Monogatari S2 – Episode 7

Day late on this one – it’s been a very busy weekend. Anyway. New arc today. I’m assuming we’re back on Araragi (which I’m kinda meh towards) and the arc is apparently about Hachikuji (also pretty meh towards), but this season has blown past my expectations so far, so I’m just trying to come in at true neutral. Let’s roll.

Episode 7

0:44 – Clearly a face we can trust.  

1:07 – A three second pause… alright, I’m just gonna let Isin’s dialogue do its own thing until pieces come together in a way that might make sense. The first arc of this season kind of spoiled me, but I’m kind of used to thinking of this show’s dialogue and its visuals as two separate shows that happen to run at the same time. So my notes will probably be a bit more me-focused (just jotting down details until they pull together), since I’m not gonna pontificate on what I don’t think I actually understand. So:

Traffic light metaphor. The pause where all motion is stopped, everywhere.

1:32 – “If I designed the system, I’d make sure the lights were never all green. Everyone prefers safe over dangerous.”

1:41 – They’re really grinding in a very simple statement. We’ll need a couple more reflections to triangulate an actual point, though

1:51 – “When the world is filled with green lights signaling safety, it’s more dangerous than anywhere.”

Again, basically self-notes here. The show is highlighting and underlining this concept, so I’ll want these statements written out to reference against

2:29 – “Half the lights being green just means half the risk. If you want to be safe, don’t cross sidewalks.” That’s something more, since it’s actually nonsense, and a kind of dangerous nonsense too. Hm

3:34 – Araragi, haven’t you realized yet you live in a world where half-baked semi-profundities always come back to bite you in the ass? Often literally, too

Nice shot there, by the way

4:11 – This is gonna be fun

5:01 – Her design is so bizarre. Like a non-anime fans’ idea of an anime character. It definitely helps make her seem like some kind of creepy homunculus

5:21 – Even if I didn’t already know, it’d be pretty easy to tell this is gonna be a Hachikuji story. All this crap mirroring Hachikuji’s life story and first arc. Isin can get so self-indulgent sometimes…

5:57 – That’s awesome. I’m glad she finds that phase as embarrassing as I found it annoying

6:11 – That is an incredibly good question

7:08 – I like how the absurd, empty-stage nature of their world makes this a pretty great gag

8:12 – Hm. Why is Araragi so put off by her assumption that he’s a human?

9:16 – Must every plot element mirror another one, Isin? Katanagatari is actually one of my all-time favorite shows, but in Monogatari I think he mixes it up too much between cute parallels and meaningful ones

9:28 – This one seems more relevant. Professing resurrection in a story about another dead girl

10:21 – I’d like to see a map of this town of theirs

10:36 – Seriously, I’d hire this urban planner in a second

11:06 – Seems relevant

12:42 – Oh please. Bring back Hanekawa!

14:07 – You know how I sometimes complain about Isin using his characters as self-indulgent mouthpieces? Well, I do, and Fuck This

14:47 – It only makes sense. Another distinctive shot

15:27 – Well this episode escalated quickly

18:01 – Manipulating Araragi 101: Play to his hero complex

18:26 – She takes his watch, and then once he no longer has control of it, uses it to confirm his sense of time. Hm

19:53 – I foresee no problems with this

20:25 – This conversation is actually awesome. Time travel is always nonsense, so “going forward in time takes less energy, just like salmon!” is pretty much par for the course

21:04 – And now he’s actually trying to clarify whether he traveled through time physically or just adopted his old physical self. You’d think if he were this thoughtful about time travel, he’d have asked maybe one or two of these questions before leaping through the giant scary time-gate

21:34 – Yeaah, she is being super weird about this watch

22:04 – This is extremely adorable

And Done

Welp, ya fucked around with time travel, what did you expect?

So I guess that answers the question of Hachikuji’s relevance. Are we actually right around her Time Of Death now? Eh, plot is details, let’s talk about the craft.

