In comparison to our gushing praise for its predecessor, Bakemonogatari, we found it a little tougher to get quite so worked up about its sequel series, Nisemonogatari. Visually, it was beyond eye-catching, and it made use of all of the characters which we loved so from their first appearances, but at the same time there was clearly a shift in tone and focus this time around, largely to the detriment of the series.
With two story arcs to cover, Nisemonogatari weights these two tales rather oddly, taking up seven episodes to deliver the "Karen Bee" arc compared to a much lighter four episodes for the "Tsukihi Phoenix" story which rounds out the series. One off-shoot of this is that Karen Araragi's character ultimately comes out as far stronger a personality than her sister, who struggles to find any screen time even within what is ostensibly her own story while her siblings guzzle up screen time at a rate of knots. Admittedly, the difficult to pinpoint relationship between Karen and older brother Koyomi frequently lights up the screen (and occasionally enters odd and slightly disturbing territory - more on that later), but it still gives Tsukihi a raw deal to the point where Karen and Koyomi even take up an entire episode of the Tsukihi Phoenix arc with hardly a mention of its titular character!
In terms of outright story, Nisemonogatari also proves to be a mixed bag. As we've come to expect from this particular franchise, it's hugely dialogue heavy (even the sparse action scenes are set against some kind of monologue or other) - a fact which largely works in the show's favour when it shows a sharp eye within its humour or social commentary, but occasionally feels as if it's simply filling time. As the show's title suggests, the over-riding theme of Nisemonogatari (a portmanteau of the Japanese words for fake, "nisemono" and story, "monogatari") is all about fakes, and to its credit the two story arcs within the series both have a very different take on the topic that mesh nicely within its world, lore and characters as they zip ideas around alongside all of that dialogue. Even if the pacing of each story isn't exactly anything to write home about, both arcs are brought to satisfactory conclusions despite the ever-present feeling that the story is little more than a vehicle to stretch the legs (and tongues) of its characters above all else.
That said, Nisemonogatari's set-up is also a vehicle for something else - fan service. Where Bakemonogatari enjoyed the occasional "nod and wink" approach to titillating the viewer, Nisemonogatari is far more overt about what it's trying to do. This brings us, of course, to the already infamous "toothbrush scene", which sees Koyomi brushing his sister Karen's teeth in what can only be described as an "erotic fashion". It's a blatant (and incestuous) attempt to sexualise Karen's character, and while I'd be the first to admit that it's a genius work of eroticism that has probably never been rivalled in anime on the one-hand, whether it should have a place within a franchise better known for its smart talking and witty one-liners is another entirely. It's certainly not what I signed up to watching this series for, and while I'm hardly going to pen an "Outraged of Dorset" missive about it, it does feel exploitative and like an excuse to sell Blu-Rays in Japan to me, despite the floating possibility that it's designed as a post-modern commentary on fan service in anime (which I increasingly doubt).
The fact is, Bakemonogatari is a series that remains in my memory thanks to being so quotable and filled with smart ideas and dialogue from beginning to end. In comparison, Nisemonogatari feels like a "lite" version of its predecessor, with most of its memorable moments existing for arguably the wrong reasons (such as Nadeko's game of Twister and that aforementioned tooth brushing scene) and far outweighing its genuinely funny or otherwise impressive moments. Sure, it looks unceasingly gorgeous with its ever more ridiculously grandiose architecture and a sense for the surreal as it goes about its business, but great looks will only get you so far - once you look a little deeper, Nisemonogatari starts to show its true self as the more vain and vapid shadow of its forebear. The fact that the "To be continued" teaser at the end of the series fills me with dread more than it does anticipation says a lot about how this show has dashed my expectations of it, really. He says, with a posed look.