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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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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Moving Metaphor

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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