The Mesmerism of Monogatari

~ an essay on the music / light novel / anime — Bakemonogatari, or Ghostory.

How I discovered the critically acclaimed and popularly beloved Monogatari anime series, full of strangely beautiful supernatural daemons and character conversations with enough emotional force to launch you blissfully into the shadow realm, is an aberration in and of itself.

As in a kind of step-by-step rabbit hole journey, I first saw the title spawned from out of the YouTube algorithm. I often listen to anime and video game soundtracks, so my feed is full of algo-based recs. One day while browsing YouTube and planning a writing session, a fresh vid came across my feed:

Monogatari Series OST – Chill Mix to Study/Relax to – Part 1
Monogatari Series OST – Chill Mix To Study/Relax To – Part 2 (With Spotify Playlist)

~

Monogatari Series OST.” I hadn’t heard of it, but I let it fly without thinking, as you do. Instantly, the music struck me as both simple and beautiful; compelling to enjoy, but ‘backgrounded’ enough to write to, to vibe to without thought of its presence. {How fittingly prophetic these words would be, for these tunes, for this show…} As the days went on, I found myself returning to this video, these musical tracks, again and again, as I wrote or relaxed. Eventually, I got around to searching for the anime from which it sourced, this “Monogatari.” {This would be the first anime I ever discovered by listening to the music first, but now, perhaps, it will not be the last.}

Anime: https://myanimelist.net/anime/5081/Bakemonogatari

Light Novel: https://myanimelist.net/manga/14893/Monogatari_Series__First_Season

Reading more about the series, in its novel form and many various anime adaptations — and seeing those MAL ratings — certainly got my attention. Hyped by anime fans, considered by many to be a masterpiece, I moved it to the top of my watchlist. Starting with the first anime Bakemonogatari seemed to be the move, until I considered the … novelty of potentially reading the light novel first. I’d previously read the Death Note prequel/sequel light novels, but held no other experience with the format. As is the case with many films, shows, and anime, sometimes I wish to read the source material first — to experience the literature of the story with words alone, and only *watch it* after — if I am inclined to put in that kind of work, and if the book is highly recommended enough. This is because the incentive to do the reverse {watch the movie, then read the book} is practically nil, for me least. Uncontroversially, watching something you have already read the story for is generally an enhanced experience in my mind. Astride a few more dazzling recommendations from close friends, I jumped into Monogatari, the relatively short light novel first, and then the 15-episode anime Bakemonogatari.

https://myanimelist.net/store/manga_volume/6875/BAKEMONOGATARI_Part1

And… wow. Words alone certainly cannot do it justice {as I discovered for myself in the experiencing of its dual formats}, but I can say that it is a masterpiece, among the best anime I have yet seen.

With its jazzy piano, its staggeringly inventive animation choices, and penetratingly calm conversational style, Bakemonogatari is one of the most hauntingly beautiful anime I have ever seen. It is True, emotionally speaking, with the archetypes and personalities it puts at play in its tight-knit storytelling. There is real heart to the story, the animation, the cast of characters.

At its core, Bakemonogatari is a character study, an investigation into the souls of its characters. Through probing conversations replete with empathic communion and experimental backdrops, a few stories are told. My thesis is that Monogatari the anime is a form of audiovisual therapy, a meandering, hypnotic exploration of a collection of young psyches in constant contact with one another. Their struggles are strange, relatable and true, in every sense of the word. Watching it — especially after reading it first, already knowing of the story’s mundanely odd beats — was for me a mesmerizing experience {aided by a rather convicted series of altered states on my end..} Its surreal visual patterns and repetitive musical flows scaffold the emotionally-processing conversations to produce a mesmerizing effect on the audience — entrancing, calming, powerful. Memorable.

Araragi, our protagonist / our precision lense into the lives of the strange and charming women around him, represents the perfect mark, the introverted yet romantic yet pervy yet empathetically perceptive teen, the centralizing locus of the “harem” summoning itself around him. Araragi is like a passenger, and we are along the ride with him. A blank slate with just enough believable, identifiable, embarrassing, and conscientious vulnerabilities to carry him into our hearts from the start. Definitively a “lover and not a fighter”, Araragi is semi-immortal {for reasons only ever partially detailed}, and so he takes his many licks before it is all over, before his weird life is resolved from its chaos back into relative order.

She saw right through me. She really is so understanding… ~ Araragi

Senjougahara is at the heart of the emotional journey; Araragi’s mutually intriguing obsession, as relatively complex as he is ‘simple.’ I will say that the first two episodes of the series present what I consider one of the most concisely impactful and powerful mini-arcs of any anime or show I’ve watched, centering on Senjou and her life, her past as a burden to be fatefully forgotten or remembered. The seductively dangerous “tsundere”, Senjou is the first of Araragi’s serious encounters; it is through her pain, her understandings of others and misunderstandings of herself that serious emotive progressions are made. Her light speed slights of Araragi unveil masks and tear down walls, soon revealed to be coping mechanisms for her own repressed pain. Her private complex contributes wholly to her natural charms even as it launches them like daggers at her chosen foe.

