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Koyomi Araragi is a guy with a knack for attracting women, specifically those with supernatural problems. Perhaps his magnetism for all things mystic stems from the fact that he is no stranger to paranormal afflictions himself, given how he previously had a brief stint as a vampire. Thankfully for Koyomi he was able to return to the life of a regular high school student after an encounter with Meme Oshino, who used his knowledge of the occult to rid Koyomi of his vampirism. Meme could be described as an exorcist of sorts as he makes a living off curing humans who have been targeted by oddities. Despite his occupation however there's nothing priestly about the guy. Instead of wearing robes in church he prefers to sport a Hawaiian shirt and hang out in a derelict building.
From that point on Koyomi uses his connections with Meme to aid the women in his life with the unearthly conditions plaguing them. The series follows the format of telling two to three part story arcs focusing on a particular girl who Koyomi does his utmost to assist. This first volume from MVM Entertainment collects the first eight episodes, of a fifteen episode series, across what is the first of two dual DVD sets. Part one, which I am reviewing today, tackles the trials and tribulations of three girls starting off with Hitagi Senjougahara.
Koyomi meets Senjougahara, one day, when she literally falls from the sky after tumbling off a staircase. When Koyomi catches her, thereby saving her from a potentially fatal drop, he notices that she weighs a mere 5kg... that's unusually light even if her slender frame could be attributed to a steadfast devotion to Weight Watchers. As it turns out Senjougahara is suffering from crabs, or rather from a sole incorporeal crab, which has latched onto the female student robbing her off her mass. Although Senjougahara is initially hostile to the idea of Koyomi helping her out with her problem (threatening to shut his mouth with the stockpile of concealed staplers she always carries around) she does eventually warm up to him resulting in the pair forming an unconventional boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
The following two tales start off with Koyomi ending up at a park after a spat with his sisters. There he encounters Mayoi Hachikuji, a lost fifth grader who wants to visit her estranged mom on Mother's Day. Try as they might Koyomi and Mayoi are unable to find the parent's residence, even when they enlist the aid of Senjougahara to guide them through a district she is familiar with. The group travel round and round in circles as some mysterious force prevents them from reaching their destination.
Part one of Bakemonogatari concludes with a trio of episodes covering Suruga Kanbaru, the high school's star track athlete who happens to be a former acquaintance of Senjougahara. Suruga's adventure is a twist on the monkey's paw legend that normally deals with a severed primate hand that grants the wishes of its owner in unexpected, often twisted ways. Bakemonogatari's take on this well known yarn is that the monkey paw has grafted itself onto Suruga's arm and will not come off. Will Koyomi find a way of breaking the monkey paw's contract or is Suruga cursed to forever have a hairy simian appendage that is slowly siphoning away her soul?
One thing prospective buyers should be aware of is that Bakemonogatari is a dialogue heavy show. In a way the series is reminiscent of Spice & Wolf were episodes often comprise of nothing more than an extended twenty-minute chat between characters. Thankfully the show's director manages to keep things lively onscreen via his artistic flair. Not only are the visuals above average, but he also uses a lot of neat tricks to keep the potentially static exchanges between characters lively. At regular intervals live action photos get spliced into the animation, title cards appear on screen and even the main character's hair is creatively used to illustrate his emotional response to stimuli. It'll take repeated viewings to fully absorb what is being thrown onscreen as the lack of an English dub means that viewers will have to focus on the foot of the screen, hurriedly reading subtitles that at times struggle to keep up with the pace of the narration.
The constant chatter will undoubtedly make Bakemonogatari one of those divisive shows that viewers will either love or hate. If the characters get their hooks into you you'll love spending time with them, otherwise expect to be bored by the slow pacing and comedy that is overly reliant on puns, which sadly gets lost in translation.
For what it's worth I am in the camp of people who enjoyed the series. I liked the banter between the cast, such as how Mayoi always manages to get Koyomi riled up by mispronouncing his surname. The Senjougahara/Koyomi romance is interesting to watch, as there is nothing mushy about it. Senjougahara is by her own admission a tsundere (someone who comes off as cold, even though deep down they care about others.) She enjoys teasing Koyomi, threatening him with physical violence and is not beneath using her sexuality to get him all flustered. Koyomi's most admirable trait is his willingness to help those in need, even though tampering with forces he doesn't understand often puts him in perilous situations (good thing then that he has retained his superhuman healing factor, from the time he was a vampire.) Don't class him as a boring do-gooder though. Koyomi isn't shy about expressing his irritation with others and at one point is even guilty of striking a minor!
I really enjoyed Bakemonogatari as it managed to tackle otherworldly issues with wit rather than resorting to excessive violence. The lack of an English dub is a little disappointing, but if removing the expense of English voice actors means Britain gets to experience more niche shows, which would otherwise be unprofitable, it's an omission I can live without.