I Fail at Bakemonogatari (epiphanies after watching episode 4)

bakemonogatari 02 staple stable

I must be getting duller in my old age (32, which is like 8 in ghostlightning years). I was scratching my head a lot trying to keep up with the blistering pace of ideas bouncing around while watching Bakemonogatari, and one of these ideas relates to the concept and/or aesthetics of the ghosts (or monsters, which I prefer).

Last week I was chatting with coburn who, like me wanted to make sense of (to start with), the special abilities of the monsters (i.e. Senjougahara with her stationery and staplers). All I could tell him was that it seemed like pure conceit on the part of the show. I don’t hold this against it, but coburn wasn’t satisfied and I sort of was content with what I thought was a clever response.

No. Not clever at all, just safe.

This is not to say that the whole thing isn’t a conceit, but rather there’s more to it than just slapping on some edgy randomness and passing it off as cool. It took me four episodes, but I think I’m on to something.

If episode three, Mayoi Snail Part 1 had a misleading title because half of the episode was dominated by Senjougahara; this episode leaves no doubt by virtue of  having an OP all unto herself, and by that I mean while there’s more than one character in it (there are many), they are all Mayoi. Nothing sends a clearer signal that the episode is all about you than having the OP where all the characters are you. Nothing.

So the OP had this interesting looking snail.

bakemonogatari 04 OP moyoi snail

And the title of the episode is Mayoi Snail Part 2. Let’s look at that snail closer:

bakemonogatari 04 OP snail moyoi

Now I take note of our loli’s backpack, which, is not only hueg (as it seems to carry everything she needs to survive) but she also never takes it off. That backpack has so much going on it can have its own show.

I put these together and conject that the totem animal, the confronting spirit, that thing that makes this show a story of monsters is represented by the design or appearance of the afflicted character. Yes, that’s it. That’s my big epiphany. Don’t be too harsh, I’ m rather new to Nioshin and Shinbo, and I just take these things as I see them. Did I mention I’m old?

bakemonogatari 03 OP hachikuji mayoi the snail

Now that I’ve dealt with the obvious, the case of Senjougahara becomes obvious as well. The perplexing thing for me was the whole deal about the staplers and stationery. I worked it out (for viewers using a feed reader, visit the post to view the ff slideshow):

STAPLERS = CRAB CLAWS, PINCERS, CLAMPS, whatever people call what crabs have for weapons! YEEEEAAAHHH, /FISTPUMP!

Pardon my indulgent celebration of a dubious triumph. I really really felt good about figuring this out. Now I’m intrigued about Araragi Koyomi and Ms. Class Rep herself. I don’t really know if they’re still monsters (in Araragi’s case, being an ex-vampire) but I think the bloody OP-like montage in episode one suggests that Hanekawa Tsubasa is as well (or at least during Araragi’s monologue introducing her I noticed a sillhouette of a cat girl, or I think I did).

For those who are sharper than I am, what are their totems/ghost/spirit/monster forms if any? Were any clues given that I totally missed?

Further Reading

For a ‘proper’ breakdown of episode four I refer you to Hanners if you haven’t read his post already, who says that it is arguably the weakest of the episodes thus far (Hanners 2009/07/25)

Shinbo is said to purposefully overload viewers with information and detail, so I really think I will miss a lot of interesting things going on (annotated discussion c/o of lelangir 2009/07/21)

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 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to I Fail at Bakemonogatari (epiphanies after watching episode 4)

  1. Anonymous says:

    If you look carefully, all the girls with the animal motifs are shown near the beginning of the first episode. (Hint: it goes by quickly)

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yeah, it’s the going by quickly that made me miss it. So much shit going on. On one hand I can say this isn’t a good thing, but I rather like things like this that make for good rewatch value.

  2. I haven’t seen the show, and so I’m only going to say that I want to think you are correct, butit’s hard. Shinbo is a guy who really loves weird shit in his shows, but there are innumerable accounts of what I want to call ‘momentary’ symbolism in his shows. It’s like, ‘this is symbolic of something, but it doesn’t effect the story.’ However, Nisioisin is another animal, he writes the kind of heady shit you have to comp through several times to be sure you really understood. I’ve only read his Zaregoto and I haven’t read it eenough that I think I have a grasp on it yet.

