I really, really meant to review Bakemonogatari way back when it aired, since the show seemed to captivate the anisphere. Here’s the thing: I was never quite sure what I watched. To me, the show was overly complex when it didn’t need to be, a continual tease, and only “intelligent” in the way two teenagers up late talking about life can be. But I held my tongue. I could never form a set of arguments that satisfied me. Nisemonogatari, on the other hand, I understand and was prepared for. This time, I get it, because if the prequel was everything people said of it, the Spring 2012 show is definitely worse.
Nisemonogatari’s TV run picks up shortly after the end of its prequel series and sees Koyomi Araragi spending time shirking his studies and visiting his various friends. While the anime starts off touching base with its characters and serving up the meandering conversations for which Bakemonogatari gets so much praise, eventually a pair of incidents surrounding Araragi’s “Fire Sisters” become the show a semblance of a plot.
Sadly, Shinbo gets in the way more in this season than the last. He turns the fanservice meter up to to eleven, exchanging the clever banter for lovingly crafted shots of his underage beauties. Sure, the first season had its awkward moments of lingering on jailbait, but this time, we spend significant portions of the plot watching Araragi oggle, fondle, and play twister with teenage girls with very little story-related payoff. The infamous toothbrush scene--during which Koyomi and Karen play a punishment game in pretty explicit imitation of a sex act--in particular drags on for an uncomfortable amount of time and doesn’t do much more than provide cognitive dissonance with Araragi’s later explanations of filial relationships.
In contrast to the scattered storytelling bringing down the anime, the visuals deliver precisely what the audience has come to expect from Shinbo at the top of his game. While the direction remains avant garde at times, the animations ensure that the characters and settings appear as lovingly rendered as possible, and the juxtaposition works. The constant cuts work better in the more intimate setting of this series and either work to intensify the action (the few times when it does come up) or create an almost tactile understanding of a scene in his viewers (see: the pencil or toothbrush scenes).
The character designs help Shinbo in his quest to provide the best visual experience. Each character can flow between eerie, moe, and attractive almost at will without damaging the coherence of a scene, and again the disjointed direction helps ease the transition between the silly and the serious. The mercurial and flexible portrayals work best with Koyomi, Kanbaru, and Kagenui who work hard at hiding multiple sides to their personalities and identities. But it also helps to add surprising depth to Hachikuji whom the script treats strangely.
For all that Renai Circulation should still be banging around in some of your heads, Platinum Disco manages to raise the bar. Its combination of traditional sounds, upbeat vocals, and a pop baseline makes it one of the best offerings of the year.
Once again, Hiroshi Kamiya gives us a super-plastic Araragi who really saves the show. Since he’s in just about every scene and spends a good portion of the time wandering all over the emotional spectrum, this performance determines whether the narrative holds together at all. That he succeeds frees the rest of the cast to stick to caricature. Of these, my personal favorites are Maaya Sakamoto’s Shinobu, Emiri Katou as Hachikuji, and the delightfully petulant Tsuhiki played by Yuka Iguchi, although my preference for those characters clouds my judgement. Fans of aloof tsundere should still find Chiwa Saito’s Senjogahara easy on the ears and the newcomers playing Kagenui and her familiar provide excellent ‘otherness’ so needed for the roles.
Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari play with the shifting space between characters as tropes or ideas and characters as interesting, layered personalities. The earlier show’s meatier conversations create a wide-open space for exploring each characters’ quirks as he or she (mostly she) banters with Araragi. Here, however, something seems off. Araragi spends too much of his time alone in the first half of the show or beating around the bush as the first conflict winds up. Moreover, Suruga and Nadeko, who had displayed their personal conflicts and quirks prominently before, flatten into their single defining traits for their brief appearances which feels disappointing after their humorous arcs in the first season.
Even so, some characters shine through the odd direction choices. First and foremost, Hitagi’s moments near the end of the Karen Bee arc show a vulnerability and depth of emotion to her that works well at complementing the sensitivity shown near the end of the first season. Retreading her weakness provides some much-needed cracks in her cool tsundere. Shinobu gets a similar treatment that has her bounding between violent legendary vampire and lonely little girl. Isin binds the two personalities together using her condescension as glue, which allows her to be aloof, ironic, and earnestly concerned about Araragi without stretching the limits of her characterization.
Its prequel straddles the line between self-importance and brilliance. Nisemonogatari, however, distorts the formula sufficiently to lose some of its shine. The top-notch visuals and exceptional sound direction don’t entirely excuse Shinbo’s explosions of fanservice and stuttering plotting, but fans of the first series should still find lines of character development worth following and many of the same themes on display. If you liked Nisio Isin’s first installment, you should take this second bite, just don’t expect it to blow your mind.
With Oshino gone and school out for summer, Araragi heads into the break hoping to spend his time relaxing, working on his classwork with Hanekawa, hanging out with his girlfriend Senjogahara, and maybe even finding a little time to molest Hachikuji as he wanders the streets. But when his sisters get tangled up in investigating a ring of curses circulating their middle school, the boy finds himself once again involved with strange characters and unexplained oddities. With only his vampiric mistress Shinobu for help, will Koyomi Araragi be able to solve the strange mystery uncovered by his "Fire Sisters"?
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These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.