In the end, what I take away is a story of friends and friendship. Senjougahara represented romantic love, and while all the other girls (Hanekawa, Oshino Shinobu, Hachikuji, Kanbaru, Sengoku) flirted with us (yes, we viewers) in creating a harem dynamic, in the end they behaved as I would want my friends to behave, the way Oshino Meme is a friend.
It is interesting how Senjougahara is the only character whose behavior is completely unfriendly. With her it is either love, or punishment. Her characterization so thoroughly stands out from the rest in that while every other girl posed a physical or psychic danger or threat to Araragi, they ceased to manifest this after they were ‘saved.’ Senjougahara consistently, persistently poses a physical threat to Araragi long after he saved her.
She was the only character (IIRC) that specifically, formally, requested to be friends with Araragi. Then she said she loved him.
Relative to all other girls surrounding Araragi, Senjougahara is the most authentic. She is direct, and anything she withheld from him, she revealed in due course, on her terms. This authenticity demonstrated how she was the most powerful character in the show. Arguably, Araragi is more powerful for attracting her, and all the others; but she owns him – the deciding factor.
The most inauthentic, and thus the character that suffered a relapse of her curse/oddity, is Hanekawa Tsubasa. Hanekawa the nice, the helpful, the responsible was lying to everyone, was lying to herself. This allowed her oddity to resurface and take hold of her. The stress of her lies gave the cat something to feed on, and gave Bakemonogatari an anti-climactic final arc.
What this arc did well, was complete the relationships, the narrative feels whole as a result. Hanekawa provided some tension, some conflict. It put Araragi’s characterization through its paces:
Araragi by this time has revealed himself to us someone who is willing to sacrifice himself for others, with or without vampire healing abilities. He is wiling to put aside his own satisfaction so that others may be protected or saved. This played out in all of the girls after the Hitagi Crab arc. Senjougahara did well to point this out to Araragi, and she complimented him for it, if perhaps grudgingly.
The crossroads: Araragi can save Hanekawa by letting the cat oddity kill him. This is interesting. This feeds directly into his nature to sacrifice himself. At this point it would be easy to let this happen. But see here, Araragi shows more than just a bit of character. He shows intelligence if not wisdom: If Hanekawa via the cat oddity kills Araragi, Senjougahara will kill her. Nobody wins.
But does this mean he goes out of character and doesn’t sacrifice something? No. What he gives up is his belief that people accept help out of selfishness. He gives up being righteous about this.
It’s quite a selfish thing for him to believe this. How so? It makes everyone he saves small, and doesn’t account for his own motivation. Why does he save people? Is it because they’re small, pathetic, and helpless (without him)? It doesn’t account for love going both ways. It doesn’t account for friendship.
So he took account of both, and called out for a friend. In all other cases, he ‘saved’ everyone when via friend ex machina. Senjougahara many times over shows up and finishes what he started (at the point when his own effort wasn’t enough and he himself was in danger).
The important thing to note here, is this time he acknowledged how much he needed help. He gave up the pretense that he believes people are utterly selfish.
And this time, all his friends did, in their own ways.
And Shinobu saved him and Hanekawa in spectacular fashion, just as Senjougahara would do.
There are dark places in the world, but we need not be so afraid if we are friends.
The story resolves, Oshino has his unorthodox send-off in the narrative, and nothing is left but Araragi and the girls, an alpha (and only) male in his house of ghosts.
A Personal Note
I felt completing Bakemonogatari, and now writing this post after almost a year since it started airing, is like getting to know a new friend all over again, and at last.