By NISIOISIN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Ko Ransom.
One of the things I enjoy about the first few volumes of the Monogatari books is that each new story begins with the girl from the previous story having a long conversation with Araragi where they basically take on the role they’ll play in the books from this point forward. In the previous volume’s Mayoi Snail, Senjogahara showers Araragi with abuse and teasing affection. And here we have Suruga Money, in which Mayoi reappears and begins to function as Araragi’s sounding board and life advice coach, and Nadeko Snake, in which Kanbaru shows off that she was actually holding back in her own story, and becomes the only person in the cast who can be more perverse than he can. (This works in Japanese publication order, by the way, and continues at least through Nekomonogatari Black, which starts with a long scene with Araragi and his sister Tsukihi.) The first two books introduced Araragi and began to give him a “harem”, so to speak – this second book expands on that.
The stories in Bakemonogatari were originally written as short stories for a magazine, and it shows – each story has the introduction at some point of Araragi, Shinobu and Meme Oshino and explains his nature, for readers who had not read the previous stories. Not that Shinobu plays a part in this book – she’s still silent, apparently sulking as Oshino is stealing her Mister Donuts stash, and functions mostly as a maguffin to power up Araragi so he can battle oddities. For the most part, each story in this is devoted to showing us the new girl. This works quite well in Kanbaru’s case. Her overly solicitous politeness is perfectly translated, and you also see the frustration and rage she normally keeps well-hidden. She’s a good kid. She’s also a “pervert”, i.e. happy to talk about sexual matters with Araragi till she’s blue in the face. And she’s a lesbian, something she admits herself, though the text goes on to use the alternate term “sapphist”, which, as Araragi points out, is the same thing. (One could argue she flirts incessantly with Araragi in the following story, but I maintain that she mostly does this for appearance – much like many other characters in Monogatari, especially Araragi himself.) Her story is the strongest, flagging only when we have to read a very long battle scene from Araragi’s narrative POV – it gets tedious, and makes you realize why Nisioisin does so much dialogue – he’s better at it.
As for Nadeko… without spoiling anything about future volumes, we’re left with an okay story that works best when Nadeko isn’t in it. Araragi and Kanbaru’s banter at the start is probably the high point of the book. Nadeko herself is painted entirely as a shy, innocent victim, forever looking down or away from the two of them. Her “monster” problem is quite sexualized, which is uncomfortable given she’s only in junior high, but if that really makes you uncomfortable you’d better jump off now before we get to Nisemonogatari, as it will only get worse. In the context of future volumes, there’s lots of subtle clues and hints in here, a few of which I think are deliberate. But without that context, this story sometimes just lies there. It’s the weak link of the five.
The third volume will contain only one story, Tsubasa Cat, and you can probably guess who stars, though if you read these two volumes and think we’re finally getting a flashback to what happened during Golden Week, you’d be wrong. It also doesn’t have quite as much Kanbaru, which is a relief even though I love her. The translation is, on the whole, excellent throughout, but Vertical has decided not to have honorifics, and as such Kanbaru’s constant “Araragi-sempai” is turned into “My senior Araragi”, which is fine initially, but after the first hundred or so times you realize how OFTEN she uses his name, and it begins to wear. (Mayoi’s “Mister Araragi” works better.) I understand why they chose not to have the honorifics, but I suspect I might find it a bit more comfortable if Kanbaru’s use of -sempai was removed rather than adapted, even if that affected the politeness level. Other than that, though, this is good volume of Monogatari, if not quite as good as the other two.