This series will be an analysis of Bakemonogatari, attempting to look at every single element of the show, frame by frame, for me to truly understand why I find this show so fascinating. Quick warning that this post, and those following in this series, is going to be closer to an analytical essay looking at composition elements than any of my previous posts. With that in mind, this is going to be a long ride; I can’t wait to cover my favorite show of all time to the deepest extent of my abilities.
To an ordinary person that may not be as familiar with the medium, Bakemonogatari is an impossible show to watch. I mean, the first 30 seconds are a zoomed in panty shot of some highschool girl wearing a school uniform; it’s definitely something that would easily put off an unfamiliar viewer.
But to the audience who regularly consumes Japanese animation, Bakemonogatari seems like the embodiment of popular anime. It has a relatable yet admirable, heroic protagonist that goes around saving different girls, it has erotic scenes that come up every so often, and most importantly, it has basically every archetypal character type to be popular ranging from the tsundere to the loli.
With that being said, despite the check boxes that it seems to fill for those who aren’t this unfamiliar viewer, you will quickly find the monogatari series to actually be very different. In reality, Bakemonogatari is not a show that is familiar to an anime audience either. The series is composed of strange dialogue filled with puns and wordplay that don’t seem to mean much, unprecedented visuals that differ from anything in the medium, or characters and stories that always have a mysterious atmosphere around them. And as many times I rewatched this show, I still don’t find myself fully understanding each scene, each line, of a show whose intricacies provide its legitimacies.
So, why is it that a show that is so seemingly different is considered a masterpiece by many? Through a series of posts, I will be trying to make sense of how a show — which seems to be the epitome of unfamiliarity — became a classic by cramming both beauty and meaning into every single one of its intricate scenes.
Hitagi Crab Episode one
Bakemonogatari’s first two and a half minute opening scene introduces the audience to its main characters, atmosphere, and aesthetics through a series of scenes, backgrounds, and loosely related texts that pop up on screen.
The first two minutes can be divided into three different sections: the panty shot, the montage, and Araragi and Senjougahara’s meeting.
The infamous panty shot introduction of the Bakemonogatari’s episode one is one of the best introductions to an animated series. It starts off with a frame showing a traffic light in red. Then it presents to us two characters, Araragi and Hanekawa, walking in two different directions on the other side of the street in slow motion. Araragi’s fast moving pupils, then, abruptly stop the slow motion as he looks at Hanekawa’s underwear. The camera presumably follows Araragi’s eye movement as he quickly glances at Hanekawa’s underwear for a quick one second as indicated by the time on the bottom right in a sequence that is extended to 14 seconds for the viewers. This scene finally ends as the traffic lights turn green following Hanekawa walking to the highschool and a girl sitting alone in the school.
There’s a lot going on in the first 25 or so seconds. The red flashlight, shown before Araragi’s perverted glance towards Hanekawa, is shown wearing a round hat, a symbol of a gentleman. In the first place, red light indicates restriction or patients. Something that Araragi was doing before encountering Hanekawa. For those who watched this show before, specifically if they have seen Kizumonogatari, they will know that Araragi doesn’t really have his restraints tied near Hanekawa.
When we see the scene immediately speed up with Araragi’s glance towards the peak of an underwear, after the slow motion that the show began with, the shot swiftly shifts to the eye and turns back to slow motion once again. This juxtaposition of these speeds create a lot more emphasis on the final change in sequence which is ironically enough, the panty shot. Hilariously, the insert shot that was used in this scene was a panty shot that was slowed down as I mentioned. Insert shots are a great way to emphasize an object in any type of film, and for Akiyuki Shinbou to do that for a teenage female high schooler, we are perfectly introduced to what the Monogatari Series is going to be.
Of course, at the end of this, we see the traffic light turning green. Rather than having a hat like a gentleman, the person walking in the green flashlight seems closer to the silhouette of Araragi with his uniform. This clearly sets up Araragi as a man of no restraint; the man that we know Araragi as. Green is the “go” sign and Araragi being the “go” sign is perfectly representative of how he is portrayed throughout the show.
As the music speeds up, the camera follows from ground up towards the direction Araragi is looking at in the sky. This immediately indicates that this scene to come is a flashback of some sort of something that Araragi is thinking about. And what we get is exactly that. With the dramatic shift in music, a modernistic frame of blood increasingly appears following various events filled with blood.
