X-Monogatari. Many people hate it, just as many love it, but when it comes to the finer details of the series, few understand it. And that’s a damn shame. Indeed, I am referring to the scenes of sexuality often described as “lewd” found throughout the series. It’s a heated discussion that’s been going strong for seven years, and it shows no signs of coming to an end. Some claim that the sexuality is more of a deconstruction, or that it’s all parody. Others claim it’s simply not sexual at all. But there’s a problem with each of those view points: They’re all wrong.
I’m going to tell you the secret of Monogatari.
It’s all sexual.
Despite claims to the contrary, Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Hanamonogatari, Second Seasonmonogatari, This-article-monogatri – all of it is explicitly sexual. I do not mean to say that past articles and think-pieces exploring the Monogatari topic are completely and utterly incorrect. After all, a great influence on my own thoughts was Nick Creamer’s 2013 article ‘Nisemonogatari and the Nature of Fanservice‘. But as much as I envy Creamer professionally, I do find his piece to be incomplete, and others’ attempts at putting the argument to bed to be misguided. Monogatari is a sexual series. And it’s time we come to terms with that.
But the question is: do these racy scenes mean something more? I say that they do.
‘It’s all a joke’ seems to be the de facto stance taken by so many. But there’s a huge problem with this. If the characters are trivialized into being no more than tools in one off jokes, why take them seriously? You don’t, you wouldn’t, there’s no reason to. It being purely a joke undermines all the personal growth and emotional maturity gained at the end of each character arc, throwing it away for a handful of cheap laughs. It’s not a joke. That doesn’t mean it isn’t funny, but what makes it humorous is the comedic relevance, that it’s on topic. The biggest problem with the ‘it’s all a big joke’ line of thought is it completely ignores how the show fist started – Senjougahara overcoming the trauma of sexual assault. Everyone remembers the toothbrush scene, a nude Kanbaru, and just how young Hachikuji is; however, they completely overlook how the tone for the show was set in the first place. Sexy shower scenes and the revelation of an attempted rape shared space in episode two, but no one thought to connect the dots and see how the two were related.
Go back to Bakemonogatari, episode two. Senjougahara is weightless. It’s made very clear that the weight she lacks is more than just physical mass; it doubles as a metaphor for the mental burden of trauma. The scene in Hitagi’s apartment, taken in that light, is very telling. She wanders around naked in plain sight of Araragi. She complains about how due to her weightlessness, clothes have become heavy to her. She tries on several different outfits, following Oshino’s instructions to return in her most pure attire. Something is being said here. The phrase ‘clothes make the man’ comes to mind. It has been proven that the way we dress directly impacts how we are perceived by others. Dress more conservatively, and people perceive you as poised and reliable, while a more distinctive wardrobe attributes the wearer as being more attractive or individualistic. The right clothes for every occasion. Senjougahara struggles with this concept. She struggles with the burden of her self worth; struggles with the concept of purity. The clothes were just a vehicle for maintaining the thematic element. Two parts of the same narrative.
If not a joke, the next argument usually follows: ‘Monogatari is a deconstruction of fanservice in anime.’
Answer: No, even less so.
Shifting all weight to a parody and deconstruction footing results in an equally lopsided stance and faulty viewpoint. Monogatari is not character narrative with unrelated islands of sexual dissection. Such a structure would result in a lack of story cohesion, a particular strength of the series. Quite simply, claims of deconstruction are absurd. Nothing in the series stands as a satire when it comes to sexuality. Satire is the most subtle child wrought from deconstruction, and its absence points to the absence of its parent. At the heart of this lazy argument is the confusion of parody versus satire. Put simplistically, the confusion of mimicry and mockery. A few overt spoofs of JoJo’s Bizare Adventure and Doraemon do not a deconstruction of fanservice make. Lascivious scenes are placed in very key moments throughout the show: strategically so. What good does a random, unattached dissection do us? Ultimately it’s just another joke, and misses the point.
So what is the point?
Each scene of sexually directly personifies the relationship of the involved characters.
