I said I was going to write this post quite awhile ago and now, weeks later, I’m finally getting around to it…big surprise there, I’m sure.
About a month or two ago, I took the time to watch through all of Bakemonogatari. I remember seeing the promotional pictures of it when it first came out…and while it did catch my eye, I’m pretty sure that it was going up against Gonzo’s Shangri-La in the fight for my attention at the time. And…being a lover of Last Exile…the character designs by Range Murata won hands down. It was a fantastic anime, by the ways…slow, but unique, and totally worth my time. I’m still hoping they’ll localize it in America eventually, but not really expecting it, considering how political the show was. Anyways…to get back on track…
One review I read about Bakemonogatari that did NOT rave about how wonderful it was really caught my interest. While the writer made a point of saying that they did not hate the show, they did make what I thought was a valid criticism of the art style. For those of you who have yet to watch this show, Bakemonogatari spends a lot of screen time focusing on characters’ faces while they talk, if not still shots. It also has a habit of spending a lot of time on screens filled with words and no images. Also, if I remember right, there were quite a few scenic shots, all of which were extremely simplistic. So really…when you add it all up…except for a few fight scenes (which were far and few between)…the amount of animation in this show is minimal.
Close-ups, text-filled screens, and simple backgrounds
Not only is the animation simple, but this is also a very “talky” show. And by “talky,” I mean exactly what that sounds like. The show does have a little bit action, but it is mostly comprised of scenes full of the characters’ talking to each other. While this may be considered by some to be Bakemonogatari‘s weak point, it is also very much its strong point. This is an extremely clever show, full of wordplay and witty humor. The only problem with this is that most of the humor is, as can only be expected, very Japanese. Being able to “get” all of the wordplay requires an extensive knowledge of kanji, and much of the wittier humor is steeped in Japanese culture. In other words…unless you are Japanese, have lived in Japan long enough to be fully integrated into the country and culture, or are otherwise able to be equally familiar with the Japanese way of life…most of the humor in this show is going to go over your head. I know it did it for me. (On a side note, I do have to say that the translators of this show deserve some serious applause for their attempts to get the humor across. Even if I still didn’t get all of the humor, the effort they put into this series was superb.)
Now…to get to the heart of my argument…I pose to you this question: Is this animation style artistic? Or a sign of laziness on the part of the directors and animators? Personally, I don’t think there’s a wrong or right answer to this question (unless, of course, you can hear the answers from the horse’s mouth). I think it comes down more to personal taste. To some the blank canvas looks like a blank canvas, and they wonder why on earth somebody hung it up in a museum. To others, though, it is genuinely a work of art. As one of the people who only sees a blank canvas, I can’t understand why they think it’s a work of art, but I can respect the fact that the piece is speaking to them in some way, even if it does not do the same for me. And while Bakemonogatari is no blank canvas, I think the same ideas can be applied here. On the one hand, some people are going to see this as how far an animation company is willing to go in order to make as much money as possible with the lowest budget. Others, on the other hand, will consider Bakemonogatari to be an incredibly clever work of art that knows how to really think outside of the box.
As for my opinion on what does or does not constitute as artistic by my own standards, I don’t really have a god way of explaining it. There’s no real words that can be used to define what I mean. I can tell you that I tend to like pieces that stand out in my mind as “beautiful.” They can be strange, like M.C. Escher-strange, or even in some cases Salvador Dali-strange, but there must always be some sense of what I call “beauty” about the picture. For example…I would consider the ef ~a tale~ series to be a work of art. There were countless jaw-dropping scenes that just completely wowed me. I’d never seen anything like it before in anime, and, honestly, I don’t ever expect to see anything like it again:
The Art of Ef
Where ef is what I would consider a work of art as a whole, though, there are plenty of series I can think of that have “artistic moments.” Elfen Lied, for example, has an extremely artistic opening sequence that draws inspiration from a real artist, Gustav Klimt:
Gustav Klimt (left) Elfen Lied (right)
Another series I could say has artistic elements would be Revolutionary Girl Utena. This series relies a lot on symbolism and suggestion to get certain themes across to its audience, and it uses the art to do this. One show that I have yet to see (but eventually plan to) is Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, another anime that has a very distinctive art style.
For Bakemonogatari specifically, I guess you could say I think that there’s more to the show than just laziness, but I also think the company utilized the artistic style to save themselves some time and money. I think this was more evident in some episodes than others. There were times where the tendency to focus on the characters’ faces really grated on my nerves…other times, though, I was perfectly fine with it. And I guess the reason I feel that it wasn’t all just the corporate desire to save some money is because when Bakemonogatari broke away from its usual simplicity, it really went all out. There were some incredible scenes in this show that really glued all of the visuals together and made the show stand out. The ending of the main part of the show (prior to the OAVS) especially shows that there was some serious talent behind the art of Bakemonogatari:
So, while Bakemonogatari is no ef (though, really, what show is?), it is, in my opinion, an artistic series. Even if it did overdo things sometimes, it did what it did very well. It’s a very memorable show to say the least…one of those that, once you’ve watched it, you can’t entirely forget about it.
Well…that’s all I have to say for today. Please feel free to give me some feedback…I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any. Otherwise…until next time!