Hitagi Crab: You Are Not Alone

Hitagi Crab: You Are Not Alone

Monogatari holds a very special place in my heart. When I started watching Bakemonogatari, I was having a tough time. It was the last time I watched anime as a means of escaping the world, which, for me, seemed to hold nothing but failure. Monogatari was the first anime that made me really think about what I was watching and the first that I treated the same way I would treat literature. It wasn’t a decision I made on my own, Monogatari forced me to see myself in its characters. It wasn’t straightforward assertions of ideals, which can be found in many anime, which was able to break through my shell of denial, it was Monogatari’s subtlety and incredible characters.

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One thing my mother often said to me around that time, when I had effectively become a college dropout, was that there is no difference between depression and cancer. My natural response, which I did not vocalize was, “yeah, except, y’know, everything.” Of course, I could comprehend the argument my mother was making. Even though people can’t see depression and don’t really take it as seriously, the way it can interrupt your life is similar.

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That’s why I had to withdraw from my studies at the University of Notre Dame. Despite my mother’s encouragement, I couldn’t not consider myself a failure, y’know? Of course, how could you expect me not to blame myself at a time when I was mired in self-hatred? My mother never told me that my situation was not my own fault. I’m glad she didn’t let me play the victim.

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No matter what she said, she wasn’t going to fully convince me of her comparison between depression and cancer. Nobody purposely behaves in a way that makes them more susceptible to cancer.

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Nobody finds comfort in resigning themselves to a fate determined by cancer.  Nobody with cancer is content to wallow in their own pain.

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Nobody with cancer would hesitate to jump at the opportunity to have their cancer cured, if one presented itself. Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 6.51.04 AM

Bradford Cox reflects on depression and other forms of sadness and self-hatred in the Deerhunter song, Revival. He plainly states that, “it doesn’t make much sense.” Well, ain’t that the truth? I can testify that doesn’t make much sense, having firsthand experience. I also imagine that it doesn’t make much sense to those watching their friends or family struggle with it. In fact, I know that it doesn’t make much sense to them because they’ve told me. Unless you tell people, they have no way of knowing what you’re dealing with, or that you’re dealing with anything at all. If you don’t let anybody close, the only people that will notice are those that have been there before and those that are still there.

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Even those people, however, will never be able to understand. They’ll never truly be able to put themselves in your shoes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t care. Bakemonogatari’s first arc, Hitagi Crab, captures this experience perfectly in the scene of Senjougahara’s exorcism.

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I’ll start with the central visual metaphor in this scene, the most concrete example of layered storytelling that I can prove without a doubt. Senjougahara’s exorcism illustrates not only the firsthand experience of struggling with your problems, it also illustrates the experience of watching others struggle with their problems. During the ritual, when Oshino is counting and questioning Senjougahara, the implied perspective shifts subtly from Araragi to Senjougahara.

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Once Senjougahara has spoken about her emotional baggage and laid it all out, she is told to open her eyes and is asked what she sees. Both she and the camera are able to see the weight crab, beautifully depicted by Shaft.

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Senjougahara answers, and Oshino says that he can’t see anything, and, when asked, Araragi says likewise.

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Confused, Senjougahara says, “but it’s clearly visible… to me.” There’s the first layer. Our personal problems are ours alone. Even if somebody has been through a similar experience, nobody has shared in your specific struggles other than yourself. Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.30.51 AMDepression and other problems of this nature, which everybody has to deal with as they grow up, are undetectable. They lie in the mind and manifest no physical evidence of their existence, at least not through natural means. They aren’t such concrete ailments as cancer, but they are no less real. The second layer is the demonstration of that point. The crab tackles Senjougahara, sending her flying across the room and pinning her against the wall. When this happens, the camera has been returned to Araragi’s perspective, and he calls out to Senjougahara upon seeing her launched across the room by a force that remains invisible to him.

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Although Senjougahara’s problems can’t clearly be perceived by Araragi and Oshino, the effects that it have on her can be. With depression, one of the most outwardly obvious effects is loss of interest. When I was plunging into depression, the first thing people noticed was how much less enthusiastic I had become, how much more I was sleeping, how frequently I had started skipping classes. Even if your friends and others that surround you can’t perceive your problems in their own right, they can certainly perceive the toll that your struggle with them has taken on you. That is enough evidence for those that truly care for you to express their concern and reach out.

