Monogatari is a well-known anime across the nerd fandom of Japan, but it is less known with its roots as a light novel. The level of genre deconstruction that the story does is funny but deep, considering that it is a smart way of breaking down the generic harem and fan service tropes that became genres in and of themselves. Monogatari is a smart story hidden in a hay stack of comedy, and going back to its original book medium is worth the move.
Monogatari, literally translated as “Story”, is a novel by Nisio Isin that revolves around highschool student Koyomi Araragi. Araragi survived a vampire attack and has since developed his own supernatural abilities, helping different girls with problems regarding spirits, deities, mythological beasts and ghostly creatures. The first thing that I hear from people who only have a vague idea of the story is harem and fan service, turning them off near instantaneously. It’s hard to blame them, considering that both tropes have defined Japanese teen stories in anime and manga to the dismay of many fans who rather not want the eroticism in their stories. Monogatari is different.
Monogatari’s story is what I call a demonstrative deconstruction. Through the unreliable narratorship of Araragi, he observes the harem and fan service that happens around him, and then calls on the absurdities of the situation with a straight head. The word play is a dab of genius, with Nisio Isin’s trademark metahumor played between character conversations. The plot is tongue in cheek – faithfully playing with storied symbolisms of its characters in a seemingly random mish-mash of topics. The characters are breakaways from the typical archetypes that has plagued Japanese teen stories, playing the cliques of popular tropes, breaking them into tiny little pieces and then laughing at them. Imagine Monogatari as a Deadpool story with the smarts dialed to eleven.
Monogatari is not for everyone. I simmer myself in a lot of random humor in the media that I consume like listening to game reviewer Yahtzee Croshaw a few times a day, watching Nichijou and Lucky Star clips and reading some Terry Pratchett on the side. Nisio Isin’s light novel is hard to digest if random humor does not entertain you. Reading the novel is similar to listening to a smart-alecky type person talking about the philosophies of life and why its value is overrated – it has a good chance that it will make me sleepy. If you enjoy smart humor though and not just a pretentious internet guy talking himself into liking it, then Monogatari is for you.
Monogatari is a tragedy of philosophical proportions for people who do not have a taste for demonstrative deconstructions, seeing only the skin that the novel flaunts around. For others who get it though, Monogatari is a genius visualization of the intricacies of meta storytelling and pokes fun at the people who cannot see it through the camouflage of harem romcom. The plot is much to be desired, but the character-driven conversations are unbelievably unrepenting, catching readers by surprise once they dug deep enough under their initial judgements.