lauantai 1. kesäkuuta 2013

Bakemonogatari: What's a character lens? (Ver 1.2)

This blog post was born originally as a snap theory of mine, one which has now been recognized in the fandom.

It's been two years since I launched this blog, writing this blog post in a flash, then another, and then another. I basically watched all of Monogatari that had come then (Bake to NekoKuro) in a few days and wrote these original posts. Now, it is time to redo them. While I redid the Nisemonogatari post already once, it will probably get the same treatment. Just a heads-up. This remaking process will be slow, but it will be wholesome.

Surprisingly Complex: Bakemonogatari
The Beginning of the Character Lens

Those who have watched Bakemonogatari might have noticed that the storytelling methods in it are a little abstract, a little weird, and a little indirect. Well, one could say it is a stylistic choice, which it is, but unlike many other stylistic choices, Bakemonogatari (And all of it's sequels and prequels) has a stylistic technique I call the Character Lens. While on the outside it might seem like a regular first person narrative trick, it is not. It is the absolute extension of the first person narrative, something which is only possible in drawings and animation.

If you pay attention to the backgrounds, Bakemonogatari seems to often lack them. Not entirely lack them, but they lack... detail. They are very simple, created from wide objects, lacking texture most of the time. And even when they get details, the details often disappear quickly. All the cars look exactly the same, except when Araragi (Or any narrator to be exact) is going to get on it. All the bikes look exactly the same, except the one Araragi rides. All the houses look the same except the one Araragi lives in, or the ones he's going to. No people can be seen, except the ones Araragi knows or is paying attention to.  What does this mean?

Budget restraints, art style? Yes, both, but they are used cleverly to make a new story altogether. The world that we see in the series is not the world the world is over there, but, it's the world that the characters perceive. Colors are accented and always similar because we don't think about things as "midnight blue" or "seafoam green" instinctively. We think they're blue or green. We don't pay attention to other people's bikes, because why would we? Yes, we SEE them, but to us, they are bikes, not blue bikes or green bikes. The only bike that matters is MY bike.

This kind of thinking is extended to all parts of the series, and it goes incredibly deep. Remember all those fight scenes where Araragi gets almost killed? It looks like that (And usually has insane colors to match) because the moment is chaotic, painful and Araragi feels like he's dying. Same happens with erotic scenes. Hanekawa in vicinity? Zoom to chest. This is because Araragi unsurprisingly is an incurable pervert. Fanservice, yes, but character building at the same time.

Where it gets weird is when the visual allegories come in. Remember the scene when Araragi catches Senjougahara, falling from the sky to his arms? That one, on the right?

It never happened like that. Senjougahara did not plunge from hundreds of meters from the air straight into Araragi's arms. She just slipped on the top of a flight of stairs, and Araragi catched her as she fell. It just felt like she fell to his arms so that is what we see. Don't believe me? Here's an excerpt from the original light novel:
As previously mentioned, I had a tendency for tardiness, and was therefore rushing up the stairs of the school building. At that moment, a girl fell from the sky.
The girl was Senjougahara Hitagi.
To be truthful, she probably didn't fall from the sky. She'd probably tripped on the stairs and fell backwards. I could have dodged it, but I chose to catch her and break her fall.
Compare it to the scene in the first episode. It had Senjougahara falling from the sky, but as we don't rarely actually peek inside character's heads, we didn't know that in the actuality she didn't fall from the sky. I did this discovery before I read that part from the book, and I was overjoyed to know I was right.

Nonetheless. To think that this is one of the first scenes in the whole series of now ranging over 50 episodes, it is comparable to the tip of the iceberg. The combination of in-world fact and fiction is endless, from character interaction to visual motifs that appear. Everything has a reason, and everything is thought out.

With this in mind, how can we even be sure if the things the narrator does actually happen? We cannot. It all happens like a story being told by the narrator, twisting the little facts and fictions of what happened into the direction the narrator saw them. I have suspicions of the real happenings in many scenes, but they are hard to pinpoint. One of the later narrators in the second season even explicitly stated that they will lie to the watcher.

So, why watch the series then? If you can't even know what is happening, really, what fun is watching it? To me, the fun is uncovering it. To uncover what is really going on, bit by bit. But I am not in any way discrediting the stories themselves, they all have interesting aesops and evoke lots of philosophical thought inside my head.

