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11 of 11 episodes seen
Now, the main sticking point with Nisemonogatari has been the storyline, which was quite slow in its progression; if you’ve recently read about the ‘fast-paced, clever storyline’, and are quite surprised by this assertion, then I shall elaborate; the first three episodes reintroduced characters from the first series, and while the Karen Bee arc was supposedly seven episodes long, it really did drag at points. In addition to that, the resolutions of each arc felt way too easy, and while we’re on it, the almost-complete absence of Tsukihi from the first two episodes of her own arc was bizarre. Although it initially wasn't promising, the story did become more interesting as the series went on, although I believe there will be further episode releases post-broadcast, because not everything came to a conclusion within the eleven episodes (and the Japanese equivalent of 'to be continued' seen at the end of the final episode is a confirmation that we'll be getting more Monogatari one way or another). I think the best way to see Nisemonogatari is as the bridging point which sets everything up nicely for a third series (and if the director is to believed, several more series after that), and in terms of introducing characters who will probably play a part in these later series, it does a pretty good job. Contrary to the impression I might have made, I did enjoy watching this, but I do think it could have been better.
The art style is extremely effective. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before (except in Bakemonogatari, to state the obvious for the resident pedants here). The background art is most striking, with the use of colour co-ordinated objects and scenery to create scenes which immediately grab the viewer’s attention. The much-debated black and red scenes seem to have been cut down on since Bakemonogatari, now only making a couple of appearances per episode, but the use of talking heads is still common. The background sets the atmosphere much more effectively than a show which is constrained by realism; just watch Kaiki Deishuu’s first screen appearance, and the shadows of the trees stretching out towards Koyomi, and you will realise the brilliance of this art style. And now, the fanservice; how do they handle it? Well, what’s happening on screen and the progression of the storyline are almost completely separate from one another, for starters. It’s nothing compared to an actual ecchi series, and the characters are wearing clothes (cough… most of the time), it’s just the choice of shot and where it focuses on the character’s body that makes it fanservice. And when there are no clothes present, any details are obscured by the production team, preventing the need for masking or other censorship. That was incredibly awkward to write. Moving on…
The sound hasn’t changed drastically from the first series; the episodes start with a blast of heavily distorted electric guitar, and a catchy pop-song opening, which is reminiscent of Staple Stable, to say the least. The lack of background music in Nisemonogatari compared to other series is noticeable, with only the occasional piano melody from the opening or ending slipped in at appropriate moments, but with the amount of dialogue that it has, this is actually a good thing; it would be pointless including any more soundtrack, as it would just either pass completely over our heads or make it incredibly difficult to listen to. The ending is a pop-rock four-chord number which will probably get stuck in your head on an endless loop at some stage, and no amount of purging your memory with your own music collection will dislodge it. If you liked Bakemonogatari’s Staple Stable and Renai Circulation, then this is definitely worth a listen.
The characters from the first series remain as they are for the most part, with the exception of Hanekawa Tsubasa, who is now short-haired. Hitagi Senjougahara, self-diagnosed tsundere of the highest order, seems to have been relegated to a supporting role in Nisemonogatari, having only made three or so appearances in seven episodes; however, Araragi’s sisters, Karen and Tsukihi, step into the breach, so we have a net gain of characters. Connoisseur of Hawaiian t-shirts and supernatural phenomena Oshino Meme has disappeared, and the role of ‘sole adult in the series’ has gone to the much more evil, scheming Deishuu Kaiki, who looks like one of the creepier film incarnations of Dracula. It’s interesting that they’ve gone for a central villain, rather than having different problems which are unrelated in cause, as per Bakemonogatari. It must be mentioned that in this series, the characters do not merely lean on the fourth wall, they've practically installed a revolving door in it for their convenience. Even the creation of the anime was slipped a thinly veiled reference in one of the characters' metaphors. I quite like it, but you will need to know at least a little bit about the Monogatari franchise to get some of it.
It should probably be mentioned that Nisemonogatari will make some of its audience feel uncomfortable at certain points. Aside from the various Lolita characters, there are incestuous overtones involving Araragi and his sisters, including the now-infamous ‘toothbrush scene’. And I know that people will say “Oh, it’s only here in the West that we’ve got a problem with it, but in Japan, those scenes are seen as the funniest part of the show.” Aside from not wishing to read anything into these peoples’ apparent attempts to justify having relationships with underage girls or members of their own family, they might have a point; our moral values here don’t let us see the funny side. If we look at the source of all this trouble, Vladimir Nabokov’s now-infamous novel, half the time he is mocking us and our values; are SHAFT doing the same thing? Quite possibly. Just be prepared to ignore the screams of moral outrage you might occasionally feel welling up inside you while you’re watching this show, make sure your parents/partner/siblings/friends aren’t going to walk in at an awkward moment and then spend the next three weeks not talking to you, and you should be able to cope.
