Bakemonogatari Animation: Compensation or Creativity?

"It's not like I want to be low budget"

There is [used to be] a lot of talk up in the air about Bakemonogatari, one of SHAFT’s most popular works, directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. As most of us know, if you’re familiar with the anime he’s done, Shinbo likes to use a distinct and idiosyncratic animation style in most of if not all the anime he’s directed. The most prominent of these shows are Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Maria Holic, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Arakawa Under the Bridge, and Bakemonogatari, with Bakemonogatari and SZS at the top. Now, if you don’t know exactly what can define Shinbo’s directing style, it’s simply energetic, jittery, and surreal use of brief camera shots of the characters, little character movement, a lot of dialogue, stylized shots of ambiguous “art,” and shots of the surrounding environment. And for the time, around the time of SZS and Maria Holic, this style was considered unique and quirky, while others generally found it distasteful (silly them). However, ever since the release of Bakemonogatari, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are saying different.

"No, no, we're not low budget. At least I don't think we are..."

Recently, I’ve realized that a large portion of the anime community thinks that Shinbo’s animation style is simple compensation for being low on budget in most of their shows. I find this very hard to believe. It seems as though one person, before making a post on wherever their heart desires, does a 5 second scan on google search and as soon as they see “Bakemonogatari. . . low budget. . .” they have confirmed their baseless comment with another baseless comment and post it, creating a vicious cycle. In fact, it’s ridiculous to even point out the fact that an anime studio has a low budget, true or not since half the budget goes to producers, and broadcasting stations. I only say this because I myself with my own two eyes have not seen any estimates on the actual budget SHAFT, Aniplex, and Kodansha had to make this anime happen. What I have seen, is that SHAFT was actually understaffed for the time being and milked Shinbo’s animation style to compensate being understaffed. Yes, the linked source is Sankaku Complex, and even though their validity is questionable, I would believe it faster than I would a random post on an obscure forum.

First person perspective through Koyomi Araragi

Aside from discussing whether or not  Shinbo’s animation style is compensation for being understaffed or on a low budget , there’s also the matter of directorial significance on the infamous and infinite black and red scenes, and most of what else goes on on-screen. Believe it or not, there is some significance in it. First off, it should be obvious that Bakemonogatari is told from the perspective of Koyomi Araragi (his narration using “I”), and thus we should hear his thoughts (especially since this was a novel at first, and in novels, we more often than not hear people’s thoughts). Most of the black scenes, which are more prominent than red scenes, are when Araragi’s inner thoughts are heard.

Black scene saying "I understood," when Senjougahara tells Araragi to not move

This is one type of a black scene. The other black scene, is when Araragi’s eyes are closed. Not blinking, but when he intentionally closes them.

A six second black scene after Araragi was told to close his eyes. The dialogue being spoken in this frame is "You can open your eyes now."

I don’t know what Shinbo’s thoughts were when he decided to use this when he closed his eyes, but the black scenes come up at times when a normal person would close his or her eyes for reasons other than blinking. When Araragi was stapled in the mouth, a quick black scene came up. When he grabbed Senjougahara’s hand, a brief black scene came up. Also the one in the above shot. There are scenes where you can see Araragi’s eyelids closing, and when they are closed, a black scene comes up. This is probably to keep his mind off of any visual stimuli while he thinks, something that I frequently do too.

Now, for the red scene significance. Red scenes work a lot like black scenes, except they aren’t for when he closes his eyes, nor do they appear nearly as often as black scenes. Red scenes seem to come up when something emotionally strong comes across his mind.

The card says "A beautiful demon," referring to Shinobu as "The leftovers of a beautiful demon," in the dialogue.

Kanji for Senjougahara Hitagi in a red scene for obvious reasons

Alongside the red and black scenes, the show is littered with other different kinds of color scenes, cards, and various other… stuff that ranges from inner thoughts, to literal objects, to drawing representation, to text from the book.

