Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 25th 2013
Sub.Blu-Ray - Box Set [Limited Edition]
Koyomi Araragi, a high school senior and former vampire who spent the previous series having assorted apparition-related encounters with five girls he knew or met, also has two less than normal sisters. 15-year-old Karen is a tall, aggressive, tomboyish martial arts expert known to walk around town (and on roofs!) on her hands, while the more girly, perpetually kimono-clad 14-year-old Tsukihi is nonetheless regarded by Koyomi as the scarier of the two because of a certain degree of ruthlessness when angered. Together they are known as the Fire Sisters because they fancy themselves as “champions of justice,” though Koyomi regards them as fakes. Koyomi also has another fake to deal with in Deishi Kaiki, a con man who has been passing around dangerous charms amongst middle school students and has a past negative connection to Senjogahara, to the point that she's willing to chain Koyomi up to keep him away from Kaiki. That doesn't prevent both Karen and Tsukihi from having harmful encounters with apparitions and those hunting for them, however, or Koyomi from having further encounters with all of the other girls that he's helped – including the donut-loving vampire Shinobu, who finally decides to stop being sullen and start being communicative again.
Based on DVD/Blu-Ray sales figures, franchise-founding series Bakemonogatari ranks up with Puella Magi Madoka Magika as one of the biggest anime TV series hits of the past few years, with average per-volume sales much higher than what an entire one-cour series would typically need to total to ensure a sequel. Thus it is somewhat surprising that more than two years passed before this sequel finally came out, but the Japanese sales results show that the franchise did not lost its touch, as Nisemonogatari stands only slightly below its predecessor as a major hit series. However, while this one makes a concerted effort to recapture the magic that made the original special, it falls a little short in a qualitative sense and a lot short as an American market release.
To be sure, many of the characteristics which made the original series an otaku hit are still there, especially on the artistic front. Although it has a new Series Director (Tomoyuki Itamura steps up from Episode Director in the first series to make his directorial debut), the project is still overseen by Akiyuki Shinbo, and many of the avant-garde artistic elements seen in other Shinbo efforts still predominate here. For instance, the fantastic interior design and architecture of the Araragi home, which never got much emphasis in the first series, is given lavish attention here, whether it be a living room, bedroom, or even not-so-simple bathroom. The inventive clutter and scaffolding of the abandoned school with a tree growing out of it, the brilliant reds of the literal flood of books in Kanbaru's home, the sharply-contrasting black-and-white patterns covering all surfaces of Kaiki's office, any of a number of city locales that all seem like they were designed by professional artists and are ever devoid of people beyond the featured characters – all are done in the same style as those seen in Bakemonogatari, yet without feeling repetitive. Creative uses of perspective, shot selection, and character poses also return, though this series seems to place a greater emphasis on promoting fan service and sex appeal, even being outright provocative at points. The few true action scenes are lurid, extremely graphic affairs (we get a fully-detailed rendition someone's heart literally getting crushed at one point) done with animation styling virtually identical to the series' predecessor. The animation in general is still well-done, as are the designs for both established and newly-appearing characters, though the quality control seems a little tighter this time. Gone are the regular flashes of text, however, making this a much less remote control-intensive view.
The series is also every bit as verbose as its predecessor, to the point of irritation at times. Characters still chew up most of most episodes in long-winded and often inane discussions about philosophical points, such as what it truly means to champion justice, or mundane topics, such as the wonders that are donuts or the impracticalities of perpetually keeping your boyfriend chained to a stack of desks for the rest of your lives to “protect” him. Otaku ate this stuff up in the first series, so Shinbo and Itamura apparently decided that one cannot have too much of a good thing and emphasized it to a tiresome extent, so much so that these 11 episodes really only have about 4-5 episodes of actual plot. Even when plot is being executed, scenes that could be easily resolved in a couple of minutes bog down with several minutes of needlessly elaborate exposition.
