Given the raw strength of sales of the franchise in both the original light novel and anime adaptation department, the idea of thinking it finds a place in a favorites of the year least is not very surprising from many perspectives.
Indeed though, for a series that is often all about matters of character perspective, this entry has taken great strides in distancing itself from the ones that had become all too familiar.
(This article is part three of an eventual six part series featuring my favorite anime productions of 2013; consider reading the others!)
Since the original Bakemonogatari, Koyomi Araragi has been our primary eyes and ears into his world. Always the narrator, always the one we are following around, always the one able to skew and present things in the fashion most appropriate for how he happens to perceive them. His trains of thought, his perversions, even when the arcs are dealing in the problems of so many other characters, all their representation and parlance to us comes from this particular view of the universe and the synthesis of it.
The thing is, it is more than a bit of an open secret that Koyomi Araragi is a fairly creepy protagonist to follow around for long period of time in many respects.
I say that as someone who actually overall likes Bakemonogatari and what it tries doing and how it weaves itself. And yet, Koyomi Araragi is someone who introduces us into their world, however critically it may be to the actual plot, via a slow motion panty shot with a literal clock counting the seconds. He routinely aggressively assaults the fifth grader Mayoi Hachikuji, remarking on her physical development and sexual aspects. Many of the situations he finds himself in navigating are portrayed via sexually charged encounters on one level or another, such as the examination of the junior high Nadeko Sengoku regarding the appearance of snake scales or the forthright charges Hanekawa Tsubasa’s body can generate from him. Koyomi’s world is one that always has an eye looking towards something sexually driven, and thus is it portrayed while at the same time showcasing the associated narrative and dialogue. This has carried the animated version of events across Bakemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, and Nisemonogatari
Monogatari Series: Second Season, to its great strength, virtually excises him from the program as it goes forth to show us the more crystalline thoughts of so many other characters in this world, and perspectives from which they see their own lives and each other.
Through five arcs, Koyomi as an individual only features in the most minimal of fashions. At even his most apparent, he is really only narrating select portions that by the rules of the franchise are not allowed to be narrated by apparitions themselves. Even then, the apparitions are given far more of the forward screen time to explain themselves, their histories, or associated circumstances and opinions. He takes a very large backseat, and in the process it frees up so many different opportunities for world portrayals and at getting into the heads of folks to see what makes them tick outside of Koyomi’s own portrayals and biases of them. Certainly, we all have our own regarding any of our real world associations with others.
In text it seems all very obvious and straightforward, but given how much of everything has been portrayed from one highly particular perspective, the act of watching and engaging with the program itself feels more refreshing due to us having spent so long cooped up in that one mental space. We get to see Hanekawa struggle with her own personal feelings and issues from her own narrative place rather than an outsider, we are sat down just as Koyomi is to hear a tale of how Shinobu’s past actually was, we follow Nadeko’s tribulations around just like an accessory on her arm. It is such a particular use of narrative devices to be able to explore these characters that we have known for several whole series now, and yet in many respects we have not known them at all, which drives the kicker of so many developments.
My experiences with the whole franchise is one where I generally watch it in its arc long bursts, effectively treating them as something akin to individual (but interconnected) films. This was an especially effective means for how I processed this entry in the series. The original Bakemonogatari series contained five arcs in the span of twelve to fifteen episodes (depending on how one wishes to count the three that were not included in the original television broadcast). By comparison, Second Season handles the same number of arcs in twenty three episodes, with an additional three covering recaps of Bakemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, and Nisemonogatari.
It has significantly more room to breathe as a result, which allows for the infamous and fan favorite dialogue exchange escapades to weave their ways. It is a franchise that often delights in things such as a character standing alone in a hotel room speaking on a cell phone to another for the overwhelming bulk of an entire episode, and designing enchanting visual imagery, metaphorical representations, and to otherwise accompany them regardless of very little happening in the physical movement or general activity sense. Certainly the animation team at SHAFT is more than happy to oblige, given their tendencies in recent years. Little movement, indeed much akin to a Microsoft Powerpoint slideshow at times, and yet everything being said and utilizing that frequent stillness as a grounding and focusing agent.
As a sequel work to an existing bestselling franchise, it is not content to rest on its laurels and merely provide us more of the same formula and ingredients. Rather, it aims to swap some things out, and to attempt livening up those recipes a bit. Try a different character topping on a similarly constructed pizza, and see how it goes. Work in different cheese, in certainly every narrative sense of the word given how some things are presented or interacted with. Appreciate where we have been, certainly, but get away from it and aim to avoid showing anyone with a similar world view as the one we have seen things through for so long.
Over the various seasons, arcs, and episodes, we have seen so many windows for that which exists in the Monogatari house. Finally then, with this series, we were able to start walking through the different rooms.