Monogatari Series Analysis – Mindful Self-Indulgence

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++Further Reading++

Ghostlightning’s series of posts on Bakemonogatari:
(Recommended: “Moments of 2009,” posts for eps 10, 11, and 12)

AJ the Fourth on Suruga Devil:

++You can watch the Monogatari shows freely and legally in these places++

Bakemonogatari (1-12)(can’t find 13-15 for legal streaming)


Nekomonogatari Black (not available for legal streaming)

Monogatari Series Second Season


++Other Links++

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Otaku culture is, at its core, incredibly indulgent. Many consider anime an escapist medium, and more still are particular about what they seek from anime, viewing shows more as a checklist for personal kinks than as an actual functioning storyline.

When light novels first started gaining traction in the early to mid-2000s, a lot of them were written by otaku, sort of self-indulgently commenting on the nature of their own fandom–but often twisting and subverting the same indulgent entertainment they were creating. Series like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya worked almost as a commentary on the typical narrative of otaku media, while straddling the line between embodying those tropes and being a parody of them. What this created was a meta-otaku culture, where the joke itself was pointing out the joke.

And no series captures this nature more so than the Monogatari franchise, which at this point is the most popularly known work of author Nisioisin. Monogatari is a dialog-driven and indeed dialog-dense work of fiction, by a writer whose love of wordplay and semantics is only matched by his propulsion towards self-indulgence.

But let’s backpedal here a bit and talk about the Monogatari TV series on a piece-by-piece level. I do think that as this series goes along, its nature shifts in both subtle and unsubtle ways, which, depending on the viewer, might be for better or for worse. Rather than make value judgements however, I’m mostly going to ask myself as I watch along with this series a pair of questions: is this actually a story, and/or is this mindless self-indulgence?

From the outset with the Hitagi Crab arc, it’s clear that Bakemonogatari is highly indulgent, but it’s also apparent just from these two episodes that there’s a lot more running underneath it. The episodes play around with the theme of lightness and weight, and present both lightness and weight in the density of the dialog. Maybe it’s worth mentioning that when the characters talk more quickly, less of what they say is meaningful, but when they talk slowly, there’s a lot more gravity to the meaning. It’s amazing how this show can torment the viewer’s sense of pacing to make two episodes feel like a surprisingly fleshed out story, even if it’s really six or so conversations made watchable purely through visual texture. (Arguably audible texture as well, but I think the acting is a little stiff in these two episodes, and the music is downright bland.)

A lot of the dialog is anti-dialog–memetic, unnatural, and unimportant. The show is overstuffed with grammatical wordplay, some of which completely defies translation–but that’s what you get from a show that combines Bakemono, meaning monster, and Monogatari, meaning story, right there in the title. Plus the author’s name is a palindrome, and all of the character names are weirdly difficult wordplay.

I guess that’s how Akiyuki Shinbo got brought on to direct the series, as arguably the most indulgent anime director himself. Shinbo’s series have always presented over-the-top visual flair apropos of nothing, or to make endless dialog scenes more watchable. He’s always dealt in highly fetishized characters, though I’d argue that he presents fanservice as though he’s making high art as opposed to the trashy fanservice of your local harem anime. No, that doesn’t make it any less indulgent, it just means he’s got a post-modernist mindset.

I don’t even know that Shinbo is a good director per say. At this point, his name is virtually synonymous with Studio SHAFT, and many believe that he doesn’t even really direct a lot of the shows that have incorporated what was once just his signature style anymore, but in any case the quality of SHAFT shows has always come down to the quality of the source material’s translation to animation. Shinbo himself once said that directing is simply a job, and that his job is to please the fans, and I think it would be unfair to say that he’s an auteur creative mind or anything like that. His shows are pandering, indulgent, and put texture over substance, but you get the feeling that SHAFT is loving the product every bit as much as the audience is, so this may be as much a self-indulgence as an audience one.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was a manga series that nearly defied translation with its incredibly dense wordplay; and Akiyuki Shinbo and SHAFT brought that series to animation first. Supposedly Nisioisin thought it would be impossible to make an anime out of the Monogatari book series, until Akiyuki Shinbo presented him with the way he planned to go about making it. These two creators fit together like hand in glove.

But even with the obsessive wordplay between characters who don’t talk like anyone you’ve ever met or will meet, and the heart-stopping fanservice that scoffs at all other fanservice anime to get on its level, and even a bunch of symbolism that probably doesn’t lead anywhere, there still seems to be heart in this narrative. The wordplay isn’t only used for textural purposes, but also to establish a certain kind of universe for this story to occupy. Words actually do matter to the storyline, as words themselves carry weight, and the series showcases the influence of different mythologies, religions, folk tales, and brands of magic, which are all places that words and their meanings hold great power. In Japanese tradition, names are a thing of importance, so when characters in Bakemonogatari explain their names or the names of magical beings, it clues us into a certain context.

At its core, Hitagi Crab is the simple and straightforward story of a very beautiful, very broken girl. She’s been running away from the trauma of her past, and the effect has left her weightless; so in order to get her weight back, she must confront her trauma. The story might be too brief to be powerful, but it gives this character an impressive amount of depth (or perhaps just weight) as we move into the rest of the series.

Sometimes, Hitagi, Hanekawa, and Araragi are really just teasing one-another, but certain lines cut to the heart of deeper messages. Hanekawa stating that men are always attracted to physically endangered women. Araragi’s characterization of Oshino Meme and Shinobu. Hitagi’s undercurrent of very real attraction to and flirtation with Araragi. Also, the increasing realization that Hitagi really doesn’t understand how to communicate. I think by far the most interesting aspect of her dialog is that at the core, she’s trying very hard to be genuine and just isn’t quite capable of it. Whereas Araragi might be a little bit dense, even as he competes verbally with the best of them, Hitagi seems to understand exactly what she’s trying to say, but has no idea how to communicate it. A recurring theme in all of Nisioisin’s work is the presence of geniuses who are so incomprehensible to others that they can’t truly communicate, and Hitagi may have that brand of pseudo-autistic brilliance.

Is this maybe also a metaphor for what Nisioisin is trying to convey in this story? Is he trying to show us the beating heart of his passion towards this kind of story and these kinds of characters, but he can only communicate it through indulgent wordplay and otaku culture cliche-cum-commentary? The double-edged sword of Bakemonogatari is that within its piles and piles of indulgence, it’s damn near impossible to sure-handedly sort out what matters from what doesn’t. Dismissing everything will do you no good, but if you take everything seriously, you’ll get slapped with countless red herrings. Ghostlightning referred to the first episode of Bakemonogatari as a “trap” and I think it’s easy to fall into that trap if you’re not geared up on your way into the series.

If you are geared up, though, the whole thing takes on a very different feeling. These first two episodes are loaded with references to a past event in which Araragi was turned into a vampire, and had to fight another vampire in order to help Hanekawa. Watching this show for the first time, it mostly serves to build a backdrop for the story and sell us on Araragi as an interesting character, even though we won’t get to learn much about him as we try and get through all of Hitagi’s development. Coming back to this arc after seeing the rest, this dialog is a lot easier to follow and not get hung up on, so it’s easier to parse all that’s going on and cut to the heart of what really matters and what doesn’t. That is to say that if you already know the story of Bakemonogatari, then you’ve disarmed the trap.

Episode three sails into clearer waters, as its first half is entirely built to set up one realization: that Hitagi is in love with Araragi, but she doesn’t want him to think that she’s only hooking up with him to pay him back for helping her. Hitagi spends a long and winding dialog trying to tell Araragi that she needs to help him with something so that they can be friends on equal footing, with the subtext of the conversation being that she wants to do this so that she can then ask him out as a person who doesn’t owe him anything. It’s only because Hitagi is so bad at expressing herself, and Araragi isn’t quite capable of getting to her deeper meaning, that this spirals out into a massive dialog full of more tangents and wordplay. At this point in the series, it’s clear that Nisioisin is actually telling a straightforward and maybe even impressively realized love story in the least straightforward way imaginable. But as long as Hitagi is staying in character, I think it still all somehow works. If we really read this as just the way her character is, I don’t think it stretches the suspension of disbelief too far, and in a twisted way this is actually a pretty endearing love story.

