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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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.

 

Monogatari and Me

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Y’know, I’ve watched a lot of anime. That is an understatement, especially since I could have seen at least twice as many as I’ve seen by this point if I hadn’t spent so much time watching and rewatching the Monogatari series. Although I just used the past tense, this is an ongoing process. I’m in a perpetual state of rewatching Monogatari, to the point that there is very little rhyme or reason to it. For the most part, now, I just jump randomly between the various story arcs from NekoKuro on. I’m not going to call Monogatari the greatest anime of all time, but it is certainly the most special to me.

There is so much going on in Monogatari, and that is yet another understatement. Monogatari means ‘story’ in Japanese, but exactly what is this story about? A lot of things. Now I probably sound like a dumbass, with my consistently ambiguous answers. I’d say that Monogatari captures the essence of the two most prominent dilemmas that arise in the human experience: the struggle to face and deal with our problems and the struggle to be together. And also a boatload of other things, including the relative merits of little girls, proper toothbrush etiquette and, quite prominently, the art of the stupid pun. I recently finished reading the first volume of Bakemonogatari, and in the author’s note, Nisio Isin basically says that Monogatari was an excuse to make a lot of stupid puns (the one he had in mind was the tsundere/tundra pun from Hitagi Crab). It’s a testament to Monogatari’s capacity to captivate its audience that it manages to be so popular overseas, given the fact that Isin’s puns fall apart in translation, for the most part.

Instead of trying to put together a cohesive essay on what Monogatari means to me, I’m going to ramble on until I have to go to class and take this test for which I haven’t studied. That’s in 38 minutes, so let’s see what comes to mind in that period of time as I type and listen to the 1984 album “Let it Be,” by the Replacements, which has really been growing on me. As soon as I finished typing the first sentence of this paragraph, I knew exactly what direction I’d be taking my charismatic rambling.

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The choice I’ve made, to dedicate this time to blogging about Japanese cartoons rather than take control of the reins of my life and try to live up to my full and fantastic potential and study for this test, is precisely the sort of choice that tend to set the average Monogatari characters down the path to an apparition. If you’re not familiar with the series, Nisio Isin, the author, uses these apparitions to represent the psychological turmoil of the character they are afflicting. Almost every Monogatari arc involves a character avoiding their problems the way I am. I’m sitting here avoiding studying for this test because the task of trying to cram a month’s worth of reading into forty or so minutes is quite daunting, although I’m sure I could somehow manage to get something out of it that will help me on this essay test.

It’s actually just a quiz, and I’m sure there’s no way I’ll get under a B-. I totally BS’d my way through the first quiz and was able to pull off an A-, which surprised even me, I could probably manage to do it again. However, there’s a reason I’m sabotaging myself like this. If I do well in all my courses this semester, I’ll have to make the choice between returning to the University from which I withdrew just over a year ago on the eve before I first watched abrasive in your face panty shot that opens up the first episode of Bakemonogatari.

That was the lowest point in my life. Anime was my means of escape at the time, but Monogatari, which I was watching then for the first time, wasn’t going to let me off that easy. Instead of being able to forget about my problems with the sort of power fantasy I had been expecting, I found myself watching the most endearing cast of characters I’d ever seen be forced to face their own problems, often after doing everything in their ability to avoid them. Senjougahara avoids her feelings about her mother by repressing them, or in the literary framing of Monogatari, by dumping them upon the weight/emotion crab.

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I was at the same place as Senjougahara when I first watched Monogatari, a deep depression characterized not by feeling incredible sadness, but by feeling nothing at all.  Of course I pretended not to notice the parallels between Monogatari’s characters and myself the first several times I watched the show, but that was just another example of me avoiding my problems.

 

If there is a single Monogatari arc that best captures the stubborn persistence humans exhibit in avoiding their problems, it’s Tsubasa Tiger, or Nekomonogatari Shiro, which might very well be my favorite arc of the series. This arc, wow. At first glance, Monogatari seems to be a show that has ten thousand things going on at once, but I don’t think that’s quite the right way to think about it, and NekoShiro makes a pretty great case for that. There are indeed dozens of layers to Monogatari. It is packed with explorations of a variety of struggles that all people deal with. However, Nisio Isin focuses his attention on different subjects in each arc, so the show never has too many ideas flying around within the same contained story. In Nekomonogatari Shiro, the primary focus is the nature of the way humans avoid their problems. Mamaragi, in her brief exchange with Hanekawa, provides the story’s primary metaphor for the way we avoid our problems, regarding it as “averting your eyes.” Hanekawa adopts this metaphor in her subsequent reflections.

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Hanekawa goes to ridiculous lengths to avert her eyes in Nekomonogatari Shiro. The key to Hanekawa’s success, thanks in no small part to Senjougahara, is that she realizes what she’s doing. Even once she has come to this realization, she still seems to subconsciously be making every effort to avert her eyes. She goes to the library (every book in which, according to the novel, she has read) for information to help her resolve the crisis she had found herself in, despite knowing very well that she won’t find anything useful. She doesn’t acknowledge the obvious implications of the fires burning down the places she’s slept until Senjougahara forces her to. She tries to get out of “playing cards” with Karen and Tsukihi as well. Its then that Hanekawa takes the next step toward facing her problems by discussing with the Fire Sisters what feelings they associate with fire.

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Alright, and twenty hours (actually days) later, that quiz for my anthropology class, of course, did not happen, because, y’know the universe is ridiculously easy on me and I rarely get what I deserve. Well, actually, that’s not really the case anymore. Yeah, that quiz I didn’t have in anthropology? It was not the only thing on my plate. I also had a Philosophy paper that was due today at noon.

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It was absolutely not my best work. As a matter of fact, I actually didn’t even make all the points I was supposed to make. I regret procrastinating it so much, I missed a great opportunity to make myself look cool by writing some cool shit about Substance-Attribute Ontology. I had a great analogy about the nature of substances in Descartes and Leibniz’s views and html addresses. I spent so much time avoiding getting started on this assignment. Why? And you know me, right? Writing and philosophy are like two of my favorite things.

Whatever, I totally bombed that paper. Maybe if I get the opportunity to fix my mistakes I won’t actually blow it. There is only one thing standing between me and returning to the University of Notre Dame, from which I withdrew a little over a year ago. I was supposed to return in the Winter but I bombed a class that I could have aced. In fact, it was a class I actually loved, so much so that I now plan on majoring in that field, anthropology. It’s not a reflection of my Idiot blood. My Father, God rest his soul, would never have let this happen. Maybe I’m like Araragi, and I’m doing all of this as some sort of punishment because I hate myself. I don’t know. If I want to fix everything and live happily ever after and follow my dreams, that’s still possible. I can still get my shit together. I suppose what will determine whether or not that happens is me, and whether I make the judgement that I deserve to be happy.

To be continued…

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