(I will leave the rest of the original just laying here for now, I will see what I will do to it later)

It's interesting that not one person I've seen on the internets has pointed out the ingenuity of Bakemonogatari and it's sequels, in the sense of storytelling. Not even the ones who have read the novels, to whom it should be obvious. I don't know. This blog is all about things people miss, and this one is the one definite thing that almost every single person watching this anime has missed. Or if they haven't, they haven't spread it, which is a shame.

Surprisingly Complex: Bakemonogatari

What's a character lens? I can tell you, with this anime series, it something really important. More on that soon...

There are few animes that require thinking to be enjoyed. Where as Bakemonogatari, at face value, can be very entertaining to some, I aim to give everyone the maximum enjoyment that you can get from the series. This I will do by deconstructing the elements of it, explaining the loopholes and giving space for some very interesting text. So, let's begin!

Bakemonogatari, in it's heart, is a story from the first person narrative, obviously. While that's like saying 1+1 equals 2, the actual execution is different from other series/movies with first person narrative. Think about these questions for a bit:
-Why are there no other people in the whole world than Araragi and the girls? (Senjougahara's dad is also explainable)
-Why do objects (Cars, bicycles and houses) not connected to Araragi all look exactly the same?
-Why are the violent and sexual scenes often so gratuitous?

During the first 2 questions some will think about budget restraints or it just being the part of the art style, but if it is art style, why? On the other hand, the third question may be thought as some kind of fanservice-y thing so they would have something to show in the trailers or such, but from my point of view, that is not the case. As you can guess, it has something to do with first-person narrative. You are absolutely right. And if you think it has something to do with character lens, you are absolutely right. Character lens is a technique that can be used to execute an abstract but logical world.

When using a character lens, what actually exists and happens is not shown, but what the character "feels" or imagines is. I'll explain. The whole series is actually more in Araragi's head than in his surroundings, it's just shown from a different perspective. Why is Araragi's bike different from the rest? Because it is his own, and is special for him, thus he pays attention to it. He doesn't pay attention to the surrounding people (Except Senjougahara, Hanekawa etc.) therefore they "don't exist."

Later in the series it delves into even deeper to the character lens, showing allegories in visual form. It's also shown when later in the series, the narrator changes, the world changes with it. It remarks some sort of ingenuity in the process.

Getting kicked hurts, right? Getting kicked by a devil, I imagine, feels something like this.
So, why are the fight scenes always so weird and abstract, usually having weird colours and over the top effects? Because that's what Araragi feels to be in the fight. IT HURTS. A LOT. And thus he overestimates the effects of pain and it is seen by the viewer as huge pools of blood and gore. Notice how the surreal nature and colours of ie. the fight between the Rainy Devil disappears IMMEDIATELY the red scene accompanied with Senjougahara's line appears. That's how. He puts his attention to something else (Senjougahara) thus the chaos of the fight has ended. Surprisingly simple.

Same happens with sexual things. He's a teenager. It's not just fanservice. He's a teenager. So every little perverted thing may be HUGE in the mind of such libido-minded guy like Araragi, making the scenes themselves more perverted intentionally. Like every time Hanekawa's chest is in the radius of 500 meters he goes nuts.

Ok, time to jump theorising about Senjougahara's birthday, which is actually completely offtopic to the subject at hand, but gives an interesting theory.   (SPOILER ALERT)

Triangles, everyone! That's what you get!
 First up. Triangles. Everyone fucking loves triangles, right? Well, triangle drama is actually pretty common, and I think the Monogatari-series has done a damn good job inserting it to the story. The whole love story aspect is a mess on the first time through though. We're given vague glimpses of the things that happened while Araragi was a vampire, and that somehow Hanekawa saved him, and that's why they love each other but they can't because of reasons and somehow Araragi hooks up with a psycho virgin. Well, after watching Nekomonogatari and watching Bakemonogatari the second time it makes a lot more sense. Even the actual "triangle" of the triangle drama becomes a more of an abstraction, as it doesn't really apply, because of the ending of Nekomonogatari (Watch it and understand it). And the reason why Hanekawa and Araragi aren't together is explained, in a pretty logical way.

Summer Triangle and Tanabata. Tanabata is July 7th, coincidentally also Senjougahara's birthday. But surprisingly, it carries a meaning. Why in the stargazing scene does Senjougahara show the stars Deneb, Altair and Vega, the Summer Triangle, first? Because Tanabata is her birthday, and those three stars are important for her. In her age of darkness (Read: just before and after the crab made a visit) the tale of Tanabata was the only thing she could rely on. That's speculation, but anyway. If this was the case, then damn, giving us some goddamn character depth right there. Well, anyway, when Araragi showed up, she had already put all her defenses up to maximum and was not expecting it, but when Araragi genuinely helped her, she started to believe. The Summer Triangle Drama (Yes, I'm calling it that for now, will change it's name during a latter update) is formed by Senjougahara, Araragi and Hanekawa. Hanekawa's part is impossible to explain without heavy spoilers on the character of Araragi, thus I will not yet. If you know anything of the story, just try to figure the most bare-bones idea of it and try to think about it after you've watched Nekomonogatari. 

