One Crab to Rule Them All

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.

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The One You’ve Been Waiting For

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.

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Solar Symbolism

Owarimonogatari Ep. 9 – Solar Symbolism

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.

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Shifting Shinobu

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).

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Text Television

Owarimonogatari Ep. 7 – Text Television

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.

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It’s also worth mentioning the use of text for emphasis.

 

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).

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We the Fools

Owarimonogatari Ep. 6 – We the Fools

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.

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Slanted Perspective

Owarimonogatari Ep. 5 – Slanted Perspective

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.

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