Going into the Mayoi Snail arc, there’s yet another trap being set, or I guess it’s more like a mystery, but either way it’s an experiment in wordplay that would make most feel the author must be a goddamn genius when they go back and watch it again knowing what comes later. I’m referring to how Mayoi is actually a ghost, and Hitagi cannot perceive her at all. If you watch the episodes knowing this, then Hitagi’s actions and dialog take on an entirely new meaning, so it’s an arc that you simply can’t watch once and fully understand. That, however, is merely a textural bit of trickery, but it’s not like this arc doesn’t have substance to back it.

Hitagi’s speech in episode three about the word “fascination” might be the most fantastic piece of self-aware commentary that the series has to offer about its own indulgent nature. She explains that fascination is a, “step above moe,” which itself is a word taken to mean the purely aesthetic appeal of a character. Not as in their design, but the aesthetic of their overall persona. Hitagi hints that fascination is something a little deeper, tacitly implying that the characters in Bakemonogatari are more than just moe girls, even if they undoubtedly come from a similar place of intentionality. It’s a way of bridging the gap from the otaku mindset of purely aesthetic appeal, and the appeal of story and real character depth. As such, I think it’s also fitting that we condense the questions asked at the beginning of this post into something else. At each point along the way, we may now ask ourselves: am I fascinated?

Episode four, like the first half of episode two, is a series of conversations occupying a crossection of character development, random wordplay, and plot advancement. Through this episode, we get a better sense of both Araragi and of the characters surrounding him, by having our first real chance since the beginning of the show to watch him interact with other characters without Hitagi around. While Mayoi and Hanekawa still have a bit of that meta touch to their dialog with their own brands of wordplay, they feel distinct from Hitagi, which in turn makes the show feel overall less like an onslaught of author-surrogate dialog, and also makes it clear that Araragi isn’t one-note.

Hanekawa’s arrival accomplishes quite a bit. On one hand, it further pushes us away from the realization that Hitagi can’t see Mayoi, because Hanekawa can also see Mayoi. We also see Hanekawa come to realize the relationship of Araragi and Hitagi, as well as get a better sense of her character through the way she regards Mayoi. Whereas Hitagi avoids children altogether out of her inability to communicate with them, Hanekawa almost objectifies them, putting herself in an authoritative position during interaction. Araragi, meanwhile, treats children more as equals, readily fighting with them both physically and verbally, no doubt as a result of his relationship with his younger sisters.

Episode five brings all of what the arc has built into an impressively satisfying climax. The idea that this arc was really meant to develop Araragi comes full circle, with the realization that Mayoi is actually a spirit which has attached itself to him because of his desire not to return home. It turns out that Araragi’s interactions with Mayoi were meant to parallel his interactions with his sisters as a stealthy way of getting us into the sense of his relationship with those sisters to better understand the conflict he’s experiencing, without ever truly revealing the sisters beyond bites of dialog and the little quizes that they put on in the post-credits scenes. No two ways about it–this is genius writing, and it only gets better when we learn that not only was this meant to develop Araragi and, briefly, Hanekawa as well, but also works as the experience through which Hitagi and Araragi form their bond.

Hitagi’s confirmation of Araragi’s strength of character leads her into a full-on confession, and we get some romantic dialog between them as she describes the particulars of why she feels the way she does. It’s not every day that a character has legitimate reasons for their attraction in anime, and can explain them in this way, and Hitagi even goes a step further by characterizing her feelings in an analytical context, as though it were to back up the emotional one. Am I fascinated? Hell yes I am.

Suruga Monkey, not unlike Mayoi Snail, is simultaneously its own story, as well as a surrogate story, this time in the development of Hitagi. However, whereas Mayoi Snail mostly developed Araragi via the relationship with his absentee sisters, in this case Hitagi is largely absent, while Suruga stands as her surrogate, through her relationship with Araragi. As such, Suruga’s story gets a bit more fleshed out than Mayoi’s, and since it relies more on Suruga’s emotions than it does on any textural narrative trappings, it ends up being a more gripping and fascinating story.

What we learn about Hitagi is her powerful sense of romanticism, and how Suruga reflects this. Araragi might be more of a realist, but he goes with the flow, making sure only to do the right thing along the way as he goes. Hitagi meanwhile reveals a powerful jealousy at any hint of another woman. Araragi fears that Hitagi would kill someone in her jealousy, and it turns out that Suruga is willing to do just that. In the end, Hitagi is the one who resolves Suruga’s storyline by making a romantic gesture towards her–essentially realizing that as long as she’s the one possessing the fates of both Araragi and Suruga, then she’s still satisfied. In the end, this entire situation revolves around properly defining the relationship status of these characters–it only happens that in this case such a definition controls the fates of demonic powers and violent horror trappings. I’ll say it once again: this is fascinating.

Even when Suruga gets into sexual discussions with Araragi, which obviously indulge the viewer, there’s also a sense of indulgence for the characters. ghostlightning astutely points out that the dialog in Bakemonogatari is often “about something,” as Roger Ebert once said of Pulp Fiction. That is to say that the dialog is not exposition in service of the viewer, but actually seems like real conversation that the characters are having for their own reasons. Fanservicey conversations in anime often seem to break away from the intentions of the characters in order to fulfill the audience, but in Bakemonogatari, they feel more like real conversations, especially when you take into account the different inclinations that the characters display when sex comes up. Suruga is the most direct and confrontational in her sexual language, because she is also the most sexual personality in the show. Once again, this all shows how Bakemonogatari straddles the line where indulgence for the author and viewer meets with meaningful and interesting story and characters.

Suruga Monkey is also the most horrific arc of the series so far, with intense scenes of violence and a bit of a darker tone to it than the first two. Nisioisin’s contemporaries in the likes of authors Otsuichi, Kadono Kouhei, and Otaro Maijo often write heavily horror-themed stories with this same kind of otaku slant to it, though I’d say Bakemonogatari is less interested in the tone and atmosphere of horror stories, and more interested in the tropes and mechanics of Japanese horror specifically.

Traditional Japanese horror has a lot of similarity with Lovecraftian horror, which itself is popular among light novel authors in this genre–but the key difference is that in Japanese horror, there’s often an implication that the human who’s trapped by whatever overwhelming force, was drawn to that force by some fault of their own personality. In each of the cases so far, the flippant nature of the gods and spirits makes an errant collision with the psychological hangups of the kids who encounter them, leading to situations wherein simplistic human emotions have dire supernatural consequence. Nisioisin uses this traditional horror style as a way to cross character arcs over wordplay-driven rules, making a game for himself that plays down the center of his interests. Suruga Monkey marks the end of the first book of Bakemonogatari.

If the purpose of this post were to claim that the Monogatari series eventually went astray into purely indulgent territory, Nadeko Snake would certainly mark the beginning of the end. It’s not that this arc doesn’t contain any character development–in fact, the whole thing is really just an arc for Araragi. No, the issue is that Sengoku Nadeko is barely even a character.

Arguably, Mayoi wasn’t that strong of a character either, but her role was more to act as a surrogate for Araragi’s sisters so that we could better understand their relationship, just as Suruga would act as a surrogate for Hitagi while fulfilling her own arc. However, Nadeko isn’t a surrogate for anyone, serving no symbolic purpose in the narrative. She’s just a macguffin girl with a problem that Araragi has to solve in order to experience a character arc. Moreover, she actively breaks a lot of what the show had going for it so far.

Whereas Hitagi was made to subvert and comment on anime cliches, Nadeko simply IS one. She’s the most straightforward imouto character possible, whose only personality trait is her crush on Koyomi-oniichan. Everything relating to the story in her arc is an excuse to fetishize her as much as possible. She’s wrapped up in snakes so that we can see her squirming in bondage positions. Suruga has a school swimsuit on-hand for literally no reason other than that she thinks it’s Araragi’s fetish. Nadeko has to be mostly naked so that Araragi can see the snakes, which also explode out of her mouth. All the while, Nadeko herself seems almost turned on by this, as she actually hopes that Araragi is indulging in her body. It’s worth mentioning as well that Nadeko is the first character to be cursed through no fault of her own, so that even the resolution of her arc has no bearing on her character.

