Bakemonogatari (Ghost Story)

It is easy to fall in love with Bakemonogatari when looking at screenshots because for the most part, a collection of screenshots is all you receive with it - the most recent studio SHAFT / Akiyuki Shinbo series. If phrases were associated to anime, Bakemonogatari's would be "style over substance". So far does it take this maxim that it's difficult to describe any point where one feels connected or even mildly interested in the glossy puppets that fornicate with the bold colour palette.

from ice-queen cynicism to obnoxious trollop without missing a step

The story, as much as there is one, concerns Araragi who acts as a paranormal busy body for girls - ranging in age from barely legal to certainly illegal - suffering from a plethora of supernatural ailments. To aid him he regularly consults a destitute punk living in a derelict school with a outwardly pre-teen female vampire. The mythos and character back-stories are the sharpest part of the series and the afflictions suffered by the protagonists are certainly above the usual monster of the week fare, although this is perhaps thanks to the light novel source material than the anime adaptation. SHAFT and Shinbo plot their usual course and drench the series in faux abstract visuals - implying there is more meaning than is available and consequently presenting something vapid and soulless more than modern and engaging. Sudden cuts to single colour title cards start off as eccentric but quickly become a crutch to prop up the wildly varying production.

One could argue that reviewing the TV series as broadcast is somewhat unfair given that one arc ("Tsubasa Cat") was left to be finished by online episodes (so called "ONA"s) and that even the televised episodes are incomplete with vast swathes of time where animation is somewhat expected replaced with textured title cards or conspicuously static shots. It would only be through auteur bloody mindedness if  these flagrant blunders remained in the overpriced DVD and  BluRay releases. When compared with previous releases from the SHAFT/Shinbo duo it smacks of laziness or an undercurrent of other troubles, neither of which should spill out onto what could have otherwise been a competent if underwhelming series.

Each episode falls far too swiftly into a pattern: dialogue, affliction exposition, further dialogue, consultation of aforementioned punk, dialogue continues, solution, more dialogue; sporadically intersperse with pop-culture references and abstract flashbacks and the measure of Bakemonogatari is had. Were the dialogue tighter and more emotive the process would crest tolerable and rise to enjoyable, however the vapid inanity of most of it means that tolerance is overtaken by apathy. Characters stop being victims of their paranormal situations and become flat, chattering mannequins devoid of any pathos and bereft of empathy; the lead female, Senjougahara, plummets from ice-queen cynicism to obnoxious trollop without missing a step.

This is not to say that the series is unwatchable or otherwise lacking merit, only that it falls far short of both guiltless entertainment and what has come to be expected from SHAFT. Some conversations littered through the twelve episodes show a wry spark of wit and outright humour, the trouble is finding them when buried so deeply; likewise with the story, the coupling of lead male Araragi with lead female Senjougahara is bitingly forthright but otherwise overly protracted. For every unique or meritorious element there are several others tainting their significance.

Bakemonogatari represents such promise with its premise and supporting production but either through a overinflated artistic ego or a lack of restraint during creation, it comes off as wildly colourful but puddle shallow. For an audience with a desire for pseudo-artistic nonsense or without expectations the series will be well-received; it ticks all the boxes for what many view anime as embodying: bright, colourful, hyper-stylised and quirky. For the more discerning, perhaps jaded, individual this represents a missed opportunity for SHAFT to do something other than sleepwalk through another production relying on well tested methods.