That shortage of plot also means that a considerable amount of episode time passes in each of this series' two arcs before the arc actually gets to the crux of the matter that the arc is named for. “Karen Bee” covers the first seven episodes, but not until episode 4 does it actually in any way deal with the “bee” aspect and most of a couple of those episodes pass without Karen even being integrally involved; instead Koyomi spends time interacting with (in turn) Senjogahara, Hachikuji, Kanbara, and Sengoku. In the “Tsukihi Phoenix” arc, which covers the last four episodes, the “phoenix” aspect does not come up until near the end of its third episode, although it is a major plot twist when it finally does come. Granted, a good chunk of the first series' appeal was Koyomi's interactions with the various harem girls, and this is still an entertaining diversion here, but with Koyomi's sisters and even Shinobu fully into the mix (the latter seemingly as a replacement for Oshino), he has to spread himself too thin here. These interactions do clarify Shinobu and Koyomi's dynamic and where he stands with his sisters, but they also mean that appearances by the other girls are limited; Sengoku only appears once total and Senjogahara, despite having the neatest relationship with Koyomi, appears not at all in the second arc.
This series also much more decidedly strays into creepy territory. The way Koyomi treated Hachikuji in the first series was always more than a little edgy (some might call it molestation), and that only becomes more pronounced in this series as it insists on playing the lolicon card, which Shinobu also gets in on. (But at least Shinobu can play the Mina Tepes “I'm really 200+ years old in an elementary school girl's body and have a mature-adult alternate form” card.) Some of the interactions between Koyomi and his sisters, and some of the ways that the camera suggests that Koyomi looks at them, are also clearly intended to carry incestuous implications even though Koyomi vocally denies any such attraction, and one scene involving Karen and Tsukihi is doubtless intended to be interpreted in a yuri light even if nothing illicit may actually be going on.
Satoru Kousaki returns as music director, and like with the first series producer a strong, widely-varied effort which continues to be the franchise's most consistent strengths. Styles ranges from a morose cello piece used for scenes with Kaiki to an American country twang to more lively and dramatic music used for the action scenes. Light J-rock theme "Naisho no Hanashi" is used throughout (albeit paired with three different visual takes), while three different openers are used: "Futakotome" (for episodes 1 and 3) features visuals reminiscent of first-series openers for Senjogahara, "Marshmallow Justice" (for episodes 2 and 4-7) features Karen, and “Platinum Disco,” which is easily the best, is a cutesy, light-hearted dance number flavored with traditional Japanese music and featuring a dancing Tsukihi. Japanese vocal word is solid, but no performances stand out this time.
This time around the Extras are much more limited. Gone are the great in-character audio commentaries seen in Bakemonogatari; all that remains on-disk are clean versions of the various openers and closers. A glossy booklet featuring episode summaries, character profiles, and bonus artwork is also included, and each of the three cases has bonus cover and interior art, too. The episodes are split across a total of five disks in three cases and the whole lot comes in an attractive, sturdy artbox. Video and audio quality are generally in line with the high standards set by the set for the previous series, although the review copy had major encoding glitches in two different episodes. These do not seem to be a common flaw, however, so they may have been peculiar to the particular review copy.
Nisemonogatari continues its predecessor's traditions in other ways, such as by tossing in random otaku-friendly parodies/homages; watch for references to Akira, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Case Closed, and possibly others. Like its predecessor, it also uses a name that is a play on words – Bakemonogatari is a portmanteau of words for “apparition which takes on human form” and “story,” whil Nisemonogatari is a portmanteau of words for “one who is fake” and “story” – but in this respect it actually exceeds its predecessor, as the ways in which people are fakes in this story are more layered and pervasive than the apparition aspect in the first series. Even beyond that, this series does plenty enough of what the original did to be plenty entertaining to those who liked the original. However, it also stretches out content that probably should have composed only half or (at most) two-thirds of a series into a whole 11-episode run. Comparatively speaking, that is its biggest failing.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Spectacular artistic touches, a couple of great twists and developments, interesting characters.
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