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A Review of (less than half) of Monogatari: Bakemonogatari to Kabukimonogatari

20 min read
Join us on a journey through the world of Monogatari

Prelude (Beginningmonogatari)
I started this review piece thinking it’d be this epic about the entire Monogatari series, watched piece by piece and writing a few paragraphs after each arc. I hadn’t watched anything except Bakemonogatari at the time of starting this, but I stalled out eventually, for reasons not remembered by me.

I still like Monogatari a lot, and I love the visual styles of Akiyuki Shinbo and SHAFT, but it never felt like something I would want to go back and revisit. And if I do, well I just sold all my BDs on eBay for a pretty good sum on money, and it didn’t even include the entire series, so I guess I’ll just live with never having finished it.

I do have Vertical’s Kizumonogatari books, and I think I’ll visit those at some point. But my infatuation with the series has waned with time, and it didn’t really stick with me, despite remembering being enthusiastic about it as Bakemonogatari came up on Crunchyroll way back when.

But anyway, here’s a capture in time in which I watched a lot of the Monogatari (through Mayoi Jiangshi, or Kabukimonogatari) over the course of like two years…almost six years ago.

Hitagi Crab (Bakemonogatari 1)
I was looking away from the screen for the first few seconds of Bakemonogatari and I basically missed everything. SHAFT’s style is evident from the first few frames, as the anime quickly skips between cards with way too much text on them, a tactic that’ll be employed through the rest of Bakemonogatari at the very least. It flashbacks to when Araragi was still a vampire and dealing with Shinobu, hardly introduced at this point.

This is obviously a great place to start the story proper, since it’s where the anime starts even though it is in medias res. Araragi is shrouded in some mystery with formerly being a vampire (but how? And how did he change back to a human?) and the familiarity between Hanekawa and Araragi will be revealed in later episodes (likely Tsubasa Cat). While still meeting new characters in each arc, we’re allowed to build upon existing relationships.

The shining moments of Hitagi Crab are all on Senjyogahara, who steals the show with her fast-paced dialogue and wit. She’s also been through some shit. It’s the weight she carries—or rather the crab does. She, like so many others in life, merely wanted a reprieve from the sorrows that weight on her shoulders. The crab, a god, was doing a favor for the humans that it watches over. It takes Senjyogahara’s memories of her mother away and, with it, her own weight. She goes from 45 kg to 5 g. The god took both her literal and figurative weight away from her. It was the cruelty that only a god without human emotions could do.

The tangibility of her loss makes it all the more evident that she needed it back, perhaps a kind act on the part of the god—a lesson instead of a favor, a lesson that we must carry the weight of our own past on ourselves.

Mayoi Maimai (Bakemonogatari 2)
An interesting follow up to an intriguing first two episodes, Mayoi Maimai focuses on elementary school kid Hachikuji Mayoi who’s just trying to get home. She’s trapped in a loop that makes her unable to leave a certain radius, and she’s taken Araragi with her.

There’s a lot of fun little directorial and script-y things going on. I like how Tomoyuki Itamura / Toshinobu Tokumoto / Yoshito Mikamo (the directors for these episodes) and Nobuyuki Takeuchi (the storyboarder for not only these episodes, but the previous Hitagi Crab episodes) do these really quick cuts between just mundane things happening, especially when involving the insert cards. One of them just said “sobbing” on it with Mayoi crying in the background of it. The shot panned up on her face to finally see her crying face. That’s just a stylistic thing that I can’t help but be like, “Why do this?? But it’s kind of really cool…” Shots like cutting to Senjyogahara’s butt to watch her sit down for literally less than a second is probably unnecessary, but the kind of stylistic voyeurism that makes Monogatari Monogatari. I feel like they went all out with this episode even though the SHAFT head tilts were all over Hitagi Crab. The faces especially, of both Araragi and Hachikuji, were wild. They were reminiscent of old anime styles, like they were joking as if they’d known each other since those anime came out.

