Self-indulgent beyond all rationality and shameless in its ubiquitous sexual exploitation of almost the entire cast, Nisemonogatari is almost completely skipable, though some strong additions to the cast and well composed scenes just barely make it worth sitting through.
Plot Summary: Araragi and his female friends talk endlessly and sexually invade each other until a mysterious man named Kaiki shows up, and then Araragi must save his precious sisters. I mean, it’s not like they can do anything.
The story of Nisemonogatari gets off to a fairly engaging start, promising a potent villain with ties to many members of the cast’s foul conditions. The opening dialogue between Senjougahara and Araragi is snappy, well presented and fresh, and their banter stays more or less consistent throughout. However, retaining the status quo of its central romance is Nisemonogatari’s greatest accomplishment with the original cast, as it becomes apparent very early on that Nisemonogatari has no intention of holding the integrity of the other cast members. Nadeko’s only substantially long scene consists almost entirely of her having Araragi act out her fantasies, as though the writers seem determined for her to hold the spot as the worst character thus far (and no, Otorimonogatari doesn’t justify this). Kanbaru, one of Bakemonogatari’s brightest spots, spends close to an entire episode lounging around stark naked in books for absolutely no (logical) reason, which is a step too far for her character, who didn’t suggest any real interest in sexual exposition of this magnitude in the first season, beyond above average sexual confidence. Hanekawa is mostly tossed aside, occasionally sprouting some exposition and reminding the audience that she exists in spite of both of the next two arcs (going by release order) pertaining to her, though her teasing of Araragi goes greatly against her later representations. For a large part of the anime, Araragi’s perverted nature becomes his defining trait, and Hachikuji suffers greatly as a result of being an object for him to get excited over and serving few other purposes. To put it bluntly, while Bakemonogatari contained fan service, Nisemonogatari, for almost all intents and purposes, is fan service.
The sisters are sold as this series main attraction, though sadly the focus on them is greatly inconsistent. Much of Araragi’s time at his home is spent talking to Shinobu or undergoing activities with his sisters that don’t really give of a sense of family between them. The problem here lies in how they aren’t actually treated too differently to Kanbaru or Nadeko, both in their treatment by Araragi and the writers. They tease him, sexually express themselves in front of him (yuck!), but their lack of genuine affection is smothered by how obnoxious they come across as, which made them largely unsympathetic. The uneven time given to them was usually wasted on extended sexual innuendo rather than presenting their personalities, and as a result they come off as one note, much more so than anyone did in Bakemonogatari. What little screen time they do get only shows the weak and obnoxious nature. To make matters worse, their treatment goes against what made the treatment of women in the predecessor work; Araragi would always give his friends a chance to be freed, but they would have to accept their flaws for it to work, so in the end they were the ones who took responsibility for themselves. Here, Karen and Tsukihi aren’t even present in many events where they are the topic of discussion, and even when their lives are on the line they aren’t stepping up, leaving poor Senjougahara to do much of the supporting heavy lifting, which is a running theme throughout Nisemonogatari.
Senjougahara’s icy dialogue with Araragi is as entertainingly cold as ever, and may have actually improved a bit, with her intimate yet stern demeanor making her just as memorable as she was before. More depth is added to her as she shows a layer of fear and even regret that wasn’t really present before. This largely stems from Kaiki, Nisemonogatari‘s antagonist and arguably its shining component. His deadpan, yet oddly threatening presence and the way in which he seems to dominate whatever scene (in several different ways) he’s in makes him a good antagonist, as does the way in which his actions lay down the foundations of essentially all the problems depicted here. To make things better, he’s tied to the thematic core (and title) of Nisemonogatari, more so than the characters who are actually affected by it. Yotsugi and her master, Kagenui, are also nice additions, though sadly they don’t show up until the penultimate episode. Yotsugi is mostly an aesthetic character, though her manner of speech, where she promptly refers to herself in third person, and absence of any range make her oddly endearing. For all its faults, Nisemonogatari does a great job at selling Kaiki and Yotsugi, even if it only feels like the beginning of their character paths (which it is).
About as good is Shinobu, a character who was formerly silent now being given a voice, and by veteran Maaya Sakamoto no less! Though she serves as a token loli for much of the series, her ties to Araragi and strong personality in serious situations makes her one of the best female character to have been introduced so far. She’s very powerful, but rarely abuses it, and doesn’t make things difficult for Araragi simply for the sake of her own amusement. Seemingly taking Hanekawa’s spot this time around, she is a voice of reason, though she can get into circumstances that Hanekawa would probably die in. She’s wise beyond her appearance (being very old) and knows that she mustn’t do everything, because if she did then Araragi couldn’t grow as a character. The dilemma regarding what her survival means for Araragi was probably Nisemonogatari’s most compelling theme, even if it only lasted for less than 5 minutes.
Bakemonogatari undeniably had some padding, but in Nisemonogatari this seems to not only make up the majority of the series, but seems to be given priority, like a cake where 75% of its mass is comprised of icing. When Araragi is “playing” with another girl in the cast, the series puts its focus squarely on the moment, though plot driven scenes such as chases and fights are treated as an afterthought for the most part, preventing what should be tense scenes from clicking because of their context and general lack of build up. Comic relief is acceptable, even welcome, in a series that deals with hefty issues, but it should be used in moderation and applied in the right places, not given blanket coverage.
