A review of Nekomonogatari Black

Finally we come to the end of this “first season” of Monogatari. This series is certainly broken up in a weird way, and it progresses in a weird way too, because Nekomonogatari Black is another prequel. This one tells the story of what happened during the short holiday of Golden Week: the “Black Hanekawa” incident that kept getting brought up through the first and second series of the show. It’s only four episodes long, but there’s plenty here to examine as usual.

Before I move on, here’s the usual spoiler warning: there are spoilers in this review. Again, they probably won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen any of the series, but even so, fair warning and all. This one is especially violent in parts too, though not on the same level as Kizumonogatari. I guess that’s true of the other sets of episodes I’ve reviewed, actually. Lots of blood and limbs being removed and that sort of thing, but those parts are all concentrated in a few very intense action scenes.

Don’t let the screenshot fool you: this catgirl will fuck you up.

The broad outlines of what happened during the Golden Week break from school are already known by the time the series starts, shortly after the events of Kizumonogatari: we know star student and high achiever Tsubasa Hanekawa was possessed by a violent supernatural cat spirit, causing her to go on a rampage until she was stopped and turned more or less back to normal by her new friend/series protagonist Koyomi Araragi, mainly thanks to Shinobu’s intervention. Nekomonogatari Black gives us the whole story, albeit only from Koyomi’s perspective. There’s still a lot going on in Tsubasa’s life that only she can tell us.

At the start of the series, our semi-vampire slacker protagonist Koyomi is trying to work out his feelings. He can’t get his mind off of Tsubasa and is wondering whether he’s in love with her. So he asks his younger sister Tsukihi for her advice, because by his own admission, he’s never been in love before. After a lot of the usual dialogue and wordplay joke stuff, Tsukihi tells Koyomi he’s not in love but just sexually frustrated, so he decides to head off to the local bookstore to get a dirty magazine (just like in Kizumonogatari; maybe he doesn’t have his own computer, or maybe he’s old-fashioned and prefers print media.) And of course, leaving the bookstore at the same time is Tsubasa herself.

We don’t get much of the lighthearted banter from now on, though. Koyomi notices that Tsubasa has gauze taped to her cheek. After dragging a promise out of him that he won’t tell anyone, Tsubasa tells him that her stepfather hit her that morning.

This naturally pisses Koyomi off, but Tsubasa reminds him of his promise. She also tells him that it was only natural this happened. If you had a daughter who talked back to you early in the morning, and wasn’t even related to you by blood, and you were under stress at work, wouldn’t you feel like slapping her too?

Of course, the answer is “no, that’s completely fucked,” and so Koyomi says. But he agrees to keep silent about it.

At this point, Tsubasa finds the body of a cat lying in the middle of the road. She’s not the type to just ignore that and asks Koyomi to help her bury it, which they do together. Of course, we already know this isn’t an ordinary cat. As we learned all the way back in the last arc of Bakemonogatari, Tsubasa Cat, this was a “meddlecat” (translated from sawarineko, which looks like it has some relation or connection to the supernatural cat spirit bakeneko, or maybe to the nekomata.) This spirit has the ability to possess humans and causes them to act out violently, requiring an exorcism.

We’ve also seen the effect this possession has on Tsubasa. Later that day Koyomi visits his benefactor the spirit/demon expert Oshino, who senses that something’s off and asks what’s going on with “Miss Class President” as he calls her. From the hints Koyomi is able to drop without breaking his promise to her, Oshino figures the situation out, warning him that Tsubasa is in danger of possession by a violent spirit and that he should go to her house to check up on her.

But it’s too late. On his way to Tsubasa’s house, Koyomi spots a white-haired girl stalking around the streets in her underwear, with a pair of cat ears sticking out the top of her head, and he realizes that Oshino’s worst fears were realized. This catgirl has the form of Tsubasa but seems completely different in personality, almost like a wild animal. Speaking with a different voice and referring to Tsubasa as her “master”, the girl dumps two unconscious bodies in front of Koyomi — the bodies of Tsubasa’s parents. And when Koyomi tries to stop her from leaving, this possessed Tsubasa attacks Koyomi, ripping his arm off.

His regenerative ability lets him reattach the arm and heal with Shinobu’s help, but after retreating back to the cram school, Koyomi is faced with a dilemma. Oshino tells him based on his own research and experience that this meddlecat has not only possessed Tsubasa but is merging with her somehow, allowing it to combine its own physical skills with Tsubasa’s considerable intelligence to essentially create a broken, unfairly powerful character that Oshino refers to as “Black Hanekawa.” So broken that even Oshino, the guy who seasoned vampire hunters run away from, hasn’t yet been able to defeat her in the many fights he’s had with her during Koyomi’s recuperation.

I like this traditional-looking art over Oshino’s explanation.

Thankfully, Oshino confirms that Tsubasa’s parents aren’t dead; they’ve only been made victims of Black Hanekawa’s energy drain ability, which she’s since been using to attack and drain people all over town. But he warns Koyomi that if they don’t manage to exorcise the meddlecat, it will merge with Tsubasa completely, making it impossible to save her.

That’s the setup of Nekomonogatari Black, though it takes us through the first two episodes out of four. The last two deal with how Koyomi actually goes about both rescuing Tsubasa and defeating the cat possessing her. To do this, however, he also has to defeat Tsubasa herself — because by the last episode, Koyomi discovers that Tsubasa is actually conscious and is in control of her actions at least to some extent. As usual in this series, nothing is how it seems at first.

It’s easy to see why Tsubasa would fall under the influence of this kind of wild spirit. Being the top student in her class, famous for her high achiever status among the other students, would normally be stressful enough with the support of a caring family, but she doesn’t even have that. Neither of her parents are related to her by blood; a series of deaths, divorces, and remarriages placed her with two relative strangers at a young age.

You’d hope that her stepparents would care for her as though she were their own, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Tsubasa says to Koyomi that blood relation is important in a family, but the fact that there are plenty of loving non-blood-related families around suggest there’s more going on. No, she gives the impression that her parents, who we never see except as unconscious figures in episode 2, act as though they were stuck with her, like the secondary consequence of getting remarried. “Oh, you have a kid too; I guess that’s fine” — that sort of thing. Considering that, it makes sense that Tsubasa felt free to go out and wander the streets on nights and holidays as we see her doing when she runs into Koyomi in Kizumonogatari and Bakemonogatari. She lives at the same address as her adoptive parents, but those parents don’t seem to care about what she does.

Tsubasa’s situation can be contrasted with Koyomi’s. He doesn’t have an ideal home life; he’s emotionally broken off from his parents, as far as we know because of his failures as a student. He’s still part of his own family, though, and he does have close relationships with his younger sisters Karen and Tsukihi, relationships we saw develop in Nisemonogatari. When they face a threat, we see the siblings close ranks and support each other no matter what other disagreements they have.

This might be a little too close actually.

Then again, Koyomi himself might also be a source of stress for Tsubasa. We already know that she has feelings for him that she hasn’t expressed, feelings that started back during the events of Kizumonogatari when Koyomi went through his vampiric ordeal. That’s not actually revealed until later on, well after Koyomi gets together with Hitagi during the events of Bakemonogatari, but even at this point there’s plenty left unsaid between the two. Throughout this first season of Monogatari, including the prequel movies when they first meet, the nature of their relationship is sort of unclear — they’re certainly friends, but beyond that they’re both carrying around more intense feelings that may or may not count as love.

Again, there’s a strong contrast to be made here with the relationship between Koyomi and Hitagi. Hitagi even says she hates “unclear relationships” or something similar when they officially become a couple, asking Koyomi to express his feelings for her unambiguously. Maybe some of Tsubasa’s stress comes from an inability to act in such a straightforward way. That’s certainly the case later on, in the last part of Bakemonogatari.

All that makes it all the more depressing that Tsubasa is never actually freed from her demon. Before they have their final fight, Koyomi and “Black Hanekawa” have a perfectly civil talk during which she tells him that she plans to relieve Tsubasa’s stress by attacking and energy-draining as many people as possible. Koyomi argues that even if that were justified, it wouldn’t relieve Tsubasa’s stress but simply put it off for a while, but the cat refuses to listen. When Koyomi finally draws her out to the cram school for their final fight, it takes Shinobu’s help to resolve the matter by using her own energy drain technique on Tsubasa, leaving her exhausted and powerless but physically unharmed. It also seems like getting possessed with a cat demon causes memory loss. In the end, at least, it’s for the better that Tsubasa ended up not remembering any of the ordeal she went through here, considering the burden of guilt that would cause her.

However, although Shinobu’s energy drain subdued that cat spirit, it’s still in there. Tsubasa’s stress still isn’t relieved, and when it builds back up near the end of Bakemonogatari, the wild cat reemerges to possess her again. I don’t know if Nisio Isin meant that to be a comment on the difficulty of truly relieving stress, but it read that way to me. Much of Monogatari throughout this “first season” deals with demonic and spiritual possession, but those possessions are always caused by or related to the affected character’s internal struggles, the kinds of anxieties and insecurities that a lot of us deal with. And those issues aren’t so easily dealt with. As Oshino says so often, though the victim can be helped, in the end they have to save themselves. Despite how perfect she might seem on the outside, Tsubasa can’t manage that. Not yet, anyway.

Things are going to keep being tense for a while, aren’t they?

So I guess this isn’t quite a satisfying end to the first season of Monogatari, at least not for our characters. But all these series have left problems and ambiguities lying around, seemingly all on purpose. This ending feels pretty fitting for that reason. The next series up, in fact, is Nekomonogatari White, which starts off the “second season” of Monogatari. As the title suggests, this story also centers on Tsubasa, but this time it’s told from her perspective. I like Koyomi a lot as a protagonist, but it will be nice to get out of his head for a while. Especially to get into Tsubasa’s, because she’s my favorite character in the series at this point. I was never the top student in my class (I was really more of a Koyomi in high school if I had to compare myself to one of them) but a lot of Tsubasa’s anxieties make her pretty sympathetic to me, even if I can’t say I relate to them.

But that’s it for this first season of Monogatari. This closing mini-series maintains all the technical and style standards set by the earlier series, with excellent art, voice acting, and backing music (and another nice set of themes in Perfect Slumbers and Kieru Daydream. I always appreciate those great OP and ED themes.) I’ve liked the series as a whole a lot so far, enough that I feel bad for mostly writing reviews of these series full of spoilers. For that reason, I was thinking of writing a general first season review without spoilers, if I can even manage that. If so, after that’s done I’ll probably be moving over to other anime series for a while. But I know for a fact I’ll be back for more Monogatari at some point.

A review of Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! (Season 1)

Here AK goes again, reviewing all the hot new popular shows right after they air, just as usual. Yeah, this is a bit different for me. Not because I don’t like any popular, topical shows and games, but just because I usually want to write about something that isn’t either of those things. For example, I could have gone outside the usual scope of the site and given you my whole rundown last year of why the final season of Game of Thrones was a big pile of shit, but after the 895,694th review about it being shit that already covered all those points, I didn’t feel like piling on.

All this is completely unrelated to the actual substance of the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, an adaptation of a manga series of the same name. As a few other people have already said, this show probably would have passed by pretty quietly in the summer 2020 anime lineup if it weren’t for the completely stupid, ridiculous controversies that were somehow attached to it. At least partly as a result of those controversies, it instead ended up one of the most talked-about series of the year so far, and it’s already been confirmed for a second season.

This is one of those anime series that says its main idea in its title. Not in the kind of detail a typical light novel title would, but still, the title Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! describes a lot of what the show is about. It opens on a college campus at the beginning of the year following Shinichi Sakurai, a second-year student. This Sakurai is a bit of a loner; while we learn later that he does have friends, he prefers to keep to himself most of the time.

Unfortunately for Sakurai and his beloved alone time, one of his former classmates from high school has caught up with him. Hana Uzaki, a new first-year, recognizes Sakurai from their school days and reconnects with him. However, she never really knew him that well back in high school and after talking to and observing him, Uzaki notices how much of a lone wolf the guy is. She then decides to basically intrude on his entire life. Starting in the first episode, Uzaki insists on hanging out with Sakurai constantly, ignoring his objections and wearing him down until he just gives up and lets her tag along. At first, Uzaki only seems like she’s taking this opportunity to make fun of Sakurai’s loner tendencies — for example, mocking him for going to a movie alone and for spending his weekends playing video games instead of going outside. However, it soon becomes obvious that she actually wants to spend time with him, and Sakurai likewise soon ends up getting used to Uzaki and enjoying his time with her (more or less, anyway.)

