Owarimonogatari Ep. 12 – One Crab to Rule Them All
While it’s easy to forget that the –monogatari series is a mystery series, it is near impossible to forget that it’s a harem series. However, it’s possible to forget that a (best) girl already won Araragi’s affection. Well, kind of…but ignoring Shinobu’s complicated bond with Araragi, Senjougahara is the only character who holds a serious romantic relationship with him.
As the season wraps up, let’s put aside the more pointed essays of symbolism and story theory, and instead take a general look at how this singular romantic relationship is presented to us. Senjougahara has been busy dealing other apparitions all season, so she missed out on a lot of screen-time. The least I can do is give her an essay all her own. Let’s figure out what cool things are happening during Araragi and Senougahara’s phone call.
Owarimonogatari Ep. 10 – The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Fanservice—in all its forms—is a way to quickly appease and entertain the viewer. Whether it’s slapping something sexual on the screen or engaging in meta-interaction with the fans, it’s not required to tell the narrative and is meant to be instantaneously gratifying to the viewer. This is why gratuitous fanservice is so off-putting—it’s extraneous (unless we’re talking about something entirely sexual in nature, in which case, obviously, it’s the point). You could say fanservice is a distraction from the story.
We’ve already seen how this series uses absurd backgrounds to keep our eyes stuck to the screen while simultaneously invoking specific feelings in us or providing secondary information to us. So then, does –monogatari also kill two birds with one fanservice stone? Our experts say yes.
We get comedy, meta-reference, and semi-lewd content all together. The Holy Trinity, you could call it. Let’s take a moment to distract ourselves from this essay by appreciating this trinity, then we’ll figure out why the show was smart.
I don’t really need to explain why Araragi and Kanbaru changing the tone of their voices or arguing over her boy-love novels are funny, but it’s worth pointing out that these sex-driven vampire novels are probably what Nisio Isin perceives his ‘young adult supernatural novel’ competition as. At least, he thinks it’s true enough that it’s worth making a joke about. It’s funny that his books can appear dignified in comparison, especially when we consider something like Nisemonogatari.
I hope you like symbolism because we’re about to talk about a lot of it. I’ll be trying to keep this tied to a theme, so hopefully I maintain the same focus as the previous essays in this series despite the broad topic. Once again, about half of the episode is dedicated to a lengthy storytelling sequence packed with absurd visuals, so let’s figure out what exactly we’re seeing.
Before Gaen even starts telling the story, the backgrounds reflect some of the themes of episode. The clouds and heavens swirling like a grand spiral above Gaen mirror the repetitive, cyclical nature of the Apparition Killer’s death and rebirth. It’s actually possible for us to predict the rough outline of the story about to be told if we pick up on this detail and a few keywords like “revive”.
Immediately, Gaen presents the idea of the sun as a vampire’s (an immortal being’s) weakness. Exposure to the sun is a sort of ‘death’ for vampires, although one they can be reborn from. For now, let’s just remember that the sun is generally associated with the passage of time and the beginning of a new day. Gaen’s explanation will be useful in a moment.
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).
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.
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).
Fall 2015 is a season packed with mysteries, from the American serial-esque Beautiful Bones, to the recoated classic in Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider, to Tantei Team (which appears to be a short, shoujo detective series? I haven’t actually watched this yet). Of course, there’s also Owarimonogatari, a series we’ve become well-acquainted with over these past few weeks. Back in Episode 3, I looked at one way the series creates effective mystery. I could go on and on about the various ways –monogatari creates its mystery, but instead I want to use Episode 6 to focus on what the series does with its mystery.
I suppose, more accurately, I want to focus on what the series does to its viewers, and how mystery is sometimes the tool it uses to do so.
If you’ve watched or read any of the –monogatari series, you know the fourth wall might as well be a screen door. You also know that we as an audience are forced directly into Araragi’s perspective (excluding a few narratives told from other characters’ points-of-view). As we noticed in Episode 3, the mysteries in question often play with the knowledge that we’re identifying with, and viewing the story from, Araragi’s perspective. Back then, we thought we were one step ahead of our anchor character and thus slacked off by not thinking outside that character’s perspective. In Episode 6, there’s no tricks being played, but there is a game.
