We the Fools

Owarimonogatari Ep. 6 – We the Fools

Fall 2015 is a season packed with mysteries, from the American serial-esque Beautiful Bones, to the recoated classic in Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider, to Tantei Team (which appears to be a short, shoujo detective series? I haven’t actually watched this yet). Of course, there’s also Owarimonogatari, a series we’ve become well-acquainted with over these past few weeks. Back in Episode 3, I looked at one way the series creates effective mystery. I could go on and on about the various ways –monogatari creates its mystery, but instead I want to use Episode 6 to focus on what the series does with its mystery.

I suppose, more accurately, I want to focus on what the series does to its viewers, and how mystery is sometimes the tool it uses to do so.

If you’ve watched or read any of the –monogatari series, you know the fourth wall might as well be a screen door. You also know that we as an audience are forced directly into Araragi’s perspective (excluding a few narratives told from other characters’ points-of-view). As we noticed in Episode 3, the mysteries in question often play with the knowledge that we’re identifying with, and viewing the story from, Araragi’s perspective. Back then, we thought we were one step ahead of our anchor character and thus slacked off by not thinking outside that character’s perspective. In Episode 6, there’s no tricks being played, but there is a game.

Quite literally, there’s a guessing game. Ougi and Hanekawa have solved the mystery of Oikura’s mother’s disappearance, but Araragi (we) haven’t been presented enough evidence to reach the same conclusion. At least, we haven’t had that evidence presented in such a way that we could reasonably reach the correct conclusion. These hints are aimed as much at the viewer as they are at Araragi. We are the “fool” Ougi talks about. The show doesn’t want to just have a character figure out the mystery and tell us the answer in some lame expository dialogue; we need to figure it out ourselves. Obviously, a character—Araragi—does figure it out and ‘tell’ us, but we’ll get to that.

So, what do I mean ‘we are Araragi’? Well, essentially the character on-screen during this scene is less the character known as Araragi and more the character known as ‘he whom the audience identifies with’. How’s that for some Nisio Isin style writing? But, still, what does that mean? Let’s get concrete.

Some visual effects, namely Ougi and Hanekawa speaking towards the camera (which is essentially our point-of-view), give the sense that the viewer is being quizzed. Ougi and Hanekawa listing off the numbers of the hints adds to this effect as well, but that detail is more important for something else that, yes, we’ll get to later. More importantly, the way the show works through the logic of solving these hints is an acknowledgment of the viewer’s logic. Araragi speaking his logic aloud here isn’t to clue the reader into some genius idea they hadn’t considered, like Holmes might do. Araragi’s wrong, but his train of thought is likely a ride we took ourselves. Even if we didn’t match his thoughts originally, we probably think he made a sound conclusion after hearing him talk. We say to ourselves, ‘Jeez, I thought/might have thought that too.’

If you aren’t following me or don’t believe me, consider a certain piece of Ougi’s dialogue, in reference to how Oikura’s mother “completely” stopped eating. She says “you probably thought ‘You say that, but she must’ve eaten a little, right?’” She’s referring to Araragi here, but we as viewers probably thought that too. Surely Oikura used “completely” in colloquial terms. Her mother couldn’t have completely stopped eating. We probably didn’t even actively think that, we probably just took it for granted that Oikura didn’t mean “completely” in a literal sense. This hint makes it clear that the show is poking at the viewer’s logic, and forcing us to interact with this riddle.

We get to play detective, but does this accomplish anything beyond some –monogatari-flavored novelty? I’d argue yes. By forcing the viewer into a more interactive role, we become both more responsive to the actions/dialogue on-screen and more invested in the truth behind this mystery. So when we (hopefully) figure out that Oikura had been caring for a corpse, and yet Ougi and Hanekawa still shoot us with rapid-fire hints, we’re supposed to respond. We get it already!

The goal behind all this is to evoke a stronger sense of gloom once we realize the truth, since that gloom is also a response. The show employs a couple more traditional techniques to ensure we feel that gloom—these being the warm sunset color palette that takes over and the lonely piano that plays in the background. Whether or not the more experimental fourth wall-breaking technique worked for you or not will vary person-to-person, but I believe it was well-executed. The reason art tends to stick to traditional evocations of emotion are because they’re guaranteed to get the job done. That doesn’t mean that a method such of this interactive one are ‘bad’, it just means they require a certain level of openness from the audience.

Before I let myself delve too deep into theory, let’s review. Owarimonogatari contains a lot of mysteries. Most of the time, the viewer explores those mysteries from Araragi’s mind, thereby identifying with him. Since the show knows that we identify with Araragi, it likes to abuse the fact that we are basing our perspective on Araragi’s perspective. In this case, the show acts as if the viewer’s logic and Araragi’s logic are one and the same, and creates a heightened sense of interaction between the viewer and the stuff on the screen.

Speaking of interaction, Araragi himself likes to address the audience somewhat directly and ask us questions. Now that he’s the one with all the hints, are we still just fools?

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