Sakurai and Uzaki become friends pretty early on in the season, with the story following these two around as they hang out and trade jabs with each other over their personalities and lifestyle choices. The two couldn’t be more different: both physically, Sakurai being very tall and Uzaki very short, but more importantly in personality. Sakurai is a quiet, reserved guy, while Uzaki is talkative and outgoing, sometimes to the extreme. A lot of the comedy in Uzaki-chan plays off of this Odd Couple sort of “look how different these two characters are” dynamic.

But Uzaki-chan isn’t just a regular comedy, it’s a romantic comedy. So of course this is one of those shows where it’s implied that Sakurai and Uzaki have stronger feelings for each other than just the friendly type, but naturally neither of them can come out and say it, partly because they’re both kind of dense and partly out of embarrassment. And there are exactly the scenes you’d expect, like Sakurai unthinkingly eating a pastry after Uzaki already bit it and them both realizing they just shared that dreaded indirect kiss (a concept I had no idea about until I started watching anime.) But the two insist throughout when people ask that they’re only friends, which happens quite a lot — based mainly on their bickering, they come off like a couple to almost everyone they meet, and about halfway through the series they’re pretty damn close to actually being a couple without the romantic aspect, Uzaki visiting Sakurai’s apartment almost every day and even cooking for him.

Their situation is also complicated by two other characters: Ami, another student who helps her father run the coffeehouse Sakurai works at, and Sakaki, one of Sakurai’s college friends. Thankfully, these two aren’t thrown in to create a love triangle, square, pentagon or any other polygon that drags the show out with irritating drama: they’re actually rooting for Sakurai and Uzaki to get together and try throughout the season to make that happen, though their philosophies are a bit different with Ami being more of a hands-off observer.

These two are always around waiting for something to happen, just like us.

I don’t normally watch shows like this, and Uzaki-chan reminded me of why that is. Not that it’s a bad series at all. I actually did enjoy about the first half of the season — it was some light comedy that made for a nice escape from work and various bullshit in real life. After a while, though, the show started to wear me down. This may have been partly because the comedy bits started feeling like the same thing rewritten in slightly different contexts. You can’t keep writing the same “two characters who actually like each other in that way but don’t realize it have awkward moments” jokes forever without repeating yourself. And while a few of them feel like they’re meant to be callbacks to earlier episodes, I don’t know how much of it is just the show trying to drag things out between the two to keep itself going.

That raises the question of just how far a series like this can drag things out before people start to give up on it. Romantic comedies like Uzaki-chan are based on the premise that these two opposite types of characters who make an unlikely pair will end up together, so they have to deliver on that at some point. But when they do get together, the story is pretty much done, or at least it’s done telling that part of the story — I guess there’s no reason such a story couldn’t continue showing their relationship’s evolution, maybe even all the way to the two getting married and having a kid or something. But the “will they, won’t they” part of it is finished at that point.

And here’s the problem for me: the “will they, won’t they” aspect doesn’t appeal to me that much. If the answer is “yes, they will”, then I’m not that interested in watching the pair go through the same bullshit rigamarole for 24 or 36 episodes before that happens. And if the answer is “no, they won’t”, then by the end I’ll feel as though I’ve been strung along. This is one of those cases in which subverting expectations wouldn’t work, since the expectations are established by scenes that clearly imply Sakurai and Uzaki do have romantic feelings for each other that they can’t express or perhaps even understand yet. And in any case, that slow realization of romantic feelings seems to be the whole point.

No, we’re just two friends. You know, doing normal, friendly, not romantic at all things like feeding each other chocolate.

At this point, I’d just say these kinds of romantic comedies simply aren’t for me, but that’s not quite true. I wrote a bit about the manga Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro a while back, a series that like Uzaki-chan is a slow-burn romantic comedy between two very different characters, and I really like it. I think the difference is that I can see the characters developing in Nagatoro in ways that I can’t see in Uzaki. That character development makes that initially rocky relationship between Nagatoro and her nameless senpai interesting to watch — we can see both characters changing for the better and realizing things about themselves and each other that they wouldn’t have realized otherwise.

In the Uzaki anime, by contrast, I don’t see that Sakurai or Uzaki have really changed by the end of the first season. Sakurai still loves the alone time he manages to get, and Uzaki is still poking and prodding him in the same way she was in episode 1. Their relationship definitely develops, but the characters don’t so much, at least not that I can tell. Which makes sense: Sakurai and Uzaki are young but basically adults at this point and are pretty self-assured in their personalities, whereas the characters in Nagatoro are still in high school and figuring out who they are. I just think the latter makes for a more interesting story.

The question I have to consider now is whether I’ll watch the second season, and I’m not sure yet. If it’s just more of the same, I’d prefer to let Sakurai and Uzaki go on without me. On the other hand, I feel kind of invested now that I’ve watched a whole damn 12 episodes of them. I might check out the manga instead — it’s a lot farther along in the story as you’d expect, and I’ve heard that it might do a better job with character development than the anime does.

There are also a few “a crowd overhears and misconstrues the main characters’ conversation and shames one of them unfairly for it” scenes. Do you know the kind I mean? I hate these. People out in public need to mind their own damn business, screw these judgmental assholes.

Again, none of this is to say that Uzaki is bad or poorly done. It looks nice enough, and the characters are mostly pretty likable (even Uzaki, who sometimes walked a thin line between endearing and irritating for me, and I guess for Sakurai as well.) I can also appreciate the escape that a light comedy like this can deliver. But this show might just not be for me. Then again, maybe you’ll end up reading a second season review here at some point, in which case you’ll know that I’m full of shit.

Finally, I don’t want to pass by those controversies that I mentioned. For those who don’t frequent Twitter (and good for you if you don’t honestly; you’re better off for it) Uzaki-chan was the subject of a lot of pissy complaints from people who didn’t like the title character’s design. You can see from the screenshots that Uzaki’s bust is indeed SUGOI DEKAI (SUPER BIG) as her shirt states. She’s also short and pretty small otherwise, and apparently this just didn’t work for some artists on Twitter who generously decided to “fix” the art, redrawing Uzaki to suit their own preferences, along with some complimentary lectures on how “fiction affects reality” and so on (for greater detail/analysis of the situation and examples of the redrawn art, check out the article I linked here from a fellow blogger titled “The Uzaki-chan Drama”; it’s a very interesting read.)

Setting aside the supreme arrogance it takes to redraw someone else’s character and declare that you’ve “fixed” her (and the “fiction affects reality” argument that I’d like to address some other time) Uzaki-chan was just a weird target for this sort of attack. I’d be willing to bet that most of the complainers didn’t bother to watch a single episode of the series, because there’s nothing potentially offensive in it that I could find beyond the light ecchi elements that are present in every single series like this. Hell, if this is how these people react to something as mild and unobjectionable as Uzaki, the Nagatoro anime is probably going to give them a fucking stroke when it airs next year.

The required beach episode was about as crazy as things got, and the beach part was only half of the episode too. Nothing here to get too shocked about.

But I’m sure everyone involved with producing and airing Uzaki-chan is laughing about all this business, because there seems to have been a Streisand Effect here with the negative attention converting to more press for the show and a bigger audience. At least, that would explain why screenshots and art of Uzaki were being spammed all over the place for the last three months. Maybe it was a secret advertising strategy?

But now I’m getting into crazy conspiracy theory territory, so I’ll stop here. Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is a pretty decent romantic comedy that hasn’t really gotten to the romance just yet. If that sounds like your kind of thing, or you’re looking for a light comedy and don’t mind watching events repeat themselves a few times, it’s a nice show to check out. Once again, it’s probably not for me, but I didn’t drop it partway through, so that has to count for something.

Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

No, I didn’t forget — the monthly recap is here. And this marks a full year of them. It’s weird to think, I had the idea for this post series when I was at the office, which is somewhere I haven’t been now for the last half-year since the work-from-home plan was put into place. But I’m okay with that. I would honestly be fine with never leaving my apartment again. In fact, I’ll just sign up for that Singularity thing where we get to become consciousnesses in a massive universal computer network or a simulated universe or however that’s supposed to work.

As usual, I’m going to highlight some excellent posts from around the community here, but first, here are short looks at a couple of albums. This time I wanted to do something more seasonal. Everyone likes Halloween and it’s October now, so here are two real classics that I like but also find to be spooky. Well, maybe more unnerving than spooky. I’d include that Boards of Canada album I covered in the very first one of these posts, but I already wrote about it. It’s pretty chilling too; check it out if you’re into that.

Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (The Residents, 1978)

Highlights: not even going to try

The Residents might be the most bizarre band ever created. It’s hard to call them a “band” actually; the names and even the number of Residents have always been unknown, and some of what they do involves other media like film or falls more into the realm of performance art than music alone. And even though they tour and do live shows, the performers always wear various disguises, most famously giant eyeball-helmets, sometimes with top hats and full formal suits included. Maybe that’s where Daft Punk got their own helmet disguise idea from?

However, I didn’t pick Duck Stab to highlight because of any of that. It’s rather because this album creeps me the fuck out. None of it’s “scary” exactly, but it can be kind of unnerving in parts. The Residents are known for their deconstruction of pop/rock music, and you can hear that happening right here — most of these songs should sound pretty close to normal with beats, melodies, verses, choruses and all that, but everything is just “off” enough to sound completely bizarre instead. Some of the songs sound intentionally ugly, like the opener Constantinople that seems like it was made to try to get you to turn the album off in its first ten seconds. Or Semolina, which sounds like a Beach Boys song produced in Hell. Laughing Song and Birthday Boy are genuinely creepy as well.

Listening to Duck Stab, I get the feeling that the Residents could have easily made a good album full of regular rock and pop songs if they’d wanted to. Even though a lot of it’s ugly, this music is also interesting and even catchy sometimes. It’s very obvious that these songs weren’t just some shit they threw together but were written, probably with a lot of care. The Residents just chose to make the songs fucked up on purpose, with clashing instrumental parts and vocals and lyrics that almost make sense but not quite, resulting in something that I think resembles an Uncanny Valley effect for music. Captain Beefheart did the same sort of thing in the 70s; this reminds me a lot of his album Trout Mask Replica. It’s worth looking up Duck Stab if you’re into that kind of strange music (and if you haven’t heard it, look up Trout Mask Replica too!)

Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (Magma, 1973)

Highlights: no

More weird stuff from the 70s. And yeah, the title is meant to be written that way. Both the album and song titles, and even the lyrics themselves, are written in a fantasy language that sounds a lot like German but isn’t quite. Magma was a French band, however, and the only French prog band I know anything about. Like the Residents, these guys were known for their strange compositions, but Magma’s are different. Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh has separated tracks with titles but feels like one full piece, almost like an old opera with characters singing and sometimes yelling and ranting in this fantasy language over organs, pianos, and pounding bass and drums.

There’s a story behind the whole piece that looks spiritual in nature, but I can’t tell what’s going on with it. Maybe it’s an extremely high-minded concept album like Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans about some esoteric religious ideas. But I just think the music is cool aside from whatever the lyrics might be about. The first parts sound ferocious and martial and can even get a bit frightening with the main singer’s ranting and yelping and more singers joining in, but the tone softens and gets more peaceful in the second half of the album. From the flow of it, I can believe there’s a story being told here, even if I don’t really get it.

In any case, Magma are some interesting guys, quite different from a lot of the British progressive bands I’ve covered. I like the fantasy language element of the music as well. Reminds me of the Hymmnos songs from Ar tonelico and the made-up futuristic English/French/Gaelic/Japanese lyrics in the NieR games’ tracks.

And now, the featured posts:

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off: The Results! (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 concludes the contest co-run with Winst0lf to determine the greatest JRPG character, and the result may surprise you! But I’ll say it’s a deserving win.

You are the main character of your own life. (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — An introspective post from Yomu about how we think of our own places in our lives and how anime usually puts that in a different light. I can’t really do it justice here, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Last of Us Part II (Extra Life) — A massive and truly comprehensive review of the controversial The Last of Us Part II from Red Metal, digging into both the gameplay and the story. No matter how you feel about the game, this is very worth reading.

Introducing the Frosty Canucks Podcast (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte is now co-hosting a game-related podcast! It’s good stuff, I’ll be following it from now on, and you should too.

Rozen Maiden (The View from the Junkyard) — From Roger Pocock, a review of the mid-2000s anime series Rozen Maiden, which is about a socially maladjusted kid who gets a harem of living dolls that fight each other. This is one that seems almost totally forgotten these days, but it was insanely popular back at the time it aired. Also not quite as weird as it might sound from how I described it, though it has been over a decade since I watched it so I might not be remembering something. I do remember Suigintou being a pretty good villain, though.

