What It Means to Speak: Melodramatic Articulation in Anime
This essay contains significant spoilers for Toradora!, The Anthem of the Heart, and A Silent Voice.
In her autobiography, From Truant to Anime Screenwriter, Mari Okada faces the quintessential melodramatic dilemma: how can I speak aloud what I feel inside?
“I’m hopelessly inadequate with words,” she writes. “Whenever I try to say something, the words will clog up in my throat… Until I became a scenario writer, I’d thought that it was solitary work where you could carefully pick the right words to use and express your feelings perfectly. But that’s not how it was at all. Being an anime scenario writer means grappling with people. You can’t just write your feelings in text; you have to say the words out loud.”
When we imagine the pivotal conflicts and climaxes of melodramas, it is easy to gloss over the mechanics through which those scenes are expressed. We think of love confessions, emotional outbursts, and flowing tears, but always with a focus on their emotional weight and register. This is where the negative characterization of melodrama is often grounded–its “hysterics” and “manipulations”. Rarely do we examine the construction of such scenes in terms of their specific, observable actions and reactions. In short, what are the characters actually doing during these confessions and outbursts?Read More »
5 Favorite Episodes
After a hiatus from writing about anime, I figured I could simultaneously celebrate my birthday and ease myself back into the process by writing about my five favorite anime episodes. Picking a top five or top ten series list is difficult because of the endless criteria I could use to rank shows. However, when it comes to individual episodes, it’s a lot easier to break the content down and compare my feelings of each option.
Although I still can’t provide a specific order for these five episodes, they are still my overall top five favorites. Spoilers for each show, of course!
Chihayafuru Season 2, Episode 24
While the entire series is a beautiful exploration of both niche passions and competition, this episode stands out as the most romantic. And romantic is the most appropriate word to use here. Chihayafuru features a love triangle, and although it seems to be the show’s main draw at first, it becomes more like a representation of how romantic each character’s feelings towards karuta are. In competition, a “love” of the game is always mentioned, but Chihayafuru expands that feeling to encompass all meanings of “love.”
Chihayafuru is so successful at this because of how it blends shoujo/josei stylistic elements with the rich cultural context of karuta as a sport, but also for how it treats its competitor characters and their skills. Chihayafuru does not feature the kinds of brutal physical advantages you might find in a show like Haikyuu!!. There are no characters who are so tall, so strong, so naturally imposing that other characters fear them. Characters are instead described as having “studied”. They’re hyped up on the basis of their composure or mental fitness more than their speed or strength (though speed is still a major highlight).Read More »
Freedom in Nisemonogatari (Karen Bee)
Karen Bee is Nadeko Snake’s longer and more bearable cousin. The arc is of an overall higher quality than Nadeko Snake, but that quality is stretched across an absurdly indulgent seven episodes. By the time the arc finishes, you’ll have trouble remembering which moments were part of it and–more importantly–which even mattered. Most of the arc is a collection of decent (or even great) standalone scenes mashed together with a bit too much narrative freedom.
Although there’s no way to prove a claim like this, and though proving it would accomplish nothing, I feel that Nisio Isin wrote many of Karen Bee’s scenes without any intention of ever making a single story out of them. The narrative structure of the arc reflects this with its unmotivated flashbacks and checklist of fanservice cameos. The arc opens on a scene of a bound Araragi, rolls the opening theme, then flashes back to the day before without any trigger. Nonlinear storytelling is useful as a narrative hook–we do wind up wondering how/why Araragi was captured by Senjougahara–but feels cheap when most of what we see in the flashback is irrelevant to the story.Read More »
The Explosions of Anime Melodrama
Spoilers for Your Name, Toradora!, Kuzu no Honkai, Mashiroiro Symphony.
International record-breaker Your Name features plenty of destruction, including the exploding of an electric substation towards the end of the film. This moment stands out not only for the fact that it is the first instance of heightened action in the movie, but also for how it represents the communicative struggles of the movie’s characters. The scenes that involve Mitsuha’s father and bookend the comet sequence provide an interesting glimpse into a major motif of the melodramatic mode.
Before the comet strikes, Taki–through the life of Mitsuha–attempts to explain Itomori’s peril to Mitsuha’s father. Of course, he doesn’t believe Taki and says all this “nonsense” about the comet is just “madness” his daughter inherited from the Miyamizu family. There’s a lot packed into this scene, but the key point is that what Taki tries to express to Mitsuha’s father is rejected. He is unable to communicate his fears, desires, and knowledge to the mayor. As a result of this, he, Tessie, and Sayaka have no choice but to proceed with their plan to blow up the substation. Because verbal communication is not an option, an explosive physical expression seems like the only way to save the town.Read More »
What Gets Lost (Your Name Analysis)
In Gigguk’s recent video on Your Name, he expresses a viewpoint I’ve heard too often to continue sitting on my heels about it. To quote the video: “…even though Your Name has a natural disaster in it, I don’t feel like it’s a film about disasters.” He goes on to suggest the comet strike’s “real purpose” is to provide “spectacle” and explosive set pieces. I don’t mean to call Gigguk out here, as he explicitly states his video is just an explanation of why he enjoys the film, and his video style isn’t suited for the kind of discussion I want to have anyway. His video just works as a solid starting point, as it represents a disappointing lack of discussion on two large concerns of the film: the conservation of culture and the preservation of human connections.
The film consists of three natural disasters, two of which we do not witness directly, but all of which we see the effects of. The first of these is the first comet impact 1,200 years ago that shaped the landscape of Itomori. Both the great lake at the edge of town and possibly the crater surrounding the shrine god’s body (this might be a caldera, which could imply a fourth disaster) are results of the first comet impact and have a profound effect on the town’s development moving forward—more on this later. Although we can’t be sure if a large written/architectural/artistic history was destroyed by that impact, we can trace the cultural development of Itomori following the disaster.Read More »
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.
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.Read More »
Failure in Bakemonogatari (Nadeko Snake)
Nadeko Snake is Bakemonogatari’s lowest point and perhaps the lowest point of the Monogatari series as a whole. I don’t dislike it for any banal reason like the amount of fanservice, but simply the failures in the narrative. Nadeko Snake has the misfortune of following three diverse and top-notch arcs and the burden of scaffolding numerous future developments in the series, but I don’t think either of these are excuses for its failures. Rather, I don’t think we should need to make excuses for a story in the first place.
However, this provides an opportunity to learn something vital about larger narrative structures. Monogatari’s arc-by-arc format tells numerous small stories that act as stepping stones in a larger narrative path. Nisio Isin finds brilliant uses of this structure (which I hope to discuss soon in another essay), but Nadeko Snake is a bit of a failed experiment. Isin overexerts the arc or demands too much of it. The arc isn’t filled with too much, nor is it taking too long of a narrative step. The failure isn’t an active one, but a passive one. Nadeko Snake bets too many chips on the intrigue of a single arc’s capsule story.Read More »