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And, as with Senjougahara, the only way to truly deal with your problems, is to acknowledge and accept them, instead of repressing them.

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Senjougahara’s exorcism is presented as a full blown religious ritual. It requires ritual cleansing of each of the participants and appropriate attire, which, for Oshino, is his white priestly garb, the only time we see it. Araragi is able to wear his typical school uniform, which is a black version of the typical ones modeled off the military that are used in schools across Japan. Senjougahara, however, having been asked to wear something demure, wears a beautiful white dress. It’s not too over the top, but I think it’s enough to evoke the image at which I am hinting.

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Although it probably doesn’t leave much of an impression on the first watch, coming back to Monogatari and seeing Oshino in anything but a flowered shirt is pretty shocking, especially considering that Araragi’s typical description of him is “an old guy in a Hawaiian shirt.” Oshino certainly is a very laid back character, not lazy, as Araragi sometimes describes him, but he definitely gives very few fucks. The question you should be asking yourselves now should be, “what sort of occasion would get a guy like that to get dolled up?”

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I’m trying to give readers the pieces they need so that they can put together themselves the imagery which I saw, and which I believe Nisio Isin and the staff at Shaft intended.

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Yeah, the show frames Senjougahara’s exorcism as a wedding, and Araragi is the groom. This shouldn’t feel farfetched at all, considering Senjougahara confesses to him just three episodes later, but there’s a lot more to it than just foreshadowing.

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One way in which Senjougahara deals with her problems, the weight of which she gave to the crab, is by isolating herself from the rest of the world and attempting to drive away anybody that might try to approach her. Marriage is a lifelong bond between two willing parties. While Senjougahara and Araragi seem to share a lifelong bond, at least at the current point in the series, the more important implication of this wedding is that Senjougahara will start to let other people into her heart, starting with Araragi.

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That’s how she will begin to make it better. Shortly after her exorcism, Senjougahara approaches her father, who would later tell Araragi that she had been distant up until that point. In the third arc, she opens herself back up to Kanbaru, her friend from middle school, even though it must be difficult to involve herself with somebody who’s feelings for her she does not reciprocate. Later, off-screen, she meets the fire sisters.

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She becomes Hanekawa’s confidant in Nekomonogatari Shiro.  In the shot above, the same dawn lighting is shining into the cram school on the morning after the night Senjougahara spends wandering town in search of Hanekawa. Not only does Senjougahara open herself to a less-than-open Hanekawa, she even embraces and accepts her flaws, manifested as Black Hanekawa. She trusted Hanekawa enough that, even though she was certain that her home would burn down based on the fires at Hanekawa’s home and at the cram school, she still slept in her apartment that night. She trusted that Hanekawa would be able to accept the parts of herself that Senjougahara herself had accepted when she embraced Black Hanekawa. Of course, there are some parts of us that we alone can embrace, and for Hanekawa, that was Kako.

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In Koimonogatari, we learn that Senjougahara and her father spend New Year’s with the Araragi household. She even had the strength to entrust her fate to the man that she believed ruined her family. Starting with Araragi, Senjougahara opened herself up to the rest of the world.

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The story of recovery, be it from depression or some sort of other internal struggle, is never one with a clear ending. You never reach a completion point, you only ever have those times when you look back and realize how much progress you’ve made. It is a constant effort, but it is certainly worthwhile.

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In elaborating on the implications of framing the exorcism scene as a wedding, it seems I have gotten ahead of myself. Most of the evidence for that framing is visual. If you were to read a transcript of this scene alone, you obviously would not be able to come to that conclusion. However, there is a conclusion that you might reach from only reading the characters’ dialogue that could be just as insightful. Oshino’s questioning of Senjougahara reads like a session of therapy. Oshino accepts Senjougahara’s response that she’d “rather not answer” to one of his early questions, but when she hesitates to answer the question regarding her most painful memory, her hesitation is what indicates to Oshino that he’s found the source of her problems.