Divinity, demons, and decay (Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster) — Kimimi writes about her take on Shin Megami Tensei II, a game that until pretty recently was a pain in the ass to play here since it was never officially localized. Anytime anyone writes about SMT I’m interested, and especially about the older or lesser-known titles like this one.

Freaked Out Now and Dead on Arrival. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(a)- Characters (S.E.E.S. and Protag) (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Megami Tensei, Aether’s in-depth analysis series of Persona 3 continues with a look at the unusual school club SEES and the protagonist who joins it at the beginning of the game. Nothing is what it seems at first, and Aether has some great insights about the game once again in this post.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light – Review (Nepiki Gaming) — Check out Nepiki’s newly remodeled site for a great review of this Final Fantasy game. I’ve been off the FF train for a long time now, but it’s still a rich series and a good time to read about.

Why I Hate Fan Service in Anime (The Anime Basement) — Keni over at The Anime Basement puts forward some arguments about why fanservice can be a problem and how some anime series use it in a way that’s not very tasteful. I partly disagree with him, but he does bring up interesting points, and it’s always good to get a different perspective on these matters. (I do agree with him that Kill la Kill does fanservice really well and in a way that makes sense in the context of the show, but maybe that will be a subject for a separate post someday.)

Anime I like, but haven’t talked about yet: Maria the Virgin Witch (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott writes about Maria the Virgin Witch, another anime series that doesn’t seem to get a lot of talk. It’s a pretty short series, so no reason not to take the time out to watch it — I’m halfway through it now and it’s very good so far.

Hololive English: Examining a Worldwide Phenomenon (MoeGamer) — I’ve admitted that I fell into that infamous Hololive/Vtuber rabbit hole recently, just before that English-language branch that started a few weeks ago (and you’ll know that for sure if you saw me talking up Gura’s great singing or Amelia’s interesting mix of chilled-out and weird on Twitter or in comments somewhere.) Pete here gives a history of the Vtuber phenomenon and a rundown of what makes the various personalities of Hololive special.

The Soul of an Online Community (ft. Vtubers) (Anicourses) — Sadly, though, the Vtuber thing is not all sunshine and roses, as we’ve seen recently with the suspension of popular streamers Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato over extremely sensitive international political matters (really, I’m not kidding.) Over at Anicourses, Le Fenette examines empathy and connections between fans and players in online communities, including the very active and sometimes volatile world of Vtuber fandom and how it may have contributed to cutting one Vtuber’s career short.

And finally, congrats to The Traditional Catholic Weeb and Dewbond on two years of blogging!

So let’s finally close the book on last month. These posts keep getting longer, just like my reviews. And I have plenty more coming up: I’m in the middle of a few visual novels that I may or may not finish soon, I’ve just started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and I’ve finished a few anime series I may write about soon (including even more Monogatari! So I hope you’re not tired of that.) Until next time.

A review of Nisemonogatari

Yes, it’s even more Monogatari. I know, I said I’d mix things up, but I’ve been continuing this series and I keep finding there’s plenty to write about every time I finish each of its parts. So it was with Nisemonogatari, an 11-episode run from 2012 that picks up from where Bakemonogatari left off. At first I thought of it as the second season of the Monogatari series, but there’s a long run of episodes later on called Monogatari Second Season that also contains a bunch of other named series within it each with the -monogatari suffix. And it’s not even entirely agreed upon when you’re supposed to watch this: some say you have to watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies before Nisemonogatari, and some say you can put them off to later. I already watched and reviewed those movies here, and I’m happy I did, because they provide context for an important character relationship that develops in this series.

I’ll get to that one later on, though. The more obvious focus of Nisemonogatari is the relationship protagonist Koyomi Araragi has with his little sisters Karen and Tsukihi. These two only very briefly show up in Bakemonogatari when they’re violently waking up their big brother by pummeling him while he’s in bed, but here they play central roles. The “Fire Sisters” as they’re known at their middle school dedicate themselves to fighting for justice, beating up bullies and the like. However, in the world of Monogatari even this kind of stuff can get you in serious trouble, which is exactly what Karen and Tsukihi both find themselves in. The entire season is taken up by just two parts, in fact: Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix, each focusing mostly on the title character as before.

I really like this stained glass depiction of them we get at the beginning of the series

These two character arcs are quite different from the five that came before in Bakemonogatari, however. The title of this series is another play on words: nisemono, 偽物, means a fake or counterfeit. While it does focus partly on demonic or spiritual possessions, at its core Nisemonogatari is about fakes: distinguishing between the fake and the real and asking how or whether that difference matters.

Also, just a note to avoid confusion: I’ll be referring to almost all the characters by their first names from here on because we now have multiple Araragis active in the story. I’ve just gotten used to referring to most of these characters by their last names because that’s how they read in Koyomi’s narration, but it feels wrong to mix up the use of first and last names unless it’s necessary, or if it feels off to refer to them by their first name (like for Meme Oshino or another character who’s going to show up soon.)

Also, a general spoiler warning, because I feel it’s hard to say much about this series without getting into them to some extent. If you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari at the very least, none of this will make sense anyway. We’re in neck-deep at this point.

You might imagine that the start of a new Monogatari series should be a bit weird, or at least I did after just watching the first series and the prequel movies. So the opening scene with Koyomi chained to a chair in the old cram school, falsely imprisoned by his  girlfriend Hitagi Senjougahara, isn’t such a big surprise. She hasn’t turned on him, though: she tells Koyomi that she’s chained him up to protect him, specifically from a man he briefly met named Deishuu Kaiki. This Kaiki is a conman, but from Hitagi’s description of him he seems to be more dangerous than the average grifter.

Hitagi chaining her boyfriend up makes some sense. As we know, Koyomi is the kind of guy to rush headlong into danger to save others. And since Hitagi knows this Kaiki character — he was one of several cheats who conned her family out of money when they were seeking a solution to her weightlessness problem — she knows how dangerous he is. (She also seems to enjoy having Koyomi at her mercy a bit in these scenes, but that’s to be expected from her at this point.)

A rare look of contrition from Hitagi

Nevertheless, Hitagi allows Koyomi to go free pretty soon after tying him up thanks to a threatening call she gets from their classmate, one we know very well by now: Tsubasa Hanekawa. We only hear Hitagi’s side of the conversation, but knowing Tsubasa, this threat was made in her characteristically sweet way and with serious intent behind it. Hitagi even apologizes to Koyomi, but says she’ll be taking care of Kaiki either way.

And it’s a good thing Koyomi is now free to act, because Karen has already had a dangerous run-in with the conman after she sought him out specifically to “beat him up” for his crimes. She failed in her goal and was left ill with a fever that Kaiki induced through some kind of — magic? Power of suggestion? It’s not clear at this point, but when Koyomi consults with his sisters and Tsubasa back at their house, he starts to put the pieces together.

Kaiki, who couldn’t possibly look shadier.

As in Bakemonogatari, Koyomi is surrounded by aberrations and supernatural dangers that aren’t quite what they seem at first. The story in Nisemonogatari is complicated by the fact that the aberrations this time fall into that theme of “fakes.” Kaiki himself is merely a conman; he denies the existence and power of magic, but he also knows that he can use those beliefs to his advantage by selling supernatural curses and cures to gullible middle school students.

Strangely enough, though, when he’s finally confronted by Koyomi and Hitagi, Kaiki quickly and easily caves in to all their demands, agreeing to close up shop and leave town. He also tells them that the illness he inflicted Karen with was really a sort of mind trick and will disappear soon, leaving her perfectly well. In the end, it seems Kaiki was only doing what he did for one reason: to make money. It makes more sense to him to cut his losses and leave town that to get into a fight.

Mayoi knows it too: money is the most important thing in life.

The Tsukihi Phoenix arc uses this theme of fakes in a very different way. This time, the “fake” isn’t an antagonist, but rather someone very close to Koyomi — his own younger sister Tsukihi. After another run-in with an extremely dangerous person, the aberration specialist Yozuru Kagenui, Koyomi learns that Tsukihi is actually the manifestation of an immortal phoenix that’s reborn when a human infant is stolen and replaced. This phoenix is “evil” according to Yozuru and should be destroyed, despite the fact that it’s also harmless and doesn’t even realize it isn’t a real human. But hell if Koyomi is having that — phoenix or not, Tsukihi is still his sister. Enlisting the help of his vampire companion/mistress Shinobu, he fights Yozuru and her undead familiar Yotsugi until Yozuru either decides she’s bored and gives up or sees Koyomi’s way of thinking, walking away and letting the Araragi family live in peace again.

At the end of Nisemonogatari, as a consequence, all the counterfeits that came into the story are still around. Kaiki is still out there conducting his shady business, and the “fake” Tsukihi who doesn’t realize her true nature is still living her normal life. Yet it’s all okay. At least for the time being. This seems to be a running theme so far to these series. Each one has a dramatically satisfying ending, but a lot of things are still left to be resolved — they simply can’t be resolved because of weird or difficult circumstances. But that’s life, isn’t it?*

Nisemonogatari may just be the second series of Monogatari, but it does feel very different from Bakemonogatari in some ways. I didn’t measure it or anything, but it feels like there’s even more comedic banter between Koyomi and co. than there was in the first series. He spends most of the first two episodes making the rounds, visiting and talking with each of his lady friends before the plot starts in earnest with Hitagi chaining him up, and even deep into the seven-part Karen Bee arc there’s plenty of messing around. This is combined with some of the usual fanservice stuff I now expect from this series: again, even more of it than before. And then there’s the infamous toothbrush scene in episode 8, which I can’t even do justice with words. If you haven’t seen it, you just have to watch it for yourself. It’s weird as hell to say the least.

Proper dental care is is a serious matter.

Because of all this, I can’t say I blame people for thinking this series is self-indulgent. Nisemonogatari especially indulges in a whole lot of the above stuff. However, again I think most of this messing around isn’t here just for the sake of fanservice or to show off the writer’s clever wit (though I think those are probably reasons as well.) A lot of the banter establishes characters and relationships between them, sometimes in ways that are easy to miss the first time — one of those cases of “you might not have noticed, but your brain did.”

One of my favorite scenes in the series is part of a conversation between Koyomi and Tsubasa where they’re discussing Karen’s fever, and during which Koyomi refers to his sisters as “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan”. Apparently it’s a bit weird to refer to a younger sister using the -chan honorific, or maybe it’s weird if you’re a guy or something. Because Tsubasa instantly seizes on it and makes a bit of fun of Koyomi for it. When he self-consciously tries switching over to simply calling them “my younger sisters”, Tsubasa even stops him and reminds him that they’re “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan” with a sweet smile.

Tsubasa looks really different without those braids and glasses, but she’s still her usual self, too happy to find a chance to make fun of Koyomi in a good-natured way.

I get the impression that Koyomi referring to his sisters in this way shows how close he feels to them and how much he cares about them in a way that some older siblings might not, but also that he feels a bit embarrassed about that. While Tsubasa makes fun of him for it, she also seems to recognize this in Koyomi, and maybe she envies those relationships being an only child herself, and one who’s living with a lousy family situation on top of that. I feel like this is no accident: these and other exchanges show how subtle the writing in Monogatari can be; through one short exchange it can convey important information about the characters and their feelings.

Speaking of feelings, there are a lot of those to be resolved between Koyomi and Shinobu, and Nisemonogatari shows us some real progress in that relationship. Shinobu, that blonde vampire girl who all the way through Bakemonogatari was silent and sullen-looking, decides early in the series to start talking to Koyomi again. And I like the way the story handles their relationship from here on: Shinobu declares that they won’t and shouldn’t forgive the other for how they’ve hurt each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together. Koyomi accepts this arrangement gladly, and from here on he has a vampire living in his shadow who he has a telepathic connection with, except when she decides to manifest in the real world to complain that she wants him to buy doughnuts for her.

After watching Kizumonogatari, it was really nice to see Shinobu being her old self again — as arrogant as you’d expect from a centuries-old vampire, but also talkative and even friendly sometimes.

This relationship progress is part of why I completely agree with those who say you should watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies between Bake and Nise — they provide all the context for the complicated connection and history between Koyomi and Shinobu. Without that, Shinobu might just seem like some vampire girl Koyomi happens to know because he’s a weirdo who keeps attracting and getting attached to mythical beings and demigods. Which she is, but she’s also much more than that to him, as he is to her.

I look forward to their unusual relationship developing through the entire Monogatari series, but just watching their banter here is fun too. Though Shinobu refers to Koyomi as “my master” and omaesama (an archaic respectful form of “you” and a reminder that she learned Japanese back in the 17th century) she still acts pretty superior to him, albeit in a friendly way. At the very least, Koyomi has come to expect that attitude from Shinobu, and they have a nice working relationship at this point.

