Failure in Bakemonogatari (Nadeko Snake)

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.

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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 »

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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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Spooky Ougi

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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Dramatic Herring

Owarimonogatari Ep. 3 – Dramatic Herring

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.

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