The -gatari Series

With the start of the long-awaited summer holidays for many, let’s learn something about the -gatari series instead of mathematics or literature for a change. In essence we’ll be talking about Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Katanagatari and maybe a bit about the planned Kizumonogatari movie.

Nisemonogatari

Of course you have probably seen at least a couple of episodes and know what all of those series are roughly about, but that won’t be the focus of this post today. We’ll look into their origins, some differences between the originals and their anime adaptations and lastly touch upon the way the works have been handled by their respective animation studios.

First and foremost, what ties the -gatari series together is the author, Nishio Ishin (西尾 維新). He’s a Ritsumeikan University dropout, who’s gone on to gain international fame through his writing. In 2002 he jumpstarted his career when he was earned the 23rd Mephisto Award for the novel The Beheading Cycle (Kubikiri Saikuru), first of the nine novels of the Zaregoto series. He has been very active since then, but I won’t bore you with a complete list of his works – see the Wikipedia article for that. I’ll just mention Nishio-san doesn’t limit himself to light novels, but also writes short stories, such as a collection set in the xxxHolic universe, or manga, where he cooperates with various artists.

The -monogatari series

Bakemonogatari

First off, it’s rather obvious how much Nishio-san loves wordplay. All the titles are portmanteaux (terms or phrases that combine two or more meanings) with the second word being monogatari – a story, a tale. In the light novels one encounters punch lines, which may be baffling unless you understand at least some Japanese and/or know a little about how kanji is formed, read et cetera. Just to illustrate:

By the way, the 蕩 part of ‘fascinated’ is quite a word. Did you know? You write ‘grass crown’ over ‘hot water'(湯). So inside me, in the bright sunshine(明) by the grass crown, the moe(萌) goes up a notch, shouldering the future generation itself which grass symbolises, a sensitive word like that that gathers expectations on me. You can also coin up pretties like maidinated, or cat-earcinated. (Baka-Tsuki)

That excerpt is from the first novel of the series, Bakemonogatari, where the first part of the portmanteau title bakemono means a monster, an apparition. (In the original series there are two volumes called Bakemonogatari.) From what I have read of it the main plot is retold quite accurately in its anime adaptation. Some less important information is omitted, some parts are blown up and admittedly some are made much more interesting. Shaft has done a beautiful job. What didn’t make it into the anime is, unfortunately, but understandably, most of the word play. While I enjoyed it in the novels, I am in no way an average viewer, so I suppose it might not appeal to everybody and that would be why Shaft replaced it with their signature “animation play.” Though Shaft itself is, let us say, acquired taste.

Bakemonogatari - animation play

After their adaptation of Bakemonogatari has been received so well in 2009, one would certainly be surprised if the Nisemonogatari adaptation were entrusted to a different studio. True enough, Shaft did the animation work and the plot was under the direction of their affiliate Shinbou Akiyuki yet again. There is not much change (except for Nisemonogatari’s rather ecchi scenes) to talk about there, so just the obligatory note about the title – this time it’s a combination of nisemono and monogatari, where nisemono means a fake, an imitation, an impostor.

I’ve already mentioned the original light novel series starts (nota bene, in the order the books were published, not chronologically) with two volumes of Bakemonogatari. Nisemonogatari is also composed of two volumes as well, but they’re the fourth and fifth volumes of the whole series. A question poses itself then: where is the third volume? If you have been taking some interest in upcoming Japanese animation works, you may already know the answer. It’s Kizumonogatari.

Kizumonogatari

Kizumonogatari (kizumono meaning something damaged, scarred or wounded) is a prequel to Bakemonogatari, meaning we’ll finally see the full story of how Araragi-kun became and stopped being a vampire in full speed and colour on our monitors. The movie was supposed to come to theaters this year, but has been pushed back, possibly due to fears of it diminishing/being diminished by the three-part Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika movie, the first part of which is coming out in early October this year. While on the topic of future works – the rest of the -monogatari series should also eventually be adapted into anime by Shaft.

The light novels (to my knowledge) haven’t been translated to English, so if you want to read them you’ll have to either learn Japanese and buy the originals or find a less legal way to enjoy them…

Katanagatari

Katanagatari

Katanagatari may even be new to some of you, as it is no match for the -monogatari series in terms of fame and fandom base. I too seem to had had something better to do in the winter of 2010 than watching new anime, so I didn’t even know of the existence of the series until sometime this winter. It may have something to do with the fact that I started seeing my girlfriend that December…

Anyway, I don’t think I would have guessed it’s by the same author. The themes and settings are miles apart, just read the blurb!

Shichika, the seventh and last practitioner of the Kyotoryuu – No Sword School, who lives on an island cut off from civilization with just his sickly sister, is visited and hired by the shogun strategist Togame to help her search out and acquire the last twelve of a thousand swords by a famous swordsmith, which would give one soldier the power to defeat a small army, for the shogun.

Shichika and Togume travel around Japan at the time of shoguns, ninjas and swordsmen, not in present time, searching for swords, not youkai possessed human or anything of that sort. Not to mention the animation sure isn’t Shaft. It was done by White fox, the studio behind Steins;Gate, Idolmaster and Jormungand. But it doesn’t look like those at all either – it retained the specific style of the drawings in the original light novels. It was nice of White fox to do that, wasn’t it? Another example of great respect for the original work: the twelve volume epic was released one volume a month throughout 2007, similarly the anime aired one episode per month over the whole year of 2010. Katanagari adaptation surpasses the -monogatari one by far in this regard. The only downside would be that, with even the script following the original pretty much word for word, it doesn’t bring anything new to a viewer, who has read the light novels.

They are different in all areas concerned, but in the end if you want a good story with some out of the ordinary animation, you might want to look into these series or the original light novels.

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Posted on July 6, 2012, in Anime, Otaku-ism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Having read the novel, I think Shaft contributed an amazing amount to the Bakemonogatari adaptation with its unique visual direction that made the show the wonder that it was. It really was gorgeous to look at, using lots of tricks to maximize quality with their budget, and it was quite creative at times with its style and cinematography.

    Katanagatari, on the other hand, I feel owes its success more to Nisio. It started off poorly, but the way things came full circle by the end was heartbreakingly beautiful, and the story touched me deeply. The unique art style was certainly great, and the show did try experimenting with different styles such as the 8-bit game parody piece, but overall the visuals were more subdued than in Bakemonogatari.

  1. Pingback: The -gatari Series « a dash of dorry

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