This episode definitely leaned into some of my least favorite Isin-isms, mainly through the extremely cute plot mirroring and self-indulgent, character-irrelevant banter. The first half just felt clunky as hell, and Shinbou didn’t really get much of a chance to strut his stuff as far as visual-plot-illuminating goes. That’s pretty much par for the course with Hachikuji stories, even though Hachikuji has yet to actually appear – there is no sexual charge to her and Araragi’s relationship, so the camera doesn’t have all that much to talk about. The second half was a lot of fun though, mainly because Shinobu and Araragi have a very endearing buddy-cop dynamic, and because time travel is just loads of fun in general, and actually improved through the presence of genre-savvy characters. Definitely not as strong a start as the first arc, but obviously it’s going places.

Monogatari S2 – Episode 2

Please keep it classy, Monogatari. I know you gotta do your thing, and I know that in the long run one classless, objectifying episode wouldn’t exactly ruin the purposeful direction you exhibit elsewhere. Sure, it would introduce the strong presence of camera as voyeur and audience proxy, clashing horrifically with the generally character-centered direction and overtly objectifying the characters, devaluing them as people meant to be empathized with. But we could get past that – it’s not like Neko’s panties served much continuous purpose beyond the initial “Hanekawa exposed” metaphor. But seriously. Just… just don’t, Monogatari. Okay?

…let’s get it over with.

Episode 2

1:23 – “Araragi is Araragi.” He is a weird one. It’s nice to get a bit more reflection on his personality from an outsider perspective, considering he himself is honestly a bit more of a cypher than I’d like. Of course, that’s a complaint I’d level against many of the characters in this show, who’re often stylized to a degree that makes them utterly unrelatable or used as mouthpieces for Isin’s own self-indulgent banter. But Araragi… hm. He’s got that strong savior streak, which the show always punishes him for (which is I think a necessary quality in any semi-harem that wants to make actual points). He’s a huge, unabashed lech. He’s a pretty unreliable narrator, since the way he and thus often the camera itself views other characters is dependent on his current mood and relationship with them (one great example of this comes from Neko Black, where early on, when Araragi has just decided his feelings for Hanekawa are sexual-frustration-based lust, the camera is all over Karen, but when he comes back later after realizing Hanekawa’s in trouble and the situation is actually serious, Karen is utterly ignored). But then he’ll also whip out Isin’s crazy plot-resolving monologues, which honestly always come across as unbelievably aware of the subtext and themes in a way he very rarely demonstrates. Honestly, I’d really like for this series to humanize him a bit more – he’s too good at what he does

1:45 – “I’ll talk about that story a little later.” I still very much like how Hanekawa is so much more careful and precise in her narration than Araragi. I haven’t read the books, but I get the feeling this trick works even better here, where the camera is also so actively contributing to the storytelling

5:06 – Alright, that was fine. They just made a derpy joke of it, contrasting Hanekawa’s deadpan monologue with the fanservice. Not much else to it

6:19 – “We’ll have to sleep together. Rest assured. I won’t do anything.” Senjougahara’s having a whole lot of fun with their power balance being upended like this

6:25 – Is that her Araragi impression?  Either way, I like that we’re getting all these weird, ungainly Senjougahara faces now that the camera’s eye isn’t so tied to Araragi, who always sees her as terrifying and beautiful

8:33 – “Ever since I learned that, they’ve been irresistibly tasty.” It’s also funny seeing Senjougahara play against a straight man who isn’t at all intimidated by her – she comes off as much less imposing and mysterious, and more just kind of a weirdo

9:44 – “In that case, why don’t we tell each other the parts of Araragi that we like?” She’s calling your bluff, Senjou…

12:10 – Man, we even get Neko’s perspective, complete with sweet theme music? This season’s spoiling me

15:00 – “An apparition that sides with humans. That’s not that uncommon.” And becoming even less so! I kind of like that overall progression of the series – in Bake, basically all the apparitions are antagonists, aside from Shinobu’s hero turn at the end. In Nise, a human is the antagonist for each of the arcs, and the most prominent apparition is Araragi’s own sister. In Neko, the apparition only acts out Hanekawa’s own desires, and is actually forced by Hanekawa to continue causing mayhem and playing scapegoat. The ambiguity of the apparitions plays nicely with the other ambiguities scattered through the series (truth, family)