Though the scene is really stitched together as part of a few scenes, Akiyuki Shinbou makes this scene feel faster and horrific by the use of blank word filled frames in the middle. In editing, it is usually advised not to switch cuts too often in a necessary manner because it makes the audience feel confused due to the sense of increased pacing. While this montage doesn’t even contain that many different scenes, the flashes of words increases the amount of cuts tremendously. The difference, however, between this scene and normal fast cut scenes come from the unique word cards. Whereas visuals can be taken in relatively quickly, words take longer to consume. By making the cut purely words, it makes sure that the audience, especially those watching on TV without the ability to stop, can’t read the text. Bakemonogatari does this directly because they don’t want you to know what exactly is going on.
All the audience can really tell is that Araragi went through some horrendous events before and went through it with Hanekawa, the girl that we saw Araragi staring at. This sets up the audience very nicely as it gets them to use this brief knowledge as a basis of possible motive that Araragi has when helping Senjougahara later in the episode. But more on that later.
I’ve always been a huge fan of fast cuts employed by Akiyuki Shinbou in his shows. The quick changes that he makes on screen creates both a sense of rhythm while increasing the pace to the whole show. These types of insert shots are a great way to set up both the mood and the pace. Although, I do think he did this intentionally to make up for the lack of budget that he had in the start of the monogatari series, it ended up being one of the staples of the Monogatari series. Shinbou, being the genius that he is, was just able to make up for those lack of monetary support.
Finally the third part of the intro is given after a title card. And the scene that follows the title card is, what is, still to this day, the most memorable scene in animation for me. Araragi frantically runs up a wall of stairs as Senjougahara, with the facial expression of both shock and loss, falls beautifully from the top of the stairs to the arms of the boy, ending with a dramatic close up of the girl’s face, turning towards the boy.
This scene sets up the Monogatari series with great aesthetic presentations in anime. Never in an anime, film, or whatever I’ve watched have I thought “those stairs are pretty.” The contrast of darker faded colors and highly light yet ominous colors create this strange sense of background and foreground. I will be going more deeply on this throughout my analysis of the Monogatari Series, but the aesthetic presentation in the Monogatari Series 100% without a doubt, the best part about the Monogatari Series.
It should be fairly obvious that these stairs are most likely not a part of this school, especially later on when we actually see the stairs of this building. This brings us to a point to focus on for this series as a whole: what is metaphoric and what is not?
My interpretation of the stairs was that of a symbolic representation of Araragi and Senjougahara at their points of life. Senjougahara is falling from her highest point of life to the lowest, whereas Araragi is climbing back up from the bottom. Those who finished the Monogatari series at this point should know exactly what events I am referring to; the backstory of these characters are something that this show builds on extensively. At these varying points of their life, Senjougahara, quite literally, falls into the life of Araragi. And these two will, from here, climb together these stairs with the viewers.
I think intros tell us everything about a show and this show’s unique intro does nothing less than that. But now that we’ve established what position the opening scenes places the audience at, let’s get into the actual show.
Most simply put, Senjougahara Crab is about a traumatized girl who gets help from a boy in order to confront that trauma. But there’s a lot more weight to this story than that. And Nisioisin and Shinbou surprisingly weaves a lot into just the two episodes that we are given.
The first episode starts off with an introduction to Senjougahara and Araragi. But more importantly, it establishes the relationship between Hanekawa and Araragi through a lot of different shot choices.
It’s interesting to note that most of this conversation is actually exposition about Senjougahara and the school festival. One general rule of thumb in filmmaking is that exposition is bad mostly because of how boring information dumps are. But I can assure that most people wouldn’t actually feel very bored in this opening scene even though it is essentially two characters talking in a classroom sitting down. A lot of this is because of the visual excitement presented throughout the scene — a signature element of the Monogatari series and Shinbou’s work.
An aspect that is done really well in this scene is the quick transition between view points. Here, various shot choices which cover different parts of the body continuously move around. Whether it be from the upper body from Araragi’s point of view, quick insert shots of books and pen, close up to eyes, or far shots of their silhouette are consecutively shown. One thing to know is that these shots are shown consecutively extremely quickly shifting eye levels and shot choices throughout. For the first minute after the intro, I counted to see how many shots were compacted into this scene.
There were around 40. 40!!!! Cuts throughout the first minute after the title card in the Monogatari Series.
That gives it around an average shot length of 1.5 shots per second.
