Style in Bakemonogatari (Suruga Monkey)
Suruga Monkey sets itself apart from the rest of Bakemonogatari by its execution. Where Hitagi Crab is slim and slick, and Mayoi Snail is careful and cryptic, Suruga Monkey is simply bombastic. The arc expands Monogatari’s stylistic palette, while managing not to take any sharp tonal turns or compromise on the artistic cohesiveness of the series. This allows for Kanbaru’s character and the events of the arc to flourish in their own unique way without seeming out of place. Suruga Monkey feels like a natural extension of the series, yet also different from anything we’ve experienced so far.
I would argue Mayoi Snail deviates in a similar manner, though not to such an obvious degree. Hitagi Crab is characterized by a darker, almost urban fantasy feel, full of religious artifacts and sobriety. Mayoi Snail jumps beyond that, presenting the viewer with a brighter and more satirical world (generally speaking). For this essay, I’ll just focus on the specifics of Suruga Monkey, rather than make a mess out of talking about everything. However, Mayoi Snail does exemplify the first major factor in this stylistic shift: the arc-specific opening themes.
Mayoi Snail’s OP, with its electric pop and chant-able closing lines, does not fit the style or tone of Hitagi Crab whatsoever. It doesn’t even fit Mayoi Snail. The school life narrative told through the visuals is reminiscent of a middle school slice of life series, and even the lyrics are cute if you plead ignorance to the events of the arc. Of course, the visuals and lyrics convey a double meaning once we know Hachikuji is a ghost, but that’s a different matter. What’s important is that this OP primes us for a different world than what was established in the first arc. Mayoi Snail is sillier, more energetic, and probably closer to slice of life than urban fantasy (not that it’s strictly one or the other, or even either at all).
This trend repeats in Suruga Monkey’s OP, which starts with an upbeat guitar riff straight out of a Sonic game and a shot of a basketball hoop. Again, I won’t analyze every little detail here, but this sports anime theme continues for a bit before blending with rom-com visuals and music, as well as further action series signifiers (such as fast cuts, close-ups of eager eyes, etc.). Besides that, the Revolutionary Girl Utena—and other shoujo or yuri shows—influence becomes overwhelming at parts. Obviously this OP is distinct from Bakemonogatari’s first two, but it’s also distinct from the feel of either previous arc. Someone who has never seen Bakemonogatari will expect something based on Suruga Monkey’s OP that isn’t directly delivered upon anywhere in the series. But more on that soon.
Let’s actually backtrack a bit to examine some editing and form from the first couple of minutes of the arc’s first episode.
Here we see some clear examples of how Suruga Monkey bends or reshapes existing stylistic themes for the arc’s unique purpose. Right after the typical title card opener, the camera sweeps wildly in towards a railing. This is one of the few (if not only) legitimate camera movements in Bakemonogatari and immediately signals a more dynamic and action-focused experience. The next shot of Kanbaru sprinting and her feet slapping against the pavement continue to set the pace, so to speak. This same cut of Kanbaru sprinting is then interlaced throughout Araragi’s conversation with Hachikuji, constantly reminding us of that faster pace. Keep in mind that this kind of discontinuity/aspect editing is a staple of Monogatari, and thus preserves a sort of stylistic homeostasis even as we’re primed for action.
The shots and editing of the conversation itself work to further integrate the idea of dynamic action. As before, there’s nothing shockingly new, just old style repurposed for a new idea: action. Araragi and Senjougahara flip-flopped all over the screen in Mayoi Snail, but this sequence is more pointed than the park scene. Hachikuji and Araragi walk across a still background; then a moving background “walks” across them.
The walking shot is spread throughout the scene, and the pair make their way to the middle and then the end of the frame.
The cuts also are wilder, with still shots of Hachikuji transitioning to dynamic shots of Araragi falling. Even within still shots, there’s a step up in action in the form of railroad crossing lights flashing. Then, of course, are the shots of Araragi and Hachikuji slapboxing, which feature some of Bakemonogatari’s best (most fluid, at least) animation. Finally, Kanbaru herself comes flying into the scene. Even if I’m reading too much into some details, this opening scene is undoubtedly designed to allow this arc to transition to intense action scenes—such as Kanbaru and Araragi’s final fight—as smoothly as possible. If nothing else, it is no accident that so much effort was put into the slapboxing cuts. This arc needs movement, and we need to be ready for it.
