Cho: The open forum for Bakemonogatari volume 1 has been “live” for a month, and as promised, here is an editorial to reflect on the volume as a whole. There will actually be two articles for this one, as it turned out we had a lot to say! This first post will be Justus R. Stone‘s thoughts on the central theme for this volume–and then in a couple days, look forward to a post in which Justus and I put together a comparison between Bakemonogatari and its prequel story Kizumonogatari.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this volume too! (Note: This is an editorial for Bakemonogatari volume 1, so there will be spoilers. Be sure to finish reading the book first!)
Justus: Given Bakemonogatari was the first book introducing readers to the Monogatari universe (in Japan at least), I found it odd the book was two separate stories instead of one. First books typically create atmosphere, introduce characters, and set in motion the story’s central plot. If anything, in the typical light novel, the first book only resolves a minor plot point, which hints at the greater plot for the rest of the series.
But Bakemonogatari bucks all those trends. It discusses the largest event which introduced our central character to this odd side of the world in passing. Other situations get mentioned, but never shown, nor explained. And then it’s two separate stories, which are both resolved, with no real overarching plot made apparent. It’s almost like Nisio Isin wrote this book for kicks, with little plan to write more.
But having read the book, and pondered it for this article, I realized I might have initially misread this story. You see, there is an overarching plot. There’s even a subtle hint at the greater story. And both of these stories are connected by a similar theme. Thematically, volume one of Bakemonogatari is about loss. More specifically, the loss of one’s mother. The three central players, Koyomi Araragi, Hitagi Senjogahara, and Mayoi Hachikuji are all affected in different ways by the distance from their mothers.
For Senjogahara, she believes losing her mother was her fault. Instead of dealing with that emotional weight, she instead shuffles it off on the crab. Not only does she lose her emotional weight, but her physical weight as well. In a sense, she has relinquished a portion of her “self.” While trying to force the crab to abandon what it’s taken results in violence, a resolution comes with an apology. With acceptance. Senjogahara needs only to acknowledge she never should’ve shuffled off her burden. In the world of Monogatari, and the real world as well, our suffering makes us who we are.
In contrast, Hachikuji is physically weighed down by the worry her mother doesn’t want her. While the large backpack she wears is visually symbolic of the snail, the aberration she represents, it’s also a literal representation of the snail, of carrying home on your back. With her parents divorcing, and the distancing of her mother, Hachikuji no longer feels a sense of home. She is carrying it with her, hoping her mother will accept it when she arrives. But that weight roots her in place. I’d argue it’s the very thing which caused her to become lost. Not only does her salvation come in the form of taking unknown roads to the location of her mother’s home, but she does it with help. Others have lightened her burden enough so she can move.
In both of these cases, it is Araragi who plays an essential part in aiding the girls. But again, going against the trend of other light novels, it is only through support which he helps. There’s no wielding of super powers, no genius insight or planning–just a shoulder to carry weight, or the promise it will be there to be cried on.
But even Araragi is caught in the sorrow surrounding mothers. For him, it isn’t the physical loss of his mother. Instead, it is a loss he feels internally. He has degraded his sense of self deeply. It makes him feel unworthy of being near his mother. He is a disappointment, and not even fully human, as he oft reminds us. His mother didn’t leave, nor forced him away. He is the one creating distance. In this way, Araragi is a synthesis of both our heroines. Losing his mother is his fault, similar to Senjogahara’s belief, and he worries she won’t accept him, similar to Hachikuji. While his unwillingness to return home summons the aberration, it is through helping someone that Araragi realizes the error in his thinking. His desire to go back grows as he flexes his most admirable trait, helping others.
It is this feature of Araragi which brings me to the overarching story. Simply put, volume one of Bakemonogatari is a love story between Sanjogahara and Araragi. Yeah, I know, she craps on him for almost every page of the book, but consider this, their relationship is the only developmental arc in the book.
Even though both girls resolve their problems, it becomes apparent it hasn’t changed them in too drastic a way. But Senjogahara and Araragi begin as strangers. Three years in the same class, and not a word between them. By the end of the book, they have entered a relationship.
The second story doesn’t require Senjogahara. The class rep, who shows up in the story, could’ve easily been used to bring a phone to Oshino. Instead, Senjogahara is there for the duration. Why? Because for their relationship to progress, she needs to witness the truth of who Araragi is. She even comments she believed at first Araragi aided her because it was her. But seeing him help Hachikuji, she realizes this is his nature. It impresses her.
In the first story, if she had initiated a relationship, it would’ve felt empty, a gesture made by a girl out of gratitude. But, having her do it after seeing Araragi’s most redeeming feature, her affection is based on the boy, not just her individual circumstance. Which also explains why so much time focuses on her offering repayment to Araragi, which he continually shoots down. It shows both the reader and Senjogahara this boy helps out of desire, not out of hope for reward or to use the person he’s assisted.
As for the overarching plot of the series, it is Senjogahara’s statement that Araragi would help anyone who needed it and Oshino commenting there seems to be an overabundance of these sorts of events around Araragi, which tells us the greater story. I’m not certain if the series ever gets to why there is such a concentration of aberrations around Araragi, but with these two statements, we at least know the rules of this series. A boy, not too capable, maybe not very smart, will stand with those facing supernatural hardships, even at personal risk.
Tearing apart this book, I have to acknowledge some brilliance in Nisio Isin. Not only is his dialogue a play on words, spellings, and pronunciations. He also plays on forms. All the typical components of light novels exist, but they are buried, transformed, or played in a more subtle way. While I had mixed feelings about this book, I have to admit my curiosity of where this all goes will have me buying more volumes in the future.