There was one thing in particular that I loved: Mayoi has a tendency to mess up Araragi’s name, calling him Arararagi and then Ararararagi. It’s paralleling with the story that’s going on at hand. She’s repeating herself, intentionally or unintentionally, just like the loop she’s trapped in.

It’s the continued interplay between all the characters that makes Bakemonogatari so compelling. Araragi is the guy that helped Senjyogahara when so many others ignored her. He’s the guy that helped Hachikuji just because she needed it. He’s also the guy that beat up on an elementary school student and then laughed about it. He can’t help but help people, but he can also get frustrated easily. Their personality types just didn’t meld yet they’re friends anyway at the end.

It continued the relationship between Araragi and Senjyogahara as well. They express love in a weird way, more verbally “fighting” each other than in a more traditional, say shojo, way. They pit wit against wit in a battle that’ll be never ending, but that’s what keeps each other on their toes. When it gets down to saying “I love you”, they can’t even do it normally. Senjyogahara says it in English and Araragi responds “I hope it catches on again. … Senjyogahara wonder.” They’re a weird couple.

Suruga Monkey (Bakemonogatari 3)
I didn’t notice it in the first go-around since I was focused on the character introductions, but this is a story that is always about Araragi and Senjyogahara. The first story brought them together, the second story had them fall in love, and this third story reveals ever more. The straightforward, yet convoluted, personality of Senjyogahara and the too kind and sometimes conniving nature of Araragi. After the promise he told her to make, he was the first to break it.

Hachikuji and Kanbaru Suruga (voiced by the wonderful Miyuki Sawashiro) have sort of represented an aspect of Araragi and Senjyogahara’s relationship while still being their own characters, Kanbaru moreso than Hachikuji. Hachikuji was their purity and Kanbaru their secrets, from each other and representative in her own arc from herself. My memory of Nadeko Snake is sketchy and, as I said, I have not yet been able to delve into Tsubasa Cat. So perhaps I am looking too far into symbolism in a story where style is paramount.

But with each character, Araragi and Senjyogahara grow closer to each other. They realize that their—at least from each other’s perspectives—perfect relationship will not last. Their idealized promise to each other will be broken more than once and the state of Araragi is probably what contributed to Senjyogahara’s quick forgiveness of him. They slowly become realists of each other, falling more and more in love like only high schoolers can.

None of these girls get a break though, do they? Senjyogahara’s mom got mad at her daughter because she wouldn’t allow herself, then 13, to be raped. Hachikuji is not only dead, but died because she was run over by a car trying to find her mother whose appearance she forgot. And now Kanbaru who’s so good natured but can’t admit to herself that she actually wants to beat the ever loving shit out of those she hates. Araragi and Kanbaru arrive in her room, full of books strewn everywhere—a representative state of herself—and Araragi immediately asks her if he can organize them. The scene is a few seconds, but they play in the books. He not only calms her demeanor, despite wanting him dead, she has a good time with him. As her story goes on, the books become more and more strewn as they were when they entered. Her mental state shown directly in the organizational state of the books. Shinbo, why you doing this to me?

The resolution is beautiful. Being beaten within an inch of his expedited healing life, Araragi is thrown from one end of the room to the other. His first lie to Senjyogahara that Oshino is kind enough to help rectify. Kanbaru is the one that attacked him and he was indeed not stuck by whatever he said. He protected her to what ends? Because he’s too kind, even to the girls that clearly are jealous of him and that make his girlfriend jealous. Because it’s the “right” thing to do. But the resolution lies in Kanbaru’s feelings and with Senjyogahara. From elementary school to basketball and her first junior high love, it welled up inside of her, boiling at Senjyogahara. The outright denial, fingers intertwined with each other’s (“I’m in love with you, Senjyogahara-senpai.” “Oh? I’m not really in love with you.”) puts an end to the feelings inside of her. She’s allowed to accept herself rather than vent to Araragi or whoever else. She’s accepted herself for the sporty lesbian she is.