It feels weird to see this kind of thing happen when until now, the series had made such a point to paint itself as something one level above merely indulgent pandering. Until now, the fanservice had all fed into the development of the characters and their relationships. Nadeko’s arc is not fascinating in the slightest. At best, it makes good pornography for anyone who share’s Nisioisin’s fetish; but you won’t find a compelling story or character here.

Araragi’s development, meanwhile, could’ve happened no matter who the arc was about. This arc deliberately separates Araragi from Hitagi and puts him in the presence of other girls who are either all over him physically, or clearly attracted to him. The purpose is for Araragi to learn that he should be putting himself and his lover first, and to stop putting himself and his relationship in harm’s way for the sake of others. He more or less comes to grips with this by the end, although ghostlightning has an excellent write-up about how he fails in his mindset towards the arc’s climax, so I recommend giving that a read. Altogether, Araragi’s arc gels well with where the story was taking him up until this point, but it feels like too little a revelation when packaged with such a pointless, pandering storyline.

Moving along, those who didn’t watch Bakemonogatari during its initial TV run may be unaware of the peculiar way that the fifteen-episode series was released. Only the first twelve episodes were released on TV in 2009, while the last three were made as internet specials over the course of the next year. Because the Tsubasa Cat arc takes up four episodes, instead of oddly breaking it so that the TV show ended on the second episode of the Tsubasa Cat arc, the twelfth episode instead interrupts the arc for the climactic episode of Araragi and Hitagi’s romance.

Episode twelve is, without a doubt, the height of pure characterization and empathetic, romantic storytelling in the series. It follows a date between Araragi and Hitagi, mostly comprised of one very long and arduous conversation in the car, that culminates in one of the most profoundly romantic gestures ever put into an anime series. Ghostlightning writes emotionally about how he relates to Senjougahara’s affection for and possession of the night sky. I, on the other hand, have always related to Araragi, and returning to this series after having been through my first relationship, and having seen so much in Hitagi and her interactions with Araragi that reminded me of said relationship, the entire episode felt profoundly real to me. It spoke to the most romantic place in my heart that still flickers with a little bit of life, even as I live unromantically now. Yes, I’m speaking from a place of bias, but that’s what art does. It speaks to the individual, and can only be felt by way of personal interaction with the work. That’s what it means to be fascinated.

In the Tsubasa cat arc, Bakemonogatari returns to form with perhaps its strongest individual arc yet. Following the idea that in each proper arc, the girl that Araragi helps is a surrogate for other characters, in this case Hanekawa stands in for all of the girls who are friends with or in love with Araragi. These girls are friends that Araragi legitimately cares about and doesn’t want to lose, but who are suffering from being in love with him–or in Suruga’s case, with Hitagi–while being unable to attain him. Out of all the girls surrounding Araragi and Hitagi’s relationship, Hanekawa is the most threatening, as not only the most beautiful and intelligent of the girls, but the closest friend of Araragi, and the one who’s had the opportunity to confess her feelings to him the longest.

In the final episodes, Hanekawa serves not only as a test of Araragi’s love for Hitagi, but also as a tool to help Araragi properly contextualize his relationships with each of the characters. Besides ostensibly being the character most in love with and most appealing to Araragi, she’s also the character most in need of his help, and who can most specifically be helped only by him. If it really was in his nature to do anything for anyone, and he was only dating Hitagi as a way of going with the flow, then he would’ve hooked up with Hanekawa–but through this incident he instead comes to terms with the fact that he really is purely in love with Hitagi.

Araragi also has to come to grips with the responsibility he has towards others in taking care of himself. He finally realizes that trying to take on everyone’s pain, even at the cost of his own life, will only cause others to suffer in turn, and realizes the need to allow reciprocation from others. “That’s what friends are for,” after all. (In turn, this kind of makes the Nadeko arc even worse since this one teaches the same lesson, but more thoroughly.) Just as Hitagi made Araragi come to equal terms with her before she would confess her love to him, Araragi must come to equal terms with the rest of the girls so that they can all be friends. And, in typical Nisioisin fashion, the character who best represents this change only shows up at the end, with Shinobu jumping to Araragi’s aid as soon as he’s ready to ask.

Needless to say, this arc is fascinating. It is full of indulgent fanservice, down to the way that Black Hanekawa constantly integrates cat noises into all of her dialog, but all of it works right into the narrative. Black Hanekawa is literally the release of Hanekawa’s sexual frustration, so it would be stranger if she wasn’t a highly sexual character. Again, like all the strong arcs in this show, it’s all about taking the openly indulgent and grounding it in true feelings, elevating it beyond the level of aesthetic appeal into true fascination.

So now, let’s talk about Nisemonogatari.

First, we need a bit of context. We’ll begin by understanding that Nisioisin is a ludicrously prolific author. It’s not uncommon for light novel authors to publish two or three books a year, but Nisioisin will often do the same with multiple continuous stories at the same time. When he started Bakemonogatari in 2006, he was coming right off the heels of his nine-volume debut series Zaregoto, which ran from 2002 through 2005 and also had a ton of spin-off stories that he’d continue writing over the years.

The first three arcs of Bakemonogatari were originally short stories that Nisio wrote for a magazine, which were then collected into a volume, and then followed by two more stories in the totally new second volume. These were published in the same year that Nisio wrote tie-in novels for both the popular Death Note and xXxHolic franchises, among other shorts. By this point, Nisio was taking off as one of the most popular light novel authors around.

Directly after Bakemonogatari, Nisio launched into the insane stunt novel series Katanagatari (no relation to the monogatari series), for which he wrote one short novel each month for twelve months, from January through December. Shortly thereafter, he wrote Kizumonogataru, which tells the story of what happened between Araragi and Shinobu before the start of Bakemonogatari, and which has a film adaptation planned but not yet released. And then, later that year, he put out Nisemonogatari.

In the afterword of the first book of Nisemonogatari, Nisio says that he had no intention of ever publishing the story. He’d written it purely for his own sake, as a way of indulging in all of the things he wanted from a story, unbound from any publication restrictions. He refers to the book as unprofessional and stupid–something he wrote for no one to see. But, of course, it did get seen. Maybe because Bakemonogatari had gotten popular, or because he himself had gotten popular, but whatever the case is, Nisemonogatari was passed by the editors and published as a full entry in the series.

Now, let’s talk about Studio SHAFT. SHAFT has always been known for being understaffed and under-budgeted. A lot of why their shows are so stylistic is to make up for the fact that they feature so little actual animation due to the lack of budget and time. They’re also known for going back and fixing a lot of stuff for the DVD and blu-ray releases so that they look better.

When Bakemonogatari aired, a lot of the episodes were downright unfinished. There were constant empty frames with the words “missing frame” written inside of them, where the animators straight-up hadn’t been able to finish working on the episodes before they were televised. Most of what would’ve been the best-looking scenes in the show were almost nonexistent, and a lot of ugly frames had to be touched up later.

However, when those blu-rays did come out, they were unfathomably popular. Bakemonogatari set new records for pre-orders and purchases of anime on blu-ray, utterly destroying its competition for that season. For otaku-centric entertainment, blu-ray and character goods sales are the ultimate goal of production, so between its record-setting sales and healthy production of figures and other items (some of which I even own), Bakemonogatari was massively successful.

It’s most likely because of SHAFT and Aniplex’s massive success with Bakemonogatari that they were able to pour far more effort and money into the production of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica in 2011, and that’s what ultimately sealed the deal. Madoka broke the very records that Bakemonogatari had set, and become enormously popular, even in the West.

SHAFT have been known to make as many seasons of their shows as they can get away with, even over the course of impressive lengths of time, so it wouldn’t have been surprising if they came back to the Monogatari franchise no matter what. However, thanks to the massive success that Bakemonogatari had become, and the power that it and Madoka had given SHAFT, they were now able to approach the next season with a lot more money and manpower. And so, they poured all of that into animating Nisemonogatari.

