I don’t want to be “real.” I want to be “human.”
This is a coming home, of sorts.
One of the things I’ve been wanting to do more on this blog is personal writing. Of course, to a degree, all the writing I do here on Mage in a Barrel is personal—but much of it is personal only insofar as my more detached analyses subtextually present the ways I think and engage with shows. And even that contains a bit of artifice, as that kind of analysis naturally tends towards a more logical-rational way of presenting myself and the anime I love.
That’s something of a lie, because the truth is that I tend to engage with the anime I love on an emotional level first and an intellectual level second. I think this is seen more on Twitter—with my livetweeting outbursts and my tendencies to lean into casual language, inarticulate keyboard mashing, and capslock providing a more immediate and less-filtered look into what I’m experiencing as I’m watching a show. That doesn’t always make it here on the blog, though, because I try to add value to shows by adding a unique analytical take.
My recent rewatch of the Nekomonogatari: Shiro arc (also known as the Tsubasa Tiger arc) of Monogatari Series: Second Season has lead me to think that I’ve been shortchanging both myself and my readers by doing this. What you read here is “real,” certainly—but is it human? That’s the question I’ll be trying to answer in this post.
As I watched the final minutes of Tsubasa Tiger tick away on my television last night, I cried a little bit, moved by this familiar story, one I’d last seen in full nearly two years prior. I was more touched in the present moment than I remembered being during my initial watch, a difference I attribute to the cache Hanekawa as a character has gained with me in the intervening time (declaring her one of my all-time favorite anime characters, seeing her reappear in the Hitagi End arc and, most recently, in Owarimonogatari, etc).
Throughout the arc, I had seen Hanekawa slowly come to a fuller realization of herself and her own identity—of her virtues and her vices, and of the way she had been engaging with the world around her. And in those final minutes, though my teared-up eyes, I saw her experience heartbreak and the weight of being a broken person in full for the first time. Of trying and failing. Of risking, and losing. Of being vulnerable, and being hurt.
Hanekawa Tsubasa blossoms, a wounded flower.
As I said before, it was a moment that caused me to cry. To feel, maybe just a little bit, the pain Hanekawa was feeling. I was grateful for that. Grateful to be moved, grateful to feel, grateful to see the supreme generosity and love with which Hanekawa’s trials were enacted, and ended. It was a privilege, I felt—and still feel—to be able to witness this all play out before my eyes.
I was left wondering, “And so? What does this now mean for me?”
This is not a new question that I’ve asked myself. I asked it to myself last night, I’ve been asking it to myself all day today. And I’ve asked it of myself after finishing Hyouka, recently, and numerous other shows in the past. What now? Having experienced, having felt—what now?
This is, I think, a very important question, and not just because of the frequency with which it seems to crop up in my life. As I see it, personally, there are two options I have after finishing an experience with something that moves one in the way Nekomonogatari: Shrio moved me. 1) Let it simmer for a bit, and then move on to the next thing. 2) Let it simmer, but then take it in and give something back. The giving something back… I suppose I’d say I believe that to be critical. Art, like idols, is something that gives infinitely, bound only by our capacity to receive. Art is somewhat like God, at least God as I understand Him, in this way. But art cannot really receive anything back from me; it can only give and give.
So, if I cannot give back to art, not really, then how do we honor (in a sense) the thing that has given to us? To take only is sheer selfishness, and because Good Art, generally speaking (and I do mean generally, because it’s not a strict rule), calls me out of myself—or at the very least, out of my indifference and my personal status quo.
I’m hearing that call from Nekomonogatari: Shiro right now.
I suspect I’m more like Hanekawa Tsubasa before her actualization than I’d like to admit, or perhaps even “more like her than I’m aware of.” Hanekawa’s unconscious shearing off of pieces of her emotions… I sometimes wonder if I’m guilty of this same thing. Recently, a coworker of mine passed away due to a sudden heart attack. The general lack of emotional response from myself—despite the fact that I wasn’t, not really, close to this person—has been bothering me of late. And watching Hanekawa come to terms with the reality of her emotional severance made me wonder if I’ve been doing the same thing, both in this situation and in others. But to psychoanalyze myself through anime… that’s not really what this is all supposed to be about, although I hope it’s “human.”
If I’m giving something back, it’s not to Nekomonogatari: Shiro, and I’ve already received so therefore in theory I shouldn’t be giving back to myself either (although that may still be inevitable in this particular story). Where do I give then? Outside of myself seems to be the only answer, and I would note that the final push for Hanekawa to own up to her issues is that her issues are ultimately going to hurt people she cares about in a very real way if she doesn’t address them. If Hanekawa’s been looking away from the things that cause her pain all this time, she’s also been looking away from the fact that she’s looking away. Somewhere out there she finds someone besides herself; that someone becomes the mirror that reflects her.
What I’m attempting to do here on this blog—what the anibloggers I admire most consistently do—is to give away to others outside of myself. To make myself known in the hopes of adding something to the lives of others. It’s the incontestable impulse I feel to write about an arc of a show I’ve already written about, even though I feel I have nothing to add. It’s the undeniable drive to say something to alleviate the pressure to say something, not just absorb and keep to myself this thing that has given to me. I write because, in the face of knowing that I may very well be Hanekawa and thus know consciously that I may unconsciously be repeating her mistakes and thus feel handicapped in taking Nekomonogatari: Shiro and using it to improve myself, I still cannot simply take without giving.
So here is me giving. This is why I write. This is my selfish need to pretend to be selfless, having been selflessly given to. May I give more selflessly. May others do the same. May we all be richer for it.