Gee, I wonder.
Note: This is not a hate post. It’s a post about extreme doubt and ambivalence.
So, um, confession time. I don’t like Bakemonogatari. It is not a show that agrees with me.
Even so, I wanted to write about it. I don’t normally feel compelled to write about something I actively dislike, but in Bakemonogatari’s case, the whole package intrigues me. It intrigues me enough that I would watch every single season and still be caught up deciding whether it’s worthwhile or not. I don’t like any of the characters and the art strikes me as gimmicky and only occasionally brilliant. But there is something about this anime that keeps me coming back to it.
Mostly, I’m baffled: how can a story that is so self-serving and pretentious – that goes out of its way to exclude its audience – become such a mainstream hit?
I mean, sure you might answer that with “It’s the fanservice” or “It’s because of Senjougahara” or something like that, and while that’s fair enough, I am convinced there must be deeper reasons that I cannot get my head around yet.
Is it because it’s deep? Because it’s artistic?
If that is the case, then I cannot say that I agree with that.
Fundamentally, I see Bakemonogatari as a story full of lies. It pretends to be something that it’s not. Oh yes, that’s the point of fiction, but for a show that’s carried by dialogue, the characters talk a whole load of nothing. It’s self-aware, but a story that builds itself entirely around being self-referential lacks its own soul. I find this all difficult to reconcile with in my head. It’s hollow, bullshit art – lies feigning at truth.
As a writer, I think I can understand the appeal in something like this, though. Bakemonogatari is every author’s little pet project, whether you write it in your head or on paper. There is a certain amount of cleverness and wit in it, and I can sense the fun Nisio Isin must have had in coming up with this. But on those same terms, I would never want a story like this published. For me, at least, it’s too personalised, the conflicts too unrelatable, despite the characters having understandable problems.
I’m struggling because, well, I want to like this show. If I dissect the different elements, it’s an anime that should work for me. But the way these aspects work together in unison makes the atmosphere feel detached, clinical even, and I find it difficult to care about what’s happening. I have no qualms about liking harems and even some deeply sexist stories (often in spite of themselves), but Bakemonogatari is a work that wants to be taken seriously, and I just can’t approach it on its own terms. It’s frustrating. I come up against roadblocks every time I try to work out an interpretation that can help me enjoy it for what it is.
There’s only one angle that I think comes close to working for me. Perhaps the point of Bakemonogatari is that it is a smug, pretentious, “classy” fanservice show. You can ogle hot anime chicks and feel smart for doing so. I understand this. It’s not a bad thing. After all, while I too am driven by my lower half, I like to think I have a brain and I have often been frustrated by fanservice shows treating me like an idiot. So I suppose I am not that different from Arararagi or whatever kind of author/audience stand-in he is meant to represent.
But is this it, though? Am I still missing something? I know I’m not the only person who dislikes Monogatari, but could it also be that I’m not giving the show a fair chance? If I can’t bring myself to respect this show as “art”, where does that leave me? Probably the most fascinating thing about it is that it does challenge the line between high and low art, even if it does make itself terribly inaccessible.
So we come back to the popularity question. Why do people like Bakemonogatari? While I don’t think popularity is ever an accurate measure of quality, it does tell me that this series has really resonated with some people, and I’m directing the question of this post to those fans. I’m not going to look down or diss your reasoning if you like it. I’m genuinely curious; I just want to come to grips with this series a little better.
How do you feel about Bakemonogatari? Whether you like it or not, what do you think makes it so popular?