So, Nisemonogatari does indeed have all the elements that Bakemonogatari was praised for, and at the same time features fanservice, which Bakemonogatari, if I remember correctly, did also have a certain amount of. I don’t think it is possible that it has ruined the series, as some people claim; these claims probably would have been made regardless of the actual nature of the series, and were sparked by its mere existence. Unfortunately for those claims and the people making them, Akiyuki Shinbo, the animation director, has apparently stated his intention to animate every single Monogatari novel, of which there are (or will be, to be entirely accurate) twelve. Now, if the first one came out in 2009, and the second in 2012, I think we can safely say that this series will continue for a while. For my part, I'm looking forward to it, and I hope that it may continue to be as innovative and interesting as it has been up to this point! read more
12 of 12 episodes seen
Have you heard of Tantalus? (No, a knowledge of Greek mythology is not essential to watch Another, I am simply at my wits' end with trying to describe the story without giving anything away). Tantalus was a man condemned by the gods to eternity in the underworld, immersed to the neck in a pool of water which he could not drink from, and underneath a tree laden with fruit which he could not reach, no matter how hard he tried. Now, if this is not too swift and broad a leap, this is how the storyline of Another will make you feel; every time you seem to be tantalisingly close to the answer, a new development occurs, and you have to start all over again. This series never goes where you expect it to, but it manages this without being a particularly complicated story, which is quite an achievement. I've read and watched many mystery stories, and I have found that nothing ruins the story more than confusion caused by an overloaded storyline and a huge ensemble of characters. Here, it is simple: one tightly-written, carefully thought out storyline involving a relatively small number of characters, which proves surprisingly durable as a twelve episode series, having avoided the trap of the same cliff-hanger ending every time; they always manage to throw in a new and interesting variation. The resolution of the storyline was amazing; it managed to bring all the strands of information which we had gleaned and wrap everything up in a style which was paced exactly right; fast, but not hurried or rushed. I certainly didn't see the final twist coming- not many people did- but it was masterful. It was also the most emotional moment of the series; even those of you who have laughed like maniacs throughout the entire series will suddenly become sombre during the final five minutes. Being mindful of the strict limits on what I can actually say about its specifics, I shall merely say that it was a perfect ending to a brilliant series.
The art is simply beautiful. This might actually be quite near the top in terms of the best series I have ever seen art-wise. The characters aren't that different from any other series, but the backgrounds are amazingly well defined; they really are just bliss to watch. The art mostly depicts death, lots and lots of death, with some dismemberment and impending doom thrown in. In almost every scene, there's a sense of decay, everything looks decrepit and rusty, the buildings look deserted, and there's gratuitous use of deep, dark reds wherever possible. If it's outdoors, there are crows perched on the roofs, looking hungry. If it's indoors, like the hospital, then the lights are dim and flickering occasionally (and for the provision of information to those who have watched the hospital scenes and noticed the missing fourth floor, it's because four in Japanese is either 'shi' or 'yon', depending on the context, and 'shi' can also mean 'death', so they tend to avoid using four when numbering things, like we do with thirteen. Right, fun fact session over). The use of dolls, often missing limbs, is prevalent (whether they're scary or hilarious just depends on the viewer) and appears to have more significance to the storyline than I originally thought. And every so often, in case you haven't got the message, there's a split-second image of a blood-stained knife which is lying on the floor. I mean, what could possibly happen next? (This was intentionally ironic. For those of you who don't get irony, just assume that this means it was hilarious). To sum up, the art sets up the atmosphere perfectly.
Of course, we can't leave out the sound, as this is key (bad musical pun; I apologise) to the aforementioned atmosphere. From the start, the music creates a sense of eeriness, from simple melodies to electronic effects and string sections. As difficult as it is to describe, I would like you to imagine a full orchestra having a psychedelic freakout (think of that section of A Day in the Life) with a hair-raising selection of electronic hums and whines added, and then multiply that by about ten. That's about what it's like (or as best as I can put it into words). The music never quite goes away, unlike in other, lighter series; it drops right down to a few notes on a piano, but still gives you the sense that something's always just about to happen. The opening has some weird and unsettling vocal melodies going on, creating tension, stress, and suspense. But after a few episodes, I'll express a preference for the ending theme; it proves that strong vocals and a few chords on a piano are more effective than the aural blitzkrieg which we are usually subjected to, and it brings a sense of peace and serenity to the end of the episode. Basically, the soundtrack works perfectly with what's on screen.
