"To be blunt, I just enjoy talking to you... so I want to talk with you more."
"If our opinions clash, let's talk it over." (Dialogue from episode 5)
'Bakemonogatari', cleverly translated as 'Ghostory' or 'Monstory', is about five not-so-normal girls that Araragi Koyomi, a vampire himself, encounters and attempt to save from oddities possessing them.
The main characters of 'Bakemonogatari' are among the most unique and complex I have yet to encounter.
Heroine Senjougahara Hitagi is a tsundere like half of all modern heroines in anime, but she is also 「ドS」, a sadist to an extreme degree, which is more common for side characters and rare for heroines. Our protagonist, as expected, is rather on the masochist side who takes constant verbal abuse from Senjougahara.
What makes the couple extraordinary, is that Senjougahara is often boke while Araragi is tsukkomi. Traditional Japanese stand-up comedy consists of a duo: One takes the "boke" role who says something stupid while the "tsukommi" role points out the flaws in boke's argument, often with a violent slap in the head.
Yes, that's right. Boke is masochist by nature and often not very intelligent, while tsukommi is sadist by nature and often more observant.
The leading couple in this series, on the other hand, take turns with the roles. It is particularly interesting when the sadist and intelligent Senjougahara purposefully take on the boke role and overwhelms tsukkomi. Such as making insulting statements that sound flawed, but when Araragi tries to make a comeback, he realizes what she said was true. Or Senjougahara makes a blatantly flawed statement just to hurt Araragi, and his comeback fall into deaf ears. And of course, plenty of intentional boke or tease spoken with so much authority that Araragi just gives up and let it slide.
The unlikely toggling of comedy roles were delivered extremely well, and this back and forth interaction between the leading couple is a key part of this show's appeal.
The remaining four main characters are not as complex as the leading couple, but they all have their own unique issues that drive the story,each with distinct personalities that made them memorable.
There are 6 main characters in this series, and total of only 5 side/peripheral characters (Meme, Shinobu, two sisters, and Senjougahara's father) in the whole series. The limited character headcount made thorough character development possible despite being an arc-based series.
Simply put, half the show is about the romantic relationship between the Senjougahara and Araragi.
The other half is about a constant argument between two values: The rational vs the idealistic, with Araragi as Mr. Nice Guy seeking happy end for everyone. Solution of supernatural oddities as the topic of the argument.
Hachikuji, Kanbaru, and Hanekawa's arcs developed the relationship of leading couple while offering new topics to the story.
The only flaw in the story in my opinion, is that Sengoku's arc was pretty much by itself, and contributed very little to the whole series other than loli and moe fan service.
Each arc is an incident focusing on a different girl, but all the arcs combine to show a whole picture of Araragi and Senjougahara closing their personal distances.
"Bakemonogatari" is essentially a verbal performance with visual support. Story is driven by back and forth debate on various issues.
With verbal performance playing such a big role in this show, voice acting is taken to a whole new level in this series.
Every characters' voices fit perfectly, and not only that, distinct tones and nuance of speech establish unique impressions for every single character. The characters speak so fast in this series with lots of tongue twisters, but the seiyuu cast had done a wonderful job in keeping up. I don't think it's an exaggeration to describe voice acting in this series as epic.
Music score in 'Bakemonogatari' has a generally consistent ambient feel to it with a nice flow. Other than intense music for action scenes, they don't particularly set the mood or enhance drama as what I usually consider to be strong BGM for anime, but the usually upbeat sounds in the background set the quick pace for dialogue, and make conversations all the more engaging.
OP song "Staple Stable" is one of the best anime opening theme song by a seiyuu, ever. Really memorable tune accompanied by great vocal and lyric by meg rock was simply amazing.
The other four OPs sang by seiyuu of each arc heroines were nowhere as impressive as "Staple Stable", but offers refreshment value to the OPs, and fits each character perfectly.
ED song's lyric made little sense at first, but its meaning was unveiled in a conversation between the leading couple in a certain episode, and it turned out to very suitable for the series. The two Senjougahara theme songs (OP1, ED) were masterpieces.
Animation in 'Bakemonogatari' mainly serve as a visual aid to the verbal performance, and it proved to be very effective.
Visuals for the anime got somewhat of an "art house film" treatment. There were many abstract and surreal scenes, unconventional cuts, and intriguing camera angles that made the viewing experience very pleasant. It's the perfected form of SHAFT's signature style.
Character designs were attractive, and main characters had visually shown a wide range of emotion that further portrays the character's state of mind.
The only complaint I have with the animation is the use of photographs/videos of real-life imagery. At the risk of sounding like a super-otaku, I would say 3D images do not belong in the world of 2D.
As a fansubber and having seen thousands of hours of fan/professionally translated works, I can tell you that at least 10% of the meaning is lost in translation, no matter how well translated. In conversation/narration driven series filled with wordplay and metaphors, at least 20% of the meaning, therefore enjoyability, will inevitably be lost to non-Japanese speakers.
Still, 'Bakemonogatari' is a true masterpiece with experimental production that actually worked. Attention was paid to the tiniest details, and a story well-told. Truly amazing direction by Shinbou Akiyuki left us with so many memorable scenes, and this will definitely be a series to be remembered.
The 8-month wait for the final three episodes were excruciating, but the ending was so satisfying that it almost made it worth the absurd wait. Given the commercial success 'Bakemonogatari' has achieved, I will be hoping for the remaining novels in the series to be animated. Possibly 'Kizumonogatari' OVA/film and 'Nisemonogatari' as a sequel season.
To be blunt, I just enjoyed listening to them... so I want to listen to them more.