Let’s be blunt: Nisemonogatari is pornography.

I don’t just mean that in terms of having sexually charged content, although there’s no doubt that Nisemonogatari contains some of the most erotically detailed sequences ever put to animation. In fact, a lot of the scenes feel like a game of constant sexual one-upmanship as characters get more and more lewd for longer and longer stretches of episode, usually for no particular reason other than titillation. Not to say that these scenes are necessarily out of character for those involved, but more like the series is going out of its way to present that aspect of the characters, and not much else about them. Plus, a startling number of scenes in Nisemonogatari serve zero narrative purpose.

Now, in spite of the negative connotations attached to a lot of the words I’ve just used, this isn’t intended as a criticism of Nisemonogatari, so much as a critique. There’s nothing inherently wrong with indulgent scenes of dialog and fanservice so long as they don’t contradict the nature of the story or characters. Having scenes which aren’t connected to a central narrative can still flesh out characters, or even simply give the viewer more time with them to form deeper connections. For instance, Suruga’s largely pointless scenes in the second and third episode still manage to flesh out her character in subtle ways that can add to the viewer’s overall appreciation of her.

I would say, however, that in this regard, Nisemonogatari is coasting on the goodwill bought by Bakemonogatari. After all, no one would care about these characters had they not already been a part of gripping narrative and development in the course of the last fifteen episodes. Had Bakemonogatari been like Nisemonogatari, we’d end up with a cast of purely aesthetic characters with no real core–but instead, Nisemonogatari serves to add more texture to characters that we’re already attached to. This might not be as powerful as fulfilling new arcs and narratives using those characters, but it isn’t without value.

The thing is, that enjoying Nisemonogatari on a moment-to-moment level comes down much more on the viewer’s alignment with Nisioisin’s kinks. Whereas Bakemonogatari could win viewers’ love for the characters, Nisemonogatari takes that appreciation for granted and hopes that you’re as interested in seeing these characters making sexy poses while telling obscure linguistic jokes as Nisio is. Nisemonogatari adds to the characters, but it may also be a case of too much information–getting too intimate with characters we’re only meant to be friends with. If you liked Suruga as a character, but didn’t necessarily want her ass in your face or to listen to her puns all day, then Nisemonogatari doesn’t offer much.

Alright, I’m being somewhat unfair. It’s not that the two arcs of Nisemonogatari don’t have storylines, it’s simply the way these stories are told and how the format is changed from Bakemonogatari that creates the different nature of this series. The Karen Bee arc is seven episodes long and involves every character in the series, often in even larger capacities than they’ve ever been seen before–yet most of the characters don’t need to be there. The storyline is full of excuses for Araragi to visit each of the girls and have winding, fanservice-laden conversations with them, regardless of how tiny their effect on the narrative may be. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, since “nisemono” translates to “fake,” meaning the series title is literally “fake story.” It’s exactly what it says on the tin.

I may have said earlier that the fanservice is alright as long as it feels in-character, but in Nisemonogatari the characters do all seem to bleed together. Teasing Araragi has always been a constant in dialog for this franchise, but it’s a lot more ubiquitous this time around. Hitagi and Suruga are up to their usual teasing, and Mayoi is turned up a little, but more surprising is Hanekawa’s teasing, when she’d mostly been tame outside of Black Hanekawa mode. It’s not that she’s out of character–but in going to the fringes of what one might expect from her character in the midst of a series where everyone else is already teasing Araragi, she feels less unique. Not to mention that both of Araragi’s sisters tease him as well, and Shinobu finally starts talking after a whole season of silence only to have a personality that’s like a looser version of Hitagi’s. It feels like all of the girls are sadists in some kind of strange verbal S&M game.

Maybe I’m being harsh because the actual storyline of Karen Bee is mostly nonsense. The conflict between Araragi and his sisters, around which most of the scenes involving those sisters revolve, is weirdly semantic even for this series, and doesn’t end up providing any kind of arc for the sisters at all. If anyone gets the short end of the stick this arc, it’s Karen, whom, not unlike Sengoku Nadeko, doesn’t have enough intrigue to stand up as a fully-fledged character. Moreover, the arc’s villain, Kaiki, is meant to be a fake, and fulfills that purpose perfectly–the problem is that a fake story is inherently uninteresting. This is probably Nisio’s self-indulgence once again, to knowingly create an anti-story with the only function of pushing Araragi into increasingly intense sexual scenarios.

It leaves me wondering, though: why introduce Karen and Kaiki this way? I know that the book wasn’t meant to be published, but it did get published and animated, so now we’ve got a character with the second-most boring introduction in the series. It’s not like Nisio couldn’t have written a side-story of just Araragi hanging out with each of his friends, if all he wanted to do was write self-fulfilling fanservice. Plenty of entire series are staked on character aesthetic dialog, so why even bother with a storyline? The problem with the Karen Bee arc is that it’s still a part of the series. It’s not a side-story to be read by those wishing to indulge themselves in fanservice for the characters they love, but is in fact the whole introductory piece for a character–and bad enough at being that, that it leaves us with another character who isn’t nearly as interesting as their contemporaries within the same series.

Karen Bee is a spectacle arc. It features many of the best-looking scenes SHAFT has ever been responsible for, between impressive feats of action in Karen’s combat sequences, and mind-blowingly erotic fanservice that shits on anything else in the medium. But that’s all it is–it’s all texture. Parts of it are fun to watch, but for this series, it’s surprising that the dialog scenes in the last episode feel like a chore to sit through in comparison to the action scenes that come before. Bakemonogatari was fascinating precisely because it went above and beyond mere aesthetic. The Karen Bee arc is nothing BUT aesthetic.

Tsukihi Phonenix is more of the same, but somehow far, far worse. At least Karen Bee gave half-assed context for Araragi to travel to every girl and have his porn scenes with them. Meanwhile the first two episodes of this arc are nothing but straight up Karen porn with a flimsy pretext that isn’t even related to the main narrative, and has no real climax. With Karen having been an uninteresting character to begin with, her scenes feel hollow, and she comes across more as Nisioisin’s sex object than any kind of character. Tsukihi gets some porn scenes as well, but actually barely appears in the arc at all. Karen may have seemed like a bit player in her own arc, but at least she was directly invested in the main conflict. While Tsukihi’s immortal being drives the conflict in her arc, she is completely oblivious to said conflict, and doesn’t interact with it at all. Between the three middle-school girls that Nisio uses as sex objects, Tsukihi has the least presence of them all.

The aforementioned conflict is the most cliched and straightforward that the series has ever presented. Its antagonists completely rely on Oshino and Kaiki for their flimsy characterization, and ultimately don’t get anything done. They’re as forgettable as the fact that the Tsukihi Phoenix arc even had a storyline to begin with.

What puts this arc over the edge though is how it just decides to forget about any of Araragi’s relationships with girls his own age. This whole arc is just for the lolis, as only Karen, Tsukihi, Mayoi, and Shinobu get scenes with Araragi, and all of them unsubtly suggest Araragi’s attraction to these girls, even to the point that he seems ready to cheat on Hitagi with any of them. Suruga and Hanekawa make guest appearances briefly, and Araragi even outright states his sexual interest in Hanekawa. All along, there’s been a subtext throughout the series that Araragi is attracted to the girls around him, and many jokes have been pointed that way, but usually Araragi is resistant to the idea of being with any of these girls, and Hitagi usually isn’t far behind to remind him who he’s meant to be dating. But in this arc, Hitagi literally makes no appearances and is barely even mentioned until the ending credits scene. Meanwhile Araragi indulgently involves himself sexually with all of these girls in ways that honestly could constitute cheating in most peoples’ books. Even if Hitagi is okay with adultery, as she suggested in the Karen Bee arc, it’s kinda weird how okay with it Araragi is all of a sudden, after all the pushing he did from it with Suruga in the past.

All of this is mindless self-indulgence.