Thematically, Nisemonogatari contains some genuinely interesting ideas regarding the nature of “fakes” (偽物) and how that which mimics what is real is indistinguishable from what is true. So, if the fake cannot be told from what is true, does it have the same value, or can no amount of work or effort change one’s nature? Three sides for this argument are presented through Kaiki, Kagenui and Oshino, and they make for some vaguely thought provoking content. However, that’s all this series manages to muster; provoking thought. It doesn’t really expand on it and the example it uses to explore this isn’t given the proper focus for the debate at the end to really click. Perhaps this theme continues into later installments, but for the moment it’s sadly quite underwhelming. There was a lot of potential here, but the series waits till right at the end to elaborate on what it means to be a “fake”. All in all, it’s the story of Nisemonogatari that feels “fake”; it’s not a real, functioning narrative, but rather a backdrop to place the characters in sexual situations. This should have been a spin off, consisting of fewer episodes and introducing no new characters, or at least not have introduced such important characters as Karen or Tsukihi. As interesting as Kaiki and Shinobu are here, they’re shadows of their eventual selves.
Visually, Nisemonogatari is a moderate step up from Bakemonogatari in terms of brightness and expression, with the fluffy colour palette complimenting the similar narrative. The directing and narrative flow in tune with each other, and the characters seemed to move a bit more. The editing was very fast in comedic situations, filled with pop culture references and fourth wall breaks. However, this increase in quality was met with a decrease in experimental animation and memorable set pieces. The colour work, for the vast majority of the series, is almost monochromatic shades of yellow and red, with the various locations around town simply blurring together. The library looks like the streets, which look like the donut shop. The best new set pieces would certainly have to be Kaiki’s venue (where he met Karen) and Araragi’s house, with its astrological arrangements and thoughtful visual metaphorical representations really meshing well with the characters (though it would have doubtlessly have been ridiculously expensive). The cram school is also well utilised, though these are only silver linings, as the setting never conveys the gravity or feeling of importance that Bakemonogatari’s finale pulled off; every backdrop is like most of the dialogue, a fluff piece. Overall, average information density per frame is decreased, but the quantity of frames seems to have improved.
Character animation also seems less inspired, in spite of being more polished and mobile. In Bakemonogatari, the characters had a healthy complexion that reflected that they may have all been indoor people, though they browned sufficiently in the sun or under synthetic lighting enough to seem believable. In Nisemonogatari, the characters seem porcelain and perfect in every setting, be it a darkly lit room or after a violent street brawl, seemingly sucking up the lighting around them completely, rather than having a minor change in complexion. To add to that, character movements are inconsistent in fluidity, with most of the (very few) fights containing very basic animation, or taking place off screen.
Kaiki is perhaps the most aesthetically original character in the cast, his paleness adding to his deadpan attitude rather than dulling it. From his chin that slightly juts out, to his manipulative muted purple eyes that doubtlessly make him a favourite with female fans, he might actually have my favourite character design from the Monogatari series thus far. The only character offering him any competition in this regard is Yotsugi’s luminously ethereal green eyes and hair, which blends with her bung eyed hat to make her the most effortlessly adorable character in Nisemonogatari.
Musically, the series has some very distinct and fitting tracks, usually accompanying key character moments. Kaiki’s character theme is particularly memorable, with the violins in the background sounding paradoxically off while still retaining a calculated and deliberate pitch, presenting a threatening level of deviance from the normal up-beat tracks accompanying the other females. There really is nothing else like it in Nisemonogatari, and it gives him another layer to his already imposing presence, proceeding to swallow up all light and warmth around him musically as well as visually. Of the other tracks, the instrumental remixes of Tsukihi’s opening are the most memorable, as they are expressed through both traditional Japanese instruments and more European ones, though both of them are on point in expressing her innocence and traditionalist manner. However, most of the other tracks are jolly, overly enthusiastic and even messy, blending in with the frivolity of the far-too-abundant fan service scenes, though not really adding anything to them.
The ED by ClariS is quite a fun track, helped greatly by some creative coloured pencil style drawings and energetic editing elevating the constant movement of character who remain distinct in spite of their drawing style. The first OP isn’t anything to write home about, as Senjougahara’s voice actress isn’t really the best at singing, though it’s serviceable. The second OP is a bit better, though the effects work is all over the place and the inclusion of Japanese hornets, the most terrifying monsters on the planet, doesn’t help either. The third OP might by my favourite in the series so far, with Yuka Iguchi’s vocals meshing perfectly with the simple, yet pleasant instrumentation and restrained, yet still very colourful, visuals.
The voice acting for the initial characters from Bakemonogatari certainly isn’t as strong, with Miyuki Sawashiro only being able to do so much with a Kanbaru whose entire purpose is to seduce those around her. Hiroshi Kamiya doesn’t have any notable scenes this time around, as a result of Araragi being a blown up balloon of his former self, but he does a serviceable job in the rare emotional scenes. Senjougahara’s and Hanekawa’s maintain the quality of their former performances, with the former adding more ice to her performance.
All in all, Nisemonogatari is a misstep in an otherwise high quality series, representing some of the worst of what the series has to offer through shameless and purposeless fan service and displaying a whole 4 episodes worth of actual content. Thankfully, this is a hiccup in the series reputation instead of a trend setter.
Nisemonogatari may be streamed and bought from Hanabee and is available on crunchyroll.