I’ve attached a big fat chart and diagram of the entire Monogatari chronology, which I definitely did not make myself, but it’s the most friendly chart for those of us primarily concerned with watching the anime. The order shown in this chart suggests watching in accordance with the order that the Light Novels were released. I suggest the “airing order” which gives Kizumonogatari a greater impact. If you don’t think you’ll make it in that far, feel free to follow this chart’s “suggested order.” You’ll want to open the image in a new tab or something to see it full-screen.
Here at the end of the road on Monogatari my feelings about it have gone through many a several change. In the beginning with Bakemonogatari, I felt entranced by just how very different of a show it was. A different approach to narrative, tv show structure, and storytelling. I’m a firm believer in the power of “show, don’t tell” when it comes to immersing the audience in a story, but Monogatari takes a powerful stance in a different direction. While there are paranormal oddities afoot and the exciting scenes involving them, the majority of Monogatari’s story is delivered via expertly crafted dialogue.
Subtle changes in the rhythm, subject matter, and attitudes may appear meaningless, but when seen through the lens of two later seasons, become poetic, symbolic, and foreshadowing. This is something I’ve found to be somewhat unique to Anime is the timing of addressing the out of place or unordinary. In plenty of shows, something will happen, or someone will say something that doesn’t seem to make sense. Harbour and I will look at each other and say “wait, what? But that shouldn’t make sense becau-“ at which point the characters themselves will address said event.
Monogatari took this to the extreme regarding Araragi’s character over the course of the entire series (though unfortunately his pervery isn’t addressed). Around Second Season I started to get tired of his bland “I’m a protagonist so I’m going to self-sacrifice for everyone else because protagonist” attitude which didn’t really vibe with the rest of the show’s tone. Turns out that’s an overarching plot point for the entire series, so it does get some resolution. It won’t stop you from getting tired of him though.
I can fully understand, however, anyone who ducks out of this series early on. The second installment, Nisemonogatari, made me so uncomfortable with its reprehensible uh, everything, and Nekomonogatari Kuro was even less substantial and equally low-bar, offering the low-hanging fruit of superfluous senseless sexualization. If there is any “deeper, truer meaning when viewed through the lens of ____” then I feel it does a very poor job of it at this point. I’m okay with art that has a smaller intended audience, or that is only understood with a specific background knowledge. But you can’t make that exclusive art, have it be terribly offensive to those who don’t have your insider understanding and knowledge, and then get upset when people don’t get it. It’s much like the $13K modern art installation at a gallery in Italy that was thrown away by the cleaning lady because it was literally a crumpled piece of newspaper, a cookie, and a piece of cardboard. If you’re going to make art that makes people question “what is art?” then you have no right to get upset if someone’s answer is “not this.”
Thankfully the artistry of the series returns in Second Season and is truly enjoyable from this point onward, though I did take about a three month break partway through because there are three recap episodes, and I feel the Mayoi Jiangshi arc of Second Season was at least one episode too long. Moving forward it’s primarily smooth sailing and there aren’t as many needless distractions. We get to enjoy the intriguing, deep-diving dialogue that makes you confront your own ideologies and explore:
– How you and others deal with hardships
– The myriad of ways friends and family can shape your options of who you become
– Finding peace with changing and moving on as a person.
Then there’s the matter of how good the anime is as an adaptation of the Light Novels. I’ve read the final volume of Bakemonogatari (so, done with the first installment, not very far, I know) but I can say already that the anime is a fantastic adaptation. Most often it’s the case that “the book/manga is always better” but I feel the Monogatari anime is a strong and faithful adaptation, while adding its own elements. The copious amounts of inner monologues that happen in the Light Novel are what you see in those warp speed walls of texts in the anime, passing at the pace those thoughts happen in real-time. The visual choices and direction enrich the spirit of the source material. It isn’t often that reading the book after watching the show will make you like both more, but that’s the case with Monogatari.
There’s also the modern and abstract art piece that is the Kizumonogatari movie trilogy. While it doesn’t delve as deeply into specific philosophical or psychological issues, it’s one of the most beautiful, passion-filled, and distinct movie series, both visually and musically, that I’ve experienced. Kizu isn’t without the Monogatari curse of Araragi’s pervery, but I feel it’s handled slightly better here than in other installments (not in a way that I can fully endorse, however).
At its best moments, Monogatari is a masterpiece of experimental animation, visual style, and storytelling. It’s a series of artistic, metaphorically supernatural occurrences rooted in Japanese folklore that apply on a much wider scale, dissecting deep-seated beliefs and ideologies held by society at large while feeling intimately personal. At its worst moments, Monogatari is a horny fan-service filled indulgence that sugarcoats predatory, pedophilic and incestual themes and behaviors with a flimsy excuse of meta-commentary and loopholes to make it easier on the viewer to not feel guilty and admit that they are, in essence, consuming and enjoying a consequence-free fantasy in which the hero can get away with sexual harassment because he’s (most of the time) a “nice person.” And as we all know, there’s certainly no shortage of “nice guys” who feel they are owed romance and sexual favors for “being nice,” so there’s clearly no harm in joking about this in a clearly fictional show, right?
So wait, did you like this show or not? Should I watch it?
This brings me to a topic I want to discuss: Problematic Media.