    You are obviously spot on in using the word mosters because the show is called ‘bakemonogatari’ – ‘bakemono’ = monster – ‘monogatari’ = story

    • ghostlightning says:

      What’s the correct word for ghost then?

      I don’t mind the potential red-herrings, symbolic dead ends, and randomness that’s going on. It’s kind of like fanservice to me. I have no idea who Nisioisin is and what other things he’s done.

      • Nisioisin has written the Zaregoto series, the Bakemonogatari series, the Katanagatari series (which I’ve heard sucks) and a whole fuckload of shorts. He is one of those writers I have been meaning to talk about and you mentioned being interested in reading about :p Oh, he’s also written Death Note: Another Note and XXXHolic: Another Holic. Both of those and the first book of Zaregoto have been released in English and you can find his works in Faust, which is, IMO, the single most worthwhile publication in /existence/.

  3. animekritik says:

    i just watched the first couple of episodes and enjoyed them. the stapler does seem crab-like. there’s also a possible sexual connotation to a stapler/crab… Or maybe that’s just me overdoing it..Those screenshots look absolutely awesome!

    • ghostlightning says:

      The staplers are fucking each other. There’s your sexual connotation. For the slideshow I messed with some screenshots to put my ‘eureka’ process in a linear progression. They’re composites of multiple screenshots in most cases.

      I do think that you’ll find much to enjoy about this show, and I look forward to the fun things you’ll come up with.

  4. Pingback: Animal Spirits | hontou ni sou omou?

  5. Zyl says:

    I’ve made some screencaps in citation support of the first comment by Anonymous.

    • ghostlightning says:

      A pink zaku and an anon making my life better… it’s like a dream come true, only outside of /m/

  6. Panther says:

    Huh, now that you mention it, yea they do look like their stories’ animals.

    Ghost is yurei or youkai, but Ghostory fits better here because of the way bakemono and monogatari are combined. In English Ghostory would be the best way to translate it to keep the color.

  7. SVince51 says:

    Senjougahara = crab
    Mayoi = snail
    Hanekawa = cat
    ? = monkey
    ? = snake?

    And of course Koyomi, the ex-vampire. It’s what I like best about Bakemonogatari, how there actually is a design concept or philosophy (the ‘totems’) that shapes the characters, which in turn drives the story.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Hitagi = Crab
      Mayoi = Snail
      Sugura = Monkey
      Nadeko = Snake
      Tubasa [Tsubasa] = Cat

      Check out Zyl’s work (see pingback link at the bottom of the comments) “Animal Spirits,” for the textual evidence.

      While the concept is interesting enough, it’s the structure that sets up a resolution for an emotional trauma, divesting it from consequential meanings that allow the afflicted individuals to heal and move on [->]; it’s the execution of this structure, with the transfixing that keeps me watching (not to mention the captivating visuals).

  8. coburn says:

    I think you’re right to say that the designs may remain conceits, but that they are at least playing at some kind of mythological coherence. What I find perplexing is how far these animal spirits are the product of antiquarianism from nisioisin. The weight-crab-god mythos appeared to be a very local one, and I dunno how well-read the book seemingly behind snail-girl is. Is he cherrypicking the most evocative mythical imagery or just using it as cover? Either way is fine by me.

    I enjoyed watching the first arc again this week, not least because of that opening sequence – which teasingly seems to mix thing yet to come with stuff that may have already happened.
    I think it was implied by Oshino early on that the class rep suffered something more like a hostile occupation by some beastie – which presumably ties in with her regular personality not being very stereotypically catgirl. And which may or may not connect to the role of cats in Japanese mythology more generally. So hopefully the show will thrive on both setting up people in relation to ‘totems’ and establishing some of the distance between themselves and the spirits, regardless of the author’s intellectual reference points.

    • ghostlightning says:

      You got me thinking about Tsubasa more, who I like. I realize that as much as I like loli characters, I like loli-looking older characters, not actual kids (from a fanservice perspective), so I find myself not as drawn into Mayoi’s story as I was with Hitagi’s (not to be drawn into that character is a dubious talent for a heterosexual male contemporary anime fan who watches this show).

      Yes, she’s not stereotypically catgirl, which can make for interesting subversions and deconstructions later on. I’m looking forward to it!

