Nisemonogatari, the anticipated sequel of 2009’s Bakemonogatari, has recently finished airing. I didn’t become as enamored with Bakemonogatari as a lot of others did, but I found it to be a unique and memorable series nonetheless. It was a rather strange and ambiguous anime too, though not necessarily in a bad way. And, much to some fans’ pleasure and other fans’ dismay, Nisemonogatari ups the ambiguity even more…
Bakemonogatari’s memorable traits – Shaft’s surreal animation spiced up with flashes of symbolic on-screen text and figurative scenery, direction and writing that had a knack for being filled with ambiguity and subtleties despite the lengthy dialogue, and a cast of quirky characters with equally quirky conversations with each other – are what made it so appealing to fans who are into anime with unconventional techniques. While Nisemonogatari basically has the same mood and style as its prequel, I felt that it unwittingly took the things that made Bakemonogatari bizarre and intensified them.
While Bakemonogatari is a weird but interesting anime, I felt that Nisemonogatari was more weird than anything else. For starters, I don’t remember Koyomi being such a, well, pervert as he was in Nise nor his relationship with Hitagi still being so masochistic as it seemed in episode 1. In fact, most of the episodes, especially the early ones, simply feature Koyomi having “weird” encounters with the girls. But the ambiguity of their encounters again seemed to be magnified compared to Bake: his rather inappropriate way of greeting Mayoi upon meeting her in episode 1, sticking around with a naked, seductive Kanbaru and then a seductive Sengoku, not to mention the many instances of his questionable physical contact with his sisters…with all these cases, the ambiguity is just off the charts. I was constantly asking myself, “Am I supposed to feel creeped out and unclean by what I’m watching, or am I supposed to feel good about it for being so deliciously artsy and savvy?”
The infamous tooth-brushing scenario in episode 8 is a prime example of this kind of weird ambiguity that Nise is so good at provoking. Again, while watching that whole scene, I was weirded out by what I was seeing, the incestuous undertones nipping at my eyes and ears. But then the episode ends with this great sense of satisfaction that now the bond between Koyomi and Karen is so much stronger. Was that supposed to override the incestuous means they used to reach that point in their relationship? Like most of the other scenes in Nise, I came up rather blank at the end of this one, begging the question, “Was I supposed to be charmed by what I saw, or disturbed?” You know a show is weird and ambiguous when, for a given scene such as this, I can imagine one person saying “Wow, what a great episode. Such style, such depth, such art. What a creative means of portraying the bond between the two siblings,” and someone else saying “Oh my god, this guy is a pervert! What the heck was he doing to his sister? Someone call a therapist, these kids need help”…and I can understand where both are coming from. Of course, not all the Nise episodes were borderline incestuous/pedophilic – the concluding episode 11 was more or less straightforward for instance. But just about all of them had scenes worth raising an eyebrow about.
Throughout watching Nisemonogatari, I felt like I was inside someone’s fetish-pleasing dreams, and not just because it features a lot of young girls acting seductive or getting aroused. For one thing, really pay attention to the dialogue in Nise and ask yourself if the majority of it sounds like conversations you’d hear any people in real life have. Do the interactions between Koyomi and his sisters make any sense outside the realm of wild fantasy? Then you have Shaft-animated stylized backgrounds, with the scenery constantly rearranging itself to symbolize whatever’s going on with the characters at the time, and locations obviously making no attempt to look like any kind of real-world setting. Then of course, there’s the ambiguity that comes with dreams: Am I supposed to smile at Koyomi for being such an interesting character and dedicated big brother, or am I supposed to cringe at the weird way he treats his sisters? Does the merit of well written dialogue and art-aware animation override disturbing incestuous and masochistic tones? Nisemonogatari is one series where I understand the story/plot fine, it’s the presentation I question.
In the end, does all this weirdness and ambiguity make Nisemonogatari a bad show? Well, it certainly takes away a lot of universal appeal it could have had beyond the otaku audience like many other anime. But that’s obviously not its goal, and if Bake and Nise’s goal is to bring something memorable to the otaku audience strictly, I’d say it did its job well. The ambiguity is most likely the series’ appealing point. Those who interpret it the “bad” way (it’s weird and disturbing) won’t like it, but those who interpret it the “good” way (it’s well written and artistic) go beyond in their praise for it. I personally prefer the (slightly) less bizarre and more structured Bakemonogatari and found Nisemonogatari to have some enjoyable points, but mostly not my cup of tea. But since I can see why people like it, I don’t think it’s a bad show. If you want to find it creepy and disturbing, fine, if you want to find it brilliant and creative, fine. Perhaps the thrill of being both creeped out and pleasantly impressed by a series at the same time is what people like about it. I would say Koyomi and his girls have mastered the art of ambiguity quite well.
Just an FYI, it’s my birthday today but I didn’t feel like making a birthday post since I don’t have much to say. I’ll be spending the day at Disneyland per my usual birthday tradition =) I’ll be back with another new post later in the week~