Sunday, 13 September 2009

Bakemonogatari - Episode 10

The last episode of Bakemonogatari left us not so much with a cliffhanger as a slight sense of embarrassment, as we found ourselves wondering where to look in the face of a naked middle school girl. With scales. Regardless, it appears that it's time for Araragi to come to the rescue of a damsel in distress once again.

Of course, young Nadeko is the damsel in question, and for once with this series it seems as though everyone has got the situation more or less correctly appraised even without Oshino's assistance - Nadeko has been cursed by a snake (a constrictor no less) on account of upsetting a friend by rejecting a guy who liked her, and Nadeko has been trying to lift the curse by going around and killing snakes at the shrine we saw last episode. The trouble is, she's been going about lifting the curse the wrong way despite doing broadly the right thing, so Oshino explains the proper procedure to Araragi and urges that Nadeko needs to perform the required ritual as soon as possible as her life is in imminent danger. Of course, lifting curses is never as simple as it first seems within this series, and while Nadeko's curse looks set to be lifted so complications arise that force Araragi to take drastic action.

While Nadeko may be the enabler of this particular Bakemonogatari story arc, there can be no doubt as to who the centrepiece of this story is - Quite simply, it's all about Koyomi Araragi. So the last episode saw Hanekawa chastising him for getting too close to Kanbaru and not understanding Senjougahara sufficiently, so this episode showcases Araragi's weaknesses all the more succinctly. For starters, he appears completely and absolutely oblivious to Nadeko's true feelings, missing all the obvious pointers as she discusses the "other guy" that she likes, how she used to admire Koyomi and so on, before not so much as raising an eyebrow as Nadeko implores him to "look at her" before starting the cleansing ritual. If that isn't bad enough, Araragi later endangers his own life by trying to tackle a problem in the name of trying to save everybody rather than simply accepting that he's helped Nadeko and that this is the limit of his abilities on this occasion - Almost an exact carbon copy of his reckless behaviour when handling Kanbaru's problems in the previous story arc despite his dressing down by Hitagi on that occasion.

All of this makes for yet another fascinating character study at the hands of this series, the kind which begs more questions than it answers - Is Koyomi a good guy for caring about everybody and not wanting anyone to ever get hurt, or is he naive to the point of doing more harm than good? Similarly, is his inability to understand others feelings towards him a side-effect of his good-natured manner, or is it actually hurting the very people he claims to be helping and protecting? I'd be really interested to see how this story arc affects people's perceptions of Araragi, as it turns him into a character that I imagine people will love or hate dependant on how you view his actions - Be sure to let me know what you think after watching this episode, as I'd be fascinated to hear it.

That aside, this was another brilliant episode all things considered, although I did feel like budget constraints were evident throughout, particularly during what would have been more action-packed scenes which were reduced to a number of simple "cut" sequences instead - I'm all for SHAFT's artistic interpretation and the way they love to play with everything they depict in such ways, but on this occasion it actually detracted from what was going on and started to grate a little. What it didn't do however is detract from the story, and thankfully that was strong enough to shine through an episode using only stick figures, let alone the largely polished effort we see here, thus continuing to allow Bakemonogatari to hold its place as my favourite show of this season.


Meep said...

Hullo~ ^.^! I'm a huge follower of Psgels from Starcrossed blog, and then I noticed yours...very different opinions on some shows, I have to say.. I have the same exact opinion as you on Shangri-La.. And I wasn't going to check out Bakemonogatari much further since Psgels wasn't all into it, but you encouraged me to check it out based on your more positive review. I'll be coming here much more often. :3

Anonymous said...

Nadeko Sengoku to me, is the least fleshed-out character in the show so far. I feel that she did nothing but to play up to fetishistic tropes:

1. victim
2. haremette (particularly childhood friend)
2.1. "onii-chan" gurgling
2.2. bloomers
2.3. swimsuit (that kind)

Her back story did nothing much but to establish and justify her attraction to Araragi and therefore her place in the harem dynamic.

This is useful in that this episode is indeed entirely Araragi's. However, I can't say I'm too happy about making a character entirely a device.

Hanners said...

@Meep - Welcome aboard! Nice to know I'm not alone in my thoughts all the time. :p

@ghostlightning - I'm inclined to agree that Nadeko is not all that interesting as a character, particularly once you compare her to all of the other girls we've been treated to thus far. But hey, she did get the best OP so far, so I guess it isn't all bad. ;)

Anonymous said...

Koyomi could be one of two fairly generic male leads, depending on the events that transpired during his period as a vampire. If there were victims, or others were given to sacrifice in order to return him to his mostly-human state, then his insistence on persevering against the supernatural without further sacrifices can be seen as a function of his guilt. His reluctance to give up his remaining vampirism and his eagerness to assist others afflicted by the supernatural is then his penance.

If no traumatic events transpired during that period to shape his personality, then his period of being a vampire was just an entryway into the world of magic, and he could be the nice guy harem lead blended into the uncompromising shounen hero that insists on accomplishing the impossible with one hand tied behind his back.
It's hard to hate Koyomi either way. The stakes are just too low to fret over him being a martyr for his ideals. If by some miracle the writer were to topple him for his hubris, it would disrupt his family and his friends, but the costs to society as a whole wouldn't be greater than the burdens of his living charges. We don't really know his family, so it's difficult to see their suffering as more personal than the suffering of Nadeko or Suruga's families, or even the families of the two casting curses. Despite the lecturing of Tsubasa about Koyomi's priorities with respect to Senjougahra, their relationship was arbitrary to begin with and has no depth. What do I really care if she loses her boyfriend of ten minutes? The risks he takes he bears mostly himself, and the risks to others, compared to the myriad characters whose arrogance would doom all of humanity, is pretty tame. He's not even in Touma from Index territory.

It could also be argued that if Koyomi had given up on the vampirism entirely and had foregone expanding his harem of despair that Suruga would have killed him. Maybe Hitagi would have chased after him that night and found a blood spot that used to be our protagonist, or maybe it would have been another week after he became a civilian.

I don't have any affection for him either, though. How can I forget that he pushed himself into Mayoi's afterlife and then proceeded to beat her up without knowing that she was a ghost? It's funny, but it doesn't endear him to me. Also, when he isn't playing hero he is weak and whiny for comedic effect. Like many harem leads he is unremarkable without the excitement of his unusual female friends, and you could see his reluctance to let go of his connection with the supernatural world as a reluctance to return to being an unmotivated, unremarkable man with unremarkable prospects in a world full of unremarkable people. The kink in that idea though is his new-found interest in higher education brought upon by his relationship with Hitagi.