Halloween might be over, but it is not too late for a good ghost story. In fact, Bakemonogatari almost literally translates into “ghost story”, though obake and bakemono more specifically refer to supernatural beings capable of changing forms, with obake sometimes colloquially used to refer to “ghosts”. Semantics aside, Bakemonogatari is the first novel, and adaptation-wise the first anime in a large series of novels-adapted-into-anime known as the “Monogatari” series. Anime-wise, Studio SHAFT takes these works by author NisioOisin and turns them into heavily stylistic showpieces full of unique camera angles, visual effects, and lots of on-screen text that flashes by so quickly you will need to be fast on the pause button to read it all (if you even want to). It is in many ways a mess of a show, but a very entertaining one, and as such it has developed a strong niche fanbase in the anime community.
It helps that the stories themselves are strong. There is plenty of witty verbal banter between characters, and behind all that, the core story definitely has very human elements to it. In this post I will be looking at the first arc of the story, titled “Hitagi Crab,” which covers the first two episodes of the anime. Note that this is not chronologically the first story, just the one audiences were first exposed to. In it, the protagonist Koyomi Araragi (gotta love that family name), who is hinted to have had some run-ins with vampires in the past, encounters a girl that literally falls into his arms. Not only that, but she is far lighter than a high school girl could be, at about 5 kg (11 lbs). Later on, the girl Hitagi Senjyogahara threatens to staple the side of Koyomi’s mouth (yeah, she is like that) and explains that she encountered a crab after graduating middle school that took away most of her weight.
Koyomi later tells Hitagi that he can help her with her problem (mainly by showing how his wound from having his mouth stapled healed quickly), and refers her to a specialist in supernatural beings Meme Oshino. Meme explains that what Hitagi encountered was a “weight crab”, which is actually a Shinto god, or kami; this doubles as a bit of a wordplay joke as the Japanese word for “crab” is kani; this kind of wordplay is common in this series. At any rate, Meme agrees to help Hitagi out and gets her to prepare for a ritual of sorts.
Later on, during said ritual, Hitagi reveals her past. Her mother fell in with a corrupt religious cult to deal with how deathly sick her daughter was at the time. While Hitagi did recover thanks to a major surgery, it only made her mother get involved in the cult even more, until she and her daughter no longer spoke to each other. Then, one day, her mother brought in one of the cult’s leaders to their home, who, under the pretense of a ritual, attempted to rape her. Hitagi was able to fight him off while her mother stood by doing nothing, but because their leader was injured, the cult took her mother away from her. Soon after that time, she encountered the crab and allowed it to take away the pain of those memories, effectively cutting off her bonds with her mother in the process. At the time, it was a burden she wanted to get rid of, and when she did, both her emotional and physical weight were lifted off her shoulders. Now, however, she chooses to take those memories back from the crab, not just to regain her weight but also to regain the happier memories of her childhood.
While the story may involve a supernatural Japanese deity, the core of the story is a very human one about dealing with the burdens of our past. As nice as it sounds to “leave the past behind”–something commonly heard of in Christian circles–many people take that the wrong way. In particular, many people try to pretend that the past does not exist and does not affect them. And especially for Christians, our past sins are forgiven and thus we can forgive the sins of the past committed against us, too, right?
However, the reality is, for better or for worse, the past does affect us. Many of the worst and best parts of our personality come from our past. We do not need to let the past weigh us down, but we do need to bear that burden and deal with it accordingly. The more we understand how the past has led to our present, the better equipped we are to face the future. For Hitagi, who realizes that the mother of her past will never return, it at the very least means that she has found a new friend in Koyomi, and even if that is all the good that came from her past, it is plenty good enough.
These are the kinds of stories that make up the Monogatari series, even as this series gets quite a bit more twisted with its characters and storylines. I myself have admittedly fallen behind on the show, having finished the “second season” (which is actually not the second TV series, Nisemonogatari) but not having gone on to Hanamonogatari or anything past that yet. Still, from what I have seen of it, it is definitely a show that is both fascinating to watch and quite poignant in what it has to say. If you want to get into it, this page explains how the series has been released so far and what is a good order to watch things in.
A fair warning, though, as there is a fair amount of fanservice in the show; for example, much of episode two is Hitagi bantering with Koyomi while half-naked after taking a shower. It might be more intellectual fanservice but it nevertheless is not something for all Christians. Even for those more willing to deal with fanservice, I would personally recommend skipping Nisemonogatari episode 8 thanks to a certain infamous scene involving a toothbrush.
I might cover some more arcs of the Monogatari series in the future, but for now consider this a sampling of what this monstrosity of a series has to offer. Next time I will be talking about anime about competitive games, so until then, good luck finishing up all that Halloween candy!