I am busy rewatching the entire Monogatari anime series for the third time. I have a not-quite photographic memory for movies and anime so for me to watch something even twice is a rare honor.
This show was not produced in chronological order but I think it is best if you watch it that way. It goes something like this:
Kizumonogatari consists of 3 one hour movies. It predates season one even though it wasn’t released until season three. Kizu means “pain”. Monogatari means “story”.
The first season consists of Bakemonogatari (ghost story), Nisemonogatari (story about fakes) and Nekomonogatari (cat story). Eps. 13-15 are difficult to find because they were never broadcast. They were ONA, only available on the internet.
That is 30 episodes, 3 chapters, and 8 different story arcs for season one plus three movies that were broadcast in season 3 but belong in season 1. Most anime are lucky to get 13 eps in a season. It is an indication of how good it is.
The second season has 2 stories, Monogatari and Hanamonogatari. The first is a collection of 26 stories in 5 arcs about existing characters. Hanamonogatari is a 5 episode story about the ongoing experiences of Kanbaru (an important character from Bake) after Araragi has graduated and is heading off to college. It is usually seen as one long movie instead of 5 episodes and really takes place after the end of season 3, so I save it for last. It is slow paced and philosophical. I like that sort of thing but you may not. Hana, by the way, means “blooming of flowers”
Third season has Tsukimonogatari, (Tsuki – meaning to haunt, or possess.) Kizumonogatari, Owarimonogatari, (In three volumes. Owari literally means “the end” and it is wrapping up all the loose ends and various interpersonal relationships.) And then Koyomimonogatari. Koyomi is about our hero. Koyomi also means calendar or month. Koyomimonogatari is 12 episodes long and has 12 mini-arcs.
Yet to be released in the US is Zoku Owarimonogatari, so keep checking on it.
When you go to watch this you may not find it all on one server. Between Crunchyroll and Gogoanime I managed to see most of it. If you are really desperate to identify the exact chronological order of each episode the Reddit Araragi Wikki has the sequence for you. You can also see which books have not been made into video anime. Bouncing back and forth between episode in different arcs and even different seasons was a bit beyond me. Many of them don’t really matter what order you see them in. Just remember that the 3 Kizumonogatari movies are how Araragi got to be an oddity and the movie Hana is the last as he is heading off to college. Everything else falls between.
If you have a problem finding an arc, just Google: “Watch ____monogatari episode ___”. You’ll find it.
Begin definite spoiler alert!
What I love about this anime
There isn’t a lot of short-term suspense. Our hero gets into a fight, faces overwhelming odds but manages to come out on top. Over and over again. You know he does because there are still a zillion eps and arcs to go. In the hands of lesser people, this would become boring after the umpteenth time.
It’s the characters, their relationships, and the character development over time that I love. I love the rapid-fire banter, the humor that is subtle and the humor that is not-so-subtle. I would so love to be fluent in Japanese because I’m sure much of the humor gets lost in translation. Watch it subbed, not dubbed. The voice actors are simply exquisite. Let that rapid-fire Japanese flow over you, subtitles zooming by as fast as you can read them. Often times they are just playing word games. Sometimes they are analyzing the Kanji characters in a word to find more possibilities in a situation. If it is really important to the plot, they’ll speak slowly.
Occasionally, they will flash screens of text at a faster rate than could possibly be read.
I’m weird but I try to catch as many words as I can as a personal game. Manage to catch six words out of a four line, 30-word text and try to figure out what it means. Then I’ll back up and attempt to freeze the frame to read what it says. This fast frame technique gets a lot of criticism but it pleases me. Remember this is my place, not other critics’.
It isn’t about the fights. The action scenes are pretty good but half the time Araragi just gets beaten to a (literal) pulp and is saved by someone else. Why does Araragi put himself out to save others so relentlessly? He considers the people he saves to be more important than he is. He takes the role “Hero of Justice” seriously although he knows in his heart that he’s a fake hero, lacking the strength to make it stick without far more powerful helpers. He actually doesn’t mind dying if that’s what it takes to solve someone else’s problem. It doesn’t even have to be a life threatening problem either, anyone in need will do.
