#1 Character explorations
Koyomi Araragi has a curious knack for always finding himself embroiled in some supernatural shenanigans. Ever since a certain event in spring left him with vampiric powers, he has begun to meet people who are similarly affected by the influence of spirits, demons, or even Gods. Together with a number of specialists focusing on the occult, he attempts to help these people appease or rid themselves of these supernatural creatures.
With the amount of novels dedicated to this series, it’s fair to say that Monogatari finds itself on a tier of storytelling that not many competitors could hope to reach. Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari handle most of the initial storylines that introduce characters and reveal what manner of curse they are dealing with. These stories are already plenty enjoyable themselves, but these same characters then continue to get additional storylines dedicated to them in season 2 and the hodgepodge of different series that combine to form season 3.
Every new encounter with them adds further layers of complexity to characters that were already intriguing and enjoyable since their original appearance. The friendships they form with Araragi and between each other also drive characterization even further, as characters are often introspective or are brave enough to criticize their friends for their shortcomings. One of the most intense scenes in the entire show has a regular girl confront an all-powerful vampire about her tactless behavior towards a former lover, just to name an example.
When I finally finished the show, I was honestly considering putting almost every main character on my otherwise-small list of favorite anime characters. I narrowed it down to just Shinobu and Mayoi to appear like less of a fanboy.
Director Akiyuki Shinbo is most famous for his work on Hidamari Sketch and Madoka Magica, which have a similar style of surrealism as the Monogatari series. It’s a non-stop barrage of visual jokes, art-styles that change and mix around, and plain, old weirdness, which is sure to captivate and surprise the audience.
This is a show that had me paying attention constantly. There is always something to see and few moments of relative normalcy, which is a solid move considering how much of the show is little more than characters standing around and talking. I was particularly fond of the scenes that mix real-life imagery with bold art-styles, but could also appreciate scenes that were just generally strange, such as Araragi walking into a room only to find it filled with countless red books.
Sometimes these scenes felt like important symbolism, at other times I wouldn’t really be able to tell if it’s meant to be important or if the animators were just allowed to go wild. What I do know is that, whether you “get it” or not, this remains one of the most visually interesting shows I have gotten to see.
#3 Direct romance
Monogatari pretends to be a harem anime, and maybe it kind of is. As Araragi helps the girls in their supernatural predicaments many of them start taking a romantic interest in him or confess to having had one for a while. There is a lot of comedy built around this, like Araragi acting like a pervert to tease the middle schooler Mayoi or his complete inability to notice blatant flirting from the other girls.
While such actions may seem typical for a harem show, or any romcom for that matter, Araragi is already taken. Without going into spoiler territory, Araragi ends up in a relationship that both parties are completely devoted to, meaning all the other girls fall by the wayside. While some continue to be openly flirtatious, Araragi either doesn’t see them as potential partners or rebukes them, which creates interesting character-dynamics for this kind of show.
The actual romance between Araragi and his partner is also enjoyable and very atypical. The interactions between these two are often surprising because their personalities are so radically different. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that these two are a couple, which makes the moments where their affection for each other shines through extra amusing.
Making this even more intriguing is what I mentioned as the very first point. Monogatari is an exploration of characters and each of the girls is very endearing. You want to see them happy and that happiness is often closely tied to Araragi who, for all his faults, has won their hearts. There can be only one romance, but all of the “friendships” Araragi has on the side are more developed and feel more deserving of an actual romance, than even the actual main couples of other shows.
I used similar praise in my review of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, because there really is something to be said about anime that feel like their stories and presentation couldn’t possibly work in regular media.
Monogatari is a bizarre mixture of comedy, romance, mild erotica, mystery, and even action, all layered in this arthouse madness where symbolism and reality freely intertwine. It feels like this blend of styles and ideas could only happen in anime, and even in that field Monogatari is so wholly unique. And while I did remark that Haruhi‘s chronology was a tad convoluted, Monogatari is an even bigger puzzle of seasons, movies, and shorts that all stitch together in a jumbled mess. There are many orders in which to see the show, each of which has its own pros and cons.
#5 Maximum perversion
While I appreciate that Monogatari is loyal to the romance it establishes, I can also see how it would be a waste to have all of these wonderfully-designed characters walk around and not throw in a good bit of fan-service. And in this regard as well, Monogatari is fucking weird.
I remember once asking on a forum if Monogatari would be a show for me and somebody told me to just look up the “toothbrush scene” on Youtube. I wouldn’t recommend doing the same because it works better in context, but it’s a perfect example of the kind of bizarre erotica that Monogatari is overly fond of. There are weird touches of it throughout the show: Kanbura’s nudist tendencies, Senjougahara and Hanekawa having a “sleepover” together, or even the way in which Araragi sometimes interacts with his own sisters.
It’s ecchi, fan-service, and the characters involved have very appealing designs, but the strange context in which it happens really throws you for a loop as the viewer.