Text Television

Owarimonogatari Ep. 7 – Text Television

Though it may primarily be a tool to save time and money on animation, the –monogatari series makes both practical and artistic use of text-on-screen. Note that I am not referring to subtitles whatsoever. I simply mean characters or words drawn or inserted into the frame—the stuff that would be there even if you were watching this as it aired in Japan. This ‘stuff’ on the screen—both in its practical and artistic use—is a way to bridge the gap between light novel and anime.

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It’s also worth mentioning the use of text for emphasis.

 

When I say ‘practical’ use, you may be thinking ‘lazy’ use instead. Title cards to indicate scene changes or leaps in time may be considered lazy compared to showing the change of time via the sun or a clock. Or, you could argue that it’s excessive. A jump cut or fade or a variety of other options can indicate a time or scene change as well as a title card could. These are the tools available to visual mediums. Both of these points are fair, but considering the structure of –monogatari’s plot, neither of those approaches fit (at least not all the time).

Think about how the stories of this series are told. We mostly just witness characters having long conversations until they have to move somewhere else to have another conversation. There is the occasional fight scene, but those typically interrupt conversations (this episode is a perfect example). Given how often the show needs to change scene/setting, jump cuts would leave us confused; or, we would watch the sun set ten times an episode. Neither option sounds very appealing or practical.

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This is where the title and text cards come into play, and the influence of the source material become apparent. The chapter breaks of the light novels obviously come at times when characters are about to do something else or about to enter a new scene, so it makes perfect sense to throw “Shinobu Mail, Chapter 3” on the screen at those times to transition. Like we noticed last week, this series permeates the fourth wall at its leisure, so this is really like an acknowledgement that the viewer understands they’re seeing an adaptation of written word. Aren’t you reminded that this story was originally a book whenever you see those title cards?

When does this get creative and artistic? Inserting chapter titles is interesting, but I wouldn’t call it fascinating.

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A line like ‘her eyes seemed to say xyz’ works well enough in writing, but it’s not something you should have your character think in a visual medium. Could you imagine an inner dialogue voice-over like that? Makes you gag. So then, why not just leave it in writing?

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To write a quick line literally in the eye is one thing, but if you were to formulate an entire plan of escape by filling the screen with a paragraph of text, it’d be as off-putting as the inner dialogue scenario. Owarimonogatari bypasses this issue by creating a sort of communication system between Araragi and Kanbaru. The ever-present quick cuts return to indicate Kanbaru is communicating partly through eye contact and partly through blinks. The text flashes on the screen just long enough with just enough words for the viewer to get the gist of the plan.

This is a much more accurate reflection of how Araragi would actually be interpreting the eye contact. If we had to read the whole plan in one go as these characters stared at each other, we’d probably be rubbed the wrong way. That’s not how we want to receive information in a visual medium. Getting the info in short bursts in a way that seems like Kanbaru is communicating via some nonverbal language is much more engaging—which is how it should be, considering we’re not reading narration but instead watching action unfold.

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Nice chance to get meta, too.

There’s a lot more to successfully adapting ­–monogatari (or any novel series) than just flashing text on the screen, but –monogatari certainly makes great use of this particular tool. It’s easy to ignore text as a possible tool in an adaptation, since the goal is to turn text into visuals. While there are drawbacks to using text, -monogatari makes good enough use of the positives of text-on-screen to outweigh those drawbacks.

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