So, how are these three connected to the tale of Tanabata? Actually, they are not. And if they are, they are very vaguely. Anyway, things don't happen like in ancient tales, there are just occasional coincidences. That's life, and that's what we're shown. The characters know that it doesn't happen that way, and they do show it. So what have I been rambling about? The fact that a character makes this connection, quite obviously, and nobody understands what it means. Also, few make the connection between Senjougahara and Tanabata, because simply... No one in the series does except Senjougahara. "I'll give you this starry sky" an obvious reference to the Summer Triangle she just mentioned, but Araragi doesn't get it. ( I was damn lucky to have Haruhi as one of my favorite series, and accidentally made the connection.)

Also, it may be a plotpoint later in the series or Nisio Isin put it there and forgot it or something, I dunno.

Well... That went off topic. (SPOILERS END)

Back to character lens. As everything, absolutely everything is basically in Araragi's head. It leads pretty well to another part of the show. What we're shown is often just Araragi's interpretation of it. It is said in the series, that the very essence of Oddities is that they are what people believe them to be. This is lampshaded as Oshino points out, that Shinobu has become childish because Araragi believes she is just a child (That's actually in Nekomonogatari, but anyway). The whole series is what Araragi believes it to be, and all we see is only that. That is why some things for example seem to happen but don't happen. It's usually in the middle of dialogue where something is said, but it's left unanswered, or a comment is thrown but it doesn't affect the dialogue itself. In these cases, Araragi imagined saying something, or the other person saying something, but the thing isn't said.

Sometimes things are highly overplayed outside of violence and ecchi. For example: take the very beginning of the series (Not the pantyshot you pervs, I just said outside of ecchi : D), where Araragi is running up circular stairs in his school, and Senjougahara falls to his hands. Later, we see Araragi running down the stairs of the school, that are NOT circular. The staircase never was circular. And Senjougahara didn't fall from far, she just tripped on the top of a staircase, with Araragi walking the said staircase upwards, and he caught her. We're shown the circular stairs and 50-meter fall because Araragi felt that Senjougahara fell to his hands.

You'll be amazed how blatantly this is executed in many cases, go and watch an episode or two.

I don't remember if there are any scenes without Araragi actually being there, but I tell you, if there is, it doesn't really happen the way we see it. It's just Araragi reconstructing a possible way the situation went out. I will address this later, when such scenes come. For example, remember, if Araragi talks to his phone and we see the one in the other end, we only see what Araragi thinks is going on on the other side, not what is actually happening.


We see what Araragi sees, mentally and physically. Also some random Tanabata trivia.

PS. BTW If you feel there is something to improve, do say so. My information about the Tanabata tale for example are very lacking. Also, give your own viewpoints, I love hearing other people's ideas!

PS2. This seems to be the bread and butter text that everyone reads first (I wonder why...), so I made some polishing.

PS3. Well goddamnit. I just realized there was hardly any philosophy in this update. Just read the next one about Nisemonogatari, it has plenty.

4 kommenttia:

  1. man, i love you for writing this awesome post. Before i read this post, i thought Bakemonogatari was the best anime i've ever seen (the only series that i gave a 10 in myanimelist). but after i read your post, i'm finally sure that Bakemonogatari, is indeed the best and the greatest anime ever (can't wait for 2nd season of Monogatari series and Kizumonogatari, the LN was pretty good!)

    btw, you should explain more about the connection between Hitagi-sama and Tanabata :p

    1. Maybe I should... It's kinda hard to actually summarize, but watch episode 12 again. You can get the feel that she really believes that the story is true. Just the way she explains the stars. Also the ending.

  2. I had the impression the story was told from Koyomi's perspective, but never once thought of all of it as due to being in first person. Very nice insight there and very logical too, given the connections between the abstract depictions (hair doing weird things based on what he's thinking) and what is actually occurring in the scene.

    Out of curiosity, have you looked into the Higurashi series?

    1. I have watched it a long time ago, I will see if I'll analyze it. (I will start doing more full analyses on series, now that Monogatari Second Season has ended).