The Unbearable Lightness of Being (a Monster in Bakemonogatari)

bakemonogatari 01 araragi senjougahara absurdly light

Visually confused, I go back to the familiar. When confused one searches for the most meaningful thing, no? This is the very thing that I’m holding on to these tales of monsters.

The very first one, that is; is a tale of lightness and weight. I saw a rather striking image of a girl (Senjougahara) falling through a spiral stairwell only to be caught by a traptastic Gundam Meister a fellow student (Araragi) who commented on her weight, or lack thereof. “Ephemeral” the subtitles tell me he says, which does not make sense to describe mass or weight, but perhaps more apt if the idea communicated is how the body seems to be transient and would disappear from this world at any moment.

This post will not make things clearer, but it may get interesting for some.

The catching boy will promise salvation, but the falling girl will destroy him first, but with no success. Both are monsters, but one seems less so.

Is this a story of salvations? I am intrigued, if distracted and confused.

My favorite story book is Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I have read more times than I’ve watched SDF Macross. The first section of the novel deliciously discusses the idea of lightness and weight. Lightness is likened to freedom, not being weighed down, but also discussed as meaninglessness, that is, to have no point, and no significance in a broader perspective. Weight, being the opposition in the binary may seem like a negative, but is also discussed as meaning itself, significance, importance, value.

bakemonogatari 01 araragi senjouhara was it the right decision not to let her fall

He asks what follows from the assumption that man may try only one path. If man cannot try different paths, and weigh them against one another, does that mean that human life is characterized by unbearable lightness or meaninglessness? Is lightness splendid and weight a burden, or does meaning only come from weight? (It is necessary to note that Milan Kundera wrote the novel in the authorial voice, the author is the narrator, talking about his characters and themes the same way I talk about Araragi and Senjougahara in this post).

I have no idea what to make of this anime that seemingly promises of monsters, and seems to me monstrous in itself; showing me image after image with vivid richness and apparent symbolism, as well as long passages of text that is quite impossible to keep track of, along with the monologues and dialogues going on. I want the images to mean something, and I feel like I’m falling into a trap of interpretation that deludes me into thinking my role is to divine the intention of the creator. The creator’s intention often has meaning for us. We use knowledge of authorial intent to settle disputes of interpretation.

This is a trap.

Tha creators’ intention is but one reading among many possible readings. Since I’m less concerned about the craft that went into this show, I just want to hold on to something I can enjoy. Why? I can tell that there is quality here, even if only in the staircases. My goodness these staircases are gorgeous. Anime has gone a long way from the horrid escalators of Evangelion.

bakemonogatari 01 spiral stairwellbakemonogatari 01 araragi senjougahara stairwells t a i r w e l l  p r 0 n
evangelion 17 ritsuko akagi misato katsuragi escalators

Senjougahara wants to gain weight.

She wants to gain 35 kilograms.

A teenage girl wanting to gain weight, the irony is not lost on me. However, what if she need only to find meaning in her near-weightlessness? Or even better, to get that there’s no meaning to her unbearable lightness? That it doesn’t make her a monster?

What if this anime is all about coming to terms with one’s monstrosity?

I could watch a show about that. Oshino Meme feeds Senjougahara the I CAN’T SAVE YOU ONLY YOU CAN SAVE YOURSELF meme. Senjougahara is jaded by swindlers forcing the same meme onto her.

…just as many viewers are forcing STAPLERS as a meme to represent, or to reduce the meaning of, this show.

YOU WANTED A REVIEW? I DON’T REVIEW! But these people do and you may find reading them useful:

Janette is on the fence (Janette 2009/07/10)

Hanners’ attention was grabbed in the right ways (Hanners 2009/07/08)

Panther finds many things to like (Panther 2009/07/05)

Aroduc finds a problem with liking the leading characters of the episode (Aroduc 2009/07/03)

Addendum:

bakemonogatari 02 omoi is both fellings and weight in pronunciation

I finished watching episode 2 and it makes a lot more sense to me now. I’m very glad that the lightness and weight connection stands — though less about meaninglessness and meaning in particular, but rather feeling as weight; extended to weight of obligation. I find it interesting how we can read feelings to be more important than ideas. I certainly feel this way, as much as I would like to appear as a follower of logic.

bakemonogatari 02 weighing scale 100kg

The shows I hold closest to my heart after all, are those that affected me the most emotionally. I’m going to see this show through, given that the 2nd ep did a lot of strong things that made it heavier with meaning, or at least that’s what I’m creating with it in the experience.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Bakemonogatari, first impressions and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Unbearable Lightness of Being (a Monster in Bakemonogatari)

  1. schneider says:

    I think I was 10 years too early in reading that book, since there are only few things I could remember about it (that woman with the bowler hat, and her weird fetishes). The opening passages are not lost on me, however.