4 spaces asterisks to represent a time skip

"Thrown away"

Actual food (probably cutting corners while looking good)

Araragi getting his eyes poked out. It's funny that they put in the ahoge.

Actual text from the book

I’ll admit, these directorial approaches aren’t the deepest things in the world, but they definitely add more meaning to the tone of the show alongside Araragi’s narration. It’s visual stimuli like this that keeps a long winded anime interesting to me, and others no doubt.

The biggest concern is that this decision in its entirety was a gamble by Shinbo. A hit or miss move that may or may not have been well received by  its viewers. And thus far, the reception that the show received is full of mixed feelings. People find it annoying, people love it; it all comes down to personal preference.

Whether or not these are meant to cut corners due to being understaffed… or compensating a low budget… or to just offer that small amount of directorial significance doesn’t matter. Unless I see an actual estimate on the budget of Bakemonogatari, then I’ll continue thinking it’s not to compensate for that. It comes down to personal preference on whether someone likes what Shinbo did, regardless of me explaining what the significance behind them were.

Thanks for reading.

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About Suda
Video games and anime reviews.

15 Responses to Bakemonogatari Animation: Compensation or Creativity?

  1. drasil says:

    I’d say it IS creativity. Read a really interesting article a while back on the color wheel and color theory, and a few examples (one being Bakemonogatari) of how it’s applied in animes. Unfortunately they only use one scene as an example, but I can already picture other scenes from Bakemonogatari and other Shinbou + Shaft animes that use these techniques really well.

    http://tinyurl.com/3j9ekmb

    • sudatama says:

      Thanks for showing me that. Behind the Nihon Review is a great blog. And yeah, that theory can very well apply to many different scenes in the show.

  2. You know, I’m really glad a studio like Shaft is around. Even though they seem to… recycle their art style, it’s still pretty unique and different from most anime shows. I wouldn’t say SHAFT shows are very low budget. The opening sequence in Bakemonogatari is one of the greatest animated scenes I had seen in awhile, not to mention that dialogue in some SHAFT shows are written well.

  3. drasil says:

    Another element that I think adds to the power of Shinbou+Shaft’s use of color is space in correlation to the color white and small text.

  4. Lehq says:

    Let’s just say that they complement each other. Sure, SHAFT may be having budget issue, but hey, the director is creative in the whole minimalistic style which actually allowed to overcome that disadvantage. Compared to the ‘typical’ scenarios of corner-cutting eg, like how people mention DEEN’s productions etc.

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  6. Seraph1730 says:

    Can anyone tell me the name of the anime that the character in the background of this page is from (girl holding a sheath, black top and red skirt)?

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  9. Mao Ranma says:

    Thanks for the explanation, I felt there was a pattern to the red/black scenes.

  10. 9xion says:

    Reblogged this on 9xion and commented:
    love this anime so much XDDDD[ n shinbo’s style too[ .

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  12. Synthiate says:

    I wouldn’t say that It’s creativity, because it is actually a form of narrative. The animation style is used as a means to get Araragi’s (Or lately, the narrating character’s) feelings and thoughts into life. Noticed any visual metaphors? They are there. The style is presented as characters’ way of looking at the world, and we are shown the world through their “lens.” It makes the difference between what we are presented and what is ACTUALLY happening quite large.

    Full explanation can be found at:
    http://surprisinglycomplex.blogspot.fi/2013/05/bakemonogatari-behind-summer-triangle.html

  13. buck wade says:

    what I’m gonna say in my following words is only my OPINION:
    Fancy art and animation almost means nothing if you can’t even make things MOVE. Bakemonogatari had no:
    Extra side or crowd characters to worry about.
    Action scenes.
    The fact that the show is an adaptation, therefore doesn’t need to come up with it’s own thing.
    And somehow with those restrictions taken out Shaft would obviously easily be able to actually make the characters freaking MOVE instead of making them stay exactly still with their mouths flapping. This isn’t art. This is being lazy.

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