EM: Love in Bakemonogatari (Tsubasa Cat)

Love in Bakemonogatari (Tsubasa Cat)

So far, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about overarching and sometimes abstract concepts of style and narratology. That’s all important and interesting, but I don’t think we can fully appreciate Monogatari without digging our nails into some specific scenes and conversations. The series isn’t just a bunch of a random moments arranged according to some grand scheme, after all. The tiny details are designed for their own purposes.

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Like any Monogatari fan, I adore Episode 12’s starry sky scene. All it represents about the Gahararagi couple’s journey so far, and all its beauty in retrospect, make it a timeless scene. However, what I’ll be focusing on today is the build-up to that scene. Perhaps the less important sequence thematically—yet the more interesting one in some ways—is Senjougahara’s verbal assault on Araragi in her father’s car. While we can write this off as her pushing Araragi’s buttons as usual, there’s actually a subtext of Senjougahara explaining to her father why she loves Araragi and why they’re a good match.

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Senjougahara opens up the conversation by asking Araragi if he loves her, demanding an answer when he starts to clam up. At one point, a point-of-view shot shows Araragi glancing at Senjougahara’s father, presumably wondering what he’s allowed to say in the man’s presence. Yet, the reverse side of his dilemma is Senjougahara wanting Araragi to demonstrate for her father the extent of his feelings. Being overheard by Papa Gahara is Araragi’s fear, but Senjougahara’s hope. She wants to show she isn’t involved in a shallow relationship, that she can handle herself with Araragi, and that Araragi appreciates certain things about her.

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This continues into her questioning of what exactly it is that Araragi loves about her. The seemingly random joke about reinterpreting Kuroiwa Ruiko’s penname is actually a hint that Senjougahara does have something “up her sleeve” despite her snarky denial. Araragi’s passionate comedy routine with her is evidence enough of her love, and Senjougahara has naturally prepared a neat, little list of reasons why she loves him.

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Her intentions become most obvious when she directs the conversation towards exam scores. She explicitly mentions how “just the two of [them]” studied in her apartment “day and night”, as if trying to raise suspicion. Yet, when Araragi confirms he scored higher than he thought he could—even in his best subject—this sends a signal to Senjougahara’s father that he can trust her daughter to handle this boy. Keep in mind that Araragi was indeed lamenting the platonic nature of their study session just a few episodes ago. We’ll learn that her father does not need these confirmations in order to trust her, but from Senjougahara’s perspective, she wants to make the effort. This is her talking to her father about her relationship, albeit indirectly.

Senjougahara has been disconnected from her father for the past few years. As Papa Gahara mentions, chaperoning this date is one of the first favors she’s asked for in a while. We should keep in mind Senjougahara’s past—particularly the sexual assault enabled by her mother. After spending all this time alone with a boy, of course she wants to convey to the father she recently reconnected with that everything is going well and that she feels comfortable with Araragi. Sure, her father already knows this because he loves his daughter, but Senjougahara is no longer someone who acts or makes decisions without considering how those actions/decisions will impact those around her. Her experiences with the crab and Kanbaru surely changed that. She’s no longer a “cloistered princess”.

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I’d love to say that Senjougahara calling out to her father every time Araragi uses her family name is even more evidence of her intentions, but that might be a stretch. All the same, she certainly structures the conversation (we know by now how well she can control a conversation) so that everyone in the car gets the message. Even Araragi laments, “Do you [Senjougahara] have to go out of your way to say it like that?”

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Now I’ll admit there’s a degree of routine teasing going on here, but overall Senjougahara orchestrates the conversation for her father’s sake. What she believes is his sake, anyway. Of course, she’s still Senjougahara, so she’ll always want to have some fun at Araragi’s expense. Her intimate contact with Araragi is simply Senjougahara being Senjougahara. At least, I didn’t want my dad noticing that kind of flirting when I was younger. It seems safe to conclude that Senjougahara just felt like touching Araragi. However, the show itself uses that intimacy for a different effect.

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The topic of Hanekawa—particularly the stress she faces—comes up in the middle of Senjougahara’s intimate teasing. Immediately after Araragi mentions Hanekawa’s name, the show cuts to Senjougahara looking out the car window, framed solo. She’s no longer shoulder-to-shoulder with Araragi and she stops touching him. The couple suddenly shifts from occupying the same shot to not ever being framed together. Senjougahara distances herself from Araragi physically and never makes eye contact.

This change in framing implies a few things to us. It represents a bit of the distancing that tends to result from bringing up other girls in the middle of a romantic moment with your lover, but that’s to be expected. More importantly, we get the sense that Senjougahara knows of some danger facing Hanekawa because of her stress. The fact that Hanekawa is described as someone on a different level than humans is a subtle reference to the oddity that is Black Hanekawa/the Sawari Neko. On top of all that, considering that this is Hanekawa’s arc, this sudden visual shift clues us in that the subject being discussed is relevant outside of Senjougahara and Araragi’s date. We notice that something is different and thus we subconsciously alter our expectations. We tune in because the mood changes. The conversation is now about the larger mystery of this arc.

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Foreshadowing aside, the resolution to this whole car ride comes once Senjougahara leaves to set up for the stargazing. Alone with Araragi, Papa Gahara explains his faith in his daughter and his trust in Araragi. Senjougahara never needed to say anything. All the man needed to know was that Araragi was the one who was there when Senjougahara needed someone. He sees in Araragi a person who won’t “fail” where he believes he did. He’s a man who loves his daughter, and so he accepts anyone who she would leave her shell for.

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For a guy like Araragi, who stands by Oshino’s claim that people can only save themselves, who believes he’s a replaceable cog in the machinery of other people’s lives, hearing this sparks a small change. Papa Gahara tells him that he played the role only he could—something Senjougahara herself has been trying to say to Araragi for a while. It’ll be a while before Araragi fully embraces this kind of logic, but this moment does cause him to reminisce on what he as a unique individual has experienced with Senjougahara.

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As Araragi gazes up at the stars, both he and the viewer take a trip into the past. The images that pass across the screen remind us that, time and time again, Araragi has been looking up at Senjougahara. He looks up when he catches her on the stairwell; he looks up when she finds him beaten to a pulp by Kanbaru (twice); he looks up when she arrives at the park on Mother’s Day; in the future, he’ll look upwards during phone calls with Senjougahara (see: this related essay). All of this culminates in a magical bonding moment—the fullest realization of Araragi’s love thus far—as he gazes upwards at the stars, at Senjougahara’s “everything”.

Bakemonogatari is, more than anything else, a love story. Although the mysteries of apparitions may hog the spotlight, that is only because of their overwhelming tragic or violent nature. The core of this season is romance. Araragi and Senjougahara meet, confess, build trust, confront jealousy, live for each other’s sakes, and—finally—kiss. When I mention “tiny details designed for their own purpose”, I’m thinking of these romantic moments. I’m thinking of the times when, in the midst of life-threatening mysteries and conflicts, characters can find a moment to connect and grow and seek solace in something purely human.

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Monogatari is, to me, a record of the humanity that tries to hide beneath our presumptions, fears, and misunderstandings.

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