If you have not read Part One of this Monogatari Series: Second Season review, please read it first.
If it seems like I’m skipping Hanekawa as a piece stripped away from Araragi, it’s 1) because Hanekawa’s arc was about Hanekawa, not Araragi, and 2) because Araragi has probably not even realized that the current Hanekawa is no longer the Hanekawa he holds up on a pedestal.
If Hanekawa was learning to accept responsibility for one’s own emotions, Nadeko is learning to accept responsibility for one’s own actions and identity. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and no matter how sweet or passive Nadeko may have presented herself as, the fact that she essentially has snubbed the entire world is a choice she’s made. It’s a form of self-defense, one that I understand well: the desire to build yourself up, making others seem smaller by comparison. It’s not an action that needs to be verbalized to be true. In fact, Nadeko’s internalization of this self-inflating attitude makes it even more dangerous. You convince yourself that you’re better than everyone else, and you protect yourself from ever needing other people in your life. It’s easy.
And so, Nadeko tries to guard against the intrusion of others’ opinions of her. Hearing other people call her “cute” seems to synchronize with her opinion of herself, but it actually conflicts with her ability to build herself up. Other people calling her cute takes the power of acknowledgement out of her hands in places it into the hands of those complimenting her.
Such an attitude also explains why Nadeko has such a deep “love,” or perhaps obsession, with Araragi. Araragi has always treated her like she’s special, but because their relationship has existed for so long, Araragi’s treatment of Nadeko is the actual source of her ability to snub others: “Araragi treats me like I’m special, therefore I am special and everyone else is inferior.” On the surface, this line of reasoning seems to conflict with her dislike of others calling her cute, but this logic, in fact, keeps the power in Nadeko’s hands while maintaining the illusion of innocence. She can simultaneously control the perception of herself and avoid claiming responsibility for it. Does that even make sense? I’m not sure, but Nadeko is inherently self-contradictory.
If there is a reason Nadeko is ashamed of her desire to be a manga artist (brilliantly cliché), it is because it establishes her as a person based on her own identity, not the identity of Araragi or the expectations of anyone else. It is for this reason that Kaiki tells Araragi to leave Nadeko alone; Araragi cripples Nadeko’s ability to express herself as an individual.
Nadeko is the third departure from Araragi’s harem. We don’t really get to see the fallout of her removal as it affects Araragi—that’s for later—but it certainly will hurt him. It’s another layer ripped off of Araragi’s comfortable world. Someone he has been supporting all this time needs to take their first steps without him. And, in typical Araragi fashion, he struggles to let go.
Hitagi Senjougahara & Kaiki Deishuu
I don’t think it’s possible to talk about Senjougahara’s role in Monogatari separately from Kaiki’s. Senjougahara is now one of few remaining main characters in whose head we’ve never really been. It may not matter because of how frank she generally is with her words, but it also means the presentation of Senjougahara throughout Monogatari is skewed due to the perspectives from which we see here: firstly, Hanekawa’s (a strong Senjougahara); secondly, Kaiki’s (a much weaker Senjougahara).
As such, any comment I make about Senjougahara here must be taken with a grain of salt. Hanekawa’s Senjougahara is mostly consistent with the Senjougahara we’ve seen through Araragi’s eyes, the strong, fearless, witty and brave Senjougahara. But Kaiki’s Senjougahara is something else entirely. To add to the haze, Kaiki openly admits to fudging the exact details of the story: did Senjougahara really look like she was crying when she returned from the restroom? Did she really send him the note telling him to pull out? I’m not sure. In any case, the ways in which Senjougahara is portrayed say as much about Kaiki as they do about Senjougahara herself.
One thing I’m sure of: Kaiki really does think Senjougahara is less interesting, and from his perspective, I understand why. I’m, frankly, not even sure if she’s a better person than she was before. If Senjougahara was holding onto her grudge and anger before, she’s now leaning on Araragi, and leaning on him a lot. She tells Kaiki that she’d be willing to die for Araragi, a moment in which I recalled Araragi saying the same thing about Hanekawa. If you read my Nekomonogatari: Kuro analysis, you’ll know that I expressed serious doubts about Araragi truly loving Hanekawa when he said that. With Senjougahara, I’m not so much worried about whether or not she truly loves Araragi—I think that’s a given, no matter what way you look at it. It does, however, suggest to me that Senjougahara’s identity is now very much, if not entirely, wrapped up in Araragi.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Senjougahara comes across as the character who has grown the least since her initial arc. Since she and Araragi became an official couple, she’s been pouring her energy and attention into him. Recall the beloved episode 12 of Bakemonogatari: Senjougahara tells Araragi that the starlit sky is the last thing she has to give him. By doing so, Senjougahara has bound her own identity to Araragi. Nadeko’s declaration of war, therefore, is not just death warrant for Araragi, but for Senjougahara—and would have been so even without Senjougahara’s deal.