I think of this as stylistic permeability—within the “body” of the art, different moods/tones or focal points can permeate out into observable territory with different degrees of ease. Monogatari has high permeability (dramatic soliloquys, bloody brawls, comedic conversations can all take center stage easily); something like Serial Experiment Lain has low permeability (even when characters make jokes, they still sound bleak or mysterious or otherwise unable to distinguish themselves from the overall dark mood). Permeability tends to be why we condemn certain tone shifts but not others. The formal elements that lead to permeability are too complex a topic for this essay, but the editing described above is one good example.
This permeability is insured throughout the arc via near-constant movement within the frame—whether that be moving cars or walking sequences like the one discussed above or even just a comedic camera pan. Action is likewise primed through Senjougahara’s eye-piercing aggression towards Araragi, which allows for a heightened state of excitement moving quickly into a sequence of Hanakawa standing in the middle of speeding traffic, and then finally the Rainy Devil’s attack on Araragi. True, Senjougahara was similarly violent in Hitagi Crab, but her aggression here still benefits the transition to intense action. The question isn’t whether these details are absolutely necessary to the transition or absolutely unique to this arc, but simply whether they increase permeability.
Perhaps most importantly, the source of the arc’s apparition is as emotionally intense as the action is physically. In Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail, apparitions cause trouble as a result of quiet emotions or even a relinquishment of emotion. Araragi simply doesn’t want to return home after an argument with his sisters (among other subtle discomforts), so he meets Hachikuji. Senjougahara tries to abandon her feelings towards her mother, so she meets a crab. Although Senjougahara reaches a melodramatic peak upon accepting her feelings, and Hachikuji (a wake-up call for Araragi) experiences the same upon arriving at home, neither the crab nor the snail exist as a medium for intense emotion. They aren’t inherently connected to a character’s fiery passions.
The Rainy Devil, however, becomes a problem precisely because of Kanbaru’s passions—her anger, jealousy, and hatred specifically. The Rainy Devil is the medium through which Kanbaru channels those emotions. The tool she uses, you could say. On a basic level, the crab and snail are not associated with intense emotions, but the Rainy Devil is. It couldn’t be associated with much of anything else! This small change in the context of the narrative is possibly the key for transitioning into Suruga Monkey while preserving cohesion. The formal/editing shifts explained above smooth out any bumps and sew it all together, but the actual cloth of the patchwork is this emotional/motivational adjustment.
The actions and qualities of apparitions clue us into the psychological states of characters, and this is reflected directly in what we see on screen. I mean this quite literally. In Hitagi Crab, the grim hues, bizarre social interactions, and religious imagery result precisely from Senjougahara’s trauma. In Mayoi Snail, the vast emptiness of the park and the streets result precisely from Araragi wanting to be alone in the world. And in Suruga Monkey, the violence, speed, and overwhelming colors result precisely from Kanbaru’s jealousy and hatred. The inner and outer layers of the story and characters are bound together such that they demand this cohesion.
With the most intense action and violence spawning from the Rainy Devil, and snappy editing and dynamic cuts portraying said action, Suruga Monkey manages to transform our low-key psychological drama into something new. At its core, this arc is still Monogatari, so it’d be wrong to lump it in with other action or thriller or horror shows, but it is certainly distinct from its preceding arcs. Unique yet unifying, Suruga Monkey is a slam dunk.
I apologize for such an awful joke, but let me make up for it with some unnecessary analysis of a minor detail in the first episode of the arc. When Araragi and Senjougahara are studying together, Senjougahara is just writing the Gettysburg Address in English over and over again. I suppose it’s a decent speech to study if you’re learning English (middle schoolers all over America are forced to memorize it, after all), but I still found it a strange choice. So I decided to rationalize it by overanalyzing everything.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War at the battlefield remains of Gettysburg. “Senjougahara” means battlefield, and we could consider the two halves of the Valhalla Combo like two halves of a nation. Senjougahara and Kanbaru split apart and one scorned the other, leading to something you might call a feud or fission. So: the battlefield of Gettysburg, the civil war of the Valhalla Combo…the Gettysburg Address?
I can’t imagine this being intentional, but if it is, then someone at SHAFT is as much of a madman as Isin himself.