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 other characters that appear in a few episodes, the main character, Araragi, 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. Regardless, 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, the first adaptation of Isin Nisio’s Monogatari novel series, can be summed up as an allegory of how problems grow beyond our control when we don’t tend to them. In this story, unsolved problems transform into apparitions that can handicap, possess, and even attack people. This premise was likely inspired by the Buddhist concept of the āsavā, which is defined as an influence or mental bias that binds people to their desires and attachments. In this story, various types of mental biases 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. His distinctive use of lines, shadows, and off-centered shot compositions are in full effect here. There are some scenes that are likely just meant to look cool, but, generally, the visuals have purpose and avoid garishness. The visuals are specific, and help to establish tension, isolation, and other tones.
The true 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 break through the fourth wall to make the viewer a part of an exchange.
The Monogatari Series would be appreciated by most anime fans who enjoy sleek art, witty dialog, the supernatural, and don’t mind some fanservice. 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.