Monogatari & the Extinction of the Harem (Part 2)

If you have not read Part One of this Monogatari Series: Second Season review, please read it first.

Monogatari Series: Second Season

Nadeko Sengoku

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.

So, Nadeko.

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.Monogatari Series: Second Season

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.

Monogatari Series: Second Season

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.

Monogatari Series: Second Season Senjougahara

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.Monogatari Series: Second Season

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.

Koyomi Araragi

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.

Monogatari Series: Second Season 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.Monogatari Series: Second Season

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.Monogatari Series: Second Season

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.

Monogatari Series: Second Season

Credit to reddit user /u/pvt_aru

I don’t know which direction Araragi will go. All I know is that change is coming for him.

Closing

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?

Monogatari Series: Second Season

My favorite line of the entire series. Who of us doesn’t know this feeling?

 RECOMMENDATION:

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.

13 thoughts on “Monogatari & the Extinction of the Harem (Part 2)

  1. Wonderful review. You’re very on point about a lot of things, and I especially appreciate how you focus on Araragi at the end. I won’t say anything about what’s to come, but I think you’re really going to enjoy it. The novels go in a path that really is brilliant, and the last book that was released is truly genius. Can’t wait to see it animated, and I’m looking forward to what you have to say when that day comes.

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    • Yeah, I’m at times dismayed at how much crap Araragi takes. He’s an idiot, selfish and immature, but I also see him as hugely sympathetic. And that’s without really having a clue about his backstory.

      I am very excited to see the rest of this show animated; it’s great that it sells well enough that it will probably sustain itself to the end of the story through disc sales alone.

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      • As far as I know, the entire series is licensed and scheduled for animation. They’re going to have to do some really creative stuff around the last few novels, as Nisio starts to show of his creativity as a writer by doing weirder and weirder things. It’s gonna be a fun ride!

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  2. Great review. Nice to read a narrative that isn’t about the rather obvious surface of Monogatari.

    “as they continue to leave him, he is slowly, but surely, being moved to a point where he will have to change.”

    I don’t think you give Koyomi enough credit here. Monogatari is, as you say, about change – Koyomi’s path into maturity as much as anything. The stripping away of these unhealthy relationships are necessary steps on that path AND evidence of the change in him.

    For example, Koyomi’s spiral of panic on the mountain leads not only to an important revelation to the audience, but is a transformative moment of self-awareness for Koyomi – despite Shinobu’s provocative question he didn’t really choose between the three girls in the cram school, but he DOES on the mountain. From that moment (picturing Shinobu and “Can’t forgive”) he messes with the other two no more, despite opportunity. That Hachikuji then leaves is symbolically inevitable.

    “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.”

    The question that you rightly point out cannot be answered is mostly a bit of mischief by a rebounding Shinobu, it’s not a question that needs to be answered so your suggestion of a looming choice is actually unnecessary. Firstly Koyomi doesn’t have to choose to become something, he’s been changing through the whole show, arc by arc. Secondly Shinobu’s delightful jealousy is focussed and logical (I’m being deliberately vague here) – it’s important to stress that she isn’t jealous of Hitagi AT ALL, and Hanakawa is as you’ve described out of the picture.

    In other words, Koyomi doesn’t need to choose between his first girlfriend and his life partner… though you may need to have a “shaky grip of time” and a full understanding of the “bath scene” to see why.

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    • If you’re referencing a “full understanding of the bath scene,” I must assume that you also have knowledge of Kizu, as I’ve heard that it makes the bath scene’s purpose clearer. But I haven’t read it, so I can only know speak on what I’ve seen.

      Also, as far as giving Araragi credit goes, the only evidence of change I will accept from his is actual action. Araragi is a prodigious talker, and symbolic leavings mean nothing in the face of how he actually acts. If anything, Araragi’s attitude towards Nadeko after her transformation—his desire to still save her—is indicative that we are dealing with the exact same Araragi, an Araragi who can see nothing beyond the girl right in the front of him, an Araragi who is once again willing to let himself be killed, this time along with Senjougahara and Shinobu. And to support my claim, this comes after your referenced mountain scene. If Araragi had actually made a choice there and changed, he would not have been in the mess he was in with Nadeko.

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  3. Great insight on some of the other characters, and I especially enjoyed your examination of my favorite three (Kaiki, Sengoku, and Senjougahara). S2 reveals many more dimensions to all of their characters and I like how you tied in Araragi’s personality and seeming lack of change to the inevitable change of those around him and how that will impact him as well. We don’t get to see the effects of all that happened in S2 because of the time Araragi spends offscreen as well as the fact that the conclusions to many of the arcs are without him, though it’s clear he’ll have to develop in the future arcs too and I’m very interested in seeing how that goes.