It is in what happens after the fights that we see growth. Almost glacially he becomes a better person with the support of those who he saved. By the end of Owari you can see a dramatic difference, the narcissistic, self-involved adolescent has become an adult. In turn, those he saves slowly become better people as well. And, well, this is a harem of sorts. The people he saves are all young women and girls.
And herein is the best part of all, the character development arcs. Nobody is the same at the end as they were in the beginning. They all learn a little bit about life as they go along. Not a contrived change that really doesn’t match the action. Not merely going up levels in strength. In the end, nobody gets superpowers – but they do become stronger people by overcoming psychological weakness.
A few of the main characters
These are the main characters. The anime has a large number of characters that have significant roles but IMHO not quite as important.
Koyomi Araragi, our male protagonist, rescues people. I think it is how he justifies his
continued existence. Our hero is a “third year” in a Japanese high school. He starts out a total dweeb with nothing to live for. He is as dense as depleted Uranium when it comes to romance and actively discourages anyone from getting close. Doesn’t believe he’ll graduate high school, let alone go to college. Sour relationship with his sisters and parents. A bit of a lolicon and siscon creep. Ah, but he does develop if slowly! His trademark cowlick goes from question mark to exclamation point to quivering to limp noodle according to his mood. Seems to be a family trait.
Meme Oshino is an idiosyncratic specialist in supernatural affairs who takes up residence in an abandoned cram school. He helps Araragi thru some tough situations and mentors him until he can stand on his own. Not a person to mess around with. His favorite saying is that he can’t save you, you can only save yourself.
Shinobu, aka “Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade” is a damaged vampire
queen. She starts out as Araragi’s first “save”. He encounters her in a very bad state and offers her his own blood even though he expects to die. Every drop of his blood is just enough to restore her to an 8-year-old with limited power. (The new name she takes on is Shinobu) He goes on a quest to restore his humanity but in the end, she was really planning on him killing her to get it. As long as she exists he can’t be normal. He doesn’t kill her (Pity? Or love?) and instead decides on a strange co-dependent state for both of them in an intermediate state. She is his companion in his shadow for most of the anime. Over time her changes, as she adapts to a new environment, are pronounced.
Early on he meets Tsubasa Hanekawa. She is moe to the nth degree. The top scoring student in the school, she has an almost preternatural mind. She saves him and he saves her during his quest to recover his humanity. Soon Hanekawa is in love with him, he’s just too dense to see it and she can’t come right out and say it. But there is scarring here, issues Araragi-kun can’t fix. Her parents are long gone thru multiple divorces and her adult guardians dislike her. Her substitute father hits her and she sleeps in a hallway. And she finds reasons to excuse it. She changes and evolves. A bird with a broken wing who eventually heals.
The lasting love in his life is Hitagi Senjougahara, another young woman he saves with
help from his mentor. Hitagi is also a self-imposed isolate avoiding social interaction at almost any cost. Something in Araragi’s selfless assistance despite her hostility reaches her. (Hitagi was cursed by a crab to be almost weightless.) She is another bird with a broken wing. As a child, she was attacked and almost raped with the connivance of her own mother by a cult leader. PTSD to the extreme. Her father is mostly absent from her life.
Hitagi’s appearance is tall, slender, and stunningly beautiful in an aristocratic way. Not a supergenius like Hanekawa, she is still extremely bright. She approaches Araragi without any subtlety and wins him over.
She is also quite the tsundere – and for good reason. Watching her wounds slowly heal over time is one of the great joys of the series.
Losing Araragi to Senjougahara is another great pain in Hanekawa’s life. She was slow to move on him – while Hitagi was quick – and watches his affair with Senjougahara with deep regret.
You know that curses come from our failure to deal with our regrets, don’t you?