    Stairwell porn, indeed.

    • ghostlightning says:

      You read it in high school? I read it during graduate school I think.

      I’m no draftsman, but I imagine drawing stairs to be ridiculously difficult, and they’re very pretty. The very idea of allowing us to climb appeals to me.

  2. vendredi says:

    Traptastic Gundam Meister for you perhaps, but the first thing that came to mind upon hearing Araragi’s voice was a particular despairing Japanese high school teacher. I already had a hard time in 00 expecting Hiroshi Kamiya to yell out “VEDA NO ZETSUBOUSHITA”, and now this… (perhaps a sign you’ve been watching anime too long, when you start to audibly recognize VAs)

    On a related note though, interesting themes you do bring up. When you flip to watching Bakemonogatari after an episode of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, you tend to notice (aside from waiting for Araragi to shout “ZETSUBOUSHITA!”) the trademark SHAFT absurdity rather than the more serious thematic overtones, such as the fourth-wall shattering exchange on moe characters in the first episode, so this post was certainly helpful in convincing me that this might actually have some theme.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Oh I was challenged by that 1st episode. LOL I’ve seen some Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and I’m familiar with Kamiya’s quite excellent work there (and his rather good turn as Michel Blanc in Macross Frontier).

      The 1st half of the second ep was excruciating to watch, so I was on the verge of shouting BAKEMONOGATARI NO ZETSUBOUSHITAAAAAA myself. But in hindsight, after a rather brilliant end to the ep and resolution to the arc, that the excruciating first half is also quite clever and awesome.

  3. serial says:

    Storywise, I expected no less from NISIOISIN.
    Direction-wise, I expected no less from Shinbo
    Animation-wise, I expected no less from SHAFT.

    I expected to be satisfied.
    And yes, I was.
    Maybe too much.

    It surpassed my expectations a bit, on all accounts.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Ooooh, a fanboy reaction! These are always interesting for me to come across especially that I’m not a fan of any of the entities you mentioned. By saying I’m not a fan I mean that I am a non-fan rather than ‘I don’t like them.’ This would probably be the first show I complete should I not drop it.

      As such, my expectations are not as high as yours. I just want to have a good time. But since you mentioned story, direction, and animation, what are these expectations? How are these exceeded?

  4. coburn says:

    I’ve only seen ep1, but when I first heard our protagonist’s voice I reckoned I recognised it. And, a googling later, found that I didn’t. Although the generic hero-ness of his design and first appearance was neatly undermined by the Actually a Vampire and With a Good reason for chasing Mystery Girl thing – maybe a tad more subtle on the meta side than that moe/tsundere talk though.

    Although the outstanding TULOB is a bit vague in my memory I do like some of the ideas you’re pulling out, and figure that the silent girl in the corner probably backs up some of your thematic thoughts, and could be used to pull weightless/sickly/vampirism together. The suggestion that something psychological was behind our heroine’s weight loss strikes me as indicating Finding Meaning rather than finding Unmeaning, maybe. Pleasing riddles anyway.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Oho! Here’s a meaning chain (one I construct for Humbert Humbert):

      Why do I like Lolita?

      <– I fell in love as a 12 year old to a 12 year old.

      <– My love is pure.

      <– I am not a monster.

      The meaning that has meaning, is the one that has consequence, to future health/behavior. Looking at Humbert’s answers to his question, the first 2 answers are not consequential beyond being premises to the final answer, which is the most meaningful: “I am not a monster.” This can also be simplified as “I am not a bad person,” which we can apply to the case of Senjougahara.

      The unmeaning, or presence of no meaning, is not so much found, but distinguished. Sonjougahara may distinguish that her lightness does not mean she’s a bad person, and she doesn’t have to attack people with stationery. Emptiness and meaninglessness as lightness, means freedom in TULOB, though it’s quite debatable whether Humbert should be free to love lolis beyond watching animu.

  5. DonKangolJones says:

    Here I thought I’d finally caught up to your anime watching & put an addendum down for this post. Damn it! Oh well, I’ll just comment on what I’ve seen.