The technical aspects of Nisemonogatari are still excellent. It all looks just as Shaft-ish as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the studio; there are still all the weird scenery, head tilts and poses, cutaways to screens full of text, and the other usual weirdness that seems to be connected to director Akiyuki Shinbou. The music is once again great, suiting and enhancing the moods the show creates (and adding another earworm OP with Tsukihi’s theme Platinum Disco.) And the character models still look nice and very distinctive. I brought up original designer VOFAN who created the cover art for the novels, but the anime characters were designed by Akio Watanabe, and they’re both now favorites of mine after seeing so much of their work in Monogatari.

Nadeko Sengoku in her one scene in this series, acting a little scary.

I wasn’t planning to address this aspect at first, because I already did somewhat in my Bakemonogatari and Kizumonotagari posts, but Nisemonogatari turns up the sexual innuendo scenes between Koyomi and the girls around him to such an extent that I feel I need to bring it up once again. I read on another blogger’s site some time back (I can’t find the link anymore, otherwise I’d post it) that he was happy about Koyomi getting knocked down a few pegs later in the series because the character was too flawlessly noble and might give some viewers the impression that as long as they’re nice and helpful, they can be just as pervy as Koyomi gets sometimes and still have the favor of the women in their lives.

However, while I agree that getting knocked down is great and even a necessity to keep things interesting and help the protagonist of a story learn more and grow as a character, I don’t see Koyomi or his antics in the same light as this blogger did. Partly because Koyomi does come off as quite a flawed character. It’s important to remember that the novels up to this point are written from Koyomi’s perspective, and though I don’t ever get the impression that he’s trying to mislead the reader/viewer, he is a pretty unreliable narrator sometimes. He has noble intentions and wants to save people, yes. And if he seems “too flawlessly noble” sometimes, this is probably a function of his being in his own head a lot.

But he also doubts himself and his own intentions pretty often. Even in Nisemonogatari, where his relationships with Hitagi and his various friends are pretty solid and well-established, Koyomi’s views are challenged by the new antagonists Kaiki and Yozuru, who aren’t even painted as necessarily evil, but rather as people with very different approaches and philosophies that clash with his. In other words, he’s not a Mary Sue. He doesn’t do what he does to pump up his ego but rather because he just feels he must. Even then, he doesn’t get a pass when he screws up, least of all from himself. And while Koyomi does have a sort of “harem” around him, with a couple of other characters having pretty obvious feelings for him, I haven’t yet gotten the impression that Monogatari is meant to be the kind of power fantasy that some actual harem series might be.

Also, remember: he’s already in a committed relationship.

Aside from that, I don’t think anyone (in their right mind, anyway) would watch Koyomi doing his thing and think “oh, I can do that in real life and it won’t be a problem!” Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel these antics of his are so over-the-top that they come off as complete jokes. These scenes are unrealistic, just like the unrealistic dialogue in the series, and that feels very intentional. I think viewers can pretty easily see the difference between actions and consequences in the narrative of Monogatari and in real life for that reason. (And anyway, if off-color material is how we’re judging that, Suruga has him beat.)

You might think that those two would clash with each other. If this story were in the hands of a less clever writer, they probably would. But Nisio Isin manages to combine unrealistic situations and character actions with very real-feeling sentiment in a way that works. Even that Nadeko section of episode 2 that’s seemingly disconnected from the rest of the story, where she’s doing her best to seduce Koyomi, feels like it’s setting up a future plotline. Although it’s played off like a joke, it’s been obvious for a while that she’s in love with him, and I get the feeling this is going to cause serious problems later on for both of them. And just what the hell is Nadeko hiding in her closet, anyway? Maybe we’ll find out in the second season, because that few seconds of dialogue about it feels extremely ominous.

Tsukihi is her friend, but she’s not the only one who realizes Nadeko’s feelings for her brother. Koyomi still doesn’t seem to get it, though.

And that’s it for this part of Monogatari. I see why people have some issues with this run of episodes considering, again, how much messing around there is even compared to the first one. I wrote in my review of Kizumonogatari that I thought that set of movies was divisive, but I think now I was wrong — this is the divisive series, at least as far as those I’ve watched, and judging from what else I’ve read about it. But I like the mix of banter and comedy with drama and action that Monogatari has been using up to this point. Nisemonogatari carries the “screwing around” aspect further than the others I’ve watched so far, but I think it still manages to keep plenty of substance mixed in with all the style.

Now it’s on to the next series and the last of this first season of Monogatari: the four-episode Nekomonogatari Black, which despite the short length will get a post all to itself. It’s another prequel, taking place before Bakemonogatari and telling the story of Tsubasa’s initial possession by a wild cat spirit, an event that until now has been referenced a lot but not actually shown. I’m betting that, as usual, the story won’t be a straightforward one.

* Edit: Looking back at it, that seems to be part of the point of Tsukihi’s story anyway: the fact that the fake tries to be genuine makes it more valuable than the real thing, so there’s really nothing to “resolve” about Tsukihi anyway. Though ask a coin dealer the same question about counterfeits and you’ll get a very different answer.

On the use of public office to suppress the display and sale of artistic works

Weeks ago, I heard about a controversy in Australia having to do with the sale of certain manga in the Sydney branch of Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore chain with locations around the world. Last July, South Australian state legislator Connie Bonaros made a complaint regarding volumes sold there, including such titles as Eromanga-sensei, No Game No Life, Sword Art Online, and Inside Mari, on the grounds that they violated Australian law regulating certain types of sexual artistic depictions. The exchange of letters between Bonaros and Kinokuniya officer Keijiro Mori can be found in the link above, but the gist seems to be that Bonaros thought some of the anime-styled girls in works that include sexual content looked like minors and came to the conclusion that their sale in Australia constituted a violation of the law.

If we talk about how horrible this is and have it banned from stores, people will definitely stop reading it! That has always, always worked.

I feel bad for Australian manga and light novel readers who were into those series, and especially for fans of No Game No Life, a few volumes of which received an outright sale/importation ban. It’s worth mentioning that we’re not even talking about some hentai doujins and manga you might find in the seedier shops in Akihabara; most of the affected series are massively popular and none are pornographic as far as I understand. It also seems weird that a South Australian state legislator can have any say at all over what books can be sold in Sydney, which is located not in South Australia but in New South Wales. That sounds to me something like a Virginia state senator getting books removed from a New York bookstore, which would be unthinkable here in the US.

But I’m not an expert in Australian law. In fact, I don’t really know anything about it except that the Australian constitution doesn’t contain an explicit protection for freedom of speech or expression. Since Bonaros is an Australian lawyer and I’m an American one, I’ll defer to her understanding of her own country’s law. I just hope fans and other artists in Australia can find a way to gain a stronger voice in politics.

All that said, I think the victory won by Bonaros has to be examined more closely. It raises a question that’s relevant to every fan of anime, manga, video games, literature, and art in general living in any country on Earth. That is: how far should a public official be able to use the power and influence afforded by their office to suppress the display and sale of an artistic work? Because that is apparently what Bonaros did. No legislation seems to have been proposed; no evidence was brought forward to show that the contents of the listed works actually violated Australian law (or if it was raised, it wasn’t mentioned in the reports I found.) And there’s certainly been no solid evidence brought forward that said works have a harmful effect on their readers or on society in general. It seems that Bonaros simply saw some manga that rubbed her the wrong way, used her platform as a legislator to complain about it, and successfully pressured Kinokuniya into removing it.

I can’t pretend that this incident in Australia doesn’t affect fans of manga, anime, or related works here in the States either. Because Bonaros also requested a list of other countries in which Kinokuniya still sells No Game No Life and the other titles she objects to, presumably including its American branches, and pressured the company to ban their sale globally.1 As a result, it’s now undoubtedly an issue for us Americans as well. And since she’s made it an issue for us, let’s have a look at US law to see whether or how such an incident might play out here.

Unlike my last couple of posts on this general subject, this time around we’re specifically concerned with the First Amendment. Here’s the original text in full:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty short considering how much has been said about it since it was ratified in 1791. And we’re only concerned here with the middle clause, and specifically with this statement: Congress shall make no lawabridging the freedom of speech.

It’s understood that artistic expression counts as “speech”, and this naturally includes manga (and visual novels, and drawings, etc.) However, that doesn’t mean these are all entirely safe from regulation. Congress has made laws abridging the freedom of speech since, but these were passed when the courts carved exceptions out of that guaranteed protection. An example of such an exception is found in the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio2 (note: citations provided in the footnotes in case you want to look them up) in which the Court determined that the government could not regulate speech on the basis of violent or incendiary content unless it was 1) “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and 2) “likely to incite or produce such action.”

So it’s unconstitutional to arrest someone for throwing out extremist political views, for example, unless they’re actually stirring up a group to do some immediate violence or lawbreaking. It’s a very limited restriction but an important one — essentially, the Court has said that the government shouldn’t have the power to restrict this kind of speech unless it’s about to cause actual harm.

Artistic expression has also been restricted in limited ways and on similar grounds. Certain kinds of expressions that involve causing harm to others, for example, are rightly recognized as falling outside of the First Amendment’s protection. When the artistic expression in question doesn’t involve such harm, however — for example, when actors are depicted being harmed through the use of effects and studio tricks, or the expression consists of drawing or sculpture or some similar form — the standard for regulating the expression is far higher. Even if an artistic expression seems revolting, as long as it’s not found to be obscene or otherwise outside the protection of the First Amendment, it can’t be banned or suppressed through government action.

And the obscenity standard set by the Supreme Court in Miller v. California is extremely difficult to meet. Attempts at getting around this test through other sorts of official action have usually failed, as in the case of Bery v. New York,3 in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a government regulation requiring artists to be officially licensed to sell their work on public streets. Even if a regulation isn’t obviously intended to restrict freedom of expression, if it has that effect, it’s subject to the First Amendment and likely to be struck down in the same way.

However, let’s say that “official” government action isn’t being taken. What if, as in South Australia, some legislator stands up and simply talks about how bad some work of fiction is, how it’s degrading the morals of the people by its very existence, and how for those reasons Amazon should stop selling it? What if people petition Amazon on that basis and the company gives into public pressure and removes said work? In other words: can a public official legally use the power and influence of their office to skirt the First Amendment and have an artistic work suppressed without “making a law”?

Again, this is no hypothetical, because we’ve already seen it happen. I brought up several examples of such attempts at content-based regulation in another previous post. The most relevant here is the string of attacks on video games made by Congress in the early 90s, most famously against the Sega CD game Night Trap. Looking back, it seems strange that this FMV game was ever at the center of a controversy. Its contents are pretty tame, but some legislators spoke against it anyway, most notably former Senator Joe Lieberman, for containing gratuitous violence and lewdness. Following a congressional hearing in 1993 on the subject of video game violence (during which Lieberman admitted to never having actually played Night Trap) the game was pulled from distribution by major distributors and later pulled from the market altogether.

If it hadn’t been for that controversy, though, this game wouldn’t have gotten a rerelease/remaster on Steam, no way in hell.

The facts that the Sega CD was a marketing failure, and that by most accounts Night Trap was a lousy game, might have something to do with its pulling from distribution, but the influence of interest groups driven at least in part by public condemnation has to be considered. In my view, the use of a congressional hearing in this way taints the market and is an example of government overreach into the regulation of art. Lieberman’s view of Night Trap doesn’t seem very different from Bonaros’ view of No Game No Life and the rest of the manga on her list: both came to conclusions about the meanings and effects of the works seemingly without supporting evidence, and both ended up having an effect on the distribution of the work (in Bonaros’ case a much more direct and obvious effect, though.)

It seems this kind of government interference in art is hard to prevent even in the US, however; it’s happened so many times already (see also the Hays Code and the Parents Music Resource Center.) And there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again. At the moment, the US is going through a shitstorm for lack of a better term, or at least I can’t think of a better one to use, so people aren’t thinking too much about how music or video games are going to turn fans into degenerates or criminals. But that won’t last forever. One day when things are less chaotic, we’ll have another moral panic in which art is attacked as a way to avoid actually addressing societal problems. And since it doesn’t seem to be considered a violation of the First Amendment for politicians to use their influence to try to have works regulated or removed from sale, maybe the better question to ask at that point is: “Should they be allowed to do so?”

Let’s just do this again, why not.

Of course, my answer is “no.” The First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression loses some of its teeth when politicians are able to use the resources and influence of office to essentially get around it. Yet I don’t see a solution to that other than maintaining a culture of open and free expression. That’s a culture that has been under attack recently, especially with regard to anime, manga, and anime/manga-influenced games. We just have to remain vigilant as usual, calling out hypocrisy and scapegoating when we see it, and always in a civil but forceful manner.

