ANIME & MANGA - Review
09:00 - 14th August 2013, by David West

Bakemonogatari - Part 1

Koyomi Araragi used to be a vampire. But he's feeling more human again now, thanks to the help of an oddball expert on paranormal matters and spirits called Meme Oshino. Now Araragi goes out of his way to help other people afflicted by forces and agents beyond our mortal ken. He's nice like that.

Bakemonogatari is an unusual anime. The script uses a harem set-up for its basic construction, as Araragi meets a series of girls with bizarre problems that he helps to solve. The first of these is Hitagi Senjougahara, who fits the mould of the classic tsundere character to a tee. Her problem is that, weirdly, she lost her body weight to a disgruntled god, and now she only tips the scales at 5kg. She abuses, belittles and bullies Araragi, but falls for him just the same. Next up is Mayoi Hachikuji, a young girl who is permanently lost, followed by Sugura Kanbaru, the star of the school basketball team whose left hand has transformed into a monkey's paw.

The show is very dialogue intensive, and the vast bulk of each episode is devoted to lengthy scenes of people talking. The script is full of wordplay and puns, but unfortunately most of these defy translation into English, so unless you understand Japanese at a high level (there are numerous jokes about the characters used to spell people's names), most of these gags will sail on by without so much as ruffling your hair. Jokes that reference famous anime series like Fullmetal Alchemist and Dragon Ball should have more luck hitting the mark. Directors Tatsuya Oishi and Akiyuki Shinbo try to break up the monotony of these static dialogue exchanges using a variety of techniques, including flashing up title cards, and using abrupt cuts to live action footage and random cutaways. These are all fired out at a relentless pace - so fast, in fact, that the subtitles constantly struggle to keep up, and, as a subtitles-only release, you don't have the option to watch it in English. Most episodes begin with onscreen titles summarising what happened previously, but these zip by so fast they are impossible to read. This is clearly a deliberate choice, but it is not clear what it is supposed to accomplish besides alienating the viewer.

The design of the show is striking, with the constant use of everyday objects to clutter the frame with geometric shapes and shadows. Many times a dull, grey background will be vividly contrasted against a brightly coloured object in the foreground. In one brief fight scene, the blood that splatters around the screen is a different colour in every shot. These devices give the show a sense of visual impact, although none of them ever seem to actually reveal anything about the events onscreen. They are just used to break up the monotony of watching the characters sitting around making puns, and explaining everything to each other at considerable length. Plot twists are telegraphed well in advance and arrive too late to make the impact they were no doubt intended to make.

Araragi makes a pleasantly twisted harem protagonist - one not averse to fighting small girls - but the sheer weight of words constantly drags the pace down to a crawl. Bakemonogatari gets plus points for its unusual and distinctive visuals, but the intensity of the verbal barrage means this is a show best digested in small chunks, not all at once.
SCORE: 3/5
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