Title: Bakemonogatari Part 1
Alternate Title: 化物語
Encompasses: Episodes 1 – 8
Published by: Hanabee (Australia and New Zealand)
Based on: Light Novel series by Nisio Isin
Genre: Occult Detective, Romance, Supernatural
Audio: Japanese Dub
Classification: This title has been classified as MA15+ for Infrequent Strong Animated Violence
Special Thanks: Hanabee for providing me with a copy of this release to review!
It happened with a slip. Koyomi Araragi thought he was done with the supernatural after his recent brush with vampires but that belief is short lived when Senjyogahara, the aloof girl in school, is as light as a feather. The cause? A crab God with a penchant for the vulnerable. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as she’s not the only individual suffering from the effects with their brush with the paranormal. A lost snail who can’t find their way home no matter how hard they try, and a mysterious deadly arm that can only bring misery despite how hard one wishes. The forever ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ Koyomi, can’t help but embroil himself into their lives to fix their problems with the aid of Meme Oshino, an expert on these matters.
While it is becoming more prominent with North American anime publishers, a subtitled anime release making its way on blu-ray in Australia is pretty much unheard of. However Hanabee Entertainment have decided to make an exception to this rule and at the end of last month released Bakemonogatari Part 1 on Blu-ray, following a similar release pattern as their DVD releases which began earlier on in the year. Due to timing constraints I had been unable to review the series until now…. so read on to find out if it might be worth sacrificing some unique packaging for higher quality.
Rather than cause clashes between character storylines, the first collection of Bakemonogatari at the very least is split up into three individual arcs which span between two and three episodes apiece. The overarching plot follows male high school student Koyomi Araragi who generally sets himself up as a nice guy with an eccentric personality at times. Thanks to an apparitions expert / priest by the name of Meme Oshino, he was able to escape becoming a vampire after encountering and being attacked by one, retaining some beneficial perks without the loss of his humanity.
Now familiar with the world of the supernatural, he begins to come into contact with a number of girls who have each had an encounter with paranormal spirits / gods that are impacting their livelihoods. This includes Hitagi Senjyogahara who had her weight stolen by a crab god, the “lost snail” Mayoi Hachikuji who Araragi encounters at a park during Mothers Day and sports star Suruga Kanbaru who claims to be in possession of a cursed monkey’s paw.
While Araragi’s development is limited to a few flashbacks, the development of the other three girls were ample given the limited episodes per character count. Each of them have distinct (sometimes) over-the-top personalities that had them interacting with Araragi in different ways and overall left them distinctively apart from each other.
While the few action scenes sparsely scattered across the episodes are usually spectacular and draws from the design talent of SHAFT, it is not this aspect or the plot itself that is the greatest strength of the anime adaptation. Very few series on the market could pull off entire episodes consisting of mostly dialogue, but this is where Bakemonogatari shows its true strength lies – plenty of dialogue often at a rapid-fire pace. In every episode you are presented with witty, comical and at times serious dialogue that draws upon the characters mannerisms, vocal tone and unfolding events well. Not every conversation may have something to do with the task at hand and may come across as banter, but it makes for an interesting experience, especially for those who have some knowledge of Japanese mythology and folklore.
Another interesting albeit sometimes frustrating feature is that all throughout the episodes there are flashes and frames of writing that appear on the screen at rapid pace that can at times contribute to the events unfolding. Given the speed of these and the time it takes to read subtitles, some of these are not possible to read without repeatedly stopping and starting. As there is no English dub included in this release, keeping up with the dialogue can sometimes be a chore let alone handling additional second-long flashes of text.
While almost every element of Bakemonogatari complements each other well in delivering an enjoyable viewing experience, it is the dialogue-intensive storyline and character development that shines the most. However while contributing to the experience, the lengthy subtitles that appear on screen for a split-second can become somewhat frustrating to read.
Considering that subtitled blu-ray anime releases in Australia are an irregularity and not commonplace, there must be something special about the design / visual quality of Bakemonogatari to warrant the demand right? SHAFT have almost always delivered something interesting when it comes to their animation – from the simple and quirky Pani Poni Dash! to the highly detailed and elaborate visuals of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Bakemonogatari is no exception and from the very first scene attempts to capture the viewer’s attention.
The environment designs were minimalistic and drew greater attention to the effort put into the character designs which were highly detailed. Given that Bakemonogatari primarily consists of dialogue, these characters have been well designed and animated in order to effectively engage and draw the attention of viewers through emotion and body movements. SHAFT also don’t ignore their habit of adding quirky twists and straying from realism with the character designs / environments which worked well as an entire package.
Music / Voice Acting
Each of the character arcs in Bakemonogatari comes with its own unique opening sequence, encompassing different themes of music and styles of animation. All three stand out and suit their respective characters quite well in one way or another. The ending theme Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari by supercell remains static across all eight episodes and does the job well when coupled with the default animation. In terms of the remaining musical backing across the episodes, there is no one track that really stands out, but instead it just did its at job complementing the dialogue.
Aniplex of America seem to be very specific when it comes to choosing which titles deserve an English dub, often choosing to only dub the major titles that would cover a broad range of anime fans such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Sword Art Online. Of course when it comes to Bakemonogatari which came with only a Japanese dub it could just come down to the practicality and cost of dubbing a series almost solely based on dialogue. The good news is that provided you are willing to overlook the absence of an English dub, the Japanese voice cast handle their roles proficiently.
Exclusive to Australia, Hanabee Entertainment included book-style packaging for their DVD release of Bakemonogatari and subsequent releases into Nisemonogatari. These generally entailed a hardcover 30 or so page artbook with sleeves in the back to fit the DVD discs and were rather high quality. Unfortunately with the blu-ray releases Hanabee chose to go with the standard blu-ray covers which were a bit disappointing.
Fortunately the bad news ended there with none of the bonus on-disc goodies being omitted. These included clean opening and ending sequences, trailers and audio commentary for all eight episodes. Unlike most audio commentaries where you would expect to hear the voice cast or maybe a director talk about an episode, the voice actresses got into character to act like it is their respective characters commentating on the episode rather than the usual chit-chat. It worked very well, and given they are all subtitled it is well worth watching the whole series again just to listen to them.
Personal Opinion / Final Words
While lacking the book-style slipcase and coming in at the price of a full season rather than half of one, Bakemonogatari on the Blu-ray format really let SHAFT’s prowess shine. It may not appeal to everyone, and with its heavier emphasis on dialogue does at times require your full attention towards reading subtitles rather than appreciating everything else take makes Bakemonogatari enjoyable. However if you overlook this fact, there is much to enjoy about the series’ three arcs so far in regards to development, the unfolding plot and the character personalities.
But is it worthwhile sacrificing unique packaging for higher quality visuals? Both are nice perks but I would be tempted to go with the better visuals.