Powerful Dialogue Sells the Show: Bakemonogatari 03 (Mayoi Snail 1) and Macross Frontier 03 (On Your Marks)

macross frontier 02 OZMA PAAANCH alto

There are two kinds of dialogue that I consider excellent, and while some shows may only have one of each, both add considerable value to the experience of watching them. These are:

  1. Expositional, qualified by economy (no text dumps explaining how the world works); and
  2. Color, often characterized by (but not limited to) capriciousness and cleverness (adding oodles of character to the characters participating in the conversation), also it is about something.

For the purposes of this discussion, I mean dialogue simply as the words in the script (not strictly distinguishing exchanges between two or more characters). In this post I’ll look at two episode threes as examples: Macross Frontier, and Bakemonogatari.

Dialogue that is about something

I’ll start with Bakemonogatari’s ‘Mayoi Snail 1.’  Let me recapitulate an exchange I took note of in my post on the episode:

I bring your attention to this particular exchange near the beginning of the episode. Araragi was moping around in this rather awesome playground and Senjougahara found him, and ‘allowed’ him to see her.

S: I wanted you to see these clothes first if possible, Araragi-kun.

A: Hey, if you wanted to show them to me first…

Well, uh, that makes it sound like a stroke of luck or an honor.

S: I didn’t want to show you them, Araragi-kun.

I wanted you to see them.

The nuance is completely different.

Is it really? Perhaps we can say that Senjougahara ‘allowed’ Araragi to see her new clothes, as opposed to ‘show’ them.

The proposed probable nuance lies in the power relations. [Read the full post ->]

bakemonogatari 03 senjougahara araragi monkey bars arch playground

The show has the kind of looseness (despite what still seems to be a linear structure) that allows for such adventures in dialogue. In the same conversation Senjougahara will riff on male desires and fetishes, allowing the show itself to give commentary on such and provide a meta-enjoyment of the show, if it didn’t quite break down the 4th wall. Here’s a gem:

I mean, the only kind of girl who would talk to an unappealing virgin like you are late-bloomer crazy virgins like me!

This line more than satisfies the criterion I described: it’s capricious, and adds oodles of character to not only to Senjougahara but Araragi as well. It is both descriptive and dismissive, and even justifies the exposition to a degree, if not moving the plot forward itself. Killer line is deadly. Sorrow-kun in his post on great dialogue notes that Senjougahara believably delivers this. I agree, and this is so because she has been talking this way for the first two episodes and enough precedent has been laid down (though this is not to say that an actual 18-year old would speak this way, and can be characterized as a late-bloomer virgin).

bakemonogatari 03 senjougahara araragi seesaw playground

But here’s the prize winner in my book, and I don’t think it’s easy to notice at all. In the same conversation, it’s revealed that Senjougahara lives in the area where the park they’re at is.

A: How about you Senjougahara, do you come here often?

S: This used to be my place.

A: “Your place?” That’s right, you said you used to live around here.

S: Well, yes. But then it all changed. It’s not like I’m too sentimental about it, but… For some reason, seeing how where I used to live has changed makes my motivation slip away.

A: Isn’t it unavoidable?

S: That’s right. It’s unavoidable.

What is the show saying here? It’s saying change is inevitable; it’s a rather subtle way to underscore a theme of a show about monsters that hijack one’s personal growth and finding one’s way to be free of them. The monsters are past events that people (the characters) make to mean something about themselves with negative consequences. To be free of them is to move forward. But then, sometimes we don’t want to change, or don’t want things to change. Adolescence is like that too. That’s why I value this easy to overlook piece of dialogue, it is about something.

Outside of anime, I can think of the film Pulp Fiction, Film critic Roger Ebert puts it well:

Dialogue drives Quentin Tarantino‘s “Pulp Fiction”_dialogue of such high quality it deserves comparison with other masters of spare, hard-boiled prose, from Raymond Chandler to Elmore Leonard. Like them, QT finds a way to make the words humorous without ever seeming to ask for a laugh. Like them, he combines utilitarian prose with flights of rough poetry and wicked fancy.

