twist which is actually quite well handled on two fronts. One is that Araragi doesn’t realize the trap himself, thinking it’s something that Mayoi is in, and the other is the way that Senjyogarhara deals with him when it comes to talking about the truth. It’s a little circumspect during the episode, but when all is revealed it comes across a lot tighter than I expected, though I wish it wasn’t another elementary school kid we had to deal with.

The same can be said for the Nadeko arc, in which there’s another younger character involved that everyone starts to deal with that has a spiritual snake issue. This follows another story that’s actually a bit interesting but angles the sports side a bit with the athletic Suruga, another student in the school that has a bit of a thing for Araragi but has been cursed with a Monkey’s Paw that has taken over her arm, ending her time on the basketball team for a bit. The general idea of the show is one that while we do get some of the standard aspects of a particular apparition playing out, the execution and twists to it are what counts. And Suruga’s story is decent, with how it involves Oshino as well and reveals more of the way that Araragi can be kind of oblivious. And Suruga makes for a decent addition to the cast overall as they deal with the further mysteries.

While I had some back and forth issues with some of the arcs, the binding elements held it all together well and made me want to see more explored. Where it became problematic though is in the final arc, which runs for five episodes and just felt like it dragged on too much (outside of the awesome date episode). It spends its time overall dealing with the story of the student council president, Hanekawa, a girl that Araragi has known for some time and someone that has a really big crush on him that’s pretty stressful. Which is what’s lead to her apparition issue that dominates the story since it’s a split personality of sorts with a catgirl. The two have a lot of back and forth and it’s drawn out just too far overall, but there are a number of very cute moments to it. And it’s also one that importantly draws us back to Araragi’s past with Shinobu to understand his whole vampiric past in a greater light.

With Shaft on the scene to provide the animation under Shinbo’s direction, the visual design of the show is a huge part of what makes it work. There are naturally all of his trademark signatures here with the quick cuts, the stills with text on it and lots and lots of heavy text pieces that flash by that make you glad you can freeze frame easily and clearly, though you may give up on it after awhile and just accept that you’re not going to get every detail there is. The backgrounds are stark and striking, bringing in some truly beautiful visuals and layouts and the character animation is incredibly fluid and appealing, especially with the color choices made at times. I had little doubt as to how great this would look knowing who was involved and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

In Summary:
Bakemonogatari gets a lot of praise for obvious reasons and it’s praise that it definitely does deserve. Watching the show over two days in a couple of sessions, it’s definitely one that I think works best when watched in arcs rather than in full or even weekly as it was originally broadcast. The series takes some traditional stories and breathes some engaging and fascinating life into them because of the characters and approach used as well as the range of visual designs taken with it. I’m not a huge fan of either of the main creative forces behind the series and its original work but I definitely appreciate what they bring to the table and certainly recognize how well done it is here. I was hesitant going into this set because of the past (and present) works, but the end result here is solid and has me looking forward to more, though the caveats will still apply. The series is put together beautifully here and should make any fan of it hugely proud to have it on their shelf.

Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Audio Commentary (subtitled), Textless Openings and Endings, TV Version Previews, Promotional Video

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 20th, 2012
MSRP: $189.98
Running Time: 357 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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