Somewhere over the course of the 2 and a half years since Bakemonogatari aired, I had forgotten how utterly strange this anime is. It’s one of those little anomalies that can only exist in anime. How something with such out-there animation and artwork, with rambling and self-referential dialogue, can become the massive hit that it was. Nisemonogatari was all that again, for better or for worse.
This artwork is Shinbo at his most unrestrained form. Probably not as weird as Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, but certainly a step above the likes of Maria Holic or Pani Poni Dash for sheer abstract imagery (and makes the relatively lower key Arakawa look like it was animated by JC Staff ho ho highbrow animation studio jokes). It does mean Bakemonogatari is never boring to look at, but my old problem with this level of Shaftyness is that they often serve no purpose at all except because the director thinks they look cool. For example, why are there a stack of multicoloured ladders in Ararararagi’s house? I’ve heard it described as post-modern imagery, but that’s a bit of a cop-out excuse since it really boils down to “there is no reason”. Utena did this too, but Utena very deliberately played with the concept of post-modern imagery, constantly twisting your expectations of whether this scene meant anything in the overall picture. In Nisemonogatari, it’s there because Shinbo thinks it looks cool.
Then there’s Nision’s dialogue. You can’t exactly divorce the dialogue from the artwork, because the windy nonsensical dialogue is the reason why the artwork take that trippy approach in the first place. It’s still sharp and witty as hell, but also still has that problem of being too wordy. This sounds like criticising Death Note for having too many dramatic angles, but Nisemonogatari still drags out certain jokes beyond their natural stopping point too much. I feel for the poor soul who has to edit the nonsense that comes out of Nision’s pencil. It didn’t yet have the problem I had with last season where sometimes these pieces of dialogue would lead nowhere and peter out into nothing, leaving one of the characters to go “anyway, as you were saying before we went off on this completely unrelated tangent”, but that was probably because this was largely a re-introductory episode where a lot of the dialogue had no point beyond “hey, remember these guys”.
Where Bakemonogatari shined best is when the dialogue had a sneaky purpose underneath its characters’ jibes. The only piece of dialogue in Nisemonogatari that had that same quality was the discussion between Arararagi and his sister. At the end he mentioned that he didn’t want to tell his sister about his vampiric abilities, but a lot of that we had already subconsciously recognised through their dialogue. Part of the writing’s genius is the characters develop while they’re talking, without being blatant and pointing it out to you. While the animation frequently has no purpose, it does sneak in little pieces of changing in facial expressions, cuts to falling down desks or whatever, to show the change in emotion in the scene. While we don’t immediately recognise it, we still pick it up and change our perceptions of events very subtlety.
It really is a strange and unique show, and I am pleased to see it back again. I’m even more pleased to see Shaft back in the game after taking the last two seasons out. Bring back in the plot underneath these fierce ribbing sessions and we’ll see the series back to its finest form.