TWELVE DAYS: THE IBUKI SISTERS IN CLANNAD

Yeet yeet yeet. Fuuko’s arc is the part of Clannad that I enjoy discussing most. If Clannad was just the Fuuko arc, it would be one of the most absurd anime I’ve ever watched. Even more absurd is that Kyo-Ani decided to drag it out for a whole six episodes. That’s like one FLCL! All dedicated to Fuuko…

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Of course I say that, but to say that Fuuko’s arc is about Fuuko is to miss the point entirely, because it’s not about Fuuko at all. Fuuko’s arc is basically a drawn out less compelling version of Mayoi Snail (though Clannad does predate Monogatari). Like Mayoi, Fuuko, who at first seems to be the focus of the arc, really serves as an agent that brings two other characters closer together. Mayoi Snail brings Araragi and Senjougahara closer together and ends with them becoming lovers, while the Starfish arc uses Fuuko to bring Tomoya and Nagisa closer together. The biggest differences are the means by which these arcs bring these characters together and their duration. Mayoi Snail takes place over the course of a single day, while the Starfish arc lasts a few weeks. Mayoi Snail limits itself to just six characters, two of which only appear over the phone or in flashbacks and another who appears for just one scene. On the other hand, the Starfish arc’s focus on the three central characters is diluted by the importance of the supporting cast and way the narrative ropes in the entire school. That’s not to say that it was a bad decision on Clannad’s part to involve its mostly maddeningly dull supporting cast, I’m just laying out the contrasts between these two similar arcs. Yes, even Kyou is dull, just compare her to actually compelling tsundere characters you’ve seen in other anime, or any Monogatari girl, and Tomoyo isn’t made compelling until after this arc. Obviously, I firmly believe that Mayoi Snail, which I consider to be one of Monogatari’s most foundational and underappreciated arcs, is far more compelling in the manner and degree to which it brings its couple together.

Mayoi Hachikuji is a far better character in her own right than Fuuko, and Mayoi has half as many episodes in her arc as Fuuko. Even though I’d say that Araragi and Senjougahara are the focus of Mayoi Snail, Nisio Isin still crafts Mayoi into a compelling character over the course of her arc. Mayoi comes across as hostile and defensive, not unlike Araragi’s first impression of Senjougahara. Like Senjougahara, Mayoi actively tries to prevent people from getting involved with her, but unlike Senjougahara, Mayoi does it out of concern for the people she encounters. Mayoi’s nature as an apparition isn’t revealed until toward the end of the arc. When Araragi is told that Hachikuji is the lost cow, he immediately realizes that this means Mayoi has been wandering as a ghost for eleven years, trying to prevent people from keeping her company. That alone is just a sad story, and all it tells us about Mayoi is that she is selfless and wise, having resolved to wander alone endlessly rather than preventing people from losing her way just as she had before her life was cut short. On the other hand, Fuuko’s sob story is that she’s the coma ghost of a loner girl whose primary character trait is that she loves her sister and starfish. Later on, it’s implied that she likely won’t ever wake up, though that ends up being untrue. Mayoi, on the other hand, is dead. Mayoi’s character becomes most tangible when she is reflecting upon her family issues with Araragi, in which she articulates her complicated feelings for her father, who she loves but who has been preventing her from visiting her mother.

Monogatari, like Clannad, is very much an anime about family. Clannad is pretty much the poster child for anime about family, yet the extent of Fuuko’s relationship with Kouko, as depicted in the six episodes of Fuuko’s arc is that Fuuko is a good sister and wants Kouko to be happy. Of the two sisters, Kouko, who receives much less screen time, is far more interesting. Nagisa and Tomoya express awe at Fuuko’s devotion to her sister’s happiness, but is it really all that impressive? I mean, Fuuko is a coma ghost, one that doesn’t seem to anticipate ever awakening, so she has all the time in the world. Fuuko doesn’t have to go to classes, and she receives information from her ears in the hospital, so she knows that her sister is hesitating to get married for her sake. Fuuko, being a coma ghost, knows that she can’t effect the world as tangibly as a conscious physical person can, but she can do her best and by a stroke of luck, she manages to find a couple of people that happen to know her sister that are bored enough to spend their time assisting in her efforts.

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Kouko is actually interesting. Why the hell is Kouko spending every day in the hospital rather than going out and living her own life? Yes, the obvious answer is that she stays with Fuuko every day because she loves her, but I have a feeling that there’s more to it. At some point, wouldn’t Kouko be seen as lazy for quitting her job and spending every day with her sister rather than working? As long as somebody is with Fuuko every day, isn’t that enough? Why does it have to be Kouko? For some reason, Kouko must be the only family that Fuuko has. Why else would she take it upon herself to take care of Fuuko herself when she finally does awaken? Wouldn’t Fuuko’s parents want to live with their recovering daughter that had been in a coma for ten years? They would if they were good parents. In Kouko’s flashbacks during the arc, we see that they were living together before Fuuko’s accident, but it didn’t seem as though Kouko was the head of household, so I don’t think the sisters’ parents were dead.