I’ve lived in a country where the government had near-complete control over art and the press and where the dominant culture supported that control, and I can tell you it’s not fun. Many of the people who think they want that kind of power to be exerted against expression they don’t like here in the US might be in for an unpleasant surprise when they find works they like on the chopping block. But by then, if we ever get to the point where the First Amendment is so eroded, it will be too late to do anything about it.

So there’s my dire warning as usual. And as usual, I’m interested in other opinions. Do you have a different angle on these issues? Do you think Bonaros was right and justified in what she did? If you do, I don’t think we’ll find much common ground, but it’s still worth talking about. Maybe there were some important facts in that case that were glossed over or that I missed. Or maybe my own views on the issue as an American are considered weird in other countries. I know for a fact that’s the case, but that’s also part of why I came back here after all. 𒀭

1 Thankfully, Kinokuniya’s response to this request was: “In terms of our action globally, wherever our stores are situated we respect local law and culture, and make ordering decisions respectively and accordingly.” Which sounds like a diplomatic way of saying “mind your own damn business.”

2 395 US 444 (1969).

3 97 F.3d 689 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 2408 (1997). There’s an interesting note about the case here (a note being an article written by a law student in an academic journal — I wrote a note myself, but it was a piece of shit and rightly didn’t get published.) A good read if you’re interested in the subject.

Listening/reading log #11 (August 2020)

As America gets closer and closer to becoming a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game and I start to consider how to maintain a Neutral alignment (still the best alignment, no Law or Chaos for me) I’m finding comfort in music. Today I’ll be presenting two works: another old classic and one of my favorite albums ever, and something new I discovered recently. And as usual, I’ll also be featuring excellent articles from around the community in the past month.

Red (King Crimson, 1974)

Highlights: Red, Fallen Angel, One More Red Nightmare, Starless (basically the whole album except for one track that’s just okay)

I’ve written these short album reviews for nearly a year, yet until now I haven’t talked about one of my all-time favorites: Red. This album was put together by the second (or third, or fourth, depending on how you’re counting) iteration of the prog band King Crimson, which has changed lineups about twenty million times since it started in 1969. Through the years, the only constant in the band has been guitarist Robert Fripp. The other two guys on the cover are bassist/singer John Wetton (formerly of Family and later of Asia) and drummer Bill Bruford (formerly of Yes, and who’s been featured the most out of anyone in these reviews so far, also on The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.)

Red is extremely heavy, precise rock, full of memorable songs. The atmosphere this album creates is something to experience — it’s dark but not trying to be “evil” in the way some of the 70s heavy rock and metal was going for. This is one to play late at night during a coffee binge. I love every track except for the improv-sounding piece Providence, and even that’s not exactly bad, just kind of messy-sounding and out of place. But then I know people who love 70s Crimson improv works found on albums like Starless and Bible Black as well, so you might love this too if that’s your thing.

Somehow these guys just broke up right after recording Red and wouldn’t return for seven years, reforming into a totally different-sounding (but still good!) early-80s New Wave band sort of like Talking Heads. Weird stuff, but then Robert Fripp is a weird guy. He’s also responsible for the startup sound in Windows Vista if you remember that thing. Anyway, this is an amazing album that you should check out.

Bon Bon Appétit!! EP (Sugar & Co., 2020)

Highlights: it’s only three songs long and they’re all good, but I love SWEETSWEETSWEET

If Red is too dark and stormy to suit your mood, here’s something completely different in tone and style, and something so sweet that it might be dangerous to listen to. Bon Bon Appétit!! is a short EP that I might never have found if not for Muse Dash, the rhythm game I reviewed last month. Ever since learning about future funk a couple of years ago I’ve really liked what I’ve heard of it, and this is in that style, made by Shanghai-based composer ANK and a few other people operating under this Sugar & Co. name. And the name, album title, and pink as hell anime girl cover fit the contents exactly: Bon Bon Appétit!! is all cute vocals over electronic disco/funk tracks.

There was a time long ago I’d have never listened to this kind of stuff, but not anymore: it’s catchy and addictive like actual sugar is, and I like it about as much. Really nice, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out from ANK and the rest of them. There are a few other tracks in Muse Dash by the same group that I also like, so it seems like they’ve got more material around. I’ll also probably be listening to more future funk in general because of how relaxing I find it — I’ve already gotten a few great recommendations that I’m looking into further.

And now for the featured articles (more than usual to make up for my being too lazy to review more than two albums again, one of which is less than ten minutes long. Sorry!)

Mega Man 6 (Extra Life) — Red Metal completes his analysis of the original NES Mega Man series with his review of Mega Man 6, a game that gets maligned a whole lot but that maybe doesn’t deserve all of that hate. See Red Metal’s in-depth review for more.

Visual Novel Theater – fault (Lost to the Aether) — Another VN review from Aether, this time of fault, an episodic kinetic novel that I haven’t played. Sounds like an interesting premise, though I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the lack of an ending (at least there isn’t one yet, and it sounds like there might never be one from what Aether says.)

Exploring Miyazaki & Aoshima Island at Sunset (Resurface to Reality) — One day I’d like to visit Japan, but for now all I can do is keep reading travel posts like this one, a look at the Kyushu coast from browsercrasher.

Happy Birthday GoldenEye 007! (Mid-Life Gamer Geek) — A birthday tribute to GoldenEye 007. I remember the movie being all right, but the game was legendary, and Mid-Life Gamer Geek does it justice in this post.

Appreciating My Manga Collections More in a COVID-19 World (Objection Network) — Michaela reflects on the dire state of the US and the world as a whole and how it’s made her appreciate manga as a hobby. I’m all about buying physical copies too.

Fate/Grand Order Tierlist: Ranking all Caster servants! (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — I don’t play Fate/Grand Order, but I do like what I’ve played/watched in the Type-Moon universe, so reading Neppy’s character rankings for the game is still a good time. He’s got a whole series of posts on the subject going, so be sure to check it out.

The Top 5 Animes That Made Me Want to Order Take Out (I drink and watch anime) — Anime often features food that’s incredibly detailed-looking and makes you hungry just seeing it. Irina here recommends five anime series featuring great-looking food. None of these are series you should watch if you’re fasting (also don’t watch Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, speaking of great-looking food and the Fate series.)

The Uzuki-Chan Drama – Twitter imposing their morals on a foreign culture (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Having just gotten current on the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! I can say it’s fucking weird that this is the show of the season people decided to start fights about. Wooderon addresses the drama surrounding Uzaki-chan and the part moral and cultural superiority is playing in creating said drama, especially on Twitter.

Waifu Wednesday: Rorolina Frixell (MoeGamer) — Anyone with an interest in JRPGs that are a little out of the ordinary should be following Pete Davison’s massive series of Atelier posts covering what looks like the entire series. In this post, Pete highlights some of what’s great about Rorona, the protagonist of Atelier Rorona, one of the few in the series I’ve played so far. And I agree with his assessment — Rorona is easily one of my favorite game protagonists.

I Really Dig Disco Elysium’s Character Building (Frostilyte Writes) — Disco Elysium looks like it has a unique character creation system. I think I can easily get into the mindset of a sad drunken detective already, but Frostilyte’s post about the game got me even more interested in it.

The Plague of WordPress: AI Generated Posts (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu delivers a warning about the rise of AI-generated nonsense posts on WordPress that are currently misusing the anime tag. We’ll have to stay one or more steps ahead of the jerks behind this garbage.

Surgeon General’s Warning: DO NOT WATCH ANIME (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — And finally, Scott delivers a warning about the effects of watching too much anime. Sadly, it came too late for me.

That’s all for this month. I have more anime reviews and a couple of game retrospectives coming up soon, but before that I’ll be taking on a couple of tag posts. Until then, stay safe as always.

Do your protagonist or leads have to be relatable?

Relatability is thrown around a lot in discussions about what makes good and bad fiction. If you’re creating any kind of fiction, it helps you get and keep an audience if they have some prominent character at least to connect with in the story — someone who’s sympathetic or is going through a relatable experience.

I thought about this recently when I read through the first few volumes of the manga Ijiranaide Nagatoro-san, officially published as Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro. This manga caught my attention because 1) it’s been getting a lot of talk ahead of an anime adaptation planned for sometime in the near future, and 2) it’s apparently extremely divisive, with some readers loving it and others dropping it almost immediately. To me, something so divisive has to be interesting, so it’s probably worth checking out even if I end up not liking it.

And I can see why someone might drop this manga after reading a couple of chapters. Nagatoro-san is another one of those high school romantic comedies that are so common, but its sadistic element sets it apart from the others. Title character Nagatoro is a popular first-year student who fixates on a nerdy loner art-loving second-year, known only as “senpai” throughout, because of how strongly he reacts when she makes fun of him. People have compared it to series with similar setups like Teasing Master Takagi-san, but Nagatoro cranks the mockery level way up. Of course, as in that series, there are strong hints that she’s only messing with him because she likes him; we see later on that poor Senpai is the only guy she treats this way, usually only in private, and when her friends try to get in on the action and mock him a bit too much she gets pissed off and stops them.

After getting past the initially harsh, hard-going couple of chapters, I ended up enjoying the rest of what I read, I think partly because of how well I could relate to the Senpai character. All this guy ever really wanted was to be left alone to paint still lifes of fruit and draw his wish-fulfillment fantasy comics with his self-insert character. Shortly after Nagatoro wedges herself into that peaceful loner life he’s living, she asks him why he doesn’t fight back when she messes around with him, and his answer is telling: he says that when he’s bullied, he just closes up his heart and ignores it until it goes away.

Of course, again, the reason Senpai doesn’t just ignore Nagatoro in the same way is that he likes her too, and this is obviously one of those slow-burn romances where the two main characters will end up together, but will take a hell of a long time to do it because of their clashing character quirks (see also the now-infamous Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!) But the way he handles all the other bullying he deals with, that really hit me in the gut. I shouldn’t project any of my feelings onto the author, but it reads just like it was written by someone who’s gone through the same sort of thing, or at least by someone who was a close-up witness to a lot of that treatment at school.

I’m in this manga and I don’t like it

The fact that the protagonist of Nagatoro-san is so relatable to me helped me connect with him and get into the story, which does get quite a bit lighter and nicer when it starts to become clear that Nagatoro is trying to help out and get closer to Senpai, albeit in her own weird, aggressive way. However, it also raised that question of relatability. Does relatability always have to be there to connect with your protagonist and leads?

I’d say it depends on what sort of story you’re trying to tell. A romantic comedy of this kind definitely needs some relatability, since it’s presumably trying to build an emotional connection between the main characters that it wants the readers to get invested in. To use an example from a very different sphere of fans/viewers, the US version of The Office did the same thing with Jim and Pam, two relatively normal, nice characters who many fans wanted to get together. These two were probably more relatable to most than a lot of the other weirdos working in that mid-sized Pennsylvania paper company branch, so it was easier to get invested in the story through their perspectives.*

However, there are works I’ve liked, and even loved, in which the protagonist was totally unrelatable, or in which he was even a complete asshole. For an example of the former, check out Mahjong Legend Akagi. The title character isn’t a bad guy at all, but not because he’s exactly “good” either. In some sense, he rises above basic ideas of “good” and “bad” in the course of his story. As a genius gambler, he knows how to utterly crush his opponents without remorse, and he does so, but what he’s really looking for is a challenge in which both he and his opponent put everything on the line, up to and including their lives. Other characters in the series, almost all crooked cops, shady fellow gamblers, and yakuza members, come to fear him and refer to him as a “demon”, not because he’s evil but because of his sheer talent and just how different and how much more terrifying his ways are when compared with those of the money-driven underworld.

This is a teaser for a future deep reads post, by the way. There’s a lot to say about Akagi, both the character and the series.

Even having an asshole or a plain old criminal for a protagonist can help make for great fiction, however. Up until it started to get stale around the fourth season or so, the US Netflix production of the political crime drama House of Cards did a great job with this, casting excellent actor and now-accused real-life criminal Kevin Spacey as the ruthless, coldblooded House Majority Whip Frank Underwood. Underwood is so ambitious that he’ll do anything for power, and he does a whole lot of evil things to achieve that power up to and including committing multiple murders. There are a few sympathetic characters who take part in the story, and most of them end up crushed and sometimes even killed by one or another of Underwood’s schemes.

