More often than not I find myself reading manga involving monsters. From Interviews with Monster Girls to PTSD Radio, there seem to be more beasts in manga than you’d think! Right in time for Halloween, Vertical Comics released a new kind of monster manga for the 16+ crowd. From novel to manga to anime, Bakemonogatari features a strange girl who weighs nothing, a boy who encounters her with his own secrets, and a strong narrative about how monsters are always among us.
Right up front, I will say this book is heavier on the sexploitation with the main character scantily clad here and there, as well as a scene with some strong sexual themes in play. This is not for children, and customary of a lot of manga the creators often have lead character Hitagi Senjogahara bent over, or her buttocks rather prominently displayed. The character is a mystery, but written respectfully and not in a misogynistic way. She’s incredibly powerful as she can wield school supplies like weapons. She literally threatens main character and high-school student Koyomi Araragi with protractors, pens, and other sharp objects at one point like a ninja. If that sounds weird you don’t know the half of it!
The plot is mainly focused on introducing Hitagi and her strange powers. By the end of the first volume, you understand her background well enough to feel for her and want her to find some happiness. The short of it is that her mother was duped by an unnamed religious faction that has ruined her family’s life. She wants to get her mother back and on top of that, a crab god has taken Hitagi’s weight. It sounds weird–and there’s certainly an interesting symbolic meaning in there–but it’s as strange and obtuse as it sounds. How she can use school supplies like fine weapons is never explained and the tether between her family, the crab god, and her own behavior isn’t defined very clearly. We also learn Koyomi has his own abilities and own backstory but this first volume glosses over his origin a bit. By the end of the volume, it’s clear these two are similar, but also very different and a bond is formed that’s certainly unique. In a key scene between them, Hitagi teases Koyomi about being a virgin and walks around naked in front of him to “thank him.” It sounds bizarre, and yet is somehow logical since Hitagi acts so strangely throughout the volume.
Adding to the strangeness of Hitagi is the narrative flow and pacing of the book, which is hectic and chaotic. From panel to panel, to cutaways, to seemingly random points in time, the structure of the book can be hard to follow and almost confusing. Scenes seem to repeat or go nowhere for stretches of time as well, further confusing what is going on and the pace of the story. Janky is a good word to describe the general plot development ,with everything only coming together by the end because you can make sense of all the details put forth. Some scenes play out as if it’s an anime with quick cutting to draw your attention and speed up a moment, but they come off as confusing and awkward.
As a first volume goes this manga offers a variety of interesting ideas about monsters, gods, and how they manipulate humanity. The idea that monsters live among us but are invisible is an interesting concept to explore further, but the delivery is unreliable and confused making the already awkward Hitagi even harder to understand.