And it leaves us with the question of where the series is going to go from here. I’ve been saying all along that Bakemonogatari is a highly indulgent series, but whereas it began as a mindful one, it became a mindless one. However, as we’ve discussed, Nisioisin never intended to publish Nisemonogatari, and wrote it for no purpose other than self-indulgence to begin with. Thus, the question becomes: where will he go from here? The dam has already been burst on the Monogatari series allowing itself to mindlessly indulge, so will Nisioisin and SHAFT even bother with creating meaningful stories anymore? Nisemonogatari must have been another big hit, because we got the opportunity to find out.

Being as it is a popular light novel series, of course there wouldn’t only be five volumes, and as of 2010, perhaps in reaction to the incredibly popular Bakemonogatari TV series having taken off in 2009, Nioisin went full-tilt pumping out monogatari books. The final book, planned for release September 2014, is the eighteenth in the series, meaning that thirteen of them were released inside the span of five years. This still wouldn’t be too unusual for a light novel series, though the fact that Nisioisin juggles this with several other series and tons of short stories makes it doubly impressive.

And of course, since it’s so popular, SHAFT were bound to keep animating it. After Nisemonogatari in early 2012, they made a four-episode OVA for the first book of Nekomonogatari later that year, and a whopping twenty-six episode second season of the Monogatari series across most of 2013. A five-episode adaptation of Hanamonogatari was then slated for a one-day release on August 16th 2014, and it won’t be surprising if the series keeps going to the conclusion of the Monogatari book series.

In other words, even though we’ve already had one complete story of fascination and one complete story of pornography, we aren’t even halfway done with the Monogatari series as it currently stands. So let’s see where it goes!

The four-episode Tsubasa Family OVA tells the story of Hanekawa’s first transformation into Black Hanekawa, set before Bakemonogatari. On one hand, it makes for a decent enough story, as Hanekawa has always been one of the most interesting characters in the series. On the other, however, most of this story was already told in the original Tsubasa Cat arc, and even expanded upon back then, so a lot of this arc contains an unshakable sense of sameness.

Most of what the story does have to offer is fleshing things out. Oshino Meme and Shinobu both get a little more characterization, and perhaps the most interesting bit is learning more about what aberrations are and how they work. Hanekawa’s nature as “the real deal” gets fleshed out a

lot more, and seeing how Araragi acts here gives a somewhat better sense of how much he’s grown by the time of the Tsubasa Cat arc. As is common to Nisioisin stories, and increasingly so as the Monogatari series has gone along, the story also provides a vehicle for Nisio to prattle on and on about his views on society and genius, which occasionally touches on interesting or relevant topics, but often feels like empty semantics. It’s difficult to determine how much of this OVA’s value is unique to this storyline, but it’s certain that the original Tsubasa Cat arc got a hell of a lot more done in the same amount of time.

As far as indulgence goes, the early episodes of this arc definitely go down the road of Nisemonogatari-style mindless fanservice, while the rest operates more inside of Bakemonogatari’s mindful fanservice. At this point, the series is no longer walking the line between aesthetic and empathetic appeal, but is playing jump-rope with it.

With all the backstory novels and unintentionally published pornography behind us, the question of whether the show will return to Bakemonogatari’s form, or continue to jump-rope with indulgence, remains as we move into the Second Series.

Right off the bat, the Tsubasa Tiger arc establishes itself as something very different from what we’ve had, in that it’s narrated and told from the perspective of Hanekawa. Up until now, the entire series has taken place inside of Araragi’s head, and over time we’ve gotten to know his character in and out, from his perverse proclivities to his self-destructively helpful nature. Moving away from his character immediately changes the tone of the series dramatically, providing a giant breath of fresh air for a series that was quickly being bogged down in sameness from arc to arc.

Perhaps most noteworthy about this change is how it confirms ghostlightning’s suspicions from the beginning that Araragi was a stand-in for the audience, and the way that said audience interacts with the girls they see in anime. As soon as Hanekawa has the reigns, the perverted thoughts and subtext and most of the indulgent fanservice goes out the window. The “male gaze,” or more specifically, the “otaku gaze,” has been taken away, revealing what the series might look like through the eyes of someone who isn’t constantly sexualizing all of the female characters. This even becomes blatant in the dialog when Hitagi does strip into her underwear and starts asking Hanekawa to take a bath with her–Hitagi says that she wants to be able to describe Hanekawa’s figure to Araragi, and even says, “let’s take a bath for Araragi’s sake.” She couldn’t more blatantly be using Araragi as a stand-in for the viewer.

It’s like Nisioisin is admitting to the audience that the story being told here isn’t inherently sexual, nor would Hanekawa tell it sexually, but that it must ultimately contain sexual elements to appease the audience. I don’t doubt that Nisio is affectionate towards the otaku audience of which he is a member, and is probably glad to include these scenes regardless, but there’s this distinct feeling that Nisio’s showing us how we actually have to take a break from a compelling story to take in a requisite fanservice scene, because we as otaku are so concerned with aesthetic that we can’t even make it through a good story.

Critique of the audience, and probably of the self, aside, the best thing about the Tsubasa Tiger arc’s beginning is that Araragi completely isn’t there. Hitagi takes his place as the one trying to help Hanekawa, and has a totally different rhythm with her than what we’ve seen from these characters until now. This is us REALLY getting to see a new side of these characters, which is what a continuing series should be setting out to do–and for that it’s commendable.

Over the course of Tsubasa Tiger, Hanekawa meets most of the other girls in the series, and find herself being analyzed by each of them. She ends up being the topic of almost every conversation that she’s involved with, and most of the time, characters are telling her about what they perceive to be wrong with her. The Tsubasa Family arc’s expansion on her character is actually kind of justified in that it provides the grounds for how Hitagi interprets Hanekawa throughout Tsubasa Tiger. Hitagi thinks that Hanekawa’s problem is a lack of “street smarts,” and over-reliance on the so-called correct way of doing things. She says that Hanekawa is too perfect and too correct, in ways that work to her detriment. Hanekawa seems to simply abide through all of everyone’s critique of her, until she is confronted by Gaen, who outright calls her an idiot and reverses Hanekawa’s catchphrase by stating that she does, in fact, know everything.

Ultimately this entire arc consists of others recognizing the weakness in Hanekawa and trying to help her grown stronger. It’s spelled out right in the opening theme with the lyrics “it’s not healthy for a princess to wait around for a prince to save her,” what this arc is trying to do by cutting Araragi out of the picture. Everyone’s constant analysis of Hanekawa comes a little too close to sounding like more of Nisiosin’s endless semantic thought dumping, but here at least his characters interpret things differently enough, and even with some minor contradictions, that it feels like more than just one voice rattling on and on through a variety of mouths.

On the subtextual side, it’s worth noting that throughout Hanekawa’s encounters, there’s always a feeling of peace, as most of the other characters admire her and want to do right by her. Even when Hitagi teases her, she does it while exalting her, which is the opposite of how she treats Araragi. All of the music in this arc is a lot more chilled-out, and it sometimes gives a vibe more similar to the studio and director’s previous work Hidamari Sketch than to the Araragi-driven Bakemonogatari.

There’s also some more direct commentary on the audience, when Araragi’s sisters talk about how their boyfriends don’t exist in Araragi’s mind. Just as in otaku culture it’s a cardinal sin for moe girls to lack purity or have relationships outside what they have with the main character, Araragi choses to ignore any aspect of his sisters that doesn’t pertain to him. After pinpointing Araragi’s reaction as jealousy, Hanekawa also recognizes this as her own flaw, weaving the text and the subtext together. In the end, Araragi does come to save Hanekawa, but the arc was never about her finding the strength to win her battles–it was about her owning her weaknesses and becoming a well-rounded individual. This, for the first time in a while, is fascinating.

Mayoi Jiang Shi puts us back inside Araragi’s head, but is also without question the weirdest and most different arc of the series so far. If anything, it feels like a random side story with barely any relevance to the existing plot and characters, and a surprising amount of changes to the usual formula of the series. Even on a basic level, a lot of the winding semantic conversations are missing or toned down, and Araragi almost doesn’t get teased at all. But maybe more noteworthy is an utter lack of sexual fanservice. There is fanservice in some ways and some sexually-charged dialog, but it feels playful and without any perverse intent. There’s no nudity or even much underwear; no panning shots of a character’s curvaceous body; and even the romantic dialog between Shinobu and Araragi lacks any sexual undercurrent. In terms of sexuality, it’s the least indulgent arc of the series so far.