15:10 – This sequence is beautiful, by the way. And Shinbou is once again using quick, purposeful jump cuts to relate moments of panic or high tension

15:58 – “That girl saw me. That alone is important.” Hm. Obviously he’s stating his argument, but they emphasized that line a bit more than most, and this whole conversation has fixated on her seeing him being the catalyst, with his own presence being a given. Might be thematically relevant

Oh, forgot you guys were here. This is the first time I’ve done as-airing writeups for a Monogatari instead of just compiling things into an essay afterwards, so as with all Isin crap, I won’t always be offering immediate guesses on everything – normally this stuff builds over time towards a point that isn’t necessarily obvious at first

17:21 – “You won’t drain it all in an instant, right?” Speaking of that truth/appearances thing, Senjougahara’s kind of a nice representative for the series overall that way – her constant need to put up the appearance of strength is a kind of actual strength, since the result is the same. Kind of like the opposite of Hanekawa, who’s filled with improprietous anger but keeps up a completely civil front

It’s also just great seeing these two meet. I wonder if they’d get along better than Senjou and normal Hanekawa?

19:20 – “Were you aware butter and jam are things that exist?” Man, all this just so she can build up to actually advising Hanekawa on where to stay? You are the tsun-est of tsuns, Senjou

21:25 – Is Hanekawa’s lack of flavor preference supposed to reflect her general tendency to just go through the motions of what human beings do, or is Senjou actually just being tsun as all hell?

21:56 – “You accept everything that comes your way.” Hm. Seems to link with the Tiger’s “she saw me, and that’s all that matters” bit. Not enough there yet, though…

And Done

Ah, that’s interesting – reflecting her lack of preference for most elements of life against her alleged love of Araragi. That would make Senjou’s over-aggressiveness here make sense.

Anyway, great episode overall. The dreaded shower scene was basically just a throwaway gag, and most of this was dedicated to Senjougahara’s incredibly mixed feelings towards Hanekawa. Then, to mix up the thrilling back and forth of each of them making breakfast for the other, there was that beautiful and fast-paced exchange with the tiger. I like the way Hanekawa and Neko kind of contrast against Araragi and Shinobu, and I also like Neko actually becoming a full character in her own right (even if a lot of her instincts are reflective of Hanekawa’s true intentions). As always, the fact that very little is actually happening does nothing to prevent the plot from barrelling forward

Blood Ties and Nekomonogatari

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.

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Nisemonogatari and the Nature of Fanservice

So, I just finished Nisemonogatari for the first time. And I’m pretty much blown away. And I need to talk about it.

(You might want to sit down, I’ll be here a while)

I’d put off watching this second season for a decent while, for two very specific reasons. First, while I found the first season very unique and artistically compelling, it didn’t really resonate with me at all until that last, basically perfect episode. And second, from everything I’d read online, it seemed like the second season amped the fanservice up to 11. And fanservice, well…

It’s bad. The way it’s normally used, it demeans and objectifies characters, and distracts/detracts from whatever a show is trying to do narrative-wise and emotionally. It makes the camera itself a lecherous observer of characters, and not simply the best framing device for the story being told. It adds to a value unrelated to a show as an artistic work, and in fact normally detracts from its artistic worth and the narrative/emotional weight of any scene. It demeans the audience as well, implying we’re unable to be entertained by the show’s actual worth, and the implications regarding my base-instinct-oriented nature colors my experience as a viewer. It proves that the creators of the show are not taking that show and its characters seriously – and if they’re not, why the fuck should I?


Nisemonogatari is not interested in fanservice.

Nisemonogatari is a show specifically about sexuality, perspective, and the conventions of camera use (yeah, I know it’s not an actual camera, bear with me).

Most fan service happens by making the camera take the perspective of an outsider, an intruder to the scene – or at “best” the perspective of the lecherous or hapless protagonist. Fan service is all about the male gaze, that is, women are framed in a way that accentuates their sexuality not because that’s how they see themselves, but just because the cameraman finds that sexy.

In Nisemonogatari, the cameraman has got greater concerns than that. Every shot is purposeful, and from a specific perspective or mentality.

Example 1: the scene with Nadeko.