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Just talking about it, acknowledging that it’s a problem enables Senjougahara to see the crab, upon which she has left the burden of all her problems. Of course, mustering enough willpower to even “just talk” about your problems is no easy feat. When Oshino first told Senjougahara that she alone could save herself, Senjougahara told him that there were five conmen who had told her the same thing before him. Really, Senjougahara? Five? Yeah, we know Kaiki is a conman, God bless him, but that would mean not only that four other conmen happened to target her after that, but also that she and her father fell for the same trick four more times. What do I think?

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I think that the other four were well meaning specialists, and that the problem was that Senjougahara had not yet reached a disposition where she was able to face her problems when she met with them. This time was different. This time somebody reached out to her, and seemed to care more about her wellbeing than she herself did. Senjougahara saved herself, but Araragi helped make it possible by reaching out to her.

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I don’t really have a pretty way to tie this whole thing up. I hope that you’ve learned a new way of looking at Monogatari. I love this show for so many reasons, chief among them being the characters, who are as broken as we are. Monogatari is a series about dealing with your problems, and so, one of the inevitable messages is that everybody has their own problems. They might not be the same problems that you face, but, regardless, you are not alone.

I know Monogatari only works for me the way it does because I’m open to it and because I’ve taken the time to rewatch it more times than I’d like to share. If nothing else, these first two episodes, the Hitagi Crab arc, are certainly worth revisiting. It’s the most endearing introduction to a series I’ve seen in any anime. I love this show and I hope at least a little bit of what I’ve written makes sense.

 

Socrates Meets Reki Kawahara (Part I)

Socrates: So, Kawahara-sama, I watched the anime adaptation of your legendary light novel series, Sword Art Online, and I must say, it was quite the fascinating experience.

Kawahara: Subbed or dubbed?

Socrates: Subbed, of course, Kawahara-sama. I might not be a master of high art like you, but I’m certainly no pleb. As I said, I was fascinated by the story you crafted, but, since I know nothing, especially with regards to literature and the art of crafting fiction, there are quite a few questions I have for you, regarding a variety of different aspects of this story which you crafted. Would you mind answering a few of them?

Kawahara: Of course not, buddy! And I’m glad you loved my story, I take a lot of pride in it.

Socrates: Really? I see… Well, before I get to those questions regarding Sword Art Online, Kawahara-sama, I have a question about you. I believe you’re familiar with the maxim, “give a woman a fish she eats for a day, teach a woman to fish, she eats for a lifetime.” Tell me, do you agree with that?

Kawahara: Absolutely, though I think I’ve heard it phrased, er, a bit differently. But yeah I totally believe that… Haha, I often like to say, “give a man a light novel, he eats for a day, teach a man to write a light novel (and it’s not very hard, trust me), he eats for a lifetime in his parents’ basement.” In fact, I made a point of making this idea a theme early on in Sword Art Online. In the first episode, our great hero, Kirito, teaches Klein (who is actually my favorite character, to be honest) how to play the game. Initially I was using it as an excuse to take care of some exhibition, but then I was like, let’s be all literary and shit and make this a theme! I’m sure you remember the scene, which was adapted in the second episode of the anime, where that one asshole interrupts the council held before they took on the first boss. He says that the Beta testers have to pay for allowing 2000 players to die because they went on ahead and left the noobs to fend for themselves. Then Egil comes in and reminds him about the strategy guide compiled by the Beta testers using all the information they had learned in the trial period. Everybody in SAO was given an opportunity to learn how to fish. There are other examples too, y’know, I actually really put my heart into this bit

Socrates: Truly brilliant, Kawahara-sama. I suppose that’s what you consider a theme, but I’ll have more questions about those later.

Kawahara: Woah woah woah, now that was definitely a bit sarcastic

Socrates: My whole point with bringing up the teaching-to-fish analogy is that it seemed to me, surely the lowest common denominator of your audience, that Kirito often distributed free fish. He has to fight Heathcliff to get Asuna vacation time. Isn’t she the vice commander? Wouldn’t it have better for her to learn to assert the authority that should accompany her position? Or does this guild take vacation time that seriously? It seemed out of character that she wouldn’t just be assertive on the basis of her position. Maybe my mind was just too feeble to accurately gauge your characterization of her up until that point.