Suruga Kanbaru is a third fascinating character. Yet another girl with a troubled family life. Her parents are dead and she lives with her grandmother who isn’t particularly interested in her. She’s a lesbian. She reads erotica. She hangs out naked at home. She is a top athlete. As a middle schooler, she fell in love with Senjougahara and would have her as friend and lover but settled for just a friend. Years later her idol abandons her, drives her off even, without explanation. Kanbaru does not lose interest though and watches from afar. She is my favorite character, second to Senjougahara.
Kanbaru comes into direct conflict with Araragi over Senjougahara. Kanbaru is not above offering her body to Araragi if it would keep him from bedding her lady love. And there is this demon inside her who would kill him.
Araragi suggests to Senjougahara that Kanbaru has a dirty mind. He also thinks she is an exhibitionist. Her response blows him away. The Kanbaru we see at the end of the series is a far more mature version of the same individual, willing to finally re-embrace her own strength. (Probably because Araragi gave her a haircut.)
Araragi has two sisters. The elder one (Karen) is a martial artist/wanna-be hero who lacks the strength and experience to make it stick while the younger (Tsukihi) is a fake in her own way. Together they are the Fire Sisters vanquishing middle school evil… until they meet the real thing. He loves them. He hates them. He rescues them. He’d die for them. Things change.
Mayoi Hachikuji is a lost little girl who cannot find her mother. Of course, Araragi has to rescue her. They work up a creepy running gag of him sneaking up and pretending to molest her whenever he encounters her. She always reacts in mock terror and almost bites his fingers off. This is followed up by another gag where she mispronounces his name and he pretends to be offended.
And here I am, adding a character months later. His name is Kaiki Deishu. He plays a very important role in several related arcs. An associate of Meme Oshino, he is a con man and lives by conning people out of their money. He believes that a fake that is indistinguishable from the real thing is actually worth more than the real thing. There was a distressing incident in the past where he conned Senjougahra’s family out of all their money which caused the family to disintegrate. Another where he sold bogus magic to middle school kids. He plays it like a villain. You decide for yourself if he is one or not. Perhaps he is an anti-hero instead?
What bugs me about this anime
Yet there are things about it that I don’t care for, even in this masterpiece. The cleverness of the puns drops off as the series progresses. Third season plots get a bit boring. And then there is the loli fanservice and some dubious situations.
I get what the director and writer are trying to do. The whole series has Araragi wrestling with his sexuality. Even though there’s nothing particularly hurtful in anything that happens, well, he obviously has all kinds of lolicon and siscon fantasies going on.
Some of his rescues are middle school girls. Shinobu takes on the form of a little girl. His sisters are 4 and 5 years younger than him and he engages in siscon behavior while he’s rescuing them. There is plenty of nudity, some of it integral to the story and some of it merely gratuitous. Oh… and there is a toothbrushing scene with Araragi and Karen that will stick in your mind forever.
I find myself concerned about how some unknown “other” will react to lolicon scenes. Silly, isn’t it?
So, in the end, it isn’t my own reaction but rather the reactions of an unknown group of bogeymen that cause me unease. Part of me says to forget this silliness as you can’t hurt an anime character. Images don’t make people pedophiles, they just seek out the images. Images such as those in anime may be a release valve for pedos, who then won’t go for a live victim. I shouldn’t hold art responsible for the actions of people who misunderstand it. Blah, blah, blah. Intellectually I know I am right but the irritation (a minor one, I admit) remains. It is a problem endemic to much of anime, not just this show.
I am also irritated by Araragi’s constant fixation over girls’ panties. Panties can be shown in a useful way. Hanekawa’s episode one “panty view” presents an example of a good idea. To the public view she a very correct and innocent young woman. The panties tell a different story. These are not your grandmother’s panties. And when the wind blows her skirt up, she doesn’t make any real effort to push it back down. Inside there is a naughty wench struggling to get out.
But… along the way we get to see every girl’s panties from every angle – sometimes even including their camel toes. This bugs me.
There are also scenes where Araragi acts with what sure looks like incestuous intent and coerciveness towards his sisters. This bugs me.
But perhaps it is meant to do so. Perhaps we are meant to see Araragi’s flaws and be bugged by them.