In this scene, Nadeko is specifically and obviously trying to seduce the oblivious Araragi. To that end, Nadeko is in control of the camera. The camera is portraying her exactly how she wants to be perceived, and most of the humor of the scene is drawn from the contrast between her fumbling, obvious advances and Araragi’s upbeat obliviousness. This is the first of many scenes where a female character attempts to use her sexuality as a weapon, and Araragi’s responses make it clear that the camera is not from his male perspective – it is portraying the way she is attempting but failing to be perceived. Additionally, this is the first of countless scenes where almost all the emotional content of the exchange is contained in the direction, not the script. This isn’t surprising, considering this show is directed by the great Akiyuki Shinbo, but it’s clear even this early that Shinbo has a bone to pick with the way anime portrays sexuality, and his superior, winking control of the camera’s eye comes up again and again.

Let’s run through a few more examples. The next scene, Araragi meets his sister, and this is completely unsexualized – in fact, they even go so far as to incorporate a traditionally grossly fanservicey shot (a crotch shot), but because of her outfit and stance, it’s totally neutral. At this point in time, neither of these characters consider the other sexually at all, so why would the camera? Shinbo knows what many directors fail to either know or care about – that the positioning of the camera both has a significant emotional effect on the viewer, and always conveys information. Information about tone, about self-image, about stakes, about the way one character views another… anime is a medium with literally infinite framing potential, and Shinbo is going to talk about that whether the viewer likes it or not.

The next scene we’re with Kanbaru, and it’s back to “fanservice” – but the context is entirely different from the Nadeko scene. In this sequence, it’s a girl using her body to deliberately fuck with Araragi, because that’s the rapport they share. Unlike Nadeko, there is no subtlety in Kanbaru’s sexuality, both because that’s more representative of her in-your-face personality, and because she just knows Araragi better. She uses her sexuality as a weapon, not to seduce Araragi, but to simply throw him off guard. But again, she is entirely in control of the camera’s eye.

Skipping ahead, we have an episode where Shinobu is naked basically the entire time, but the tone and impression are completely different. The camera trivializes her nudity because to her, it is trivial – it is not sexualized, and is treated in a way very similar to Horo from Spice and Wolf – it doesn’t shy away from it, but also doesn’t fetishize or draw attention to it. Meanwhile, in a brief conversation with a fully clothed Hanekawa, the camera is all about the character’s sexuality. This is because Hanekawa is an inherently seductive presence to Araragi, and they both know it – the sexual tension just barely unacknowledged between them is apparent in the camera’s eye. Again, all these scenes contain the majority of their context simply in the framing of the character – while their conversations are more whimsical and plot or banter-focused, a huge amount of information about the relationship the characters share is conveyed through the camerawork alone. Intelligent cinematography is like a freaking superpower.

And now we get to the big one.

Episode 8. Dental hygiene. The last great point of this series.

To me, firstly, this episode is goddamn hilarious. The primary joke of the second half is, “brushing teeth should not be this sexy,” and that joke only works if the audience can feel how sexy it is for those characters. And this team is obviously gifted enough to know how to pull off a scene like that.

And that’s impressive enough on its own. But what I really think this episode is doing, what I think the point is from the beginning straight through the end, is talking about Intimacy.

I think, and this is pure hypothesis, but it seems pretty reasonable to me, that Shinbo asked himself, “what do people who love fanservice get out of it? Why are they watching an anime, and not just porn? What does this show have that actual direct sexual gratification lacks?”