Kawahara: Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard that a million times before, it was a way to get Kirito and Heathcliff to duel.

Socrates: Of course, what a fascinating way to push your story forward. I mean, I have more questions for you regarding that later. What about the dear loli? Even though Kirito warned her about the dangers, that didn’t keep her from getting tentacle groped on two separate occasions, or is it just that these poor women find themselves in these dilemmas regardless of the decisions they make?

Kawahara: Yeah, no, the situations these women find themselves in aren’t brought about by themselves, but, like, let me argue my case a bit, will you? It’s not just relegated to technical skills, the way the teaching-to-fish theme is applied in Sword Art Online. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship (y’know, the greatest love story ever told), is built upon the ways, you could say, that they taught each other to fish, right? Okay, so in the murder mystery vignette, it starts out with Asuna nagging Kirito…

Socrates: (As women are accustomed to do)

Kawahara: … because Kirito is slacking off while the rest of the front liners are working hard, but Kirito points out that it’s Aincrad’s nicest weather setting, so it’d be a waste to stay inside playing video games. Kirito teaches her to make the most out of her time in Aincrad. Asuna’s berserk focus on escaping was stressing her out so much that she was reaching her breaking point

Socrates: Was it? I hadn’t noticed, of course, as I mentioned, I am but merely the lowest common denominator of your audience. Technically speaking, with regards to screen time, there was only one scene with her between the end of the second episode and the scene you’re describing.

Kawahara: …Anyway, Kirito teaches Asuna to stop and smell the roses, and Asuna teaches Kirito that investing yourself in a relationship is worth the risk, right? I mean, he was never one to be social, but when he first tried it, well, it didn’t go that well, did it?

Socrates: I kind of thought Kirito kind of figured that out on his own, since he decided not to push her away, right?

Kawahara: Well, yeah, but I figured Kirito was willing to take the risk with Asuna because he knew she was strong…

Socrates: …Not as strong as Kirito…

Kawahara: Ha, of course not, but strong enough for him not to push against the kind of momentum their relationship was gaining after the murder mystery.

Socrates: So it’s better to invest yourself in relationships with people that are strong?

Kawahara: Well, I mean, at least in a death game, right? Just look at The Hunger Games! That being said, as cold as it sounds, I can’t say it’s the kind of principle I disagree with. Doesn’t it make more sense to ally yourself with somebody strong, strategically or romantically? Survival of the fittest, right?

Socrates: I mean, Kirito looked pretty emaciated at the end of the Aincrad arc, but I’ll give that to you.

Kawahara: Leafa recognized Kirito’s power and was quick to ally with him, despite him being “one of them (a race that exists only in the game)”

Socrates: What about Shinon?

Kawahara: Ah, good point, Kirito was able to seduce her by playing innocent and pretending to be a woman, but I think she helped him out ‘cause she saw a bit of herself in him.

Socrates: Anyway, back to the fish thing, I’m glad to hear you value that maxim, and your comment about how you so skillfully incorporated it into Sword Art Online actually transitions perfectly into my next question. Would you rather read a story about a character who is given a fish or a story about a character who learns or has learned how to fish? Which premise do you think would make for a more compelling story, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Hmm, well, of course, as I’m sure you’ve already assumed, I would much rather read a story about a character that knows how to fish. I guess you could say that, for me, the key to making a great character is to make them a great fisherman, like Kirito is!

Socrates: I see; a great character must be a great fisherman. So then would learning to fish be what you consider character development, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Character development? Ummm… yeah, well, I guess that fits pretty well with the whole metaphor, especially considering the examples I gave before regarding Kirito and Asuna… Wait, but it’s not like I can limit it to that, I mean, anything is possible in a story, right? The teaching-to-fish method is just one that I used quite a bit.

