Fanservice has always been a bit of a controversial issue. Some love it, some hate all instances of it. There's really no feasible way to please everybody when the reaction can often be likened to a dichotomy, split between 'too much' and 'not enough'. While Bakemonogatari is a series known by most for its unique art direction and character interaction, to say that it's removed itself entirely from sexual themes would be a flat-out lie. It's not much of a surprise then, that these elements are even more prolific in Nisemonogatari, for both better and for worse.
The first thing that should be recognized before watching Nisemonogatari is this very change and shift in focus. It wouldn't be much an exaggeration to say that at times it can feel like a different series, and certainly not all fans are going to approve of the change in tone and theme.
Despite this though, things are not all that unlike either.
Being that this is the sequel to one of SHAFT's most successful anime, it would be incomprehensible for them to suddenly remove the unique style and flavor that the series became so known for in the first place. Head tilts are still prominent, the scenery is highly stylized, the characters will frequently engage in a playful diatribe and critique of Araragi, and surrealism remains a pervasive aspect in the presentation and overall experience. This is Bakemonogatari in much of its glory, but with the story itself becoming something of less importance than the characters and their interaction with each other.
Probably the largest addition to Nisemonogatari is the new role of Araragi's two younger sisters, Karen and Tsukihi. Both of them form a group known as the 'Fire Sisters', and together they create the main focus of the entire show. Tsukihi is a sharply sarcastic and disapproving sister while Karen, voiced by the beloved Kitamura Eri, behaves as a bit of a tomboy and energetic character who strives to fight for justice and what she feels is the right thing.
These ideals of justice create an interesting problem for Karen as she comes into contact with the antagonist, Kaiki, a con artist exploiting teenage girls out of their money which quickly escalates into a conflict between the two, with Karen focusing on protecting the innocent and Kaiki on using them for his own avaricious goals. Kaiki as a character is quite unique and interesting as he never falls into a generic and stereotyped 'bad guy' persona, instead adopting a very grey morality where neither good nor bad exists. He cares for little else than money, and money is something he aims to attain regardless of who loses out for it. Surprisingly, he doesn't antagonize the main characters very much outside of their first few encounters with each other. As long as they don't complicate matters for him, he generally has no issue. The way his departure is handled is also very surprising and refreshing when compared to the usual conventions in storytelling. It's just disappointing that he loses his role as a main character in the second half and falls much to the side, since his scenes are without a doubt the most memorable and engaging in the entire show. Being a character that stands out so much in a series full of unique characters is a very hard feat to achieve but Kaiki managed to pull it off.
Of course, Nisemonogatari wouldn't be the same without the cast from the previous season playing a prominent role in the story. All of the main characters from Bakemonogatari retain a large role in Nisemonogatari each with their own unique scenes, though unfortunately most of them don't appear anywhere near as much as they did in Bakemonogatari. Senjougahara in particular is largely missing from the first half of the series until becoming a large focus of the story again, which may be a bit disappointing at first for fans of her character. Thankfully, the episodes before that focus on an excellent blend of new and old characters and concepts, bringing just enough to the table to make the series fresh again while maintaining enough of the old that fans will still feel mostly at home when watching.
Focusing on the aforementioned Kaiki as the antagonist, the story itself is largely about his exploits and the characters' resulting intervention for the first half of the story. It picks up further towards the end into a galvanizing climax and battle between Araragi and the two new antagonists, one of which being a character from the previous season. Fans of Bakemonogatari will find something enjoyable in that respect once things start to pick up, but the story itself is not so much the focus of Nisemonogatari as it is what gives a way for the audience to see the characters interact in a variety of new and different situations.
This brings us to the main problem — fanservice.
Do you like fanservice? Do you want fanservice? If not, you probably won't enjoy Nisemonogatari too much. It's not nearly as oppressive or prominent as some screenshots would lead to believe but it's very easily a defining and inherent part of the experience. Characters will frequently try to seduce Araragi which leads to some amusing scenes with him on the verge of cheating on his beloved girlfriend and paying dearly for it. There's also fanservice for the female viewers, with long shots gawking deeply at Araragi's chest. Nude scenes are not too uncommon and the series often plays more with sexual feelings than it does with its witty dialogue and stylized presentation. Though these common elements still do remain a large part of the experience, all one needs to do is take a look at the infamous toothbrush scene to have a good understanding of how Nisemonogatari is often presented.
