So you know what I said about only watching mediocre anime lately? Well, I just saw the first two episodes of the anime Bakemonogatari (Ghost Story). So now what do I say?
I say, “Holy fucking shit.”
Seriously, this show is incredible. I could tell you what it’s about – a high school guy helping female classmates remove curses from themselves – but a story is more than its plot. Bakemonogatari has style oozing out of every pore. The dense symbolism, the quick flashes of meaning which forces me to play quick draw with the remote, the peculiar camera angles: it’s all in the service of a larger aesthetic mission. Bakemonogatari actually has something to say, and I appreciate that fact even more when I think back and realize that it’s been so long since I was able to say that about an anime.
It’s even got fanservice, which normally I would consider a bad thing. I would define fanservice as stuff added to a narrative purely to gratify the audience and with not much regard to how it fits into the larger story in terms of theme, character, and so on. Mostly, fanservice refers to gratuitous depictions of female sexual signifiers, which is to say, tits and ass. Plus all those other female things that heterosexual men are supposed to salivate over, like, I dunno, ankles. However, the show portrays the female form so blatantly (and from such off-kilter perspectives) that it removes the stink of prurience from the act of beholding the feminine.
Normally, the term “shameless” is a pejorative description. To be shameless is to be without a proper sense of what is appropriate behaviour (propriety being a relative concept, of course). Bakemonogatari is not shameless about its frank and upfront display of the female body. It is, instead, unashamed. The show is not afraid of the female body, and because it’s unafraid, it can show exposed female flesh as being the same as exposed male flesh, which is to say, an everyday and unremarkable sight.
Therefore, I was mistaken when I said that this show has fanservice. Fanservice is gratuitous. Bakemonogatari is merely honest.