Senjougahara also appears to have lost the force of will that made her such an intimidating and mesmerizing presence in Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari. Even in her first showdown with Kaiki, she held her ground and maintained her dignity. Whether its just Kaiki’s perspective or the pressure of the situation, the Senjougahara we see in the Hitagi End arc is much less confident and much less under control.
I must admit that Kaiki threw me for numerous loops during the arc. His very raw moments with Ononoki before deceiving Nadeko undercut almost everything he has stood for, and even his verbal and internal protests weren’t enough to convince me there wasn’t a shred of truth in what Ononoki was saying. And his conversation with Nadeko pulsed with something I could only describe as legitimate care. But, then again, Kaiki is the great deceiver of this show, and it could be that he has truly fooled me on everything: on his own vulnerability and motives, on his perception of Senjougahara, on everything. Even so, like Nadeko says, maybe there was a hint of truth in the lie. That is, after all, how the best lies are constructed.
So, here we are. Ending with the boy who is truly central to this story. The Monogatari franchise may be a franchise that names its arcs after the female characters, but to even consider that anyone besides Araragi is the main character of this story is ludicrous. Every moment of this show, in some way, reflects on or influences Araragi.
Where does Araragi stand at the end of Monogatari? This is the fascinating question, when Araragi is absent for fully half the show. With or without him noticing, Araragi’s world has shifted. Mayoi’s departure reveals just how vulnerable Araragi is without these girls in his life, how desperately he needs them to cope with his own emptiness and needs.
Nothing illustrates this point better—that Araragi needs each and every one of them—than the moment in the Shinobu Time arc when Shinobu and Onoki ask him to choose between Shinobu, Senjougahara and Hanekawa, and Araragi desperately changes the subject. It’s more than just a question he doesn’t want to answer; it’s a question he cannot answer. Each of these girls represents a different part of Araragi, and to choose one of them is to choose one part of himself and reject the others. Back in Bakemonogatari, during the Suruga Monkey arc, Araragi talked about how incredibly selfish Senjougahara can be, unwilling to let a single thing important to her go. But Senjougahara is only selfish about some things; Araragi wants it all.
And why? Does he fear his own identity—what he truly is: a sex-starved, perverse, and normal teenager? Does he fear relinquishing the world of apparitions to return to being human, as Hanekawa did? Whatever the case may be, as Mayoi leaves him, Araragi is left incredibly vulnerable. The idea of letting go of even a single member of his harem is one he never considers, even if it means sitting for twenty years in the same unknown town.
Araragi is altogether incapable of making a choice. He has held on to his love for Senjougahara through all this, but he is able to do that because she fulfills a different role in his life than the others do. Senjougahara may no longer romantic rivals for Araragi’s affection, but Araragi can only focus on the girl in front of him. Even the Mayoi Jiangshi arc highlights this. Why would Araragi try to change the past, to save Mayoi? To free her from being a ghost and thus enable her to stay by his side.
Araragi is, as I’ve spoken of earlier, holding each of these girls back from becoming true expressions of themselves. But Araragi himself is being held back by them, as well. And as they continue to leave him, he is slowly, but surely, being moved to a point where he will have to change. Araragi will have to become self-sufficient. This is the genius of Monogatari. Araragi will be given the choice to change or not. He will have to decide, and his hand will be forced by the absence of all those upon whom he previously relied. Mayoi is gone. Hanekawa has become her own person. Nadeko is forbidden. Now, only Kanbaru, Senjougahara, Shinobu and the Fire Sisters remain. Kanbaru, I suspect, will make her exit (or at least have a drastic role modulation) in the upcoming Hanamonogatari, leaving the girlfriend, the one and the same partner, and the family.
I think, eventually, Araragi will either have to choose between Shinobu and Senjougahara, or choose between Shinobu and becoming his own person. If he chooses Shinobu, he will never change. He will sink all of his needs and desires into Shinobu and they truly will become one entity. This is not the route I hope to see him follow. If Senjougahara also leaves Araragi, and I suspect she must (even if temporarily) to give him the chance to change, I hope that he decides to follow the lead of those who have gone before him—accepting his own weakness, emotions, identity and life.
I don’t know which direction Araragi will go. All I know is that change is coming for him.
As I said in the introduction, the slow dissolution of Koyomi Araragi’s harem is a deeply disturbing story. It challenges our own perceptions of ourselves, and demands that we consider the responsibility we all have to accept ourselves as we are and the responsibility we have to change ourselves. It is impossible to go through life without changing. And even though change is painful, it is a good thing.
A while ago, the leaders of a retreat on which I was a member of staff came up with a slogan to help ease the acceptance of the changes they were planning on making to the retreat. The slogan was as follows:
“Good change is good.”
But, before you can change, you must first acknowledge that you can and need to change. Does Araragi understand this? Do we?
I don’t write this much about a show unless I think it is valuable and unless it means a lot to me. I highly recommend both Monogatari Series: Second Season and the whole Monogatari franchise.