While I watched the show, though, I was all in for Underwood. I wanted to see how he would make it to the Presidency, and then how he’d fall from that high office and end up ruining himself. Underwood’s occasional asides, addressed directly to the viewer, helped create this connection. But that’s not quite enough; you also need a compelling story to make this kind of evil protagonist work, and House of Cards managed that for a while at least. Underwood wasn’t relatable, at least not to me, but I was riding along and wanted to see how his ruthlessness and cruelty would play out.

The fact that the character Underwood ended up ruined because of illicit acts his actor was accused of having carried out is quite a weird thing in itself (and the subject for an entirely different post, and really a different sort of blog than mine) but it’s easy to imagine an alternate reality where that story could have played out much more effectively. I have heard that the original UK version of House of Cards told its story in a more effective and compact way, and it had a proper ending too. I might check that out one day myself.

All the Spacey stuff was obviously a problem, but I think the writers had stretched the show out way too long and kind of fucked it up by that point anyway. (Image source)

So when does a protagonist or a central character fall flat or annoy me to the point that I have to drop a series? If the work is trying to portray a shitty, or even a simply unremarkable, character as someone amazing but we the audience don’t see it, that’s when I get genuinely pissed off at it. To me, this is one of the hallmarks of lazy writing: “I want a cool protagonist but I don’t know how to effectively depict one, so all the other characters will say how amazing they are and the reader/viewer/etc. will see it too!”

But it doesn’t work that way. On the contrary, the harder a character like that is pushed without properly establishing why we should like them by showing and not telling, the more I’ll hate them. It’s part of that “Poochie Effect” I wrote about a while ago. Though she has her fans, Marie from Persona 4 Golden was an example of such a character for me. She didn’t really hurt the game, since she was more or less a side character, but the way the game tried to push her was a bit annoying — the temperamental teenager act came off as simply grating, even if there was a lot more behind the character than was evident at first. At the very least, I didn’t feel too compelled to learn about what was behind Marie until I was forced to by the game, and a big part of that had to do with her irritating character traits that I was apparently supposed to find endearing. Or maybe I wasn’t and Atlus are a bunch of sadists too.

So as you can see, I’m no expert. I’m a shitty hack writer myself, so I have to try not to make the kinds of mistakes I’m talking about here when I’m working on fiction. So please tell me if you feel like it: what kinds of characters can you relate to, and what do you think makes for an effective or ineffective protagonist? Do you need to be able to relate to the protagonist or at least to someone in the story to enjoy a work? Do you think this was just an excuse for me to post a review of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro while pretending I wasn’t doing that? I’m interested to know your opinions. 𒀭

* Kevin is still my favorite character, though. At least before they changed him from secretly smart to just plain stupid. It wasn’t quite as bad as what The Simpsons did to Homer, but still noticeable.

A review of Kizumonogatari

Last month I took a look at Bakemonogatari, the first part of the long-running Monogatari anime adaptation of novels by author Nisio Isin. I liked pretty much everything about what I saw and decided on that basis to keep going with it. But before I could proceed to the next part in the series chronologically, I was advised by top experts to turn back and watch the three Kizumonogatari prequel movies, titled Tekketsu-hen, Nekketsu-hen, and Reiketsu-hen. So that’s what I did. And so here’s my review of all three. I could break this post into three parts as well, but to me these three films really feel like one three-and-a-half hour film broken into three parts — they tell one complete story, and they’re all made in the same style.

But maybe that would have been too exhausting for the audience. Taken all together, there is a lot of shocking, sometimes inhuman-looking violence and gore in these three movies, much more than there was in Bakemonogatari. The same is true of the sexually suggestive content in Kizumonogatari. If you thought that first series was a bit much for you, this set of movies also cranks that element up. Once again, though, I don’t think any of it’s gratuitous, as extreme as these movies get in some of their contents. The story they tell is an extreme one anyway, one that was already set up in the first series, and one that needed to be told to explain some of the characters’ situations in that series.

Aside from the general content warning, here’s another one: there are going to be some specific spoilers in this post, the kind I tried to avoid in that last review. I couldn’t really avoid them this time, partly because of these films’ links to that series. So please take the usual precautions if you care to. In some sense the ending to these films is already kind of spoiled since they’re meant to be watched after Bakemonogatari, but I like to be safe anyway.

Here’s our protagonist again. At the beginning of Bakemonogatari, the student Koyomi Araragi has already survived a serious ordeal, a run-in with the supernatural that nearly killed him and put one of his friends in great danger. At the start of Tekketsu-hen, he’s just a regular guy, though one without friends at the moment. Araragi prefers to keep to himself. However, that changes over his two-week spring break. When school gets out and he’s aimlessly hanging around the front gate, he comes across one of his classmates, the legendarily smart and proper student council president Tsubasa Hanekawa. The first look he gets of her is quite improper, though. When the wind blew down the street and flipped her skirt up, I understood where that very first scene in Bakemonogatari came from.

That’s one of the powers of the author, to create a convenient gust of wind at just the right time

Despite this embarrassing start to their first meeting, Hanekawa laughs it off and insists on talking with and getting to know Araragi better. It turns out they both know about each other, but until now they haven’t interacted despite being in the same class. Araragi tries desperately to get away, putting up a show of acting cold towards her, but Hanekawa follows him anyway and goes on about school, their future plans, and some rumor she heard about a beautiful blonde vampire woman stalking around town. She also puts her number into his phone and tells him that he’s made a friend whether he likes it or not.

After she cheerfully waves goodbye to him and leaves, Araragi skips home, secretly happy that he met and got to know Hanekawa. However, he can’t get that first accidental and improper look at her out of his head, and it starts to seriously bother him in just the way you might expect. So late that night, he leaves his weirdly empty house (he lives with his parents and two little sisters, but they’re nowhere to be seen in these movies) and runs to a bookstore to buy a girly magazine to relieve some of that stress. On the way back home, however, he gets sidetracked by a trail of blood leading down to a subway station, and what he finds there puts every other thought out of his mind. There lies a blonde woman with all her limbs cut off, gushing blood all over the platform.

Despite her state, she speaks to Araragi calmly, even with an arrogant tone, commanding him to give her his blood. This seems to be that vampire Hanekawa was talking about: the strangely named Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade. Kiss-Shot tells Araragi he should be grateful to have such an opportunity, but Araragi turns to flee in terror after she tells him she’ll need all his blood to survive.

Despite initially running for his life, Araragi decides to throw it away to save this vampire woman after she loses her haughty demeanor and starts crying and pleading with him. Kiss-Shot thankfully accepts his offer and bites him, and the scene fades out. However, we know he’s obviously not going to die, so what does happen to him? Naturally, he wakes up a vampire himself — a follower of Kiss-Shot, who’s been restored to health with all her limbs intact.

Well, sort of. Kiss-Shot explains that she indeed sucked Araragi dry, and by doing do she turned him, making him her servant. She also explains that in order to regenerate her body, she needed to take the form of a child. In this weak form, though, she can’t fight against the vampire hunters who cut off and took her limbs. To recover that strength, Araragi will have to use his new vampiric regeneration ability and strength to defeat them one by one and acquire her arms and legs, all video game boss style. Only then will she have the power to turn him back into a human. In the meantime, the pair take refuge from the sun in an abandoned cram school building.

Also, headpats are how you show your vampire master that you submit to her. At least that’s what Kiss-Shot claims. Maybe she’s just making that up — it would be totally in character for her.

When Araragi ventures out of the cram school at night to face these powerful vampire hunters who are after Kiss-Shot, they all gang up on him at once. Araragi freaks out and tries to run away, but one moment before they close in and kill him, the final character in the story shows up to save him: Meme Oshino, the ghost/youkai/apparition expert from Bakemonogatari. This Oshino guy apparently has a scary enough reputation that the three vampire hunters run away, and he and Araragi return to the cram school to sort things out with Kiss-Shot. A solid team is formed, although the mysterious Oshino refuses to do any fighting himself, only “lending a hand” as he puts it, and for a steep price at that. But he seems to know his stuff, so they accept his help.

Oshino is legitimately a cool guy, and not just because vampire hunters are afraid of him.

And that’s the basic premise of Kizumonogatari. In fact, I just set out all the events of the first movie, which is only about an hour long. The rest of the story sees these plot setups play out, with emphases on the relationships Araragi builds with Oshino, Kiss-Shot, and Hanekawa. Because even though she doesn’t seem connected with the rest of the story, Hanekawa ends up involving herself in it with obviously serious risks. These are risks that she seems to fully understand, but she takes them anyway.

Before getting into more details, I should say that I completely get now why Kizumonogatari is meant to be watched after Bakemonogatari, even though it comes first chronologically. It seems to have been written specifically as a prequel. If I’d watched these movies before that first series, I don’t know if I’d understand why certain characters take some of the seemingly strange actions they do here. For example, the reason that Araragi would give his life up for this vampire woman probably won’t be clear unless you’ve watched Bakemonogatari and know what kind of person he is. As we’ve already seen in that series, it’s not out of character for him to help someone else even at the risk of his own life, and even if that someone else is an apparition, monster, or spirit. It really would have been more out of character for him to let her die.

The same is true for Hanekawa. Araragi himself is confused about why this perfect young lady, this model student and class president, would even bother talking to a loser like him. From what I could tell, for as much screentime as Hanekawa gets in these movies, the narrative doesn’t make this clear either. She tells Araragi at their first meeting that she has a fascination with vampires and supernatural things in general, but the reasons she’s found wandering around town at night, or why she gravitates towards Araragi as if he’s a magnet, even when she knows he’s been turned into a vampire — these only make some sense if you’ve seen Bakemonogatari and understand what a miserable home life she has. Again, Kizumonogatari doesn’t go into any details; it relies on the viewer having seen the first series or read the first set of novels already.

It’s not a baseball movie, this is just part of one of the fights

If you were starting with these movies, you might also think based on the events of Tekketsu-hen that their focus is going to be on how Araragi learns to use his new vampiric powers to fight the three vampire hunters and retrieve Kiss-Shot’s limbs. That does happen, complete with elaborate fight scenes — these scenes fill out a lot of the action of the second Nekketsu-hen film — but it turns out that these three enemies aren’t even close to the greatest threat Araragi has to face. No, that would be Kiss-Shot herself.

Oshino, who Araragi comes to half-trust as a mentor and half-suspect as a weirdo with unclear intentions, drops a few hints that help him discover this fact. Though Araragi absolutely wants to become a human again, he also seems to be drawn somewhat to Kiss-Shot. This isn’t such a surprise — in her weakest form, she takes the form of a kid who looks like she needs protection, albeit one who talks in a very haughty and superior way and uses old-fashioned language (I don’t know how it comes out in Japanese, but in the translation she refers to him as “ye” a lot.) As Araragi collects her limbs, Kiss-Shot consumes them and ages up, getting closer to the looks she has when we first meet her. But he seems more and more taken by her, up to the point when she’s fully restored and at full power again.

I mean, not that I can really blame him.

By this point, he seems to have forgotten an important fact, one that he curses himself later for not realizing: Kiss-Shot is a vampire, and that means she kills and consumes humans. He gets a stomach-turning reminder of this fact when he tells her he’ll go get a meal to celebrate their last night together before she turns him into a human again. Kiss-Shot cheerfully agrees, but when Araragi returns with some takeout, he finds she has started without him, feeding upon the corpse of one of the vampire hunters he’d earlier defeated. Kiss-Shot seems genuinely surprised when she sees he’s brought normal human-style food and not the “portable food” she expected: that “bespectacled, braided girl” she’d briefly met before, that class president who had been sticking around Araragi and bringing him supplies while they hid out in the cram school — Tsubasa Hanekawa.

In a later episode of Bakemonogatari, Araragi tells Hanekawa that he owes her his life. It’s not clear what he’s referring to then, but in Reiketsu-hen Hanekawa snaps him back into reality when he’s despairing about having revived a murderous vampire. By this point in the films, the two have built a strange sort of relationship — Hanekawa pushed a friendship on him that he didn’t plan to accept, then he tried pushing her away out of fear that he’d put her in danger. When she was put in danger anyway by trying to help him during a fight with one of the vampire hunters, the hunter mortally wounds her, and Araragi is only able to save her with the timely help of Oshino. By the middle of the third film, Araragi and Hanekawa understand each other and their connection has been made real, letting the viewer make a direct link to the unusual friendship between the top student and burnout slacker in Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot showing off her stupidly long sword: one that she purposely doesn’t use in the final fight.