And yet, in terms of storyline, it may actually be the MOST indulgent. Mayoi Jiang Shi is about Araragi and Shinobu time travelling, at first so Araragi can get his summer homework done on time, and then so that they can try and prevent Mayoi’s death–which they do, only to find out that in doing so they accidentally created a future wherein Araragi gets killed by Black Hanekawa during the Tsubasa Cat arc, and Shinobu, so hurt that Araragi didn’t find her in time, decides to destroy the world in rage. Yeah, it’s completely nuts compared to the rest of this series that mostly deals with simple stories of emotions manifesting into monsters, and being resolved by character growth.

Dialog in the Monogatari series, which is pretty much everything in the Monogatari series, is usually split pretty evenly between exposition, random semantic hijinks/Araragi teasing, and Nisio’s endless pontifications. However, in this arc the exposition takes center stage, as time travelling and figuring out the differences between different timelines involves tons of rules and minute characteristics of events requiring explanation. It feels like watching an arc of To Aru Majutsu no Index more than anything.

Maybe the biggest thing that sets this arc apart is how for four whole episodes, Araragi and Shinobu are basically the only relevant characters, with little sprinklings of Mayoi and a cameo of Hanekawa as a little girl. Most of the other characters are mentioned in passing at most. It’s a surprisingly watchable combination, as Araragi and Shinobu develop one of the more casual repertoires in the show, like Nisioisin was considering the possibility that these two would’ve made a great combination if they had their own adventure show separate from the rest of the series. Shinobu does get some solid moments in the process, so I can see where Nisio was coming from. Overall though, in choosing to be a straightforward adventure series without much going on below the surface, Mayoi Jiang Shi feels way less dense than what I’ve come to expect from Monogatari. I wouldn’t call it one of the best arcs of the series, but it’s entertaining enough, and definitely not like anything we’ve seen before.

Nadeko Medusa puts us inside Nadeko’s head this time, once again changing the tone of the series considerably–and immediately it starts using the Nadeko Snake arc as a springboard to expand on her character, as should’ve happened long ago. Right off the bat, Nadeko is confronted with the fact that in this world there are no victims–a theme which Nadeko Snake had foolishly ignored. It’s as if Nisioisin was pointedly trying to make up for past mistakes by retconning Nadeko Snake into a bigger narrative, which is a great way to go about it.

Whereas Hanekawa’s world always felt sort of serene and peaceful, Nadeko’s feels claustrophobic and stressful. Moreover, hers is the first universe in which people not directly relevant to her exist. They aren’t drawn as actual people, but in Araragi’s and Hanekawa’s worlds, there simply were no human beings whatsoever besides the ones that those characters interacted with directly. Nadeko’s world has classmates and passerbys, but they create a strange overwhelming sensation, as if all of them are somehow antagonistic. The whole presentation drips with the sense of anxiety and paranoia that Nadeko exhibits. Also, just like in Mayoi Jiang Shi, this arc is almost totally devoid of fanservice.

There’s even subtext here about the idea that Nadeko was, until this point, not really a character. The arc opens up with Nadeko reading off a list of facts about herself akin to what you might find on someone’s facebook about page or an RPG stat sheet, in reference to how we only really know the aesthetic, surface-level details of who Nadeko is. This intention becomes clearer when Ougi asks Nadeko if she thought that she was a person who’s life couldn’t become a real story. It’s like she’s telling Nadeko that it’s time for her to emerge as an actual character.

Nadeko is confronted again and again by characters accusing her of essentially being lazy, cowardly, and intellectually dishonest, using her cuteness to dodge responsibility and hide away from pain and effort. She’s pretty much dragged through the mud for being just a moe girl with no real character. It’s only after Tsukihi finally pushes her over the edge by cutting her bangs that Nadeko finally explodes in a fantastic scene of fury which finally sees her coming into her own. Watching the useless shy girl who hadn’t even been a character before evolve into an insane god who murders everyone was one of the most entertaining things to happen in this show, and was definitely a little bit fascinating.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Monogatari series has come full circle. If Bakemonogatari was a series of little stories that built on one another to ultimately tell a complete story of romance and friendship, Monogatari Second Series simultaneously presents new stories while also continuing the narrative in a meaningful way. Tsubasa Tiger and Nadeko Medusa more or less seem to close the books on those characters’ feelings and relationships with Araragi, at least for the time being; and it’s clear that as more elements emerge, this story is growing into a larger narrative. Most of it builds off of the first season’s minutiae, taking a love story with a happy ending and following through into the next stage of life for these characters, even if it’s still in a relatively small time-frame. Mayoi Jiang Shi may seem an outlier in this situation, but Mayoi has always been an outlier as the one friend who wasn’t really in love with Araragi or Hitagi romantically–and the arc had more to do with building Shinobu into a character who would be highly important going forward.

Whether or not Nisioisin planned all of this from the beginning is hard to say, but I think it’s more likely that he’d planted things into his story that he’d be able to touch on again later if he wanted to. A one-off linguistic joke about Nadeko becoming the final boss at the start of Tsubasa Cat manifests as actual truth. A storyline that originally developed Araragi in Tsubasa Cat now comes around to develop Hanekawa in Tsubasa Tiger. When I talked about Bakemonogatari, I often considered the girls that Araragi encountered to be stand-ins for the development of his and Hitagi’s relationship. In Series Two, each of these characters makes their mark as an individual. And with the Nadeko Medusa arc, it feels for the first time like this may not be a simple story of the random incidents Araragi and his friends encounter around town, but a larger, more connected narrative heading towards an eventual conclusion. It’s strange to think about how different a beast the series becomes as each new layer is built onto it with the passing arcs.

So then we get to Shinobu Time, which may be the weakest narrative in the season so far, even though it has a good ending and some decent character development. It acts as a reversal on Mayoi Jiang Shi, as this time instead of Mayoi being a plot device for Shinobu’s development, Shinobu is a plot device for Mayoi’s development. Also like Mayoi Jiang Shi, it only features Araragi, Mayoi, Shinobu, and more prominently than before, Yotsugu as major characters, and contains an uncharacteristically large amount of expository dialog.

Unfortunately, the story is less engaging or ridiculous than that of Mayoi Jiang Shi, and really feels like it has no business taking up four whole episodes. It amounts to a very roundabout closing of Mayoi’s arc, with her character actually dying (well, going to heaven or whatever), at the end. It was a great end to her character and a good final scene, but the journey to get there seemed unnecessarily messy and random. Perhaps what really killed it though was just being the most visually boring arc of the Monogatari franchise to date.

Earlier I said that a lot of people have accused Shinbo of no longer really directing the shows that he’s been credited on, and I started to understand what they meant by that while watching Monogatari Second Series. Nisemonogatari had somewhat toned down the bizarre visual style of Bakemonogatari, but it seemed to have done so because the increased budget meant that they could pull off more impressive feats of animation instead of using stylistic tricks to coat a lack of animation. Monogatari Second Series does something similar, but the budget is a lot more spread out and there aren’t anywhere near the same number of high-intensity sequences that Nisemonogatari had.

Shinobu Time is the point where the animation starts to get a little bit janky, and there’s not much at all in the way of stylistic flourish to make up for it. The exception is the second episode, which consists mostly of very long panning shots of pretty cool-looking still images; which is a neat stylistic flourish, but quickly gets old when nearly 20 minutes are spent watching really slow panning shots of still images. As much as I’ve grown to like the combination of Araragi and Shinobu, I really don’t think the dialog or visuals in this arc live up to the quality of the franchise on the whole, and would probably find the entire arc unmemorable if not for its climax. For once this is less a matter of whether or not the product is fascinating, but more a matter of the overall quality not quite being up to standard.