The greatest strength of Monogatari is its dual narrative. The basic formula often plays out: dialogue riddled with types and symbolism explaining the conflict, conclusion, resolution, followed by a visual representation of that resolution. Telling the same story using two different perspectives is a common cinematic technique, and part of the reason the characters in Monogatari are so strong. We’re being told this dual narrative, first in a more traditional format of dialog, while the second engages us in depictions of hyper sensual taboos; reaffirming the main narrative. The fact that these scenes are memorable, means that they did their job. The image of that relationship, the impression of those characters, has been etched (then re-etched) into the viewer’s mind.
But discourse without application is conjecture. Let’s talk dental hygiene.
When modern civilization finally crumbles, our successors will one day stumble upon Nisemonogatari, episode eight and will never look at toothbrushes the same again. The entire episode is is an euphemism for sex. But that is the goal. Come the end of the Karen Bee arc, the two Araragi siblings do not see eye to eye. They fight, nearly to the death, and then the arc is over. The issue with Kaiki and Karen is left unresolved and is never brought up again. Or is it? The funny thing is, Araragi was not the villain of the Karen Bee arc, Kaiki was. But to bring closure to Karen’s arc she fights Araragi, why is that?
In animation, a character is not the same as an actor. An actor lives and breathes, while a drawn personage does not. Art by its very nature is not what it resembles, but does just that, resembles the subject. Thus animation has the advantage in that a character can maintain an aura of symbolism, of representation. This allows Araragi to be the villain in Kaiki’s stead. These characters, while different and distinct in all sense of aesthetic, sound, and even role, can occupy the same symbolic space. That is, two characters can share enough in common that what they represent can merge into one cohesive idea. This concept is true on all levels. Even for opposing characters exhibiting perpendicular motifs, contrary motivations. Such is the case with Koyomi Araragi and Kaiki Deishu. Kaiki is exclusively propelled by money, Araragi, by sex, in a narrative where sex equals stronger bonds and relationships. However, both discourage Karen from being a hero, and thus occupy the same symbol space. It’s the symbol of ‘hero discouragement’ that allows Arargi to stand in the stead of Kaiki. In this context, the visual resolution of toothbrushing makes sense. It resolves the sibling fallout and resentment towards Kaiki at the same time. The whole relationship shifts in one episode from being ‘I’m willing to kill you to prove I’m right’ to ‘oh, let’s be friends again’, and no one questions its sincerity. The depiction of sexually directly personifies the resolution between the two characters.
In the novel Kizumonogatari, Araragi bears witness to the wind impossibly flipping Hanekawa’s skirt. The novel taking two pages to point out how impossible this is, and yet it happens. The very next paragraph to follow, Hanekawa approaches Koyomi, forcing her friendship on him. It’s truly quite clever. Nisioisin is a master at manipulating our emotions, using a splash of sensuality to charge us with energy right before plot progression takes place. It’s sexual energy, and we carry that with us as we move through the story, imbuing the characters with that energy so that sudden friendships or the healing of a vicious sibling rivalry don’t become shortcomings in the story. The toothbrushing was 100% necessary, carrying that built up energy into character progression, and wrapping it up quickly and cleanly.
While we’re looking at Nise, why don’t we take a look at episode 4, the entire episode being a bath scene between Araragi and Shinobu. What is really going on here is actually much more complicated, as we are missing a piece of the story, namely Kizumonogatari. In the original order of the novels, Bakemonogatari is followed by Kizu before moving on to Nise, and is it Kizu that provides all the background information between Shinobu and Araragi, setting the foundation for their relationship. However, since the anime opted to delay its depiction of Kizu by six years, viewers who hadn’t read the novel were greeted by this episode only to walk away confused. To answer said confusion with ‘read Kizu‘ is simply bullshit. It’s lazy.
So scrap prior set up – what does this scene offer?
Shinobu’s entrance into the scene is where we should start. That shot alone is the key to explaining it all. She enters, erupting from the shadows on the floor in a burst of red petals, and in the background, the image of a lotus adorns the wall. The lotus, a symbol of physical, mental, and spoken purity, is the perfect overseer because what’s really going on isn’t a bath, but a purification ritual. The set itself is not a bathroom at all, nor is it limited by four walls. The space in which this all takes place is impossibly huge, unable to contain the size of the scene; it resembles more of an onsen. Before entering an onsen, it is customary to clean, to purify, before soaking in the hot water. This is exactly what Shinobu does, and Araragi assists by washing her hair.