    • lelangir says:

      I’ve been thinking about how “the anime” “treats” (as if the anime actually exists autonomously externally to its characters) Senjougahara as a kind of character/caricature, vascillating between the two. Especially when the helper priest dude was asking her questions prior to the pseudo-exorcism. He asked “who was your first crush?” – and Senjougahara refused to answer. To me, it is a very “real” question, one that isn’t suited for just a typical anime caricature, but for one that strives to be a real character with a real history, not some ahistoric moeblob. And yet her refusal to answer is also like a refusal to be a mere character, trying to strive to be a caricatured character. Maybe there are different layers, but it was one thing I found striking.

      • ghostlightning says:

        Yes, that’s a good observation. By being nihilistically without history, Senjougahara seems to transcend caricature anyway; this is very interesting.

        I (and IIRC cuchlann also) use ‘the anime,’ ‘the show,’ ‘the narrative,’ ‘the story,’ as active nouns to avoid running afoul with the intentional fallacy, which is easy to do if I ascribe things that happen in the show as ‘Nisioisin did this,’ or ‘Shinbo is saying such.’ I treat the subject work as a distinct entity from its creators — not so much as an autonomous entity from its characters.

  9. omisyth says:

    Nicely done. I love how you have the tendency to point out most things that I miss.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thanks! For a show that’s dense with information like this, it takes a community to catch most of the details. Check out Zyl’s work [->] if you haven’t yet.

  10. sadakups says:

    The new OP caught me off-guard. I honestly thought I was watching the wrong show. That’s cuteness overload right there.

    And yeah, congrats. If it were me, I’d fistpump too on such a discovery.

    • ghostlightning says:


      I like how the show has kept me on my toes. It’s interesting enough to get away with all these games of symbols and hints.

      • sadakups says:

        It’s not exactly the same, but this thing about symbolism and stuff reminds me so much of Serial Experiments Lain. That show is total mindfuckery from the start. Only difference with Bakemonogatari is that the latter is so much fun to watch.

        I should really stop watching that Mayoi OP over and over. I’m starting to develop a lolicon that it’s scary.

  11. vendredi says:

    SHAFT certainly has a penchant for picking up on animal motifs or using other symbolic stand-ins for characters; a long time back Cuchlann over at SuperFanicom put up a post on signifiers in Hidamari Sketch: http://superfani.com/?p=3446

    The same sort of character abbreviation is also present in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei – it’s not quite as “totemic” in the sense of using animal stand-ins, but “signifiers” as Cuchlann references them, are still present – for example, the prim and proper Chiri is often represented by a close cut to her perfectly-parted hair.

    And yes, you need to be very fast to catch on to SHAFT shows. Either a working knowledge of Japanese, or a very good ear, or a finger on the pause button (with reflexes honed by watching through every season of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei) also helps… things like the “street clothes –> moment of bliss” pun and the “Crab –> Touch” pun in episode 3 are very easy to miss.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Ahhh gotcha. Yeah, I missed those. So much of it is dependent on language, so I don’t really mind missing those details early on. Fridge logic I’ve found to be useful in increasing appreciation anyway. So I find episodic posts like this valuable in gathering information for myself from the community (and because I’m not into forums).

      • vendredi says:

        The heavy dependency on Japanese really makes me wonder if any publisher would even attempt a localization, even; there’s just so many nuances that probably only a fluent speaker might get, and not all of them are completely outright puns either.

        As another example, in episode 3 Senjougahara notes that the collective nickname for Araragi’s sisters are the “Tsuganoki Second Junior High Fire Sisters”: in the abstracted diagram that follows to show Araragi’s argument with his sister before riding off on his bike, the Japanese character representing his sister Karen is also the character for “Fire”. It’s enough to fill you with despair.

  12. Pingback: From a loli to a monkey » Anime²

  13. DrTenma says:

    Thanks for you post on BAKEMONOGATARI.

    This is THE most interesting and intriguing (and weird) anime since SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN.

    That’s not to say I understand even 90% of what the hell the show was about, exactly — a bit like the films of David Lunch (LOST HIGHWAY and BLUE VELVET in particular), whose refuses to state that his films “mean” anything — that is, it’s a flodd of visuals which can only be experienced through your eyes (and reptile brain remnent) rather than intellectually.

    At any rate, this series bears watching several times — and if I never figure it out, it is still a wonderfully engaging story (such as it is) with intriguing characters, and those weird, wonderful stream of conscious image waterfalls.


  14. skygrinder says:

    Dude you play tennis? Right on!

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