Consider a little scene not often mentioned in discussions of the film. The prizefighter Butch (Bruce Willis) has just killed a man in the ring. He returns to the motel room occupied by his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros). She says she’s been looking in the mirror and she wants a pot belly. “You have one,” he says, snuggling closer. “If I had one,” she says, “I would wear a T-shirt two sizes too small, to accentuate it.” A little later she observes, “It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye are seldom the same.” [emphasis by ghostlightning]

[…]In a lesser movie, the dialogue in this scene would have been entirely plot-driven; Butch would have explained to Fabienne what he, she and we already knew. Instead, Tarantino uses an apparently irrelevant conversation to quickly establish her personality and their relationship. His dialogue is always load-bearing.

Ebert goes on to say that this is brilliant dialogue. I agree, when he says: it is about something.

An overlooked opus of exposition

‘On Your Marks’ is chock-full of world building and plot progression. We see the love triangle’s three points align, and the nature of the relationships flesh out:

macross frontier 03 ranka alto sheryl vf-25f the beginning of the triangle chart

This was established through the chance meeting that began with Sheryl and Ranka in the previous episode and continued in their adventure while trapped in an emergency shelter while the SMS fought Vajra within the vicinity. Ozma Lee, the leader of the squadron was injured; being the guardian of Ranka who lied to her about his continued pilot duty resulted in Ranka blacking out. It is also revealed in the episode that Ranka has dissociative amnesia and does not remember anything beyond her time with Ozma that began a few years ago.

Macross Frontier - 03 - Ranka singing Aimo

Later in the episode Ranka recovers, and while Alto wanders around sorting his emotions regarding joining SMS to become a fighter pilot he finds Ranka in the cemetery grounds singing to herself.

R: I don’t remember anything from my childhood. This song is the only memory I have. It’s the only memory I have.

A: So I see.

R: Sometimes, I come here to sing. Nobody’s here to listen, so…

A: Nobody to listen Is that alright with you?

R: Yeah. I used to think that way… Sheryl-san’s beautiful, isn’t she? I’m so jealous. I was really scared when we were trapped in there. I thought I might die without being able to do anything. Without anyone knowing I died. And then I thought, if I could tell as many people as I could that I was there… I thought that was why…

A: That’s not possible.

R: Yeah, you’re right. Someone like me couldn’t…

A: As long as you keep thinking someone like you can’t do anything, Then you’ll never be able to!

R: You’re so mean, Alto-kun!

A: I get that a lot.

R: I want to tell everybody! Will you listen to my song?

A: Sure, go ahead.

R: Thanks, Alto-kun.

The dialogue is decidedly pedestrian compared to the above examples, but they set up the next sequence, where the show really puts together something powerful. I noted in the previous episode’s post [->] how Frontier uses characters breaking into song as a set-piece exposition|narrative progression device. In this case, the song ‘Aimo’ is sung by Ranka for the first time, with Alto as her audience. This performance serves to score two simultaneous and contrasted funeral ceremonies.

It is twilight, and the fallen pilots of the NUNS Mililtary are being sent off with a gun salute. We are given a view from a distance, which then shifts to a building that somewhat resembles a crematorium. Inside, the non-funeral ceremony for the fallen SMS pilot Henry Gilliam (killed by Vajra in the first episode) is being held. As Ranka sings ‘Aimo’ in the distance (that we have no problem hearing, serving as a requiem for Gilliam), Capt. Jeffrey Wilder delivers the eulogy:

He was a brave soldier. A man who feared nothing, never hesitated, and fought with all his might, sacrificing his life for what was precious to him.

But this is not the end. One day, his mortal shell will become our own flesh and blood, fueling our burning lives.

So for now, rest in peace. Farewell. Let us meet again.

Gilliam’s body, in some kind of casket is plunged into a liquid solution. We can infer from Wilder’s words how (part of) the biological system in the Frontier colony works — a total commitment to recycling biomass. To find out about this aspect of worldbuilding (ecology is a theme in Kawamori Shoji works) through a powerful scene like this exemplifies the kind of dialogue that serves narrative exposition excellently.

macross frontier 03 gilliam euology sms

But why two separate funerals? What is so different about the SMS? It seems that their pilots are more competent, and they have better ordnance than the NUNS military. After Gilliam’s service Alto was waiting for Ozma right outside, resolved to join them after hearing Ranka sing, following his prodding. Ozma gives him disclaimers:

O: As Civilian Military Providers, we don’t officially die in battles. We die in accidents. We will never be remembered with a headstone, and we will never have a ceremonial gun salute. Our families will never know the truth about our deaths.