This scene is all about the merging of opposites. Shinobu refers to Araragi as ‘master’ yet he offers the service. As he lathers her golden locks, the white of the shampoo falls down her body. It’s undeniably erotic; it’s intimate- and purification is too. White bubbles hit the floor and mix with the red petals Shinobu introduced; red and white being opposites in the Japanese mind, this mixture reinforces the theme of opposites coming together. The conversation follows the visuals as Shinbou states”You won’t forgive me, and I’ll never forgive you… Even so, there’s no reason we can’t come together.” The phrasing hints to something sensual: and also a compromise. The whole scene remains erotically charged. As they share the tub, both now purified, Shinobu even brings this topic to the forefront of the conversation, boldly threatening Araragi with it. And what you see are two characters, growing comfortable in their most intimate forms, like buddies at an onsen, splashing around playfully. All disgust that is felt from this scene does not correlate with what actually happens, but more what could happen. The two come clean with their feeling towards one another, but never take advantage of one another. Like a diamond against black velvet, the purification of their relationship is contrasted by its utter opposite, Shinobu’s explotation.
Finally, Araragi is seduced.
All Araragi could ever want is to be human again, not half-human, not half-vampire, but completely human. He realizes that in his current, in-between state that is is most likely he will outlive his loved ones and ultimately be separated from them. With her pride, Shinobu cannot allow herself to be subservient to any lesser being, and so offers an ultimatum: “Why don’t you kill me, and go back to being a human for real?” An alluring offer, and the visuals keep pace with that allure as she places her hands on his face. Most telling of it all is the background music, titled ‘Bonds’.
I have written about Nadeko at length before; I feel no need to restate her details here. What I didn’t mention, however, is how Second Season the relationship of Nadeko and Araragi is mirrored by that of Hitagi and Kaiki. We spoke about characters sharing the same symbolic space; here Kaiki assumes the role of Araragi, while Hitagi shares with Nadeko. Take for example the coffee scene in the diner. As Hitagi offers herself in terms of payment, Kaiki will have none of it, throwing his drink in her face, even after calling her a child for the very same action. Araragi refuses to see Nadeko’s complete infatuation with him, ignoring her, throwing the proverbial juice in Nadeko’s face. It’s the love of a child, it’s superficial, like juice, 100% concentrate. And like Nadeko with Araragi, Hitagi wanted Kaiki dead. Neither of the young women were truly in love, only infatuated with their white knight who swooped in to save them in their time of need. It’s by design that only after the relationship between Hitagi and Kaiki is healed do Nadeko and Araragi find closure.
This exercise can be applied to any scene if simply the question, ‘why?’ is asked and an honest answer sought, but I want to end by applying it to one last character.
Ambush groping. Skirt flipping. Physical battery. The entire relationship Hachikuji shares with Araragi is
mostly entirely inappropriate. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene with Mayoi conscious that doesn’t feature Araragi’s hands all over her. He only brings problems to the relationship – mainly his own personal problems. This was first established in Bakemonogaatri, episode three, the premier episode of the Mayoi Snail arc. Hachikuji appears every time he has no one to turn to, and needs a friend to listen. The problem is always Araragi’s, not Hachikuji’s. The end of Mayoi Snail made this abundantly clear.
Every time Hachikuji appears thereafter, two things happen: Araragi’s perverted antics, and his verbal catharsis. The relationship is inappropriate, same as any adult confiding in a child about adult issues is inappropriate. But in many ways, Mayoi is an adult, and that idea is expanded upon in Kabukimonogatari. If Araragi is unable to confide in her then the whole world is destroyed. She bares his mental burdens as a true friend would, and to be honest, that is quite beautiful. But it’s inappropriate, and represented as such.
Monogatari is not a deconstruction or parody. It’s irrevocably sexual. And that’s ok, because that sexuality means something. But looking at these scenes as something antithetical and divorcing them from their context is not what was ever intended. It’s a dual narrative. Each scene of sexually directly personifies the relationship of the involved characters, conveying the same thing twice – it just so happens that one is a tad more racy than the other. The sexuality is the narrative.
That’s really the secret behind Monogatari.