Bakemonogatari
Bakemonogatari

Nadeko Snake (Bakemonogatari 4)
When you lay a curse, you dig two graves, one for the person on whom the curse is laid and one for the person who laid the curse. Araragi’s kind heartedness finally caught up with him and, even though he was able to save one, he damned another.

It was inevitable that something would eventually go wrong in Araragi’s quest to save everyone he sees ever. He saved Senjyogahara with difficulty, Hachikuji with relative ease, Kanbaru with help, and Sengoku but at a price. With a smiling face that would melt the hearts of onii-chans everywhere, Sengoku says thank you. Thank you to the man that saved her life. Thank you to the man who was trying to save the lives of those who cursed her. To Araragi, that hurts more than anything else.

This arc was a little (a lot) weird because it was fanservice at its peak, at least since Senjyogahara walked out naked from her shower. Sengoku is first met running down the stairs then at a bookstore, but basically the next scene is her in bloomers covering her boobs. She asks if Araragi is having any dirty thoughts and he denies it then says “Maybe one or two.” Kanbaru appeals to his aesthetic by dressed her in a school swimsuit. There’s fanservice all over the place and it’s not made up for with a great story. Nadeko Snake is easily the weakest thus far, only rivaled by Mayoi Maimai in my head. The arc is about a girl who turned down a boy and then the girl’s friend and the boy both curse her because 1. The girl’s friend had a crush on that boy and 2. Because she turned down the boy’s advances. It’s literally “She’s too cute, let’s get rid of her.”

The opening and performance from Kana Hanazawa were pretty top notch though. If it weren’t for Miyuki Sawashiro, it might be best opening. Even then, it might be anyway because the adorable rapping.

Tsubasa Cat Parts One and Two (Bakemonogatari 5)
I intentionally separated the first two parts and the final three into two different segments for the purposes of this piece because of how the show itself was structured. Bakemonogatari the television series ended at Tsubasa Cat Part Two, an ample part to end at but hardly an end to the Tsubasa Cat story. It continued, then, in three separate ONA episodes, Parts Three, Four, and Five. These episodes were never on Crunchyroll, so starting at Part Three, I’m in new territory.

Part One is the beginning of the Tsubasa Cat story in proper and finally showcases the girl that’s always been around, Hanekawa Tsubasa. It seems that Araragi and her have known each other for quite some time and it all went down during Golden Week, April 29 through May 7 in Japan—about a month prior to the events of Tsubasa Cat Part Two. She was consumed by keeping her thoughts to herself and the cat, sawari neko, releases that stress for her. The so-called end of the arc is simply Shinobu, not yet known as Shinobu, saps the built up energy from Hanekawa and they call it an episode.

Without having seen the final parts, Part One is kind of a horrifying tale. Like the rest of the stories in Bakemonogatari, the girls are going through some terrible things. Her step father apparently beats her and she shrugs it off. “Well, if a girl you barely knew acted as if she was above you and you were in the right mood, wouldn’t that be your reaction too?” she says in about as many words. Araragi, thankfully, says that’s ridiculous, but she makes him promise not to tell anyone. That’s the start of it. What’s one time, she thinks. Then what’s two times, what’s three times, what’s the 47th time… On top of that, she’s acting the perfect student so as to not cause trouble for her family, the family who tried to put her up for adoption. She owes these people nothing and it’s sad her personality—a loving, caring, nurturing, wants-to-be-accepted, can’t-say-no, personality—won’t let her just leave. At least until high school ends.

Part Two is an intermission, so to speak, and it concludes the Bakemonogatari television series beautifully. It’s a quiet episode that has no fights, no animation showcase…just two lovers together talking about being in love in the only way Senjyogahara and Araragi can. It has everything that made me fall in love with Bakemonogatari, the quick wit and the characters to carry it. In the previous episode, Bakemonogatari literally made exposition the joke and this is the same kind of quick wit that is absolutely fun to watch.