A: That’s convenient for me. I live by my own strength and die by it as well. That is my resolve.

We now know the difference, and the consequences of being a civilian serving the military. This nature is relevant to Ozma’s reluctance to reveal his profession to Ranka, as it is fraught with risk and against regulations. (The SMS would still be guilty of employing minors in very hazardous work without informing parents and/or guardians, much less their consent LOLKAWAMORI?).

To use another mecha anime in contrast,  Martian Successor Nadesico relies on (almost) breaking the 4th wall with its lectures and presentations. It isn’t a knock on the show because it is a delightful homage to Gunbuster!‘s bonus science episodes, and well within the humorous tone of the series. What it lacks in elegance, it makes up with comprehensiveness. The dialogue in Frontier will not spell things out in detail. We’re to infer, to deduce, and read into the statements not so much for meaning or symbolism but rather the way the world works in the narrative, how the details play together, in the service of the story.

Further Reading

A survey of anime with great dialogue, Bakemonogatari is already on this list (Sorrow-kun 2009/07/27)

‘Great Movies’ article on Pulp Fiction (Roger Ebert 2001/06/10)

If awesome, manly, and GAR can be considered great dialogue, then I submit Souten Kouro and Sengoku Basara (yes, I went there) [->]

Strapless dresses are awesome, and other things about ‘On Your Marks’ on T.H.A.T. (Crusader 2008/04/24)

Martian Successor Nadesico is actually badass at exposition [->]

LOLKAWAMORI is a play on the LOLTOMINO meme [->]

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, comparative, fanboy, Macross Frontier and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Powerful Dialogue Sells the Show: Bakemonogatari 03 (Mayoi Snail 1) and Macross Frontier 03 (On Your Marks)

  1. schneider says:

    @ chart

    Desire? Shouldn’t that be an empty sky? 😛

    Gilliam’s funeral was well-done. I had to think about it for a while, the discrepancy between NUNS and SMS men. I would’ve liked Frontier to have been about NUNS, though. It’s a rather shaky fact that NUNS is incompetent and SMS has to step in and save the day numerous times.

    • ghostlightning says:

      The image is taken from episode 12, when Alto is flying in the empty open sky of Gallia IV (see background of Battloid). This is Macross, ergo mecha anime. The open sky is nothing without a gorgeous VF-25F Messiah to fly through it! ^_^

      I’ve no problem with Frontier having the conceit that NUNS sucks and they rely on Bilrer’s SMS to do their crack work.


      By episode 14, the 2nd major engagement vs the Vajra… NUNS start kicking ass. Crusader made many references to DIAMOND FORCE, while unfounded, is entertaining.


      • schneider says:

        It makes more sense now that you mention it. NUNS must have been unprepared for the Vajra attack, and needed to warm up its fighting gears (as with all large organizations). But did they really have to take until episode 14 to start kicking ass? I kind of dig the VF-171 and its EX variant. 😦

        I have a saved thread in /m/ about an idea for a NUNS squadron side-story (Vermillion). I’d share it with you if you want. :3

        • ghostlightning says:


          Well, it took 14 episodes because Frontier was busy being a love story. Top of my head, here are the engagements:


          EP 01: NUNS get pwnd, SMS has a tough time due to limited use of reaction ordnance.
          EP 02: SMS takes the job, due to NUNS limited success
          EP 03: Actual battle, see above.
          EP 04: SMS on training maneuvers, skirmish ensues (SMS patrol area so no NUNS).
          EP 05: No fighting, Date w/ Sheryl and Ranka sings @ Folmo.
          EP 06: NUNS are sent as reconaissance to assist Macross Galaxy.
          EP 07: SMS vs. Vajra, first battle (all preceding engagements are skirmishes; trivia — SDF Macross ep 07 was the Battle of Saturn’s Rings [->]); fully features military capabilities of SMS (ergo all of Frontier’s signature mecha save the Macross class ships for the finale, but debut of Macross Quarter’s transformation).
          EP 09: Skirmish, intended to portray Alto vs Mikhail Failrivalry, Mikhail backstory.
          EP 10: No battle, We Remember Macross Zero faggotry.
          EP 11: No battle, Alto has a birthday, Ranka is a star now.
          EP 12: LOL battle vs. Zentraedi. 1 dogfight, Alto vs. Kamjin homage dude. Ranka does a Basara.
          EP 13: No battle, Alto looks for Ranka inside Vajra lair (Macross 04 ‘Global’)


          As you can see, given the narrative goals of the show, NUNS becoming awesome didn’t really fit given the exposition, plot-progression, love triangle faggotry, and world-building that went on. But hey, the battles were spaced 7 eps apart so it’s good that they made sure that the NUNS would have their day in the next big one.

  2. 2DT says:

    *whistle* Very thorough. I don’t have much to contribute, but this was an interesting read.

  3. RyanA says:

    Ah we definitely enjoy the clever dialog. There’s such a huge different between Araragi c/w Senjougahara and Alto c/w Ranka, but they have nice movements. Bakemonogatari yields a somewhat naughty, flirtatious vibe, while Frontier is more dreamy and cute. I’m not sure Frontier’s dialog has that same edge, but topically, it was so very attracting. (actually some of the dialog between Alto and Sheryl had some edge).

    🙂 lol schneider. Alto get’s hard on open sky.

    • ghostlightning says:

      The dialogue in Macross Frontier is not clever and rarely charming. The point here is that the dialogue in Macross Frontier satisfies my criterion for exposition – the story is moved forward, as well as aspects of the science fiction world are effectively presented. The best example being the whole business setting up and completing Gilliam’s ‘funeral’.

  4. animekritik says:

    very interesting post. i must admit, though, i have weakness for text dumps sometimes. as long as it’s not right at the beginning of the show, but after i’ve become interested in the “world”, I love to get as much detail about the background, and often that doesn’t happen. Therefore, when it does happen, when I see a character stand up and say: “It’s time for you to know the truth” and proceeds to do a 10 minute speech full of details and trivia, I feel like getting my royal milk tea and sipping it in delight while i listen…

    My favorite part of the LOTR books is the appendices.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Right! And it’s critical that it happen later on if this has any chance of working. Appendices lie outside the main narrative, and in LOTR’s case they’re even high quality side/back stories.

      I think a really slick way of doing information dumps occurs in Seirei no Moribito, considering its fantasy world is pretty much built from scratch (with all its nations, creatures and mythology). A real clever bit happens when the party seeks the telling by a tribe’s bard — only that she had passed away without training a successor.

      The untrained daughter delivers a rather prosaic (but cleverly set-up for being so!) but still theatrical account of what the party wanted to know about.

      Contrast this with the dirty trick Legend of the Galactic Heroes does in its latter middle episodes:

      We watch a character watch documentaries of the Galaxy’s history. This happens for more than one episode in a row IIRC.

      I don’t think I didn’t enjoy the experience, I loved the show so I ate all that back story up. But I do think it was rather clumsy.

      • animekritik says:

        That LOGH bit does sound clumsy, tasty but clumsy. I gotta watch that someday.

        • ghostlightning says:

          Yes! I daresay you’ll love it, not in the “OMG I’m awed at how this show lives up to the grand hype,” which could happen too, but love it for all the rich little things that you make much of from the shows you cover.

  5. Sorrow-kun says:

    I think the advantage of using dialogue which is, as you put it, “about” something is that it’s a lot more creative than just mere exposition. It begs the audience to look for subtext and context, to engage with what the characters are talking about, and, more importantly, what they’re saying (subtle difference, people can “say” things without actually talking, and any good visual medium, from film to animation, will capture that).