    The beginning of anime seasons is always are hard time for me. I like to be efficient. So it irks me that I never really know if I’m watching crap when you get the first episode of these series. I am impressed at the apparent attempts at deep symbolism in this show. I’m a sucker for symbolism. And I really hope it is pointing towards the symbolism you mentioned.

    I guess that as the show relates to me, I’m trying to judge the lightness or heaviness of this series. I guess I’ll keep watching it for now.

    By they way! I’m also a sucker for beautiful animation, and the show definitely seems to be making efficient and unique use of it’s animation budget. My those beautiful staircases. Makes me wish they’d reanimate Utena.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I think a show’s success at this point is to keep us engaged until the next episode.

      We’ll see how Araragi interacts with the other monsters in the show, his own power seems very convenient for this purpose. I also wonder how Senjougahara fits as well. It will be a shame if she disappears in significance, unless the other monsters make me want to forget about her.

      I don’t think being a sucker for visuals is something to apologize for — while this may not exactly apply to you I see that many a show are panned for being ‘all flash.’

      Animation IS a visual medium. Making a statement visually is very important, the animation has to justify how the story being told should be animated in the first place (as opposed to have just stayed being in a static or live action medium). Otou-san makes a good point for this here [->]

  6. Sakura says:

    GUNDAM!

    Okay got that out of my system.

    I love stories concerning monsters, demons, ghosts, whatever. So I was already interested in this and watching it certainly didn’t disappoint.

    The visuals made me happy, omg so much writing all over the place! But of course the characters were intriguing.

    It was nice to find out Araragi wasn’t just your average schoolboy pervert and that Senjougahara was more than her looks would suggest.

    I wonder though how much her character will change now that she has her weight and her emotions back…

    I hope she retains that wonderful caustic wit.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’m at odds with her change of attitude upon regaining weight.

      One one hand, I’m concerned about the suddenness of her turnaround, and perhaps the loss of her caustic wit.

      On the other hand, I adore the change and find it heartwarming especially for Araragi’s sake. I’ve had enough of him verbally abused by her.

      I guess I’ll have to see then.

  7. Moonlily says:

    I’ve also finished watching the first two episodes and have been thoroughly impressed with how the visuals have mostly worked (I don’t know if you can explain the symbolism behind the pasta-brain scene) but the real clincher was the cathartic moment towards the end of episode 2. The execution of that segment strongly reminded me of Mushishi, and if this is how the rest of the stories will follow, we’ll be in for quite a treat!

    Speaking as a SHAFT/Shinbo fan, of course 😛

    • ghostlightning says:

      I haven’t finished Mushishi so I truly tried to avoid the comparison despite how strongly I felt the similarity. Cat’s out of the bag now.

      But yes I agree with the clincher. Without it being as satisfying as it was for me, I perhaps would have discontinued watching the show despite the stunning visuals. Even in a visual medium, I’m a lover of narrative too much to not care about it.

  8. kaiserpingvin says:

    You didn’t talk enough about the STAPLERS :v

    • ghostlightning says:

      I think the staplers are there for novelty. Otherwise it’s merely a pain-inducing weapon… Senjougahara would have to make you fellate it to be of any use. She’s better off with the box-cutters and scissors.

  9. sadakups says:

    Best show of the season GET. Never thought Shinbo madness was this good.

  10. Pingback: The Inauthenticity of Senjougahara (Bakemonogatari 02) « We Remember Love

  11. omisyth says:

    “showing me image after image with vivid richness and apparent symbolism, as well as long passages of text that is quite impossible to keep track of”

    Lol try watching Zetsubou Sensei. It will kick your ass.

  12. gwern says:

    > Anime has gone a long way from the horrid escalators of Evangelion.

    You can’t blame those escalators on the budget, nor the time.

    The escalators and architecture of NERV are dehumanizing in every sense of the word. They convey a clear message.

    The falling scene in Bakemonogatari is architecturally beautiful without question. Even better than most of the school in Revolutionary Girl Utena.

    But what meaning do those scenes convey?

    • The meaning of those scenes? We can speculate on the intended message, or cut all of that and just create the meaning out of our experience of the work. What we see is an elaborate construction that is also towering (penile, vain), the wide central stairwell is a void from which a dramatic fall can be viewed from anywhere on the fancy steps.

      Life and death is reduced to a dramatic binary of striving ascension and dramatic plunging… and always beautiful.

      Eva movie remakes suffice as an apology for the escalators of the TV series.

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