Monogatari is a Disaster

New article-essay thing! This one’s less of a thematic essay and more of a breakdown of why Monogatari is basically destined to be divisive, going into the various core elements that make it so weird and both repellent and appealing at the same time. It’s one of my favorite shows, but I completely understand why other people wouldn’t like it, or why other people who like it would have entirely different feelings on it even if we both “like Monogatari.” It’s quite a strange mess of a show, and that’s actually part of why I like it so much.

Anyway, I get to all that in the article. AND HERE IT IS:

Monogatari is a Disaster


4 thoughts on “Monogatari is a Disaster

  1. Did you ever watch any of the three recap episodes from SS? They’d have to be the closest thing there’d ever be to a “Greatest Hits” montage of season one.

  2. Fantastic essay. You’re absolutely right: the show is nigh impossible to recommend, especially to someone who isn’t well-versed in anime. However, I think that I’d add something to your recommendation that I feel is very important when watching, well, any series, but this series in particular. You get out of it what you put into it. It’s more than just analysis: I doubt any amount of scene-by-scene analysis could make Monogatari cough up an answer. No, I feel like you have to pour yourself into it. I turned Bakemonogatari off no less than 15 seconds in the first time I tried it because it literally opens with an upwards pan of Hanekawa’s underwear. After seeing it so highly recommended over and over I finally gave it another shot, and although I found a lot to enjoy into it I was constantly frustrated with the franchise all the way through Second Season. It wasn’t until I watched Hanamonogatari that I felt like it actually clicked with me, and then I went back and re-watched the whole thing and it became one of my all-time favorites.

    But I still find it impossible to recommend to people without giving a huge preface first, and in order to appreciate it I had to look at it from a very different angle than anything else. Because, as you say, it does everything controversial, and it does this often and at wildly inappropriate times. It can have Hanekawa or Kanbaru trying to express their deep-seated insecurities while the camera pans over their glistening skin and exaggerated chests, it can have Araragi and Shinobu sharing a touching moment of reconciliation while they’re in the bath together, and it slams all of Nisemonogatari in before Second Season to make sure you have to endure a waterfall of incest nonsense in order to get to the meat of the series.

    My first time through, this was simply infuriating: what were some of the most intelligent, compelling character arcs and some of the best writing I’d ever seen in an anime seemed to be perpetually dragged down by excessive indulgent lewdness, harem elements, incest; pretty much all the things I DON’T want in an anime. Sure, the whole matter of perspective and the way the camera was used and Araragi as a hormonal teenage narrator felt like valid justifications sometimes, but as you say sometimes a boob is just a boob and I couldn’t understand why something that was obviously so self-aware and carefully constructed would constantly have these moments of gross mindlessness, or even have entire seasons dedicated to them.

    But after I watched Hanamonogatari and saw Kanbaru struggling with the non-definitive nature of her identity and struggling to assign meaning to objects and symbols and actions in order to give some sort of meaning to her own life, I realized that was kind of what I was doing with the whole series: trying to make it conform to the idea of some sort of driven or purposeful story and being frustrated when it wasn’t that. I wanted the show to MEAN something, and all of the dumb meaningless aspects of it hampered that. Monogatari does a pretty great job of looking at perspective and identity and the lies people tell themselves and each other, but it’s also just a surprisingly excellent portrayal of the way real people’s lives flow. Some moments are important to us, others are just not. Sometimes our actions reflect something deeper about our true nature, and sometimes we just do stuff because we feel like it. Occasionally there are periods of our lives where there are no meaningful changes happening and everything is just pretty laid-back and goofy. And Occasionally we even do weird shitty things that are just that, and not some expression of deep-seated issues or an indication that there’s something less honest about our “usual” selves. Monogatari actually manages to capture that, refusing to trim off the nonsense and the excess and making sure that its story includes everything people want to see and everything they don’t. In the end, I feel like its characters don’t have some sort of bigger idea tying them all together: they’re just people, people who have their own ideas about what matters and how the world works, and who influence and affect each other in random ways. I’ve come to value it for its fascinating beauty and infinite possibilities and for its characters which feel as though they are bound by no ideals or philosophies other than their own. And I don’t think I would feel nearly as strongly about it if it wasn’t exactly the way it was. A different version may be more recommendable, but I’m selfish, and I want the version that I’ve come to appreciate personally.

    So yeah, the show is horrendously difficult to recommend. It’s even harder because the reason I value it is entirely my own. I find it difficult to even express to someone what they might get out of the show, because it creates such strikingly different impressions on people. I’ll usually step up to fervently justify my other favorites to people who intelligently critique them, but with Monogatari I kind of just let it slide. As you said, it demands polarized reactions, and as someone who initially very much hated large portions of it I don’t feel as if trying to explain to someone why they should feel differently about it is really going to have much of an affect. I read all of your essays about Monogatari, from Nise and Fanservice to Monogatari as a whole, but I only really started loving the series when I developed my own interpretations of it. More than anything else out there Monogatari is ruthless to its audience, bringing constant delicious appetizers but never showing up with the main course. No matter how many essays or justifications you read I feel like it’s not going to be a fully satisfying thing until you fill it with yourself and your own feelings about it. After all, it’s a series revolving around perspective.

    • Wow! That was great to read, as was Nick’s piece on ANN. I’ve had plenty of my own frustrations with trying to parse Monogatari, and I’m still quite a ways away from being able to “jump into” it and “swim around” in its world, but what I have gotten out of it has been pretty fantastic so far.

      On top of what you said about the necessity of putting yourself into it, which also applies to all other shows and movies, I’d add that it’s necessary to be able to see it for what it is, and to check your expectations at the door, especially those regarding how stories are generally told and how we expect everything to mean something.

      Also, like you, one of the few things I have been able to pick up on is that Monogatari deals so heavily in all the small aspects of how people live. I’m really interested in psychosocial stuff, so that aspect of the series is what really drew me to it at first, and as I’ve gradually been able to learn and understand other things about it, I’ve come to love it even more.

  3. Sometimes I think people still come back for Monogatari for entirely different reasons: some enjoyed the characters, some came back because of its glaring visual, some because of the series’s chit chat nonsense, some because of the psychology and supernatural aspects… and that somehow tell you about your personality.

    Usually, for a film or series that is dialogue-heavy (even in live-action films), the visual usually very simple and straightforward, but here in Monogatari the visual was put into extreme, messed together with extreme long and seemingly unimportant chit chat. What I wanna say is Monogatari is an extreme shows, everything was make into extreme (even the ecchi stuff) and that’s a reason it demands viewers.

    Even the ecchi stuff and the action climax of each arc come off as sinister for me, because I can’t really put my finger on its intention. For all those sexual suggestive and insects and loli, I can’t view it as fan-service (except for all the pantyshots, the main sexual desire from Araragi towards Tsubasa – her breasts – never been shown explicitly or even suggestively), or I can’t see it as satire (it’s funny at times, but many of them push the boundaries too much to view it s satire), or even as elements support to the stories (I can argue for Nise, but the ecchi stuffs are in EVERYWHERE); nor can I view it as a subjective view from Araragi to show his personality (because in the Tiger arc, when Araragi was not involve, we still have the scene where 2 characters take bath together). Because of all that I just kind of accept it for what it is, in Monogatari they will throw all the ecchi stuffs into your face and wishing it’s not there is like wishing for another show.

    I came to the point where everytime I start to watch a new arc, I know I will have a good time and the story will resonate with me in some ways. I just wonder what makes you guys come back for it so often?

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