THIS REVIEW IS FOR ALL SEASONS, AS SUCH, IT CONTAINS SPOILERS
Monogatari takes place in a city populated by about 20 people, cardboard cutouts, and kanji characters, and follows the story of Koyomi Araragi as he meets girls who have supernatural oddity-related issues in their lives and tries to help them.
I am not a fan of the Monogatari anime, but I will get into why later in this review.
The characters are all pretty much what you'd expect from a harem anime. There's the selfless main character, the Tsundere girlfriend, the shy Moe girl who turns out to actually be psycho and manipulative, the smart girl who wears glasses (for a brief time anyway), the little sister(s), the athletic girl, the lesbian, etc.
However, most of them are written with more nuance than what you'd expect, as in, they get backstories, but on a basic level, I don't feel like it's any deeper than the character backstories from any other anime. But they do have a bit more depth than what you'd expect from a harem show, meaning they are not in a round-the-clock quest for the main character's dick. I'm not a fan of the characters (except for Kaiki Deishuu and maybe Meme Oshino), and don't think they're anything noteworthy, but I do give the writer credit for that.
The dialogue is also the same as what you'd expect from an anime. Talking about motivations, delivering exposition, and bantering whenever there's nothing going on. The difference is that most the show is just that, talking, with nothing else going on. However, I don't have that much of a problem with that aspect and some of the dialogue is occasionally funny. Nevertheless, even then, the dialogue often tends to go in circles and isn't strong enough to carry the whole show in my opinion, but more on that later.
When it comes to the story, however, a lot of the story arcs start out with potential, but then they end up focusing more on the dialogue rather than doing something interesting with the premise, and then end unmemorably. The biggest example of this is in Monogatari Second Season's Mayoi Jiangshi arc.
Surprisingly enough, despite the first scene of this show being a 15-20 second-long panty shot, there isn't actually all that much fanservice. However, when there is, it's rather unappealing.
Two running gags with Koyomi include going out and molesting Mayoi, who is 11, and planning on tricking his little sisters into being molested by him, and he suffers no real comeuppance for it. I'd say it's refreshing to have a subversion as a change of pace from the typical harem humor wherein the main character does something perverted by accident and gets beaten up for it, but I don't think child molestation or incest are funny.
That's not to mention the rape snake from the Nadeko Snake arc, and two extended scenes from Nisemonogatari, wherein Shinobu, who is over 400 years old but is physically 8, bathes with Koyomi, as well as the infamous scene where he brushes his little sister's teeth and it looks like they're having oral. I have read an essay analyzing the fanservice in Nise, of all things, and apparently it's supposed to represent teenage sexuality. Okay, but that doesn't mean that I have to feel it's worth wearing a monocle and a top hat while smoking a Cuban cigar, listening to Mozart and waxing philosophical about this aspect. Might as well apply that same logic to every ecchi harem out there.
The biggest problem I have with Monogatari, however, isn't inherent, since I've read some of the light novels and think they're okay, despite having these flaws.
The animation looks nice and clean (despite the obvious low budget resulting in all these still frames), however, it is also its biggest flaw (besides the fanservice).
Shaft has been using the same visuals for every Shinbo-directed show for several years (10-11 years as of the time of this review), but I feel that when making Monogatari, they rely on their visuals too much.
A lot of the time, during the dialogue scenes in Monogatari, they keep cutting to Dadaist visuals, text screens, weird camera angles and extreme closeups, which wouldn't be a problem, except that they focus on them for so long and so often, that it detracts from the experience. They go too overboard with those and fail to build up a good momentum for the pacing.
I don't judge a show based on the animation, as long as I'm interested in the story and the characters, but this is one case where I have the opinion that it detracts from everything else. In this case, I feel like the animation department is too busy showing off what I already know that they can do while not advancing the story in a significant measure in each episode with little pay-off, and that aspect is what I actually care about in a show. I've already seen this exact same type of animation in multiple other Shaft shows previously, so it doesn't do anything for me anymore, I'm not going to give it extra points.
Imagine if someone made an adaptation of a book, and instead of adapting the events of the book in a visual format, the adaptation entirely consisted of watching some guy sitting there, reading the book out loud. That's what watching Monogatari feels like.
In conclusion, I think that the Monogatari light novels are okay despite their flaws, but that Shaft's direction makes the anime boring to watch, and that I would have likely enjoyed the show more if it was made by another studio, or if Shaft hadn't gone so overboard with the animation to the extent that it detracts from everything else. The only reason I continue to watch it is just because I'm waiting for the moment where it finally lives up to its potential.
Monogatari is a love-it-or-hate-it show, watch it if you want, maybe you'll like it, but if you end up not liking it, I recommend watching Monster or Mushishi as preferable alternatives.