Quite literally, there’s a guessing game. Ougi and Hanekawa have solved the mystery of Oikura’s mother’s disappearance, but Araragi (we) haven’t been presented enough evidence to reach the same conclusion. At least, we haven’t had that evidence presented in such a way that we could reasonably reach the correct conclusion. These hints are aimed as much at the viewer as they are at Araragi. We are the “fool” Ougi talks about. The show doesn’t want to just have a character figure out the mystery and tell us the answer in some lame expository dialogue; we need to figure it out ourselves. Obviously, a character—Araragi—does figure it out and ‘tell’ us, but we’ll get to that.
I’ve been claiming all season that Oikura is not in a healthy state of mind, and her actions and words so far have supported that claim substantially. However, we haven’t found out why she “despises” so many people (or why she’s so jaded about Araragi in particular). We know she comes from a split and abusive household, and was hoping Araragi would assist her in some way, but that doesn’t quite explain how intense her convictions are.
Episode 5 comes to fill in these gaps in knowledge, and it does so in the perfect, twisted, geometric environment: Oikura’s apartment. The math and geometry themes run thick through this season, particularly for Oikura. She wants to be called Euler, but is instead teased with “How much?” She would have the best math scores in her class, if not for Araragi. She teaches Araragi math. And just look at this opening! It stands to reason that the geometric figures in Oikura’s apartment (the result of her shattered past) should be related in some way to her state of mind.
Lucky for me, they are. Or, at least, I’m going to convince you that they are. Most obvious of all the figures is the large trapezoid window. The window slants at some absurd angle in towards Oikura, as does the red shelf behind her. Similar to how Ougi made certain shots uncomfortable by throwing off the compositional balance, these slants force a shift in the viewer’s focus. So much of the room leads us to Oikura at haphazard angles, signifying her slanted self-perception.
In the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to look into why Ougi is so spooky. Her overwhelming presence this season has threaded a constant discomfort through even the most mundane scenes. If we think about what has happened: Ougi and Araragi talked about the past, Araragi confronted Oikura (and Senjougahara punched her), then Ougi and Araragi talked about the past some more. The entirety of Episode 4 is spent deciding whether Ougi or Hanekawa will accompany Araragi to Oikura’s house and we know from the start that Hanekawa wins. Things have been plain.
Last episode, I briefly alluded to how, in addition to mystery, the characters and their interactions help keep us from snoring. This season, Ougi is certainly the MVP as far as characters go. I’d say she’s even more interesting than the brand new character of Oikura. Especially for anyone who hasn’t read the light novels, Ougi is her own mystery. She seems to want to force Araragi to face the past and interact with spirits, but viewers can only speculate as to whether her intentions are good or bad. Hidden motivations make her mysterious, but it’s the details that push her to be truly spooky.
As you were probably taught twice a year in school, you learn about characters through what others say about them, what the author says about them, and also what they themselves say/do. This will be a fine approach to discussing why Ougi is spooky. Since the first detail I listed was what others say about a character, let’s hear what Hanekawa has to say about Ougi.
Amongst all the comedy, fanservice, and “meta-critical” dialogue, it’s possible to forget that the –monogatari series is fundamentally a mystery story. Nisio Isin is a mystery author obsessed with mysteries. Every story arc of the series focuses on a specific mystery that Araragi/occasionally another character/always the viewer must unravel to reach a resolution. Rarely does the plot move by present action, and most actions taken in the present are simply devices to explore the past. Any troubles in the present are the result of something that has happened, not something that is happening.
As such, I’d like to consider how –monogatari’s creates effective mystery and uses that mystery to build an interesting story. One could argue that the series is carried by its dialogue and fanservice, but I think that—without effective mystery—we’d simply have a harem series for the desperately avant-garde that’s boring enough to undo any amount of coffee. In other words: the series’ mystery attaches relevant stakes to otherwise random and insignificant scenes.
Episode 3 is the perfect episode to explore one way that the series creates effective mystery. This episode flips dramatic irony on its head, and uses it to string along the viewer, and make us overconfident. For example, we probably suspected that Oikura left Araragi those letters in his locker, and that she was the one meeting him at the ruined house. As soon as she opens the door, we’re able to recognize her character design and confirm our suspicion. The viewer is certain that this girl is Oikura, but Araragi doesn’t know, as shown by Oikura’s eyes being hidden and her voice excluded for most of the flashbacks.
The –monogatari series has used surrealism and visual metaphor to express character intentions and emotions since Bakemonogatari. In fact, those moments of surrealism quite possibly define the series’ style better than anything else. There’s enough examples in every episode of the show to explain what I mean, but Episode 2 of Owarimonogatari stuck out to me. The proper introduction of a new character also makes it easier to get the point across. So let’s get into it.