Socrates: As expected of your literary brilliance, Kawahara-sama, but I have a strong aversion to such open-ended answers as that one, y’know, they cause me to hurt myself in my confusion. There’s another anime light novel adaptation that I’ve watched and enjoyed, called Bakemonogatari. I think it might be able to give us some direction as we explore the idea of character development. Are you familiar with it?

Kawahara: Oh yeah, the Monogatari series is like my favorite harem anime… Lol, just kidding. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite anime, and definitely my favorite light novel series. I remember reading the first Monogatari novels as soon as they came out. I don’t know how Nisio Isin manages to write stories like those, where the characters feel so special and real. He’s actually quite a bit younger than me.

Socrates: I agree! Let me try to apply that show, at least its first five story arcs, to the fishing metaphor. Would you agree that in Monogatari, characters dealing with personal problems is the fishing?

Kawahara: Uhh, yeah, actually, well, not really in the case of the snail but I don’t know… Well, of course, I mean, that’s what Monogatari is all about, ain’t it? I guess since all of the apparitions are really just representations of whatever emotional baggage each character is dealing with, yeah, being able to deal with them would be like knowing how to fish. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Oshino’s mantra, “only you can save yourself, but I’ll lend you a hand” isn’t too different from the teaching-to-fish analogy we’ve been discussing. In Monogatari’s case it takes quite a bit of mental fortitude and humility for each character to actually go fishing. Nisio Isin really is fantastic, especially at writing great characters. Go on.

Socrates: So you’d say that character development in the Monogatari series is, like it is in Sword Art Online, when the characters “learn how to fish?”

Kawahara: Yeah, I’d say so, I think. Wait, no, but that… That’s way too specific, I mean, I’m not even sure that applies to Sword Art Online, to be honest, but we can run with that for the time being.

Socrates: Now, it may have very well gone right over my head, but how does that fit with Shinon’s character arc?

Kawahara: Lol, actually, now that you mention it, I’m reminded of the ending credits sequence from the Gun Gale Online arc.

Socrates: Oh yeah, I loved that, it was always my favorite part of the episode, and not just because it meant it was over.

Kawahara: Ouch. Anyway, that ED basically illustrates how Shinon taught herself to fish in that arc, right? Still, I don’t feel comfortable settling with that specific definition. I mean, this whole dialogue has gotten much messier than it was ever supposed to be.

Socrates: I agree, I was surprised with how poorly thought through my inquiries have been, it’s turned into more of an interview than a dialogue, really. Maybe we’ll do better in part two.

Kawahara: If there ever is a part two, I mean, does this writer ever not leave things half finished?

Socrates: Lol, good point. Anyway, back to the central question: what constitutes good character development? It may seem like a dumb question, but somebody asked the author to explain it the other day. What definition would apply to all the examples we’ve discussed from Monogatari and Sword Art Online?

Kawahara: I mean, character development, in my experience primarily as a consumer of stories, can be defined as a character changing over the course of a story or portion of a story while still being recognizable as the character they were established as in the beginning, but, I don’t know man, I’m just a light novel author. In my opinion, the characters and their development are the most fundamental substance of a story, especially in this genre, which is dominated by coming of age stories. Character development in light novels and in much of anime can really be understood as just growing up, y’know? Light Novels are written for angsty teens to read and escape reality while also affirming their way of viewing the world from which they seek to escape, so it’s not like there are many light novels that illustrate what it means to grow up… But what do I know, I was just minding my own business having fun writing light novels and shit, *sigh*. To the reader, I suppose I’ll see you in part 2, if it ever comes, I hope you were at least mildly entertained by this clusterfuck.

Fanservice in Seiren’s Pilot Episode

The Hikari-focused apparent fanservice reminded me a lot of Nick Creamer’s commentary on the Araragi/Nadeko “playdate” scene from his article on Nisemonogatari and the nature of fanservice. In that scene, the camera isn’t leering at Nadeko so much as Nadeko is doing her best to pose for the camera. Nadeko is in control of the camera in her attempts to seduce Araragi. Based on the first episode of Seiren, it seems as though Hikari is making an effort to pose for the camera as well, especially in the scene where she approaches the study group. I think she’s using her sexuality as a means for intimidating MC-kun. hikari-fanservice-camera-control