Then there’s the scene where he is taking a bath with Shinobu, the little girl version of Kiss-Shot, the 500-year-old vampire trapped in his shadow. There are people who will call this lolicon and pedophilia. It isn’t. This is different. She does try to play with his mind but Araragi has no sexual interest in this flirtatious “little girl”.
The bath scene is a really a kind of bonding between two friends. An unsteady armistice becoming a peaceful alliance. It is a promise to live and die together. There is no chance of sex between them. Araragi is obviously not excited. It is actually quite pure. Few will see it that way. I do. (Hint: Every time Araragi handles a female’s hair it means a step towards maturity for the female. Probably for Araragi, too.)
All the soap suds? Well I can’t help it if your mind is in the gutter.
Another thing that bugs me is the worship of large breasts. That is not the exclusive problem of this anime by any means but I just thought I’d throw that in there. Almost every female in anime has large breasts in comparison with what real human breasts are like. “Flat-chested” women worried about their bust size despite looking like Barbie dolls. Even the 13-year-old girl who supposedly has undeveloped boobs looks like a 32 B cup. This bugs me.
Enough of this crap! You are more damaging than a Playboy centerfold in term of feeding into the insecurities of young women and unrealistic expectations in young guys.
There is plenty of fanservice if that is what you want. I consider most fan service harmless. I’m certainly no prude, I’m what you might call a “free-range naturist” myself.
You get to see quite a bit of Hanekawa nude. For the opening credits of one of her arcs, they even have a live nude model that is implicitly Hanekawa in the flesh.
Senjougahara has a spectacular scene where she challenges Araragi with her nudity and he ends up hiding in a corner and trying not to look. She says it was a reward but it was really a test. She has been scarred before and she wants to make sure he is “Senjougahara safe”. Monogatari is here deconstructing fan service with a role reversal.
Araragi-kun has his share of nudity, early in Kizu III after defeating Kiss-Shot. (Or rather after she lets him defeat her.) He certainly has nothing to hide from Hanekawa any more. There is more of him in Nisemonogatari.
This stuff doesn’t even leave me with the slightest bit of unease. They are all close to his age and very powerful characters in their own rights. In fact, one of the very clever things the anime does is to view attractive female characters from his eyes. There is sometimes even the sound of a shutter clicking to signify he wants to save a particular view forever. You’ll see his view focus on her face, then slip down to her bust and then down to her legs and then back. It is almost exactly how my eyes would travel when I was a teen. A girl’s eyes would grab me. I’d visually explore her other assets and then back to the face and think “OMG! How perfect!”
This is a super special anime
Back to the things I loved. There is a lot of reference to other anime here. To an otaku like me, I enjoy trying to catch them. YMMV. Another thing is that the occasionally there are hints of breaking the 4th wall, the imaginary wall between the viewer and the performance. It is well done so it isn’t jarring but it is there. Plus there is a tiny bit of nicely done sister yuri here. Have I mentioned that I really like yuri? Oh yes, I do.
Each arc’s opening theme is actually sung by the major female character’s voice actor. How cool is that?
The overriding plot of the anime, aside from the maturation and development of the characters, is actually Araragi’s faithfulness to Hitagi Senjougahara. Through it all he is tempted by every female he encounters to stray, to fool around. This is a kind of deconstructed harem where some of the females are after the hero’s body and some are not. He resists his urges and usually succeeds, even if only partially. The woman he falls for, Senjougahara, is the very one who will make him wait.
By the time Hanamonogatari rolls around, simply seeing Kanbaru’s body doesn’t arouse him any more. He can even joke with her about his sister complex. His faithfulness to Hitagi is assured. Maybe we can blame it on all the haircuts he’s given.
I cannot say enough good things about Episode 12 of Bakemonogatari. It is the best expression of true love I have ever seen in anime. If I were a bit more sentimental I might cry.
I think I’ll bring it to an end here. My eyes are starting to water – must be allergies. Couldn’t possibly be because I just rewatched ep. 12 of Bake. Nope. Definitely couldn’t be that. This doesn’t happen to guys, does it?
Well, maybe it can.