Freedom in Nisemonogatari (Karen Bee)

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.

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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 »

Love in Bakemonogatari (Tsubasa Cat)

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.

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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)

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 »

Anime Critics Need to Improve

Anime Critics Need to Improve

Western anime critics—particularly those featured on Crunchyroll and YouTuube—are now in a position of unchecked power over public opinion. While this is beneficial to the community at large by allowing a rapid dispersion of important or interesting info or criticisms, it is also a weapon prone to misfiring. This misfiring is the result of poor communication, faulty argument, and a general lack of standards. Before I go any further, I want to reiterate that, as with all of these posts, individual creators will be referenced to exemplify my points, but my intention is not to attack or praise them as individuals. I have great respect for anyone who spends time talking about the anime they love/hate. I write this because I respect you all so much. That being said, we have a problem.

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Redditors fight the DigiHydra in vain.

To understand the spread and influence of critical opinion and the misfires of the machine that produces these opinions, we can simply look at the r/anime subreddit. Most obviously, comments in reply to any critical content invariably contain instances of users praising said content as truth, as perception-defining, and as final rule. This isn’t anything new. Critics have been influencing public opinion on books, music, politics, etc. for centuries. A basic knowledge of communications or media history could have told you that. I am just arguing that, with so few platforms for visibility, so little history, and such a niched fanbase, this issue is amplified in the anime community. You can read any thread about Erased and see an anonymous Digibro hydra repeat his arguments, oftentimes word-for-word. Cue hegemony, spiral of silence, so on.Read More »

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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As We Were Told

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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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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