There’s some debate about whether or not Bakemonogatari (pr. bah-keh-moh-no-gah-tah-re) is an ecchi/harem. A mere six seconds into the first episode, one of the female leads is introduced with a panty shot, and several shots of panties, boobs, and butts are dispersed throughout the series. Aside from two characters that appear in a few episodes, Araragi, the main character, is the only male, and he’s usually surrounded by females who’ve developed a fondness for him after he helped them in some way.
Is it an ecchi? Most likely. Is it a harem? Probably. Nevertheless, what distinguishes this series from other ecchi and harem anime is that this one could still be entertaining without the ecchi and harem elements. It’s not an ecchi with some story, but a story with some ecchi.
Bakemonogatari, part one of the Monogatari Series, is essentially a metaphor for the way problems grow beyond our control when we aren’t aware of them, or try to ignore them. In this story, unsolved problems culminate into apparitions that can handicap, possess, and even attack people. This metaphor was likely derived from the Buddhist concept of the āsavā, which is defined as an influence or mental bias that binds people to their desires and attachments; various types of mental binds are illustrated through the lives and interactions of the characters.
This series was headed by veteran director and animator Akiyuki Shinbou, whose style has become synonymous with the Shaft animation studio. When people refer to “Shaft style”, “Shaft head tilts”, and so on, they’re really referring to the aesthetics developed by Shinbou. His distinctive use of lines, shadows, minimalism, and off-centered shot compositions are in full effect here. There are a couple of scenes that are likely just meant to look cool, but generally the visuals have purpose, and avoid garishness. They’re motivated by clear ideas that establish tension, distance, and other emotional tones.
The highlight of Bakemonogatari is the Tarantino-esque dialog written by Isin Nisio. When the characters converse, they’re not simply saying things that’ll move the plot forward. They’re having in-depth conversations, free of restraints, that seamlessly transition between topics as conversations do in real life. However, that’s not to imply that the characters take themselves seriously. It’s quite the contrary. The characters often tease and challenge each other, and sometimes go through the fourth wall to make the viewer apart of an exchange.
The Monogatari Series would be appreciated by most people who don’t mind fan service, and enjoy sleek art, witty dialog, and the supernatural. If you decide to pick it up, I suggest watching it in the order that it was adapted: Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, Monogatari Series: Second Season, Hanamonogatari, Tsukimonogatari, Owarimonogatari, Kizumonogatari.