Senjou is the most fascinating character in this universe, to me, because of how beautifully she communicates her self and how it so clearly changes over time — her natural charismas and lovably dark humors turn from coldly violent and threatening to playful and warm-hearted when she embraces her vulnerability, once again becoming weighted by the pain of her past. Incredible. Admirable. Beautiful to watch.

From there, Araragi deals in the disparate problems of the other girls in his life, each not only a distinct archetype, but a fully realized — and ever enthralling — person in their own right. The infinitely affable Kanbaru hides a beast within. The willful Hachikuji tries to find her way, while she is simultaneously insulting and envious toward the lives around her. Sangoku seeks the unique love of a brother; Shinobu seeks to escape from the shadows. Hanekawa, in her long game layers of repressed longing, completes what is perhaps the most arduous arc of all: that of realizing a false smile’s most dangerous cost, unto herself.

Kanbaru
Hachikuji
Sangoku
Shinobu
Hanekawa

And then there is Oshino, father-figure / wingman bro / mystic mentor to Araragi. The hawaiian-shirt wearing hobocore nomad x urchin embodies his own brilliant persona. He amounts to what can be closest called a therapist, or a guide, to the series’ emotional highs and lows. For one, he is an adult. He is there as an affective helper to every character in the series, a subtly psychoanalyzing referee to the free-for-all of so many cross-cutting, soul-shaping relations. Meme Oshino is one-of-a-kind, a true original.

Lifting a curse is harder than casting one.” ~ Oshino

In Bakemonogatari, there is a special art in making seemingly random dialogue be so enchanted with deeper meanings. The characters, so few in number, are {therefore} teeming with depth, with hidden narratives. And they discover one another through their conversations of teasing realization, of wayward body language and as many unsaid words. This is a credit to the author Nisio Isin’s writing, as well as the animation pace and style. But it is also a prominent feature — refined and crystallized into near perfection in this series — of anime in general.

In my experience, one of the special charms of anime and manga comes not only in the style, but with the method of how exactly story is delivered. Characters tend to overexplain their situation, their choices; internal monologues pause the action and go for minutes, with step-by-step breakdowns of different threads of thinking; rather candidly, or at least verbosely, characters speak their missions and their dreams and their hearts into the air, with friend and foe. The emotional lore behind every action is laid bare. Freed of much subtext perhaps, but free to be taken in by the audience. For the viewer, *character* becomes clearer in their absorption of the narrative, through the dialogue from the character themselves.

Araragi and Senjougahara and Kanbaru and all the others dialogue and monologue in room after room, stylishly walking and talking through every single side and layer and perspective upon the issue at hand — the issues between them. With such aforementioned anime themes and tropes kicked into overdrive, we are delivered an intriguing story not with action at its center, but instead, kinds of talk-out-loud emotional investigations, constant character-studying, deep dives into the souls of the multifaceted personas of our characters. All in all, it is not unlike therapy, with every conversation progressing not only the narrative but our character’s respective inner and outer realizations.

“I don’t want to sound like I know her especially well, but she has created an impenetrable self-field. You have one, too. Everyone has the self-field known as privacy, but both you and Senjougahara-san lock yourselves inside like you’re being besieged. People like that tend to find socializing with others depressing. You should know what I am talking about.” ~ Hanekawa

The series altogether, each of these dives into the different characters, are really all about their daemons, these supernatural “aberrations” that keep attaching themselves to their lives, inevitably repressed into an unconscious oblivion. These aberrations are emotions that they cannot crack. Or rather, the ghostly burdens of their past that they have not yet been able to overcome thus far, alone. Bakemonogatari is about how such things — a death in the family, an undying unrequited love, an enduring loneliness, etc. — shape us, and how we might come to effectively deal with such feelings and such peoples responsibly.

The key arrives in such sincere interaction, as every character — especially Araragi as a panoptic force of engagement with each of the girls — is particularly adept at delving each other’s emotions, but not always their own. Each is a Sherlock Holmes with regard to sleuthing each other’s hidden hearts, their unconscious desires and motives in their life, as a companion, an enemy, or just a stranger. But then they are a regular Lestrade when it comes to their own emotional core. The classic paradox, in that a person can see another’s problems much more clearly than their own, is borne out in Monogatari’s slow burning plot. Reinforced is the timeless idea that we need other people to understand ourselves; there is no way to know oneself completely without companions and community. Interdependence becomes a master value for young Araragi and Senjou, not just for one another as a significant other, but as friends, siblings, enemies, unrequited lovers, hidden strangers to one another. Every archetype’s distinct foibles fall before the grand, unifying necessity for this interdependence, for these discerning conversations of heartfelt sincerity with significant others. Inevitably, they lead to the lifeblood of anyone’s emotional health.

Not to be missed in all of it is the simple fact that Araragi is drawn to helping aberrations, to the daemon-haunted, emotionally turbulent types — those just like himself. ~