Love, Philosophy, Conversation, and Fanservice in Monogatari

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If you read my blog, you probably know by now that I love the Monogatari franchise. And you also probably know that I can be extremely critical of shows, and love to point out faults, even in shows that I like and enjoy. Most of that stems from a background in the arts, where the best critiques lie in showcasing faults, rather than handing out compliments. So when there is a long-running franchise that i genuinely enjoy, they must be doing something correctly. So let’s break it down, shall we?

Each character in Monogatari serves a very specific purpose, and is meant to show a theme, or an aspect of the human psyche. For example, Senjougahara’s character has a background of a traumatic childhood, a split family, and she just wants to forget and ignore her pain. Yet when she does cast aside her emotions and her memories, by having them stolen by the crab, she feels incomplete, empty inside, hence her weightlessness.

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With some help from Araragi and Oshino, Senjougahara manages to regain her emotions, but they are still too much for her to bear, at least on her own. This is shown by the fact that, while Senjougahara regains her weight, Araragi gets heavier too, indicating he is helping her to carry some of her burden. Not only is this a beautiful, and thought-provoking piece of writing, it also shows why Senjougahara’s love for Araragi, and his love of her back, is so genuine.

So often in anime, we see romance depicted through such rose-tinted glasses, like it’s all some pretty dream, but in reality, that’s not the case. A couple will lift each other, support each other, and help to carry each other’s burdens. Senjougahara’s love for Araragi is so genuine, as she offers him everything she can give him, within her own limits. Her traumatic past still haunts her, and Araragi understands that, so he gives her the space she needs, letting their relationship grow slowly and naturally.

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Let’s look at another example. Araragi himself is a prime example of a hypocrite. While his actions certainly seem noble, with his selfless desire to try and help each girl overcome her ‘curse’, he almost always takes it too far, inflicting massive self-harm to himself, and often causing harm to others as well, to enforce his own sense of ‘justice.’ Take the Nadeko arc, for example. Sengoku’s curse is a metaphor for the suffocation others can inflict on you due to jealousy.

As the snake monsters, set upon her by jealous classmates, slowly strangle Sengoku, Araragi fights hard to save her life, ripping the snakes from her body, and even fighting with the invisible serpent afterwards, to the point of his own near-death. But, when the curse rebounds, and the snake returns to find and kill the one who had created it, Araragi lets it go, because obviously, that classmate deserves what’s coming to him.

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This sense of false justice is reinforced when Araragi discovers that his little sister, Karen, has been trying to take down a crooked businessman named Kaiki. Karen has always looked up to her brother and his sense of justice, aspiring to be like him. But Araragi straight up tells her that she doesn’t deserve to call herself a servant of ‘justice’. It may be because Araragi is nearly immortal, and wants to protect his little sister, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still quite a hypocrite.

Monogatari is a mainly conversation-based show, preferring to explain the story, set up scenarios, and more, with dialogue rather than action. Some might find this aspect of the show boring, yet I feel that it’s a nice change from the shows that, arguably, have much too little dialogue, and therefore the finer details that might have been are lost. Unfortunately, though so much character development, not to mention clever and funny dialogue, and important tidbits of information for worldbuilding are given through this dialogue-heavy show, Araragi can almost never solve the girl’s problems through dialogue; it most often devolves into Araragi getting beaten up.

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The only real instance (that I can think of) where an issue with the girl was resolved by talking it out was in the Tsukihi Phoenix arc, after Araragi discovers that his little sister, Tsukihi, is actually an apparition called a Dying Bird, that reincarnates itself in the womb of a pregnant woman. Araragi decides that he doesn’t care, because Tsukihi is still his precious little sister, and they have a long conversation about their roles as siblings. I might liken this to having an adopted sibling, as even though they might not be who you expect, or have the origins you might expect, they are still your family, and should be treated as such.

This is something that Monogatari is so good at getting people to do: think outside the box, outside the confines of the anime. The subliminal hints and messages, the philosophical questions that pervade the show, are so incredibly well-placed and well-written in, that you don’t really realize that they are there, until you wonder why you’ve gone off on a thinking tangent a mile wide. They use everything that they can to do this: lighting and shadows, lines in the background, colors, shapes, dialogue, and, yes, even fanservice works to convey imagery.

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Let’s take a look at Tsukimonogatari, in which we see a number of different girls shown with fanservicey themes. But it’s not just blatant, or blindly perverted. We see it depicted in a different way, depending on how Araragi himself perceives the girl. For instance, we get a rather shocking scene (the toothbrush scene) between Araragi and his little sister Karen. It is shocking and jarring to us, as an audience, because it is shocking to Araragi that his sister could be so erotic. On the flip side, Shinobu gets a fanservice scene as well, but because Araragi only sees her as a child, it’s not made erotic or sexual at all, appearing more like a child playing in the bath with her big brother. This despite Shinobu actually being a thousands-year-old vampire.

It’s absolutely masterful how Studio Shaft has been able to fit so much into a series and make it such a masterpiece. The writing by Nisio Isin in the original Light Novels, combined with the masterful art, animation, and direction done by the guys at Shaft, have made Monogatari one powerhouse of a series, whose complexity and meaningfulness have almost no limit. I very much suggest that you watch the Monogatari series, starting with Bakemonogatari. It’s worth your time, trust me.

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