My theory is that Fuuko’s parents wanted to pull the plug on Fuuko. They should have. Just Kidding. Kouko must have taken them to court and sued for custody of Fuuko. Regardless of whatever the real story is, Kouko is far more interesting than Fuuko because she really sacrifices time from a tangible life to care for her sister then takes her into her home once she awakens. On top of that, it doesn’t seem as though Kouko and Yoshino ever have children. Knowing Clannad, there must be a significant reason that a couple would decide not to have a child. Nagisa tells Tomoya to put a baby in her as soon as Tomoya asks her what she wants. Kouko is so dedicated to her sister that she refrained from having children of her own so that she can take care of Fuuko. But is Fuuko really a character worth taking care of?

My instinctual response is yes, but as soon as I try to think of additional qualities that make Fuuko a good character, my mind goes blank, so I’ll move on and explore how Mayoi and Fuuko function as narrative devices.

Mayoi’s case brings Araragi and Senjougahara closer together by putting on display some of each character’s anxieties and insecurities. By coming to understand a bit of each other’s vulnerabilities, Araragi and Senjougahara’s relationship becomes more intimate, which is demonstrated perfectly when Senjougahara declares to Araragi, “I love you.” The situation also provides an opportunity for Senjougahara to watch Araragi rescue somebody other than herself, which affirms the feelings that Senjougahara was harboring for Araragi. Fuuko brings Nagisa and Tomoya closer together by causing them to work and spend a lot of time together. Not only do they spend a lot of time together, they spend that time together caring for a child (though Fuuko is technically the same age as Okazaki). Nagisa even remarks at one point that she and Tomoya are like Fuuko’s mother and father, and at the end of the arc, the two start addressing each other by their first names.

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Fuuko’s arc is so mind bogglingly stupid, but at the same time its absolutely delightful and charming. I think I’m good at talking about my feelings, so to wrap this up, let me do a bit of that and hope it will be compelling. Yeah, I really love Fuuko’s arc. Its so fucking silly, and I think its precisely because it feels so silly that it manages to also feel so sincere. But honestly, for this arc, I don’t have some dark personal shit that I can dig up to relate to it. I guess… I guess it feels so satisfying to watch because its so boring, its so much nothing. Just watching a little girl running around trying her hardest is entertaining enough for me, I suppose.

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.

 

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.

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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Where is Monogatari Headed?

The Monogatari series has been, by far, the most compelling long running anime series of this decade. It is easily the best light novel adaptation I’ve watched so far, and, as much as I’m enjoying Katanagarari, an adaptation of another novel series authored by Nisio Isin, I don’t see that changing any time soon, if ever. Monogatari is a hot mess, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; that’s part of what makes these stories feel so real. I can imagine Nisio Isin staying up late at night, contemplating some sort of emotional turmoil, then awakening the next morning, picking up a pen, and asking himself, “now, how will I use Monogatari to tell a tale of that turmoil?” It’s like Monogatari is a medium of its own that Nisio Isin has a monopoly on.

Of course, there are many strands of cohesion that tie Monogatari together as a whole. To those that have read the final volume of Owarimonogatari, or at least its spoilers, it seemed as though all these strands had come together and neatly wrapped up Monogatari once and for all. However, Nisio Isin has gone ahead and announced another season of Monogatari. It will be titled Monster Season. Has Isin really not yet exhausted the Monogatari format? Haven’t all our characters grown up with the lessons they learned from their experiences with apparitions? Perhaps not.

What has been left unresolved in Monogatari? The first thing that comes to mind is not an unresolved problem, it’s a sorely missed character. Hopefully, in Monster Season, Nisio Isin will be generous enough to treat us to another Kaiki arc. While we’re on the topic of Kaiki, although I am not one to aggressively “ship” characters in the entertainment I consume, I do believe that Hanekawa and Kaiki have some great chemistry. I think that it is fair to say Nadeko’s character development has run its course, although that doesn’t mean she won’t show up. Kanbaru’s coming of age story has also concluded, I believe.

Whatever Monogatari has in store for us in Monster Season, I’m sure Kanbaru will be playing a major role anyway, most likely as a specialist or specialist in training. Perhaps we will see her formally confront Gaen, who pretended to be unrelated to her when they first met. I think it goes without saying that Hanekawa will continue to, well, be Hanekawa. Her story arcs have the most definite sense of completion, so I’m sure she won’t have to deal with any more apparitions springing forth from her own mind. I can only imagine her playing a support role. I think it is possible, especially if Monster Season takes place after some sort of time skip, that the Fire Sisters might be brought into the loop regarding apparitions, especially since Tsukihi has been helping Nadeko with her manga and is an immortal apparition herself.

There’s one final matter that I can’t imagine Isin leaving alone. He’s not going to let Araragi go off and live a happy life while ignoring what would inevitably become an awkward situation. I’m sure every Monogatari fan has thought at one point or another how weird it will be for Araragi to spend his life with Senjougahara with Shinobu, his “lifelong partner,” lurking in his shadow all the while. Kizumonogatari’s ending was designed by Oshino so that “everyone would be miserable.” Since then, both parties involved have grown fond of the bond they forged. However, Araragi should know by now that he can’t have his cake and eat it too. I bet you Nisio Isin will force Araragi to choose between Shinobu and Senjougahara. This should be quite interesting.

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