Death Note: An Absence of Character
It’s a common sentiment among anime fans that the second half of Death Note is less engaging than the first. Yet, most fans manage to finish the show by riding out the waves of suspense and tragedy from the first half. So, what changed from the first half to the second? Why do so many people use the first half to justify enduring the second? The obvious and unfulfilling answer is that L dies and the careful cat-and-mouse game established between him and Light vanishes with him, but that isn’t true in and of itself. L’s death just causes the anime to fail harder at something it had already begun to struggle with—that is: to be thrilling. We should begin by examining Death Note’s most successful moments of intrigue and suspense.
The FBI arc involving Raye Penber and Naomi Misora is the anime’s most well-executed arc by far, and the pacing and scope of the arc play a major role in this. This all begins in the bus-hijacking scenes, where we are clued into a lot of important details about how Light interacts with enemies of his plot. We are never given all of the notes to Light’s plan, but we can infer a lot based on the rules of the Death Note and Light’s actions and thoughts. When the hijacker arrives, Light thinks, “He’s here!” before the hijacker even pulls out a weapon. Light’s subsequent calm demeanor confirms for the audience that he planned for this hijacking. But to what end? Raye Penber handing over his identification answers that question, completing a logical loop.Read More »
Oikawa Blooms (A Haikyuu!! Character Analysis)
With the conclusion to Oikawa’s first (and hopefully not last!) major arc as a character coming in Episode 25 of Haikyuu!!’s second season, I wanted to analyze his character thus far. Oikawa’s a goofy ladykiller, and easily the most developed of the non-Karasuno players. Haikyuu!! is filled with foil and complementary characters, and Oikawa is the most important of them all. Despite Hinata’s apparent role as main protagonist, Oikawa’s foil with Kageyama is perhaps the most important relationship in the series, and the competition between these two setters is really the focal point of the new Karasuno-Seijoh rivalry—not to mention the story of the entire first two seasons.
Let’s figure out how he got there and what makes him such an essential character.Read More »
Owarimonogatari Ep. 11 – As We Were Told
The debate between Shinobu and Kanbaru this episode is interesting even by –monogatari standards. Their dialogue gives us a lot to think about, while simultaneously telling us exactly what to think. Yet, the telling in this scene isn’t the same as bad telling (i.e. ‘I was scared’), nor it is quite the same as good telling (i.e. Hibike Euphonium revealing Reina’s flaws by telling us “band isn’t an individual activity”). To figure out what exactly this new telling is, obviously we need to check out some dialogue.
Shinobu Mail is a story of Shinobu’s past with the Apparition Killer, and their eventual meeting and resolution of conflict. That’s how’d you summarize it, anyway. Throughout this arc are themes of repetition and the hope for an ending. We spent a lot of time looking into repetition two episodes ago, and Owarimonogatari essentially means ‘End Story’. How do these themes play into the conversation between Shinobu and Kanbaru, and what do the characters tell us about this story via those themes?
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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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Master of the Minute (A Haikyu!! Analysis)
Just when I got done talking about all the history Season 1 of Haikyu!! gave us, Season 2 delivers the best backstory of them all. I’m not talking about Tsukishima’s story with his brother, I’m talking about the minute and thirty seconds we get for Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi’s backstory is a masterful piece of simplistic storytelling. As the series’ name says, this is a quick show, so let’s figure out just how much Haikyuu!! can get done in 1:30 (a caveat: I will be referencing and taking for granted what we know from Season 1, but like I said, a sequel succeeds by utilizing what it set up in the past).
Right off the bat, three lines: you’re a freckle-face, you’re puny, you need to bulk up so you can serve us. Each insult contributes something to Yamaguchi’s motivation, and explains why he is who he is now. Yamaguchi touching his freckled face as he stares into the mirror shows us that the person he used to be (to some extent, still is) is carved into his memory. The bullies calling him puny and pushing him around explain that Yamaguchi comes from a place of powerlessness—perhaps lameness is a better word. The complaint that Yamaguchi needs to be stronger to be of use to the bullies parallels his desire to become a better pinch server so he can be of use to Karasuno.
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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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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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Ensemble in the Background – A Hibike! Euphonium Analysis
With the announcement of a second season, I decided to return to Hibike! Euphonium essays early. An aspect of Hibike! that is often mentioned in passing, but rarely truly appreciated is the ‘ensemble’ cast of the background characters. The physical setting of the world is beautified by stunning backdrops, but the social setting is dressed with equally vibrant feathers. Kitauji’s band is not a ghost town.
Now, Hibike! doesn’t have an ensemble cast. The story is told from Kumiko’s perspective and she clearly dominates the screentime. However, the background characters (namely everyone populating the band) aren’t simply stamped with the ‘everyone else’ role. They have (relatively) unique character designs, a specific instrument that they play, and a personality they always abide by. The band is alive, and all the background characters form a sub-level ensemble where they all seem to matter more than background characters typically do.
Take Knuckles, for example. He has maybe a minute of screentime the entire show, but he has a nickname! He’s the percussion section leader, and he loves playing percussion. We hardly get to see him, but I can say (perhaps with more certainty than I can say anything else about this show) that Knuckles loves percussion. He hypes his section up when introducing it to the first years. He also always carries around a towel, presumably because he plays so intensely that he needs to wipe his sweat. He’s always ready to give his all.
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Owarimonogatari Ep. 4 – Spooky Ougi
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.
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Owarimonogatari Ep. 2 – Moving Metaphor
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.
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