Bakemonogatari, and the Monogatari series as a whole, is a very unique beast. The anime spends as much time playing word games as it does going through its actual plot, and you may be surprised to learn that this is not just in its adaptation. The first novel in the series, Kizumonogatari spends the first chapter talking around a vampire instead of about them, making play-on-words and constant asides rather than actually detailing the character the narrator is supposed to, dancing around the subject until they finally give in… The following chapter.
And this is basically the essence of this series. Well, if you ignore the random outings into very yikes uncomfortable sexual scenarios and bouts with supernatural beasts.
See, the author Nisioisin absolutely loves the humor that comes from when you have characters dealing with difficult – and oftentimes dangerous – situations who instead just decide to shoot the shit rather than get on with it, almost like the danger itself is forcing them to pump the brakes and do something else because they just don’t want to deal with it. And so, for its anime adaptation, this is exactly how Studio Shaft decided to adapt the series, spending as much time in an episode having fun than dealing with the supernatural force endangering the cast.
On top of this, many times, the jokes are the same between specific characters, with only small differences each time, like each recurring joke is a way of greeting and forced courtesy before they actually carry on with the story. For instance, Hachikuji constantly adds an additional syllable in Araragi’s name each time they meet, which then leads to the same joke of him correcting her and Hachikuji saying she stuttered. The joke is repeated literally every time they meet up again, and lasts for the entirety of their interactions throughout the series. And this is only one example of the dozens of repeated jokes throughout the series that each character performs every time those specific characters are in the same scene.
You would think repeating the same joke over and over again and spending large swaths of the episode playing word games would get tiring, possibly boring as the series goes on, but it’s part of the charm of the series, finding enjoyment in the goofy interactions between characters and seeing the fun little twists on the same jokes as the series goes on. It may take a while for characters to physically get where they need to go but you’ll be having fun the whole way.
It’s this love of the silly aspects between its characters that makes the show much more driven by them rather than an overall plot, and at times can make the series feel like a slice of life with the random very dark supernatural twists every now and then. The fact that it feels free to revel in its silliness as much as it’s interesting and complex overall themes is a big reason why people love it.
So color me surprised when I found a very similar setup to this Japanese animation in a deep, deeply Canadian live action show called Letterkenny.
Letterkenny tells the stories and exploits of the people within the eponymous town who’s lot ranges from Hicks, Skids, Hockey Players, and Christians. It’s an oddball comedy that’s more about the people of this town messing with each other and shooting the shit. While it may seem boring to hear that the show is, for the most part, visual dialogue, the comedy is spot on and weird situations these groups get into interacting with each other make for a very lively small town.
Letterkenny relies heavily on humor, and specifically the use of recurring jokes. Similar to our example above with Hachikuji and Arararagi, there’s a specific shtick between characters that’s unique to them and continues throughout the series. However, it’s not just that it uses recurring jokes. Each joke is a specific interaction between only those characters and becomes a defining signature to all their interactions to the point where it becomes, at times literally, their unique greeting to each other, a verbal secret handshake. Like, for example, the constant talking over each other between Wayne and McMurray that never stops being awkward for both of them.
But these jokes can also come up from what seems like a one-off, slowly evolving into its own unique flair and self-realizing joke the writer’s realized about themselves. For instance, the phrase “To be fair…”, which came up a lot in the early seasons.
Let me be fair, here. These shows… are not similar. The characters, setting, setup, and genres could not be farther apart. Wayne is no Ararararagi. However, I think it’s interesting both shows find a love of word games and the emphasis of them over plot and structure, simply because it’s funny. The fact that both shows enjoy this so much, that it’s what they’re known for, is really fun, and personally, I find it fascinating to see similar ideas individually pop up across cultural boundaries.
I mean, not to be outdone by Monogatari’s incredibly long word games, Letterkenny loves words so much, it spent an entire three minute cold open explaining how winter works around their neck of the woods, all to a continuously crazy alphabet aerobics that still is able to tell a cohesive, if funny, perspective on the cold.
Main point, both these shows are fun and have found that fun individually through weird quirkiness and play on words rather than necessarily for just their plot or characters. That’s something I really enjoy, and if you don’t… Well, I suggest you let that one marinate