The characters of Araragi and Senjyogahara are at their full play here. Senjyogahara bullies / toys with Araragi while in the car with her father, saying things like “Oh, dad, Araragi seems to be calling you for something.” when he just says Senjyogahara instead of Hitagi. The exchange is one to be watched, not to be described. But when they finally begin their date, it’s beautiful. She lays out everything that she can give to Araragi and says that that’s everything in the world she can give right now.

She was almost raped by a cult leader her mother brought into the house. She’s terrified of Araragi touching her in that way. She’s terrified of the very thought. But in time, maybe she won’t be. She’s given everything she can for now, but maybe there’s more to give. Oh, and a kiss as well.

It’s hard to even describe the events, but it’s a perfect summation of Bakemonogatari. Its two main characters laying on a blanket underneath the stars, battling back and forth with their words, but caressing each other with the few they aren’t attacking with. It is Bakemonogatari at its best.

Tsubasa Cat Parts Three, Four, and Five (Bakemonogatari 6)
Things lost are not easily found. Sometimes, when you do find them, they’re still forever out of reach. Such is the case for Hanekawa Tsubasa, a woman in love who waited too long for an inevitability she never thought would arise.

These episodes showed the depths and depravities of love, but also its beauties and dedications. For the one you love, you’re willing to kill and you feel lost without them in your life the way you truly want. But you’re also willing to live against all odds, live when you’d prefer to die and live for that one whom you hold so dear.

The very fact that these feelings are represented through an alternate ego is almost too on-the-nose, but Bakemonogatari does it oh so well. Sawari neko is literally the embodiment of Hanekawa’s feelings. She’s the self that most of us are never able to fully embrace and show, perhaps even to the one we love the most. She’s the one that’s willing to say everything when Hanekawa herself never could, and doesn’t even know she said.

Tsubasa Cat is an interesting story because, while all the others have been about getting over a hump in our lives (Senjyogahara started to trust other people, Hachikuji accepted loss at her tender young age, Kanbaru saw that there is not just her and the ones she loves, Sengoku became a little less full of herself despite not really knowing this), Tsubasa Cat is about getting over something we may never be able to fully. It’s about repressing these feelings until its ok to feel them again. I’m guessing it’s no accident that the next story after Nisemonogatari is again about Hanekawa. She’s the one that was left unresolved. And she’s the one that deserves closure.

Karen Bee (Nisemonogatari 1)
The full introduction of the Araragi sisters, the Fire Sisters of Tsuganoki Junior High, and it’s about as disappointing as everyone has made it out to be. Still with the quick wit that made Bakemonogatari so enticing, but without the stories that made it so compelling, Nisemonogatari’s first seven-episode marathon of an arc left me flat. There’s a variety of reasons.

The arc itself revolves around a con man named Kaiki Deishuu and the curse he’s inflicted upon Karen, Araragi’s big little sister. It’s a wreathe-fire bee, which gives her a fever for three days. The mythology is seemingly there, the problem just as urgent as it’s always been, but focus is missing. Airing a long year and a half after the end of the Bakemonogatari ONAs, a lot of time is spent reintroducing Hachikuji, Sengoku, and Kanbaru. Their bits are fine, but full of fanservice and ultimately pointless. I don’t know what they were trying to do with the episodes, but they could have been removed and the arc better for it. In truth, Karen Bee could probably be a good two or three-episode arc.

Given that this is an arc named after Karen, she takes a backstage for a large portion because of these reintroductions. Hints are dropped in the first few episodes of the arc, but focus is turned to everyone and everything else. Instead of learning about these events through Karen, Tsukihi, or Hanekawa as should have happened, the impetus is introduced through Sengoku…and a game of twister.

