Well, this one was definitely simpler than Nise. Simple enough that I figured this writeup would be redundant – but I looked around online and, surprisingly, I couldn’t find a piece that really dove into the central theme. I’d planned on working on my backlog, but…
Alright. Fine. Hey guys. It’s Bobduh. Let’s talk Nekomonogatari.
This show’s about family. Okay? That’s the main point. Definitions of family, interpretations of family, what it means to have bonds with others, whether those bonds must be expressed physically or metaphorically. Hanekawa Tsubasa’s farce of a family situation is the driving conflict of the show, and the less overtly legitimized but more fundamentally meaningful bonds that surround her are the forces that bring her home.
Hanekawa is one screwed up kid. Her family life is a sham – she’s living with two adults who have no actual blood relationship to her, and her generally successful attempts to come off as an exceptional but otherwise normal teenager are basically her way of playing house instead of having a home. When she is possessed by the cat spirit, she embraces it – she uses it as an opportunity to act out all the rage and stress she kept inside, an honesty represented physically through her attacks on first her parents and then the town at large, and metaphorically through the cat’s extremely lewd fashion sense (yeah, sexuality isn’t handled nearly as gracefully here as it is in Nise). When confronted by Araragi, she lashes out at the very idea of family, saying that people like him just “tie her down and deny her freedom.” Which the show is perfectly willing to admit is true – later on, Araragi questions whether it would have been better to leave her alone, but then chastises himself for the selfish idea of “only loving and respecting her, after she helped him so much.” Because of their existing connection, he doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring her. He articulates this very relevant thought while his sisters sleep beside him, denied their attempt to stop the cat because Araragi himself said he needed them. Bonds place burdens on you. It’s unavoidable.
But family is more complicated than that. The show begins with Araragi asking his sisters how someone can know when they’re in love, and the answers he receives are “you just know” and “you want to have their kid.” So it’s either a vague, self-assigned term, or it’s the definition of a traditional family. One seems impossible to pin down, the other obvious – but this is freakin’ Monogatari we’re talking about here, so of course the obvious one continuously proves itself a lie. Hanekawa’s family follows the traditional structure, but it’s certainly a sham of a family, and no true bonds exist between her and her parents. It’s those flighty, self-assigned bonds that hold actual power; but they’re obviously much harder to pin down. As Oshino says, “aberrations exist because people think they exist” – well, families are kind of the same way. Hanekawa makes a promise with Araragi at the very start, making him swear “not to tell his sisters, not to tell his family” – despite her own later denials, she believes that willfully chosen bonds can match the strength of a traditional family structure. The lie of her disconnect proves itself when Araragi messages her during the finale – for all that talk of embracing her freedom, she comes running when she thinks he’s in trouble. She stresses her lack of the clear familial evidence of blood ties, but even those can come in many shapes and sizes – when Araragi is on the verge of death, this thematic line is turned literal, from a source that isn’t technically family at all, when a downpour of Shinobu’s physical blood revives him.
The theme of the show is made almost frustratingly overt at the end, when Oshino and Araragi share the big, capital-letters exchange: “Don’t you think Hanekawa was possessed by a demon we call family?” “But she didn’t consider her adopted parents a family.” “Perhaps her idea of family was an aberration for her.” It was Hanekawa’s refusal to lean on the true familial bonds around her, and preoccupation with maintaining the appearance of a traditional family, that led to her downfall. It was Araragi’s belief in the chosen bond between them, and reliance on the other “blood ties” that surround him, that allowed him to bring her back. When Araragi calls Oshino’s suggestion of marrying her to give her the family she wanted a bad joke, he means it. Trying to play house according to the old rules would be a meaningless concession to her first, false definition of family. He doesn’t have to marry her to become her family – they already are one.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a traditional review: the art and sound design are great as always, the direction is excellent (employing some neat tricks I didn’t mention here, like a very strong focus on light and shadow), though it takes more of a backseat to the story than in Nise, the dialogue often suffers from self-indulgent Monogatari syndrome, but the narrative overall is fairly well-constructed, and the last act is a standout segment of the series so far. Good times 8/10 would strongly recommend.