    I’m also curious about the conflict between Gaen and Ougi, which was briefly displayed through S2 but was more of a behind-the-scenes mechanic than a primary plot point. It’ll be interesting to learn more about their characters and also to see how they impact not only the direction of the story but also Araragi’s development, I imagine there’s lots to look forward to with this series.

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    • It’s been said elsewhere, and not by me, that the reason S2 was so strong was because we did get so little Araragi, because we were finally able to see the franchise’s other characters without his perverse worldview distorting the viewers perception of them. I don’t know how much I agree with that, but there’s definitely some merit to the idea—and the circumstantial evidence is there to support it.

      The other specialists have always occupied important symbolic roles, but I’m not yet sure where Gaen and Ougi fall into the spectrum. There’s definitely a lot to look forward to there, as well as in the main characters’ stories.

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  4. First of all, you’re way too harsh on Araragi. It’s undeniable that the boy has his flaws but I believe being unable to make a choice between the people he cares about is not one of them. A consequence of this is that he can only focus on the girl right in front of him. I say, what’s wrong with that? An Araragi that chooses is not an Araragi worth being chosen as he was by each of those girls.

    When you say Araragi hasn’t even noticed that Hanekawa has changed, you’re absolutely wrong. Towards the end of the Tsubasa Tiger arc when he says he isn’t sure if Hanekawa is currently Black Hanekawa or Hanekawa herself and she replies that she is all of them and he says, “I see”, signalling his acceptance.

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  5. Before anything else I’d like to let you know that I really approve of the way you review anime in your blog. I’ve been looking to find something like this for a while now and now that I have, I believe it’s only right that I express my gratitude. Hounto ni arigatou!

    Now then, to my opinions of your opinions. First of all, you’re way too harsh on Araragi. It’s undeniable that the boy has his flaws but I believe being unable to make a choice between the people he cares about is not one of them. A consequence of this is that he can only focus on the girl right in front of him. I say, what’s wrong with that? An Araragi that chooses is not an Araragi worth being chosen as he was by each of those girls.

    When you say Araragi hasn’t even noticed that Hanekawa has changed, you’re absolutely wrong. Towards the end of the Tsubasa Tiger arc when he says he isn’t sure if Hanekawa is currently Black Hanekawa or Hanekawa herself and she replies that she is all of them and he says, “I see”, signalling his acceptance. He even says that he’ll accept her changing but if she becomes rotten he will hate her and if she becomes stupid he will help her study. All of this shows that he’s will to accept whoever she chooses to become within limits. He maybe selfish, but calling him blind is a complete misreading of his nature.

    On Hachikuji, by their last conversation it was evident that Hachikuji believes she had become a complete being, first by finding her way to her mother’s house and second by interacting with Arararagi. The Hachikuji of Mayoi Snail is a far cry from the Hachikuji of Mayoi Jiangshi/Shinobu Time. The fact that she tells Araragi that he only ones he’s truly burdens with his troubles are Shinobu & her are proof of this. By choosing to wink out of existence, she does more to complete her journey than “herself”.

    Nadeko was delusional. That is all. Even Tsukihi wondered how she could stay in love with someone she met a couple of times when she was a kid. Furthermore, she only believes Araragi treated her as of she was special. Araragi treats everyone the same. If Araragi is at fault here, it’s in the way he takes her sins upon himself. For him, he fails if he can’t help you back to what he thinks is the proper you.

    Lastly, Senjougahara and the Hitagi End arc. Let’s agree to treat this monogatari as truth, in as much as truth is shaded by perspective. After all, reviewing a half-truth or a whole lie would be pointless. So, in this arc Senjougahara tears ups, appears vulnerable, leans on Kaiki. It’s obvious from his perspective that she’s changed. He doesn’t like that. A Senjougahara should be wary, willful and wounded. That is when she’s truly at her best. To be honest, I wouldn’t say I disagree. Name Bakemonogatari’s Senjougahara was interesting. I even think that Araragi may not have realized this but the reason he’s so fascinated by her is her personality, even as he says that it’s in spite of it. But you know, change happens. Senjougahara was the first to change; the first to grow. Kaiki himself admits that Araragi presence allowed her to strengthen herself. That means that even he recognises that her personality back then wasn’t real. It couldn’t be maintained if she was to move on. It was something to protect herself just like Nadeko’s bangs and Hanekawa’s cat and tiger. She may be less interesting but as a character she’s shown the most growth.

    My final thoughts: An Araragi that relies on the people around him is an Araragi that does not need the false growth of “self-reliance” and “become his own person”. He may need to tweak his attitude here and there but I ultimately believe that this Araragi is the best Araragi there will ever be. The only Araragi worth telling a story about.

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