The biggest problem is, like Tsubasa Cat, Karen didn’t seem to grow from the experience. The worse-er part is that, unlike Tsubasa Cat, Karen was conscious throughout most of the events. The big confrontation was between Araragi and Karen was excellent, but it’s a standout moment in seven episodes of mediocrity.

Tsukihi Phoenix (Nisemonogatari 2)
And so ends the dreaded Nisemonogatari and I hear I get to go back into actual good stories from here on out with maybe the exception of Mayoi Jiangshi? It has Hachikuji as the titular character of the arc, so I’m already skeptical.

I didn’t expect much from Nise in general to begin with because of all the moaning and groaning it’s gotten. Surely, episode eight did not disappoint. Not only is this perhaps the worst opening of a series full of really good openings, but it’s also full of weird fanservice. Like…the weirdest kind. Herein lies the infamous toothbrush scene between Araragi and his big little sister Karen (he means big; she’s actually taller than him). The shots are usually only of Araragi (the dominant) or Karen (the subdued) alone and without the toothbrush. It brings in the inherently sexual nature of what they’re doing instead of pointing out how WEIRD it is for someone to be brushing someone else’s teeth. Trips to the dentist will never be the same.

The arc itself is supposed to deal with Tsukihi. As with Karen Bee, precious little time is spent with Tsukihi on screen. More is revealed about Oshino and Kaiki than it is about Tsukihi the character. What is revealed is more her relation with Araragi, how Araragi views her, and the strange nature of her birth (spoilers: she’s a phoenix—harmless, when all is said and done). One underlying fact remains true: Araragi will do everything he can and more for those he not just loves, but knows.

It only runs for four episodes, but it takes until the end of the second to actually get into what this arc might be about. Nisemonogatari, ultimately, could have been achieved with less than half its running time to achieve the same ends—about two episodes each, perhaps three for Karen Bee. I’m left lukewarm on Nisemonogatari after being so high on Bakemonogatari and it’s only the praise the series has received from here on out that still gets me excited to watch.

Tsubasa Family (Nekomonogatari (Black))
Two girls, similar situations, completely different outcomes. We’re introduced to Monogatari as a whole through Senjyogahara and her unique problem regarding a crab god (but let’s be honest here…they all have unique problems). Both of them tried to keep it all to themselves and both of their “stresses,” so to speak, were relieved by an outside force (the crab god and the cat apparition).

It’s the outcomes that differ. Senjyogahara is a strong-willed woman not willing to rely on anyone else to help her. Hanekawa is someone who’s never had a willing shoulder to lean on, but wants desperately to have one. Senjyogahara had nowhere else to turn, so she was forced to ask for help. Hanekawa was resisting help all she could, by way of the sawari neko.

This arc puts into perspective something horrifying: Hanekawa’s parents might not be in the wrong. Oshino is only looking at it through the most objective lens possible and he says that two terrible people just trying to raise a daughter of their own; a daughter who looks back upon them with the most innocent of eyes. She says, after being struck down, that you’re not supposed to hit your daughter. She has no anger in her voice and no wavering in her tone. Just cold fact.

This also puts Araragi in one of the brightest lights yet. He’s shown as a selfless man that will do anything for these people he meets, who all happen to be girls. This, in front of perhaps his first crush, is his most selfless yet. He goes out of his way to help Senjyogahara, he’s willing to waste a day with Hachikuji, he almost dies at the hands of Kanbaru, he damns another for the sake of Sengoku, and he scrambles to find even more help for Hanekawa—which is not even mentioning his sisters in the story thus far. This time, he’s cut in half to save Hanekawa; the dramatic irony in it all being that the audience knows that if he’d followed his whims and gone out with her, the stress would be relieved. But it is not Hanekawa that Araragi loves, nor will it ever be. And thems the rubs.

Tsubasa Tiger (Nekomonogatari (White))
I’m back on the Monogatari train! From your perspective, the reader’s, I’ve been gone exactly 12 seconds. But from my perspective, I haven’t watched Monogatari in three months.