    Speaking about “nuance”, which is relevant to Bakemonogatari, I think it’s important to discern the difference between “believable” and “realistic” in the case of Senjougahara. She’s not realistic at all in the same sense as characters from Honey and Clover are. She’s an entirely fictional construct, but she’s thoroughly entertaining and sympathetic because of it. They’ve spent time building her up as a capricious character with a knack for elaborate speech, which is why when she says what she says, it’s believable, even though it’s unique and (arguably) out of left field. Bakemonogatari as an anime, overall, is unstructured (most Shinbo anime are), but because of that, it has a huge amount of freedom to go wherever it pleases. It’s probably the most delicious anime I can remember since Kannagi.

    • ghostlightning says:

      While it’s not an either/or case, as expositional dialogue done well is a necessity for narratives, you put it well how conversations ‘about’ something is more interesting.

      Regarding your distinction between believable and realistic, yeah I agree. Those are two different goals that a narrative work may go for. In the case of Bakemonogatari which has fantasy/occult elements, believability and plausibility is more important.

      And yes, I’m sold. It works splendidly.

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  7. DonKangolJones says:

    I had a funny feeling while watching Bakemonogatari 03. Either this is where I get off, or I’m watching something brilliant that I don’t think I’m prepared for. The first thing that struck me (maybe I should say distracted)was the imagery. The colors and art were just beautiful. But something kept snapping me out of it. The dialogue. The somewhat insane dialogue. It seemed melancholy & introspective. It was almost like you were staring at a piece of art and there was someone have a deep, interesting conversation right in front of it.

    Senjougahara clearing dominates the conversation. And in a way it felt like she was dominating the viewer. Or at least me because I apparently think like Araragi. And while it was fun to listen to and nice to think about, I really did want to stop her, look her in the eye , and ask her some straight questions and get straight answers. But I guess it wouldn’t be as fun that way, nor would she be as mysterious and sexy.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes, I agree. I think you hit on a way of appreciating the show that’ll resonate with many. Of cour’s you’re right about how it wouldn’t be as fun when we actually get what we want. This is a very important idea I think, and I’m glad you shared it here.

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  9. gloval says:

    Ah, this is the first mention of Ranka about her motivations to sing. I’ve tried comparing this to what she and also Sheryl said about singing in later episodes, but the plot had me confused by then.

    Also, nice explanation of why Ozma had been secretive about his true job in SMS. There had been comments on how this secrecy aspect was superfluous since that Ranka would eventually accept Ozma’s being a pilot without further drama.

    • ghostlightning says:

      For Macross, ANYTHING!

      The secrecy aspect is troublesome in another way. As I mentioned, SMS was employing minors without parental knowledge, much less consent. How would you feel if your 15 year old son or daughter instead of studying with her classmates like she said, is actually being sent to fight space monsters? The government conspired with a corporation to keep this from you.

      This is quite lulz.

  10. vendredi says:

    I’ll note that one advantage of having the protagonists part of a PMC rather than NUNS is quite simply a storytelling conceit – you can do tales of daring individualism about mercenaries and the like – doing it with soldiers is a stretch, especially if you want to pay more than a handful of lip service to the idea of following orders and the chain of command. Using a romanticized PMC one has a bit more looseness in terms of following proper protocol for every episode (such as underage pilots…)
    As a slightly more independent group, SMS has a little more flexibility than NUNS in how they carry out their mission… this comes into play a little later on. Secondly, it allows for perhaps a more characterful (if cliche) “The A-Team” sort of concept; we have the fearless leader, sniper, promising rookie, radar/recon guy, etc., and allows for more “knightly” feats to be accomplished by contrasting SMS’s skill and equipment versus that of “the grunts”.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

      A pet peeve that I have in Gundam is how almost everyone fucking freelances. They do their own thing, taking mobile suits out without permission (Amuro in 1st Gundam, Katz in Zeta, oh God Turn A Gundam).

      It’s one thing to be in a disorganized militia (Turn A), an irregular unit in the Federation forces (1st Gundam, or maybe even AEUG), but for the love of Tomino! The TITANS should never have this bullshit. Jerid Messa just did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, so when a signal to retreat is given and then he suddenly obeys, I just get pissed off.

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  15. pet caskets says:

    I’m not sure Frontier’s dialog has that same edge, but topically, it was so very attracting.

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