Now, the characters; obviously, we know very little about any of them right up until the end, otherwise it wouldn't be a mystery, would it? They're all quite weird and unusual, and they're all either ruthlessly blunt or very obviously trying to avoid certain topics of conversation. As you can imagine, this makes the dialogue quite awkward. Kouichi Sakakibara, our horror story loving main character, seems to have more than half a clue what's going on, which makes a nice change from the average clueless/in denial character in the horror genre. Although it cannot be denied that he is of that genus most favoured by scriptwriters lacking inspiration, the transfer student, he does actually get some background to why he transferred. Mei Misaki develops a bit from the 'weird loner' presented in the first episode to someone who is frustrated by their situation and yet cannot change it. While near-silent and emotionless girls seem to be very common at the moment, I can promise that there is more to Mei than being a mere tribute to consumer demand. If you have watched only a few episodes, she might seem a bizarre person, but she becomes more understandable as the series progresses. Izumi Akazawa, the class representative, is blunt to the point of being rude, but is quite the deceiver and manipulator behind the scenes, as it later turns out. Reiko, who was at first glance a stereotypical 'ridiculously youthful, kind and caring female relative', turns out to have quite a temper, and appears to have a few secrets. In a sentence: don't judge them too soon.
If you are still with me (and it's quite likely if you are indeed reading this sentence), I recommend you go and watch Another now. It's only a few hours out of your spare time and you really have nothing to lose except a night's sleep if you are easily scared. If you are going to watch it, I can recommend watching it at midnight, it's surprisingly good fun (if your idea of 'fun' is the same as mine, that is). Personally, I reckon that from a fairly dull season, Another will come to shine as easily the best new release this season, and possibly one of the better of the year.
(Author's note: I started writing reviews because decently written reviews with no spelling or grammatical errors are almost non-existent on MAL, as very few people can be bothered with such trivialities these days, and this desperately needs redressing. While many people aren't with me on this, I believe that a review is not worth reading unless it is well written, and so I have put quite a lot of effort into writing this without making it too formal or verbose, whilst avoiding flippancy, in order to inform and entertain the people in the audience who are on my wavelength. My apologies if you are not one of those people. If you do have some constructive criticism to make, PM me or just post a comment, I'm quite happy to take it under consideration when editing this. And on that note, good night!).
13 of 13 episodes seen
Well, I say we tackle the negatives first, because I'm a 'glass-half-empty' type (figuratively- in the literal sense, I'm more a 'drain the glass, refill it, drain, continue ad nauseam [literally]' type) and I love looking for faults in things- firstly, it probably hasn't helped that the characters and plot have been reused countless times after this came out. I don't know if they were clichéd at the time of release, but they sure are now, which limits the enjoyment of both. Calling them 'plagiarised' would be going too far, but a few of them could be described as generic and unoriginal.
Secondly, the plot is really quite slow-paced, despite the occasional fight scene which is obviously (some might say clumsily) trying to attract the viewer's interest and make them feel that something is happening. In fact, you can't help but get the opposite impression- that not much is happening, if anything at all. And when things do start happening, they're weird and, saying this as quietly as possible, similar to Air (which was made in 2005). So far, we've got elements of unoriginality and clichés. Time to go look for some redeeming features...
Unlike many anime, Sola does have genuine merit on the art and sound front, it's extremely well done (for its time; animation techniques have improved noticeably since then). The opening music is catchy enough that it will stick in your memory, and you might find yourself humming it if you are engaged in particularly repetitive manual labour or studying (or that might be just me, which would be awkward). And you can't really hum the chorus as some of the notes are too high, but we'll ignore that. Also, the characters aren't all tediously unoriginal, and there are some very funny moments in the series, despite the genre. I'm still laughing at some of the jokes weeks later, much to the concern of those in physical proximity to me when I start laughing for no apparent reason.
It is also a short series, at thirteen episodes; whereas too many episodes can kill a series through repetitiveness, I think too few can strangle it just as surely through lack of exposure to any sort of publicity that can keep it in the spotlight, and I reckon that's what happened to Sola. I personally have a preference for short series like this, so if you're like me and don't want to watch the same stuff over and over again, then Sola is a good option.
Pour conclure, I haven't told you anything which will swing your opinion one way or another. If you hate romance/fantasy anime or people taking pictures of the sky or assaulting vending machines and household appliances, then Sola is very clearly not for you, as it features all of these quite heavily. If you live in England and would like to see a blue sky for the first time in about eight months, then you might want to watch this, because staring out of the window isn't going to help, and of course, if you do like romance/fantasy/vending machine killing anime, then this is obviously an anime which has been aimed specifically at your particular niche, and you will be in heaven, as someone has finally catered to your needs. If you do find yourself in one of these situations, then I am very happy for you. If you are undecided, watch the first two episodes, and you should have an opinion one way or another.
Happy anime-watching! read more