This is the link that gives Araragi the strength to fight and defeat his vampiric master Kiss-Shot. Having resolved that he can’t let her continue to kill humans, he faces her in battle. Though they’re both immortal at this point and can almost instantly regenerate limbs and even their own heads, Kiss-Shot is clearly on a far higher level having been around for 500 years. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Araragi manages to get an opening and latch onto her neck, literally sucking the life out of her as she withers back to a small, weakened form. And here’s the other big connection to Bakemonogatari and the rest of the story: it’s revealed that Kiss-Shot wanted to die after living for such a long time — specifically that she wanted to die for a human after seeing her first human-turned-vampire follower die centuries before — and this was just how she intended to restore Araragi to human form.

Araragi refuses to grant her wish, however. After Oshino (who’s been hiding in a corner and watching this whole time) comes out and gives Araragi a few options none of which are that great, our protagonist goes for the ending that will make everyone unhappy: he drains Kiss-Shot of blood until she’s almost dead and has lost almost all her power, making him almost human but not quite. By doing this he creates Shinobu, the silent vampire girl from Bakemonogatari who has to drink his blood to survive. It’s now clear why Araragi feels guilty towards Shinobu, having taken away almost all of her power and even the right she has to her title and name while not granting her wish to die, and this guilt makes it even more clear why he might have been reluctant to ask for her help at the end of Bakemonogatari even when he knew he needed it.

And here’s the end of Kizumonogatari, or Wound Tale. I wrote in that first Monogatari review that I’d heard these movies were somewhat divisive, and I have seen a few criticisms of them since. One is of their visual style, which is very different from that of Bakemonogatari and the other TV series in some ways. Kizumonogatari is a lot more violent with a focus on body horror — during his fights, Araragi loses and regrows body parts, which regenerate in almost infant-looking form back into their original shapes. All this is accompanied by a lot of viscera and spraying blood. The worst scene by far for me isn’t one of these but rather a more realistic-looking one, when Hanekawa gets very graphically disemboweled by one of the vampire hunters. Probably because it is more realistic-looking, even if she does get magically restored by Araragi’s vampire power with the advice of Oshino.

There are more mundane differences too, like the character models themselves: Oshino is pretty much unchanged, but Araragi looks a lot bulkier in Kizumonogatari, even before he gets buff and largely shirtless during his time as a vampire. And Hanekawa looks extra-cute, to a way more exaggerated extent than in the other series. I did notice these differences, but they didn’t bother me. I can even take the extreme violence — as I wrote at the top, this is an extreme sort of story anyway, so the extreme visuals fit in that sense. I should note generally how good the animation in all three films is; Kizumonogatari looks like it had a pretty high budget. Even so, people who can’t take extremely violent scenes might want to avoid these movies.

More of those facial closeups that I’ve come to expect from this series now. Maybe Hanekawa’s weirdly exaggerated cuteness is meant to contrast with the extreme violence later on? Just a guess, because I have no idea.

There’s also the sexual content. There’s no outright sex in Kizumonogatari, but there is a ton of tension between Araragi and Hanekawa from their very start of their first encounter. Araragi is obviously attracted to Hanekawa from the beginning, and Hanekawa seems to start feeling that way about Araragi. After their interactions in the second and third movies, it’s honestly pretty surprising that nothing ends up happening between them, with Araragi eventually getting grabbed up by his other classmate Hitagi Senjougahara. It definitely comes as no surprise when we later learn in Bakemonogatari that Hanekawa’s secretly interested in him and that this interest started right here during Araragi’s vampiric spring break.

Even so, there’s a bit of criticism that Hanekawa is unnecessarily or overly sexualized in these movies, especially during the gym storage room scene between her and Araragi in Reiketsu-hen. While I can understand some people being uncomfortable with that scene, it doesn’t really clash with the characters that were developed either here or in Bakemonogatari in my opinion. This and a couple of other scenes also provide some background for the relationship between Araragi and Hanekawa. So far I’ve seen a recurring theme in Monogatari of the contrast between lust and serious romantic love. It’s one that’s very relevant to this relationship, and one that will come back with serious consequences for both characters later in the series.

Also, both the anime series and films are based on novels written from the perspective of Koyomi Araragi, a high school student with raging hormones, so it’s only natural if he’s fixating on more sexual details. He doesn’t seem to be a totally reliable narrator anyway. Not sure how much that perspective affected the angle taken in Kizumonogatari, but it’s worth noting.

As usual there’s context to explain this strange-looking scene

There’s a lot of emotion in Kizumonogatari, and it’s not the cheap kind. Sure, it is a vampire romance, and those aren’t anything new. But the characters here show that they’re willing to make great sacrifices for each other in ways that both explain and connect with events in Bakemonogatari, and for that reason alone these films are quite something to watch. They have a style fitting the dark, depressing tone of the story, though there are some comedic breaks as well — this is also written by Nisio Isin, so there’s still some quipping here, though there aren’t any 20-minute stretches where two characters sit on a park bench and play out comedy wordplay bits like there are in Bakemonogatari.

The pacing in Kizumonogatari is still a bit strange at times in the way you’d expect if you’re familiar with this series, with a few very weird scenes in the middle (my favorite: Araragi playfully spraying Hanekawa with a bottle of Coke while they run around in a field of wheat???) But again, that didn’t bother me at all. It seems like anything weird that comes up in these adaptations is taken straight out of the original novels. The pacing also suits the story these movies tell, and that’s part of why I can imagine Shaft having made this one extra-long film with an intermission in the middle, the sort American studios produced back in the 50s and 60s. I think that could have worked well, not just because of the relatively short lengths of each but also because they have some of the feel of those old-fashioned epics. Though presumably there would be a lot fewer ticket sales for one movie than for three. They did air all three in theaters from what I understand, which makes sense — Kizumonogatari really feels to me like it was made for a big screen.

That’s quite a skyline. Later on Araragi talks about how he lives in a “small town”, but this doesn’t look that small to me. Maybe it’s meant to be a boring suburb.

The ending theme to the second and third movies also suits the tone of these movies beautifully. When I first heard “Étoile et toi” I thought it was an old French song they had adapted, but it turns out it was written specifically for these movies. Even if you have no interest in watching this or Monogatari at all, you should at least check out that song and its variations.

Obvious content warnings aside though, again, I think there’s a lot to miss out on here if it’s passed up. I really liked Kizumonogatari, even if it was exhausting to watch all at once, or maybe partly because of it. And the very last lines of the movie sealed the deal up for me. Araragi sparing Kiss-Shot’s life, though it cost her everything else, fits perfectly with the other parts of the series I’ve seen up until now: even though she’s a vampire, as Oshino says, aberrations like her can’t really be blamed for doing what they do. To him, and later to Araragi, this work of containing demons and spirits doesn’t seem to be a matter of good and evil so much, even though both are doing so largely to protect human life. The result of their efforts in this case was an unhappy ending, but it was also a satisfying one and a great setup to what comes afterward.

I don’t have anything big and profound to close with, so here’s Hanekawa’s :3 face.

And shit, that’s a lot more than I thought I’d have to say about Kizumonogatari. I did say in my first Monogatari post that my next anime review would be something different, but I guess I lied. Sorry. But I’ve been sucked into the series now. I really will try to find something different for my next anime review, though. This one took it out of me.

Until next time… I don’t know. Try to avoid vampires, maybe? Seems like a good idea. 𒀭

Listening/reading log #10 (July 2020)

Last month was one of my most prolific ever. Between the Atelier and Monogatari stuff and my Sim series retrospective, I managed to say more than I thought I had to say, which might be a sign that I need to edit. But I’m too lazy to edit. I’m a bit tired now, but don’t worry: I still have several anime and game review drafts sitting around and even more to come after that, so there’s no end in sight.

For now, let’s do the usual end-of-month thing and check out some good music and writing from fellow bloggers. I didn’t get much of a chance to hear any new music in July that wasn’t part of a soundtrack, so this time I’m pulling two old classics out, both by groups that I covered a long while back:

Maggot Brain (Funkadelic, 1971)

Highlights: Maggot Brain, Hit It and Quit It, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks

I guess I haven’t actually talked about Funkadelic before but rather Parliament, but they’re sort of the same thing. They were musical groups with a lot of overlap in membership, both led by musician/composer/producer George Clinton, and are often referred to together as P-Funk. There were differences, though: while Parliament’s releases tended towards dance-oriented stuff, Funkadelic was more of a psychedelic rock/funk group as their name suggests.

Maggot Brain is also one of their best albums. It has a lot of great energy and emotion, even in cases where it’s hard to tell if the music’s about anything — see the excellent title track for some of that, with guitarist Eddie Hazel playing his heart out. I really like some of the shorter songs as well. The only song I don’t like is the closer Wars of Armageddon, which I would describe charitably as “a fucking mess” but then it sounds like that was the intention anyway. The rest of Maggot Brain is good enough to still made it a personal favorite.

And no, I don’t know why that lady is buried up to her neck in dirt on the cover. She doesn’t look like she’s having a great time, though.

Emerson Lake & Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Highlights: Take a Pebble, Knife-Edge, Lucky Man

At first glance, ELP and Funkadelic might not look like they have much to do with each other. But both of the albums I’m looking at today have a lot of energy and a nice degree of weirdness to them, even if stylistically they’re very different. This is the debut album of the prog group Emerson Lake & Palmer, three guys who were already well-established when they joined together in 1970. So despite being a debut album, it sounds very confident right out of the gate.

My favorite here is “Take a Pebble”, which doesn’t feel its length at all. It’s relaxing and mellow in parts but also builds a lot of tension near the end with Keith Emerson’s great piano-playing and Greg Lake’s dramatic vocals. ELP swiped the tune to the classical-rock piece “Knife-Edge” from Czech composer Leoš Janáček without crediting him until they were called out for it, but it’s still a great song. And “Lucky Man” was supposedly a song Lake wrote when he was a kid, a nice simple guitar ballad about a guy who isn’t really so lucky.

I don’t know if I prefer this over ELP’s followup Tarkus, so I’ll just say they’re both classics. Maybe I’ll also take on their later album Brain Salad Surgery one day, though my feelings about it are more complicated. I do love its insane-looking cover. If you’re a fan of H. R. Giger, look it up.

Now for some great posts from the past month:

The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 5 – Plot and Themes (Lost to the Aether) — I’m not putting the whole long title of this article here (those are “Mass Destruction” lyrics, right?) but you can and should check it out for yourself above, in which Aether continues his multipart analysis of the excellent JRPG Persona 3. There’s a lot here I never considered even after playing the game through a few times in different forms, with Aether going into depth about its connections to the Tarot and the Fool’s Journey.

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off! (Shoot the Rookie) — If you’re looking for a blogging community event that’s also an excuse to talk about your favorite JRPG characters, check out Pix1001’s post above detailing the rules. I’ll probably be taking part myself — it seems like a waste not to since I’ve been playing JRPGs for over 20 years now. Can’t waste all that valuable experience.

A perhaps biased opinion on Disgaea (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — Neppy played through the first Disgaea game and gives his thoughts on it. He says his view is biased, but it’s not any more biased than mine — I love Disgaea 1, but this post brings up some weaknesses in the game that are worth talking about. We may not agree in our analyses of the game, but Neppy’s take on it is very interesting and worth reading.

Steam’s Inconsistency is Hurting Visual Novels – How We Can Help (MoeGamer) — Valve has been up to their old tricks with the visual novels on their game platform, removing an all-ages version of the VN Bokuten from Steam without warning. Pete Davison addresses the matter and raises the option of buying digital copies of VNs from alternative platforms and stores to try to break Valve’s virtual monopoly.

Anime Review #40: Little Witch Academia (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Here’s a Trigger series that passed me by completely. I was planning to watch their newest show BNA, but I’m now also interested in Little Witch Academia thanks to the Traditional Catholic Weeb’s very positive and thorough review of it.

Senko-san and Japan’s corporate culture (Reasons to anime) — From what I understand, some companies in Japan work their employees so hard, often without overtime compensation, that the Japanese language had to invent a new word. The word is 過労死karoushi, meaning death from overwork — not a figure of speech, but rather literal death caused by work-related stress. Casper examines the anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san and how effectively it addresses corporate culture and workers’ quality of life.

The Toxic Side of Fanbases (Lex’s Blog) — Being part of both the Persona and SMT fanbases, I can say for sure that we have some crazy in there, with more than our share of infighting and weird feuds that probably look like total nonsense from the outsider’s perspective. Lexine raises some of the issues with fanbases, particularly with the minority of people in most every fanbase who are hostile to newcomers.

What I Learned from Watching the Ghost Stories Dub (I drink and watch anime) — The English-language release of the series Ghost Stories is legendary among a set of western anime fans because of its intentionally bizarre dub. The original work was pretty mediocre, but the dub turns it into an ultra-offensive comedy of the kind that probably wouldn’t fly today. Irina analyzes the ways in which this dub completely changed the feel of the series into something uniquely western.