Whether or not the viewer will approve of these changes comes down to personal taste and what they primarily enjoy the series for. It would be a lie to say that I didn't enjoy the frequent fanservice and sexual themes at least somewhat, but it's just that, perhaps, Nisio Isin and SHAFT went slightly overboard and forgot a little bit about what made the series so highly respected in the first place. It's enjoyable in smaller and occasional doses but being that it's the forefront of the entire experience, it sometimes detract from what is an otherwise very engaging and unique story. Subtle or even suggestive fanservice would have been preferable to the ubiquitous butt-shots and nude scenes.
It doesn't help matters much when the pacing of the anime is negatively impacted by the fanservice as well. As a result of much of the screentime being spent on trying to make the viewer erect, it often feels like the main conflict surrounding Kaiki and the later two antagonists is a bit rushed. Certainly, more time could have been spent developing those characters and the main plotline. Things often shift haphazardly between fanservice and important story events and it feels a bit unwieldy and awkward for that reason. It's hard to appreciate the fanservice much when there's a serious and interesting story going on in the background, and conversely it's also hard to fully appreciate the story when the next scene will transition into more of the fanservice and silly interaction. Had SHAFT and Nisio Isin focused primarily on the story instead of these sexual themes, the main story could easily have been something equal to or even greater than Bakemonogatari. Which is a real shame.
Fortunately, thanks to the success of Bakemonogatari from a few years earlier, a large budget increase is very evident with the quality of animation. This really is one of the best-looking TV anime on the market and the fluidity in each frame is something truly stunning at times. The way the characters move and jump around so freely is something unique to the series when compared to the previous season which relied primarily on transitions and stills. While some complained about the lack of animation and movement in Bakemonogatari -- often comparisons to a slideshow -- this is definitely not the case with Nisemonogatari. This is just as much a visual presentation as it is a verbal one
Nisemonogatari can often verge on the surreal with its artwork. SHAFT loves to play with their scenery in highly creative and interesting ways which serves to immerse the viewer and give personality to the artwork and the area that the characters live and interact in. It wouldn't be strange to see a colorless cityscape with a bright blue-green sky looming above, a room filled with mountains upon mountains of same-colored books, a sudden letterbox effect in the image, a home bathroom with stained-glass windows reminiscent of a medieval church, or a gloomy thicket dyed beneath a red sunset. It's this stylized presentation which creates much of the atmosphere of Nisemonogatari and what makes the viewer feel like they're in a very different place. There's really nothing out there that looks or feels the same way.
And with more effort spent on the series, positive improvement comes to the music and soundtrack as well. The usage of songs and music is a perfect fit for the scenes they are used in, especially those involving Kaiki. They may not all be songs that will stick in your mind and be reminisced for long after, but when used in the anime itself they are an excellent fit. And much like Bakemonogatari, a variety of unique opening sequences are performed by the seiyuu and each styled with their own unique theme. While there's nothing quite on the same level as 'Renai Circulation' here, all three of the openings are very catchy and memorable. In particular, the second opening 'Marshmallow Justice' was something that I felt perfectly represented the series as a whole and its theme. Disregarding my own love towards Kitamura Eri as a seiyuu, it's quite a pleasant song that mixes the quirkiness of the series with the energy of the characters.
In the end it becomes very easy to see where the complaints and negativity surrounding Nisemonogatari come from. While there is truth to be found in the complaints of there being too much fanservice, it's also evident that some are focusing too much on this one aspect instead of fully seeing what it accomplished and did well. It's not quite as good as its predecessor, but Nisemonogatari still manages to be a solid entry to the series and one that paints its own unique character as well. It's certainly different, and different in a way that will be either a bad or a good thing depending on the feelings and tastes of the individual.
Hopefully, with the next animated installment of the Monogatari series these fanservice elements will be toned down a bit. We (well, some of us) have had our fun, and now it's time for the series to go back to its roots. Small change can often be beneficial but in cases like these it's best to know when to leave well enough alone.