About a year and a half after releasing the final episode of Bakemonogatari, Shaft followed up with its sequel Nisemonogatari. Although shorter than its predecessor with only 11 episodes, watching Nisemonogatari nonetheless felt like a long, drawn-out affair. I watched the series over the course of a weekend, but I wouldn’t suggest watching more than two or three episodes at a time. Despite my intrigue and mild excitement going in, it was a pretty exhausting anime to sit through.
The best way I can describe the plot of Nisemonogatari is that it’s a succession of strange encounters. Despite there being nominally two story arcs, there’s really only a faint trace of a cohesive story connecting the episodes. “Karen Bee” focuses most around its titular character (Karen Araragi), whereas Tsukihi Araragi barely features at all in her arc “Tsukihi Phoenix.” The show is really about Koyomi Araragi, the protagonist from Bakemonogatari, and a summer vacation seemingly free of obligations.
Araragi wanders around town for one reason or another, bumping into many of the colorful characters that make up his harem. Banter – sometimes witty – ensues. While I don’t inherently dislike this structure, Nisemonogatari suffers from not using any of its chattiness for a greater purpose other than light comedy. That’s not to say the show isn’t bold or daring in other ways, but for a series so enamored with dialogue, it really doesn’t appear to actually say much.
What Nisemonogatari does do is hard to appreciate. If you’ve seen Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (the fake Charlie Kaufman biopic), you’ll understand the thinking that probably went into Nisemonogatari. It’s not about telling a story so much as it is about creating something unique. Often, art is for other artists, and I think this is really the heart of the series.
To their credit, Shaft created something undeniably new and memorable. It’s as much their baby as it is Nisio Isin’s. Shaft uses a psychedelic fusion of colors and geometries to create a surreal world which follows neither logic nor sense. Objects arrange themselves spontaneously, structures erect and collapse on a whim, and even something as mundane as a model blimp becomes strangely amorphous. Beyond that, the visual composition of each scene is utterly perfect, creating tension between the relatively mundane designs of the characters and the oddness of the environments they inhabit.
Nisemonogatari is also very in-your-face about otaku fetishism, to such a degree that I might call it shameless. I ended up enjoying the absolute lack of restraint in this regard, and ultimately found it comedic. When Araragi first groped the wandering elementary schoolgirl Mayoi Hachikuji, I thought it was weird. By the end of the series I couldn’t help but chuckle in a “if you can’t change it, you might as well like it” sort of way. The show challenges you to express your moral outrage at the antics of fictional characters. It doesn’t give any fucks at all, and that’s why it works.
I’m not sure you can really “enjoy” this show in the usual way you’d enjoy an anime. Its narrative is a token one at best. In the rare instances where it does play at having a message, the delivery mostly feels hackneyed and rushed. And while Nisemonogatari has good characters, they’re less of a driving force in the show than you’d think. What you’re watching, in truth, is art – penned by a clever if not particularly deep author, and brought to life by an animation director that I’d have to imagine is completely insane.