Hitagi End features perhaps the most interesting narrator switch yet, as Kaiki Deishu takes the reigns. Kaiki has been the only real villainous presence in the series so far, albeit a deliberately petty one who’s willing to throw anyone under the bus to make a little cash, and has no interest in anything that could cause him a loss. Being trapped in the Karen Bee arc meant that he never really got to leave a big impression, as that arc was such an unfocused clusterfuck, and his small appearances since haven’t added much–so getting to be the narrator for an arc immediately fleshed him out far more than he ever had been in the past, and his narration brings a very different energy from that of other characters. If anything, he has the most down-to-earth worldview yet, and regular people actually exist and move around in his reality, without being obscured as they are in Nadeko’s world.

Right from the start, Hitagi End feels like it really is building up to the climax of all that’s come before. We’ve already determined that Nadeko is supposed to murder Araragi and Hitagi on graduation day, and this arc tells of how Hitagi contracts Kaiki to try and prevent it from happening. The story is structured like a detective’s novel, and Kaiki even changes his look to that of a detective in the name of going undercover. Despite his rather circular way of thinking, Kaiki manages to be the most straightforward narrator yet, creating perhaps the most focused storyline in the show so far.

Of course, as is common to the series, the majority of the arc takes place in absurdly long conversations, much of which is a constant back-and-forth of clarifications. Kaiki and Hitagi are paired up a lot, and both of them have pretty similar manners of speaking, which the show handles with awareness as it almost places them in contest with one-another. For once, however, most of the dialog at least feels like it’s going somewhere, and even if a lot of the circular semantics aren’t necessary, at least this time there’s enough gravity to the story to lend dramatic weight to these conversations. It’s the polar opposite of the Karen Bee arc–this time, every scene feels relevant and the sense of drama and suspense remains heavy.

Towards the back end of the arc, Kaiki undergoes some surprising character developments that cast his actions in the past in a different, if not better light, and flesh him out into a more interesting character. Likewise, Nadeko gets a few more character beats during the surprisingly satisfying final confrontation between the two. As Kaiki puts it to Araragi, he tells Nadeko “obvious things that adults tell children,” which amounts to a very straightforward resolution of the entire situation, meant to leave the viewer with the warm fuzzies. Of course, Nisioisin would never be satisfied ending a story this way, so Kaiki is randomly murdered by one of his past fraud victims RIGHT at the end of the episode. Yeah… ouch. While not illogical, this comes off for now as mostly a shock value thing which is kind of upsetting, but it’s possible that some later part of the story might tie it together. Whether or not this is a forgivable way to undercut the happy ending is up to the viewer, though.

Fascinating or not, I do think that Hitagi End shoots down the middle of everything Monogatari Second Series has to offer in comparison to the first two shows. Bakemonogatari used its ghost stories and wacky interactions between wacky moe-parody characters as the backdrop to an excellent, emotional love story. Nisemonogatari then highlighted the textural elements of the story and ignored anything dramatic or emotional. Finally, Monogatari Second series focused on the dramatic, but doesn’t have much in the way of the emotional. It takes the characters, setting, and style from Bakemonogatari, and plugs them into a dramatic storyline full of twists and turns and high-stakes consequences, but it no longer forges strong emotional connections.

I’ve seen fans of the Monogatari series choose any of the arcs or any of the series as their favorite. I wouldn’t say that any of them is necessarily better or worse than any of the others at getting done whatever they set out to do–but in turn. this means that what you like most about the series will likely be what determines the arc you like best. Either because you like certain characters the most, or because you like certain textural elements, or because you like the more dramatic storylines, or the more emotional ones, or the fanservice scenes–the Monogatari series has many forms of appeal.

And I wouldn’t say that any of it completely failed for me, except maybe the Nadeko Snake and Tsuhiki Phoenix arcs. I enjoyed the fanservice, the drama, the dialog, most of the characters by the end, and, more than anything, the emotions of the first series. None of these are shows that I’d rate badly, though without question I feel most strongly towards Bakemonogatari, followed by the second series, followed by Nisemonogatari. Reason being that even on a purely textural level, Monogatari is almost inherently enjoyable for me. As someone who’s been a die-hard fan of Akiyuki Shinbo and studio SHAFT since 2007, that’s hardly surprising. However, beyond what the textural elements account for, the dramatic storyline is effective, but not nearly as effective as many others I’ve seen. Even the emotional stuff, while very strong, isn’t the best ever. I wouldn’t give even Bakemonogatari more than a nine-out-of-ten score.

That’s what makes this whole break-down so interesting to me in the first place–that between these three series, I can clearly define what I look for in a show, just by looking at what a story becomes when it plays either purely to texture, or to texture with drama and/or emotions driving it. In conclusion, I find that texture alone, while enticing to me, is not enough to make me love a story the way an emotional core is capable of doing so.

But wait, I’m not done here. While I was writing this post, yet another Monogatari installment was released in the form of the five-episode special, Suruga Devil. While I say five-episode, it seems that official releases consider it more like one continuous film, with the opening and endings only playing once. Moreover, even though Suruga Devil does take place after Hitagi End in the series timeline, it’s worth mentioning that the original novel was published in-between Mayoi Jiang-shi and Nadeko Medusa.

Knowing this makes it strange that Suruga Devil actually feels like a satisfying resolution to the arcs that came before, especially since it raises even more questions about what’s happened in the time between Hitagi End and here. It’s not surprising that Hitagi and Araragi have moved on to college, though knowing this before even Nadeko Medusa would’ve undercut the tension pretty harshly, in a way that is normal for Nisioisin. More importantly though, Kaiki Deishu is also still alive somehow, and now has a goatee and glasses so he looks like Gendo Ikari. He finally meets up with Kanbaru as he’d been promising throughout the series, and gives a show-stopping speech about the beauty of eating meat that legit elevated him to one of my favorite characters in the series.

Speaking of favorite characters Suruga really gets to come into her own in this arc, not only with a fairly interesting story and her own rival character, but also in a pretty emotional way that better contextualizes her relationship with Araragi and Senjougahara. In some ways, it’s like the twisted Monogatari version of what Azusa experiences towards the end of K-On. Suruga Devil is an altogether pleasant arc, as even with bits of pedantic Nisio speeches, it manages to create an interesting character conflict and some heartfelt moments. I recommend reading the post I’ve linked below by AJ the Fourth which dives into some cool personal anecdotes relating to the arc as well. This may well be the closest that the Monogatari series has gotten to reaching the heights that Bakemonogatari did, and it leaves me with hope that more great stuff like this may be in store down the road.

Given the impressive success of the franchise so far, and the fact that only twelve of the eighteen total novels have been adapted, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing more Monogatari anime in the future, especially if the Kizumonogatari film ever actually gets finished. The final book will be released September 19th, 2014, which is not long after this post will be published, so I’m curious to see or hear about how it all concludes. And, well, that about wraps it up.

17 thoughts on “Monogatari Series Analysis – Mindful Self-Indulgence

  1. Well.

    This is the first thing I’ve ever read or heard of yours, and I must say that I’m really impressed (and I mean that in like the least condescending way possible–always a risk when offering compliments and I really didn’t want to be misunderstood here). I hugely appreciate, first, the time you took to put together such a gigantic post, and second, the honest with which you approached your analysis of the series. Not many (if any) bloggers that I’ve seen have been willing to tackle the series arc by arc like you did, but I think doing so allowed you to come to some beautiful conclusions about the show as a whole by actually accounting for all the individual pieces that make up the franchise.

    So, yeah, this is really good work and I’ll definitely be excited to start following you around on Twitter to keep up with your other stuff.