I finally played “Da Capo” (Baud Attitude) — And from Baud Attitude, a look at the romance visual novel Da Capo and a comparison with its anime adaptation. Anime versions of VNs really do always go with the most boring, safest routes, don’t they? I bet if a Tsukihime anime were made, it would do exactly the same thing. Good thing that hasn’t happened.

And here’s to yet another month. Good luck and health to everyone, and please look forward to more of my nonsense posts to come. I might even review a banned-from-Steam VN or two if I can get them.

A review of Bakemonogatari

Yeah, the anime reviews are back. I won’t even bother trying to keep up with currently airing stuff, though: my adventure with Cop Craft last year was exhausting enough, even if I did enjoy writing those posts. From now on, I’ll leave that work to the real experts and instead dive into the deep anime backlog I’ve got. And I’m starting with Bakemonogatari.

Sure, the Monogatari series is extremely well-known and a lot’s been said about it already. And I’m not even covering the whole thing but only the first 15 episodes from back in 2009 that adapted the first set of novels in the larger series into anime form. So maybe this is a weird decision on my part. Then again, the entire Monogatari series feels way too massive to take on all at once. I’ve also only watched Bakemonogatari so far — that’s just how far behind I am — but I feel there’s more than enough in this one run of episodes to talk about.

This guy with the giant cowlick is our protagonist, high school senior Koyomi Araragi. He looks like a bit of a delinquent in this screenshot, and he’s definitely a misfit in some sense — all the characters in Bakemonogatari are. But he’s actually a good guy and extremely altruistic, maybe too much for his own good. Almost certainly too much for his own good, in fact, because his altruism time and again gets him seriously injured and even nearly killed.

The story opens with Araragi running up the stairs at his school trying to make it to class when he sees another student falling from a high distance. He manages to catch her, but to his shock she’s nearly weightless in his arms. This girl, Hitagi Senjougahara, is one of Araragi’s classmates, one who’s both extremely talented but also seemingly very aloof, so much that she sits by herself and doesn’t socialize with others. Araragi is interested in learning more about her thanks to this bizarre encounter, so he asks his colleague on the student council, president and top-of-her-class student Tsubasa Hanekawa, about her.

Hanekawa can’t tell him much because she doesn’t know much herself, even though she and Senjougahara attended the same middle school — only that she used to be very popular and outgoing until she came down with a mysterious illness and seemingly withdrew into herself at the start of high school. Araragi, not letting on about her weightlessness, thinks to himself that it must be connected. As he leaves, however, he’s met by Senjougahara herself, who forces a boxcutter and a stapler into both sides of his mouth and demands that he stop prying into her business. Since he knows too much already, she tells him that she lost almost all her weight after she was confronted by a supernaturally powerful crab that she claims stole it from her, and ever since she’s been forced to hide this fact from everyone. Araragi is then coerced into agreeing to keep her secret, but she staples him in the cheek anyway just to make her point.

Araragi chases her down after recovering when he realizes that he can help her with her problem. and he convinces her to follow him when he shows her his cheek just a few minutes after she stapled it to reveal that the staple wounds have already healed. Because it turns out that the supernatural crab story isn’t some bullshit she just made up, and Araragi believes her because he’s had his own run-in with the supernatural. In his case it was a beautiful vampire woman who bit him and turned him into a follower before he was helped out by one Meme Oshino, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing guy who lives in an abandoned building and has the power to communicate with and expel gods, demons, and spirits. Araragi still has a few of the benefits of his former vampirism, including a fast-heal ability, but he’s more or less human again, and he now consults Oshino about other supernatural occurrences.

This is the beginning of Bakemonogatari, just the first part of a larger story about Koyomi Araragi and all the women who end up involved in his life. And aside from Oshino they are all women, some of whom end up having feelings for him. At this point, this might sound a lot like a harem anime, but it’s not exactly that. That’s partly because the show is focused a bit more on the various animal spirits that are causing problems for each girl in the cast, but also because Araragi quickly gets into a relationship with Senjougahara, the very same girl who stapled his mouth in the first episode. And it’s a relationship that both of them seem firmly committed to. There’s no wavering between different heroines in this one as there is in so many harem series, where the protagonist is a clueless dumbass too dense to understand what’s going on or to make up his mind and commit himself to someone.

His willpower does get tested, though

Their relationship is also tested from the very beginning by these supernatural incidents. Bakemonogatari is a faithful adaptation of the original novel series by author Nisio Isin, and like the novels it’s divided into five parts based on each new heroine and the animal spirit-related affliction she’s dealing with: Hitagi Crab, Mayoi Snail, Suruga Monkey, Nadeko Snake, and Tsubasa Cat. In each of these parts, Araragi takes it upon himself to help the affected person with the aid of the spiritual expert Oshino and his growing group of friends and confidants.

It soon becomes clear that Araragi is the kind of guy who will throw himself into a situation to save pretty much anyone without giving it a second thought. There wouldn’t have even been a story if not for that — the reason Senjougahara attacked him with a stapler in the first place was to drive him away, yet he still insisted on helping her after all that. And Senjougahara decides and then immediately announces that she loves him when, instead of just walking away from a problem to benefit himself, he shows the same compassion to the grade school girl Mayoi Hachikuji in the following part.

In the third arc, Araragi’s attempts at heroics nearly get him killed even with his quick healing ability, and only the intervention of Oshino and Senjougahara saves him. He ends up making a new friend in his junior schoolmate Suruga Kanbaru after she’s rescued from her own supernatural possession, but it’s pretty clear now that Araragi is willing to jump into any kind of danger for the sake of others to a crazy degree, even to the point that he doesn’t think at all about his own well-being. As Oshino, Senjougahara, and other characters point out to him, he’ll probably end up facing serious consequences for that sooner or later.

That brings me to the first big strength I think Bakemonogatari has: the characterization. I had a strong sense of who Araragi and Senjougahara were from their interactions in the very first episode. Araragi’s heroics don’t come off as false, because we see that he’s committed to them not to get praise but because that’s just how he is, and Senjougahara’s coldness and awkwardness also seem to be not really an affectation but just a natural part of her character. Other characters, like Hanekawa, are kept more obscure for a while, but this is clearly because the writer meant to reveal more of them when the time was right. This became more obvious after I finished this first series and went back to rewatch a few early episodes; there are plenty of moments that hint at trouble coming up for certain characters, brief moments that might be written off the first time as no big deal.

While there are some action scenes in Bakemonogatari, a lot of the show’s time is taken up by dialogue that helps establish these characters. It’s not very realistic, at least from what I can tell — you’d probably have to be an expert in Japanese to pick up on the nuances in how the characters talk, but just from the subtitles it’s obvious that these conversations aren’t the kind people would have in real life. Some viewers might be annoyed by this, but I don’t have a problem with stylized dialogue if it’s done well and is entertaining, and the dialogue in Bakemonogatari is both. I like the kind of dialogue you find in Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson movies, so it probably makes sense that I’d like this too, because it’s the same kind of snappy, witty exchanges with some weird references and wordplay involved.

Some of the more specifically Japanese references go right over my head, and the stuff involving kanji is impossible to get unless you have some basic knowledge of how those characters work. Even the title of this first season, Bakemonogatari, is a play on two different words: bakemono, 化物, describing a supernatural monster or spirit, and monogatari, 物語, meaning “story” or “tale.”* The wordplay and pun material goes way deeper than just that once you get into the story itself. Still, a lot of it’s perfectly understandable even if you’re relying on subs to understand it.

I still don’t completely get this snail -> cow kanji thing in Mayoi’s arc though

This strong characterization is also helped out by the visual style the show has. The entire series is produced by Shaft, an animation studio famous for their unique approach. I first found out about them through Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, a dark comedy anime series they also produced about a suicidally depressed teacher and his strange class of students. Bakemonogatari is pretty different in a lot of ways, and it does look different as well, but it uses some of the same visual ideas. A lot of the animation has a slideshow-ish feel to it like SZS did, with screens like the one above explaining certain concepts to the viewer accompanying the dialogue.

The settings are also quite strange: Bakemonogatari takes place in what looks like a large city, but where most series would put in a lot of background characters and traffic, both the halls of the school and the streets outside are always empty except for our main characters. Maybe that’s done to emphasize just how different and weird these characters are compared to everyone else. If that was the intention, I think it worked pretty well: it was pretty easy for me to accept that the settings should feel empty, even if they look unrealistic as a result.

It’s not a ghost town, but it looks like one

There are also a lot of close-up shots of the characters’ faces. Sometimes while they’re talking, but at other times it’s just a second-long shot of an expression without any words. As with the dialogue and settings, these shots feel a bit strange, but they also fit the show’s style very well. It helps that they’re beautifully illustrated with a lot of detail, great takes on the character designs by the original light novel artist VOFAN. But some of these shots also say a lot without words, especially when they show up in the middle of a long conversation. They provide some of those foreshadowing moments I brought up above, and I think they’re a nice, subtle way of adding to the characters and the story as a whole.

Like this one of vampire girl Shinobu. Still not sure what her deal is exactly, but later series are supposed to involve a lot more of her and her connection with Araragi.

I also need to praise the soundtrack — the whole thing is excellent, from subtle background tracks like Suteki Mappou and Sanpo to all the character themes and the ending theme. A lot of work was put into the openings as well — there are several different OPs corresponding to each of the five character parts in this 15-episode run alone. My favorite out of the lot might be Renai Circulation, Nadeko’s theme, even though it got stuck in my head for days after I heard it. It was only after watching this series that I learned about its massive meme status, probably because it’s such a catchy song.

There’s one more element of Bakemonogatari I want to address: all the dirty jokes in it. There are quite a few of them in here, along with some extra-obvious fanservice shots. Hell, the very first episode starts with the wind blowing down the street and flipping Hanekawa’s skirt up, giving the viewer an extended and highly detailed look at what she’s wearing under it. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it seems like this scene was put right in front just to let the viewer know to expect this sort of thing, and maybe to quit right away if they’re put off by it. Or maybe it’s just Shaft doing their usual thing, because there were some shots like this in SZS too.

oh shit

I bring this element up because I’ve seen Monogatari criticized for being full of fanservice, or a “perverted” or “horny” show, or whatever terms people are using on Twitter and Reddit now for it. I can only address what I’ve seen in this first series, but a lot of these bits figure into the plot — Araragi is a guy constantly surrounded by girls some of whom are interested in him, so some of it’s natural. Even the more gratuitous-seeming stuff doesn’t come off as being mean-spirited, though. And when Bakemonogatari deals with serious matters like bullying, broken families, and parental neglect, it does so with the proper sort of respect for the subject.

All these apparitions and spirits the characters have to cope with show up as a result of these personal issues, and this serious treatment is appropriate and doesn’t feel out of place alongside the comedy or fanservicey bits of the show. In fact, those less serious parts feel like nice breaks from the heavier material. But I have an extra-high tolerance for that kind of stuff. If your tolerance is low, you might feel like turning off Bakemonogatari after the first ten seconds. I get why some people would do that, but I also think there’s a lot they’d be missing out on as a result.

Well, taste is taste anyway, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to like or not like something. It would be nice if more people acknowledged that fact, wouldn’t it?

So far, it’s a nice story about fighting with/trying to appease dangerous spirits and also about the awkwardness of relationships. I like it.

So those are my thoughts on Bakemonogatari. I’ll definitely be continuing the series from here on, trying to figure out exactly how and where to watch all the different confusingly named parts. It was enough of a pain to find the last three episodes of this first series; for some damn reason (licensing problems?) all the streaming sites only have episodes 1 through 12, leaving out the last three parts of the Tsubasa Cat arc. Of course there are various ways to find them, but I leave that to you and whatever search engine you prefer to use if you’re interested in watching this show. If you refuse to go that route and don’t want to pay out the ass for the very expensive Blu-rays, you can always read the third part of the light novel series, all of which is translated and officially released. And if you want a beat-by-beat in-depth episode analysis, Yomu is doing that very well over on his blog, so check that out if you’re interested.

The next anime series up will probably be something totally different in tone from this one, but I’ll also be seeking out the Kizumonogatari prequel movies to watch. I’ve heard they’re pretty divisive, which makes them more interesting for me to watch in a way. Until then, do your best to stay away from dangerous spirits and apparitions. They really seem like more trouble to deal with than they’re worth. 𒀭

* I’ve seen the title translated into English as Ghostory and Monstory in attempts to recreate that wordplay, but it seems like everyone stopped trying after the second series Nisemonogatari came out, and now the translators are sticking to the Japanese titles.