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Anime recommendation: *Monogatari

I enjoy posting more casual, slower-paced content on my Gemlog, in contrast with the typically serious blog posts I do on the web. Following this theme, I'd like to recommend an anime for you today: the *Monogatari series. It begins with Bakemonogatari (化物語), and ends more than 40 hours later with Zoku Owarimonogatari (続・終物語).

The Monogatari series is a complex, character-driven show. It has a huge cast — more than two dozen named characters with plot relevance — and focuses on the supernatural events surrounding one Ararararagi Koyomi's late high school career. The supernatural setting is interesting and carefully developed, leaving much of its nature a mystery and only slowly revealing the depths of its lore over the course of the show. This lore pulls a mix of European and Japanese myths from the past 500 years or so into a modern setting, including vampires, ghosts, spirits and gods, each with deep stories to unravel.

These stories and the characters that inhabit them are the main course in Monogatari. Every one of these dozens of characters is fleshed out with complex motivations and relationships with the rest of the cast, explored mainly through dialogue. Monogatari is somewhat infamous for this, as perhaps a full three-quarters of its airtime is spent on dialogue, fast-paced and heavily laced with Japanese puns, wordplay, and cultural references, and supplemented with entire paragraphs of text plastered over the screen for 3 or 4 frames for the dedicated viewer to pause and read in their own time. I liked this show when I first watched it, but I have to admit that its transcendental status in my personal canon was significantly aided by the fact that I was equipped with a much better working knowledge of the Japanese language on my latest rewatch.

As these characters negotiate the plot scenarios, interacting with each other and fleshing out the viewer's knowledge and understanding of the situation and those involved, their journey culminates in action set-pieces placed sparingly throughout the runtime. Monogatari will spend an hour and a half in dialogue scenes, delivering exposition at one hundred miles an hour, to set the stage for a single fight scene, with reserved, suspenseful pacing and the full weight of context afforded by the drama that leads to each climax. None of Shaft's famously large budget is spared for these scenes.

The show is capped off in the last few seasons with satisfying, though often melancholic, conclusions for every arc, providing a complete ending to an incredibly complex story. Each arc throughout the course of the show is set in a larger arc for its main characters, and each of those meta-arcs fits within the broader narrative of the entire franchise, and each arc, super-arc, and the larger meta-arc, are all fleshed out to completion and tied off with a bow in the last few seasons. If you've ever been frustrated with an anime which peters off after two seasons, leaving all of its questions unanswered, then Monogatari will provide the catharsis you crave.

Though this review gives you an (accurate) impression of the depth and solemnity of this show's themes, lore, characters, relationships, romance, and stories, I don't want you to leave with the impression that watching Monogatari is tedious or dull. Monogatari is hilarious! The studio did an excellent job of balancing the show's seriousness with humor throughout, not to mention a generous allocation of fanservice, excellent music, and talented voice actors.

While Monogatari may be a bit too heavy for the new anime fan, I would readily recommend it to anyone who enjoys the medium. /r/anime has a good guide on the watch order for various anime for those who arrive late:

Watch order wiki

The order for the *monogatari series is: Bakemonogatari → Nisemonogatari → Nekomonogatari: Kuro → Monogatari Series: Second Season → Hanamonogatari → Tsukimonogatari → Owarimonogatari → Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen → Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu-hen → Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen → Koyomimonogatari → Owarimonogatari Second Season → Zoku Owarimonogatari.

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“Anime recommendation: *Monogatari” was published on March 17, 2021.

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