Owarimonogatari Ep. 8 – Shifting Shinobu
Proving once and for all that dreams can indeed come true, Shinobu returns to the screen in Episode 8. She’s one of the world’s most powerful apparitions trapped in a child’s body, or that’s how Araragi/we perceive her, anyway. If we leap back to Nekomonogatari Black for a second, Oshino says “apparitions are made of human belief”—that “apparitions appear and behave according to the environs.” He goes on to say that Araragi’s perception of Shinobu, and his behavior in light of that perception, affect how Shinbou will act. Well, specifically, he says anyone who acknowledges Shinobu will affect her.
Evidence of this influence can be seen throughout the series (the scene with Shinobu on a throne in Tsukimonogatari comes to mind as good example). In addition, the style and cinematography of the scene changes to accent the changes in Shinobu’s behavior. Since we have two characters influencing the little vampire in two distinct ways at the end of Episode 8, why don’t we take a look at what I mean?
Let’s set up the ways in which Araragi and Kanbaru view Shinobu, respectively. I’d argue that Araragi views Shinobu as mostly cute/moe, like a semi-helpless little girl carrying too large a load up some stairs and trying her hardest to do it alone. Think about the various donut scenes where Araragi acts almost fatherly, as well as that throne scene in Tsukimonogatari where Araragi consoles Shinobu’s wounded pride. I’d also say Kanbaru sees Shinobu as a cool heartthrob. Kanbaru is super-excitable and weak in the knees around Shinobu, and tries to put on mature, laid-back airs when speaking to her. She doesn’t want to protect a cute Shinobu so much as, let’s say, woo/be wooed by her (Shinobu calls Kanbaru a pervert, after all).
The conversation with Shinobu occurs entirely at the park swing-set, an unmistakably childish attraction. When Araragi wakes her up, she immediately hits her head on the swing and we see a cartoony shot of the impact before Shinobu falls back with a ‘gah’. As Araragi remarks, “she’s so cute.” It’s a moe sucker-punch that clearly demonstrates her change from a queen of apparitions to the little girl that Araragi perceives her as. The vampire known as Kiss-Shot would not hit her head on a swing.
Switch to Kanbaru. Shinobu lets out her trademark “ka-ka” before addressing Kanbaru with a smug look on her face. When we return to Kanbaru, she’s laid out along the railing in a relaxed, confident, somewhat seductive pose, and calls Shinobu a “kitten.”
If we compare the presentation of Shinobu here to when she greets Araragi, she’s clearly less clumsy and vulnerable. Before, she was curled up sleeping, and she was shown through cartoony shots. Now, she stands out sharply against the shadowy background. The swing that mauled her—as well as railings and other objects—are all behind her and she is unobstructed in the frame. Whereas Araragi has to help Shinobu by moving the swing out of her way, Kanbaru can’t quite hold Shinobu’s attention; the little vampire looks away from her after a short verbal sparring and returns to focus on Araragi.
To Araragi, Shinobu is seen like a daughter. To Kanbaru, she is seen like a dreamy idol.
However, as Oshino admitted in Nekomonogatari Black, Shinobu isn’t subject to only Araragi’s perceptions (nor only Kanbaru’s). It is important to note that Shinobu isn’t only adapting to the characters in the present story, but also has also been influenced for hundreds of years in the past. For much of that time she was a powerful apparition, and was even hailed as a god by one village. Shinobu had been Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade so for long that we can’t expect that personality to vanish entirely just by spending a few months bound to Araragi.
There are some guidelines for when the Kiss-Shot part of her personality will take over, namely the topic of conversation. If she’s addressing Araragi casually, chances are she’ll be moe. If she’s speaking to Kanbaru, chances are she’ll be cool. If she’s battling Kagenui, chances are she’ll frustrated and aggressive. But, if she’s explaining history or detailing a plan, chances are she’ll be Kiss-Shot.
As she begins to brief Araragi on what happened before he arrived and what she already knows, she flips her hair back in dramatic confidence, then takes a seat on the swing that so viciously assaulted her earlier.
When the new foe appears, Shinobu is able to cut straight to the point with a serious expression. Her face fills the frame and she exposes her fangs as she prepares for a fight. Shinobu is suddenly huge. She sticks her chin up, ready to relive some of her former glory.
So, Shinobu is affected by the characters she interacts with, and the directing changes tact to assist in expressing that. She’s also influenced by the past culmination of her experiences, which would be her Kiss-Shot persona. Her dynamic personality obviously highlights her fall from glory after being bound to Araragi, but I think it also makes a small comparison to humans in real life.
Especially in Japanese culture, people put on different airs for different company. Co-workers, friends, family, etc. all perceive you differently, and chances are you act to meet those perceptions to some extent. I don’t think Shinobu is set up to be some kind of commentary or criticism of this phenomenon in particular, but I do believe it contributes to the themes of apparition-human parallelism that run through this series. However, that is a much larger topic for a much larger essay.