So here we go, my first review of an anime made by what is slowly becoming my favourite studio. Bakemono - Ghost/monster, Monogatari - Story, a very good play on words in my opinion.
Animation: Much like a lot of Shaft's stuff, this is sure to divide opinion. I loved it and though it was some of the best i've come across in a long time. The character animation is completely consistent, right down to the expressions on each of their faces. And for once the male characters gets just as much attention to detail as the female characters. But the characters aren't really the centre stage here. It's the backdrops, the little flashes of things in between sentences, scenes, or laid over the top of of a scene, they all collude to create a very eerie atmosphere throughout the show, one of the best devices they've used for this is the complete lack of any extrnuous characters, you don't even see people walking down the street. The animation seeks to create an environment in which only the 10 characters exist and act, it's all the better for it.
Sound: Well there are 5 different OPs for the 5 different arcs centering around the 5 different 'cases' and they're all completely different, so there's something there for everyone. I enjoy all of them, but Senjougahara's is my favourite, it seems to suit her character more, jumping between the hard exterior she constantly shows and the softness just under the surface. The in show music is good, not good enough to want to listen to stand-alone, but good enough that it suits the mood and atmosphere of the scene it is backing. The sound effects are good too. The VA's though are amazing, each one managing to bring the character to life and give them their own personality, it of course helps that they have a great script to work to.
Characters: Well this really is the shows strong point, whether you like the plot(s) themselves or not, you can't help but love every character in this show. Senjougahara is the token 'tsundere', but she acknowledges this and plays on it to get her own way with Araragi-kun. Tsubasa is the token smart but shy girl, Suruga the sporty one, Hachikuji the smarter-than-she-looks middle schooler and Sengoku the Loli. All of them fit into their little archetypes, but you realise quite quickly that this is intentional and that the writers are using these archetypes to have fun with the characters and how they play on, and with, Araragi's perceptions of them. A lot of other studios could learn a lot of lessons from Shaft and how they portray their male lead here, he is both up front and commanding, even if the others are even more commanding of him than he is of them, he is strong and willing, intelligent and most of all, he knows what he wants and sticks to it. Oshino is a good contradiction to Araragi, constantly making him question things whenever they come into contact, but never really managing to change his mind on anything. The only charactyers that weren't really developed were Araragi's sisters, Karen and Tsukihi, and Shinobu. But thats what Nisemonogatari is for...
Plot: With regards to plot, you could say that there are 5 plots centering around each of the 5 girls Araragi comes into contact with, each taking place in turn, with no real plot extending from the first episode to the last, but it's there and to give it away would be to spoil it so I won't.Each plot centers around a problem or curse that is bound to each of these girls, Hitagi Crab, Mayoi Snail, Suruga Monkey, Nadeko Snake and Tsubasa Cat, and Araragi's attempts to solve these problems, usually with the help of Oshino. The problems are well explained, well thought out, have a lot of development and all centre around a personality trait of the character. The soultions if and when they happen are just as well done as the problems themselves.
Summary: This is one of those difficult anime's to review because so much of it is dependent on experiencing it, seeing the play between each character, the small animation flairs, the added text that is relevant but you only catch a small glimpse of it. And thats the best waqy to describe this anime, it's an experience, a journey, with no discernable end. It reminds me of that famous saying about the journey being more important than the destination, this is not a normal anime, it doesn't really have a start beginning and an end, or at least not in a conventional sense, but if you're watching this for the same feeling as some of their other shows (like Madoka) then you're in it forthe wrong reasons. Shows like this are best watched with no expectations, and with an open mind. By far the best thing about this show is the relationship between Araragi and Senjougahara, how the feed and play off each other, how the relationship develops and how both characters reveal to us more about themselves through each other, in these respects it's one of the most realistic relationships I've yet seen in an anime, and for that alone I can give this a very good 8.5 out of 10.