Tsubasa Tiger is the continuation of Hanekawa’s arc, and largely its completion. It’s a strange arc in that Araragi is barely in it at all. Instead, fittingly, the central character becomes Hanekawa. She becomes the Araragi, solving the mystery behind the Kako. Without Oshino or Kaiki providing help or prodding along the way, new characters are instead introduced. Episode and Izuko Gaen (for now, the former is known to know Hanekawa in the past and the latter is connected to Kaiki and perhaps Kanbaru).

This arc brings everything in Hanekawa’s life to the front. She was never accepted into her family because she was never truly theirs. Conversely, they were never really her parents. No one could accept anyone because they all just ended up with each other. As she says, this is just the man and woman she refers to as father and mother.

Hanekawa’s entire arc is one of acceptance. From her birth, she was never really accepted as a person, so why should she have to accept herself? The entire existence of Black Hanekawa is that acceptance. Black Hanekawa is everything she wants to let out. Her “stress,” but truly, her self. The end of the arc is her hair mixing the black of her own and the white of Black Hanekawa’s; it is finally accepting herself—her full self—as part of her. She never remembers Black Hanekawa’s actions because she doesn’t want to know about her own vices. But finally, she will because that is her now. She is Black Hanekawa and Black Hanekawa is her.

She still dyes her hair fully black, but that’s more convenience than anything else. And she asks for her own room after sleeping in the hallway prior to—likely not because her parents are cruel, but because she could not accept that kind of kindness from them. Now she can. Because she is Hanekawa Tsubasa. No black, no white, just Hanekawa.

Mayoi Jiangshi (Kabukimonogatari)
A character so annoying, yet so pivotal to the plot, takes the stage in this weird story of time travel and alternate universes. Hachikuji Mayoi, in every little way, can change the world in the biggest ways. Because she and Araragi are able to be silly together and to talk about things that he would talk about with no one else and happen upon her in the most random times when he would see no one else.

This arc was about Hachikuji, but she appears for probably a whole 10 minutes in the entire four episodes. The arc was a lot about how she affects everything and a lot about Araragi and Shinobu’s relationship. Shinobu, for probably decades or centuries, has only wanted someone she could latch onto like she has to Araragi. When they first go to the past, they walk around, her wrapped around the front of his body. At first I thought this was because she was lazy or to be moe, but there’s a reason. This is unknown territory and the only thing she doesn’t want happen is to be separated from Araragi.

This is the linchpin for the story. Everything that happened was because of Araragi’s relationship to Shinobu. Her trust of him, her relative distrust of everything, her inability or unwillingness to open up…if even one of these were slightly in the other direction, the world likely wouldn’t have ended. But for Araragi, the only thing that matters is Hachikuji is alive and he can make the world better.

It’s always for a girl. And this one—the one that just missed her mom, the one that couldn’t even remember her mom, the one that died trying to go back to her mom—deserved, in at least one universe, to be happy.

In summary (Endmonogatari)
I did re-read these reviews to see if I needed to fix anything or rewrite this and that about my reviews before I submitted it, but I will admit to have not watched Monogatari in these preceding six-ish years. My memories of some of these stories is nonexistent (but the songs are still bangers, and I do remember that), but after reading the word again, I think my love for the series remains.

Monogatari is a very long epic of a story about Araragi and Senjyogahara, and the buds that surround them. The fantastical problems that they’re going through, and how best they can solve them. On its face, it’s a fascinating epic featuring smaller stories that bring together a whole. Truly the way television should be created, appreciated, and watched: In these little bursts of story that work toward a larger goal.

I’m kind of sad I petered out and never finished Monogatari. But Monogatari, like really all entertainment media nowadays because of a tragically short shelf life for it all, just feels like it was a moment in anime fandom that was able to stick around for so long because it was so long. I think I do want to finish it one day, but…it probably won’t be anytime soon that I do. I’ll always remember the visuals.

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