The toothbrush scene is so erotically charged because of the intimacy involved, and everything in the show/episode leads into this. First, Karen and Araragi’s relationship always has a weird, semi-flirtatious charge to it, as they’ve moved from younger traditional antagonistic siblings to one of those bicker-flirting couples. Then, everything Karen does at the start of this episode is designed to put Araragi off his guard and in a place of intimacy/discomfort. Her outfit does so much work here, and it’s all her intentional, meaningful decision. First, it serves as a striking contrast against both her normal outfit and her personality – the bee exercise outfit is absolutely her, androgyny is absolutelyher, carefree sexlessness is absolutely her, and putting her in such a constricting, gendered, sexually charged outfit serves to throw off all preconceptions Araragi has about interacting with her. Second, the fact that it isn’t her outfit, and in fact doesn’t fit her at all, puts her in a place of vulnerability, and this also throws off Araragi. Finally, it directly is designed to be sexy, and prove she’s in control of her sexuality, which is something Araragi has clearly been struggling to come to grips with as he attempts to act like a role model for his sisters. All of these things further Karen’s goals in this episode – make Araragi so uncomfortable he’ll agree to introduce her to Kanbaru. All these are choices of the character, not the learing cameraman, and the effect these choices have on both Araragi and the audience is very much the intended effect. Everything else she does – the confession about how his insults used to really get to her, her basically physically assaulting him – all these further that one clearly understood goal.

But I was talking about intimacy. So, what the actual toothbrush scene does obviously builds off this place of discomfort/vulnerability/overt sexuality she’s been intentionally provoking. It combines this with the relationship these two have been building, a great deal of bantering buildup, and a close monologue from Araragi to place the sex stuff in a position of complete emotional honesty. Sure, it’s also played for humor – but the humor is mostly based on the fact that it’s funny brushing teeth can be this sexy, and as I said, for that joke to work at all, the audience has to truly understand that this scene is sexy to these characters. Most powerful moments in most media are powerful not just because of the audience’s emotional reaction to a situation, but because they can empathize with a character’s emotional reaction to a situation. This effect drags us further into the text/film/show and girders our connection with the characters involved – at that moment, we feel for them more deeply than we do for ourselves. Thus, all the prep work of this episode works to help us understand these characters completely at this moment, and when they react to this scene as if it’s incredibly erotic, we can understand it to be erotic as well. The connection between the characters is honest, and the way the show is conveying their emotions to the audience is honest as well – intimacy is really just another word for honesty. This honesty, which makes this scene so strong, is a part of why most fanservice is so bad – because it’s dishonest to the characters, and portrays them as sexual objects when they’re not actually feeling like sexual objects in that moment. But more than that, this honesty is almost entirely lacking in conventional pornography. Conventional pornography is generally a collection of soul-deadened actors performing a service for a fee – sure, they’re naked, but it’s the furthest thing from intimacy you could possibly imagine. To find someone disrobe emotionally, you have to look to art. And so the point of this scene is “Even in a scene as ridiculous as this, honesty can make it ring true.”

One last tangent, but it was very interesting to me, and I never would have thought of it if not for the strong points raised by Nisemonogatari. I think this intimacy issue is a large part of why something like K-On is so damn successful. This is a kind of fractured and difficult point to make, mainly because the characterization in K-On is very difficult to describe as “honest,” but I think from the point of view that these are valid characters, K-On attempts to create a continuous mood of emotional honesty and friendly, unabashed intimacy. It invites the viewer into a safe, loving environment free from any of the hidden motives and defenses that characterize the real world, and is always completely honest with the viewer. For those who watch Community, K-On is basically like the ultimate Abed experience – a world based on rules you understand entirely that loves you unconditionally, and is willing to share all of its emotional secrets with you. Intimacy porn. I mainly bring this up because there was a thread a few days ago where someone said they like K-On because the characters feel “real.” Now, to anyone who knows anything about character writing or, frankly, human beings, that’s a ridiculous statement – but I think what was really meant there was that the characters feel honest, which, though they are very fabricated constructions, is certainly true within the context of that show.

So yeah, the toothbrush scene forced me to reevaluate and perhaps legitimize the emotional appeal of “cute girls doing cute things”. And I think that’s exactly the point Shinbo was trying to make – that sex will never be as appealing as honesty, and that intimacy is ultimately the core of the erotic. And that this, in addition to the issues about male gaze, camerawork, storytelling, and perspective he’s already addressed, is why fanservice normally hurts shows – it’s impersonal and dishonest.

So no, I don’t think Nisemonogatari is a big fan of fanservice. In fact, I think it’s the ultimate, staggeringly coherent statement against it, complete with endless demonstrations of the ways sexuality really can be used to enhance and augment storytelling. And I could not be more freaking impressed.