  2. Great post, especially comparing and contrasting each season’s aesthetic and thematic bent to each other.

    The only part I disagree with is Shinobu Time. You noted that in Second Season, most all of the girls gain individuality apart from Araragi’s perspective. Mayoi is the exception. In all three of the arcs featuring her, Araragi is in the narrator’s seat, and Mayoi remains in her S1 role of being a foil to highlight his character development. Even Shinobu gets bits of independence, such as the alt-timeline version in Mayoi Jiangshi and the scrolling backstory in Shinobu Time. It makes sense, anyways, that it’s the non-human girls that aren’t completely fleshed out this round, and that Shinobu and Yotsugi will get their turns next season.
    Anyways, the point of this is that Shinobu Time isn’t really about Mayoi, but another examination of how Araragi has troubles with self-denial and letting go, which are what fuels his savior complex. Whereas in the previous Mayoi arcs, he could still do something to soften the realizations, helping Mayoi receive closure, and saving Shinobu from grief over his death, Shinobu Time bars him from any such compensation. He has to accept Mayoi’s death wholeheartedly. Mayoi isn’t really developed by this arc. She’s still a static character here. Once she learns of her fate, she’s on board, she doesn’t have to change to accept it, and her role is, instead to help Araragi changed, for once. I don’t think he would have been so willing to accept not helping Nadeko at the end of Hitagi End, without this arc. (This is supported by how the initial episodes explore his inter-dependent relationship with Shinobu as another way he can’t let go of things.)
    Of course, as you said, there did seem to be a good amount of unnecessary stuff in this arc. The argument over who tops his harem reminds me of the latter humorous Kanbaru-Araragi conversations at the tail end of Suruga Devil, as obligatory fanservice inserts for the audience, even while the series seemed to have moved on from those things, so they feel out of place. (like you noted for Tsubasa Tiger)

    I think there’s something to be said about how Kanbaru’s turn as the narrator affects the camera. She’s very aware of herself and her physical attractiveness, so there are some physical fanservice shots. Kanbaru is self-assured in her own body, but it’s only of herself, so the shots are also steady, and not done in the frenetic way similar shots of her nakedness were done in Nisemonogatari. Rouka doesn’t receive any camera-leering, because Kanbaru isn’t perceiving her in that way. In addition, such shots are limited to her room, a safe space for her. We don’t get lingering shots when, say, she’s out running, or any time she’s truly pondering over the plot. There aren’t even any during her conversations with Araragi, (although my memory might be wrong about that) which cements her platonic perception of him. It’s similar to the few Araragiservice moments during the series, as the boy is aware of his own physical attributes, but not a narcissist. The camera, in such moments, takes note of his muscles, but doesn’t highlight them in the way the regular fanservice shots do with the other girls. (It’s also interesting to note how, besides the toothbrush scenes, the camera doesn’t leer that much at Karen and Tsukihi the way it does at the other girls. Same with the lolis. Perhaps his claims of siscon and lolicon are for the sake of enjoying others’ reactions?)

    • Very excellent points, and I agree with all of them. I think I may have given Shinobu Time the short stick in terms of thought because I watched it right before leaving for Bronycon, and didn’t get to writing about it until afterward, which now you’ve made me regret. Still, excellent fill-in of what I missed.

      • I can definitely empathize with that. Watching Isin stuff takes a very specific mindset, (especially the willingness to actively examine all of the things as they happen on the screen) which is also why I’m currently stalled on Katanagatari. Haven’t found a time where I can properly give its conversations their proper attention.

    • Shinobu Time is mostly about Ougi. See, it’s not only about Araragi having to learn to let go. It’s also about shoving in our faces that Ougi is trying to teach him to let go. It’s about getting us to be angry at Ougi for doing that.

      These fanservice-y moments as you call them… were often cut off by Shaft. For example the first third of Tsubasa Family is just a talk between Koyomi and Tsukihi on the topic of panties. Frankly, I think a lot of the segments where Koyomi just seems to be fucking around with his sisters exist to make us feel them as a real family. It can’t be JUST Koyomi who is the ultimate pervert, his sister must also enjoy toothbrushing. It can’t be JUST Koyomi, so a conversation with Tsukihi will be all in their underwear, on the topic of underwear, and with the mention of Tsukihi that she was kind of a bland character up to then, so she should finally get some more color and screentime. And the fuckers in Shaft denied her that screentime for the most part. Shit. And it provided such a good basis to compare family situations between him and Tsubasa. Tsukihi wasn’t a stand-in for Tsubasa’s problem, she was the counterpoint. How her flaws actually made her a great family member, so that we can compare her to the flawless Tsubasa. But, well, no point in crying over spilled milk. I’m more willing to cringe at the changes Oshii did in Kizu.

      • I may be way out of my league in this conversation, but I can’t help but mention that what seems the main reason to be angry at Ougi is that she (?) appears from freaking nowhere, does stuff, reasons for which neither she nor anybody else cares to explain, messes with Nadeko’s already messed up identity (which turned out to be a good thing, but we can’t tell if Ougi had anything to do with it being good) and disappears, leaving Hitagi and Kaiki to do something about the consequences.
        Or did I just miss some wildly crucial part of the picture here? Is there more about Ougi the books?

        • She outright stated her reasons: “punishing liars”, “ending stories”, and so on.

          The funny part about *monogatari is to manage to take everything at face value, and still be able to make sense of it.

          Buuuut yeah, I guess the main reason to get angry at Ougi is that indeed she forces everybody to clean the shit up, even if only in Ougi’s eyes there was shit to be cleaned up in the first place. I hadn’t really thought about it like this, thanks.

  3. I love all the analysis on camera/narrator view. I was really surprised when you brought up Mulvey’s “male gaze” to explain the difference in Koyomi’s narrative arcs to those of other characters’ arcs. It really makes a lot of sense and I find it fascinating. Are there any other series you would recommend that have diverse camera styles in relation to separate character perspectives?

    • Ben-to. Well, not as much separate character perspectives as a really obvious and blunt male gaze from MC.
      P.S. we do see the eyes of Tits at some point, in during one of the battles.

      Megatokyo. It’s practically all about the different characters experiencing different realities, the way Araragi sees an empty city, while Kanbaru experiences other people from time to time as she isn’t an absolute loner, and while Kaiki sees the world for what it is.

      This isn’t done often on such a scale, honestly. I should see if one of Fred Gallagher’s influences does it. Shaft as a whole can’t stand not playing around with the camera, so you can be sure most of what you watch by them will have at some point character-specific PoV of the camera, but *monogatari is the only that does it so pervasively.

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  5. I’m midway, but…
    Zero narrative purpose in Nisemonogatari scenes? Only if you consider this narrative purpose in the context of Nise and Nise alone. If you consider the whole series from there on, there isn’t really a single scene without narrative purpose. Nisioisin builds the whole *monogatari series from the characters, ideas and foreshadowing presented in Nise. Well, except for Euler, I guess. He did say he combined two characters to create Euler, and we had hints and foreshadowing only for one of them, really.

    • At the end. Nisemonogatari does the most for the setting out of all novels. It’s a masturbatory writing of nisioisin imagining what the world of Bakemonogatari is, and leaving the story threads hanging out of every sentence. I don’t quite agree that he just left himself hooks to get to later on, Nise reads as if he had a general idea at least, even as he hadn’t written the details out. As a standalone it sucked, considering its narrative was … not so much “fake” as “deceiving” – another possible translation of “nisemono”. But now that we more or less know what he imagined when he was writing it, it carries so much more than before. In a way, it’s a condensed version of the whole series. And as such it carries all of its strong points. Except for Bake’s self-sufficiency and self-completeness.
      This sort of backtracking through the series you touch upon a lot on an arc-per-arc basis, however you don’t give it credit when nisio jumps several arcs back to expand upon what previously was left mostly blank. The way Mayoi Snail holds different gravity after you know its conclusion, the entirety of the Second Season is changed by knowing what Ougi stands for. More generally, after having experienced the Second Season, a rewatch of Nisemonogatari should give you many and many scenes that you see differently now that you know what they lead to. You can now see the pebbles that started the avalanches down the line. But, well, this is up to how we read the story. As we know, the author’s intent doesn’t really matter, what he wanted to say, he already wrote down. All I can say is that I’m having a blast from Nise viewing it in this way, and it doesn’t break my disbelief.

      By the way, the Hanamonogatari segment leaves me with the impression that you watched the official translation of that – probably of the whole Second Season. That’s a bad idea.

      P.S. Really, why didn’t you say anything about Ougi? She’s the most fucking important character, as the closest thing to a “villain” this story has.

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