First Look: Zaregoto

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Alternative title: The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Bearer
Light Novel Adaptation by Shaft
Currently Unlicensed

Premise

An unnamed genius joins a collection of other eccentric geniuses that have been invited to stay at a strange mansion on an island near Japan.

Jel’s verdict: Samestory

If I were to time warp to an alternate 2009 where Shaft decided to adapt Zaregoto instead of Bakemonogtatari, I probably would have been much more fascinated by this. As writer NisioIsin’s first and most critically acclaimed work, the episode is full of his trademark verbal sparring, inverted sentences, and philosophical musings about exceptional people that dominate his later writing. Reuniting with Shaft and character designer Akio Watanabe makes the comparisons harder to ignore as even the visuals overlap with Monogatari considerably. It’s all very unique and interesting and I’m sure 2009 me would have eaten it up in a similar fashion. As for me in 2016 however, that’s a different story.

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While I can’t deny NisioIsin’s storytelling would have been more refreshing back then and even moreso in 2002 when Zaregoto was published, I can’t pretend I haven’t lived through 7 years of the Monogatari series, and if you want you can even throw in Medaka Box since that covers similar thematic territory. Rather than feel fresh and original, watching this episode made me think NisioIsin hasn’t really made much progress as a writer. It’s all the same style of dialogue, characters, and themes that made me grow tired of Monogatari in a marginally different package. As a result, my feelings mirrored the expression of the main character in one scene where he looks totally fed up at yet another beautiful genius walking into the dining hall to trade verbal barbs with him. Basically, I’ve had enough of this.

If I did have to judge this episode in a vacuum I would say it would have been a perfectly average first episode of a weekly TV series. The problem of course is this is an OVA series that will run once a month for the next 8 months. From that perspective, the episode was way too vague and inconsequential to really be worth watching. We’re introduced to several characters and the general idea that they’ve all been invited to this weird mansion, but we are given no clue as to why. There is no sense of purpose, I have no idea what they’ll be doing for the remaining episodes, and most importantly, no idea why we should care. The cast with it’s variety of genius super powers could be interesting and I am thankful it’s not set in a school, but beyond that there’s not much to latch on to.

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The only conclusion I can come to then is this OVA series is a nod to fans of the novels and not much else. From that point of view, I’m sure it’s just super cool to see the characters animated, no further context or explanation is needed. In fact I’m kind of wondering if the rest of the episodes will continue the story of the first novel or will it just be a “greatest hits” collection as a bit of fan service for readers? Either way it seems like this adaptation is putting up too steep a barrier of entry for everyone else.

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