To put this into perspective, a Hollywood action film that is considered to be fast paced has an average shot length of around 4 seconds. Some fight scenes in movies like Transformers will be closer to the 3 second mark.
This is absolutely insane when this is happening in just a normal conversation. This is completely different from the opening scene which is a montage without dialogue.
But, the critique that shows like Transformers gets when it comes to its extremely short shot length is that it’s done without any motivation. Rather, it is only done to increase pacing to make it feel more exciting than it actually is. But is that the case here? I’d argue not.
This opening scene introduces two important things about the story: the introduction to Hanekawa — the girl that we saw in the montage, and the introduction to the mysterious nature of Senjougahara. I believe in this scene, at least in most of the shots, the shots are directly tied to the dialogue either as some type of joke or as some important reference to the story. A fun one I noted for the former were like when Hanekawa points out that Araragi was a little twisted because of his unsatisfied tone, we see a close up of Araragi crossing his legs.
It’s also very interesting to note how when the two are talking about Senjougahara, there is some type of separation towards them. One way that this manifests is through the use of the pen while the shot is focused on Arargi’s point of view. Specifically, when Hanekawa asks Araragi, reconfirming that he is asking about Senjougahara, the pen is lined up towards her eyes blocking her prominent facial features. Similarly, when we get more zoomed out master shots, we see a barricade of chairs and desks separating the two. It is only when Araragi is asking about Hanekawa with “you know everything huh?” when the pen is removed from the screen to give focus onto Hanekawa. This could mean that Hanekawa doesn’t like talking about other girls like Senjougahara in front of Araragi. Maybe it could mean Araragi is uninterested in Hanekawa when talking about Senjougahara. Either way, it tells us a little bit more about the dynamics between the two characters.
On top of this, as Hanekawa talks about Golden week, Araragi covers her eyes up once again with the pen from his perspective. When Hanekawa further asks about Golden Week, we see Araragi’s hands frantically covering Hanekawa’s face. While it is impossible to make anything out of it here during the first watch, other than the two had something happen during Golden week and Hanekawa can’t remember it, it is obvious that the cinematography was made with all of the future story in mine even at this moment.
Similar showing of dynamics can be seen with the insert shots. Here, before moving more into information on Senjougahara we see a shot of two chairs next to each other and a fallen desk. My guess here is that Shinbou placed this shot to symbolise the dynamics between the characters that we have been introduced to. The two chairs are Araragi and Hanekawa with their close relationship and Senjougahara who has fallen down in her current state. It also seems like one of the chairs is angled the same direction looking towards the desk, looking at Senjougahara. Maybe this is too far fetched, but either way these insert shots are here for no reason.
Do I think the huge amount of cuts are unnecessary? I did think it was a little over done during my first watch. There’s no doubt about it. But it also seems as though a lot of meaning and thought apart from just the aesthetics and pacing were added to give the show another layer.
After this, we immediately move into a meeting between Araragi and Senjougahara. Whereas the scene before focused on given contextual information on the dynamics between our characters the scene that follows does everything to build tension. Everything from the music to the shot choices focus on giving weight to the threats that Senjougahara is giving towards Araragi.
As we see the staplers come directly towards Araragi, a screeching sound in the sound track immediately hits us creating discomfort. This discomfort for the viewers is a key theme throughout the next couple of minutes.
One of the most interesting things that is done here is that the audience never sees Araragi’s face as full while the Stapler is pointed towards him. Either we get parts of the jaws, close ups of the eyes, or a part of the face. While we do get to see Senjougahara’s full body, we never get to see any type of master shot which shows the two characters within one frame clearly. Because the audience can’t see the full picture of what’s happening to Araragi, there is an increased level of frustration and confusion to what is happening — increasing the discomfort and ultimately tension.
The only time we see the whole face is when the audience gets a little bit more comfortable with the fact that he has a stapler up in his mouth, a few seconds following different still shots. Of course, this is immediately followed by another stapler to reinforce the discomfort.
Such shots are enforced by the use of heavy shading. Whether the shading be on Senjougahara or Araragi directly to increase the dark, tense atmosphere of the scene, or on the background to create the dark atmosphere within the whole frame.
Shading is used throughout this scene to show Senjougahara’s power over Araragi with her threats. In the shot above, when Senjougahara is about to leave, we see visually that Senjougahara is on top of Araragi because we merely see shadows of her, signally they are not on equal level while Senjougahara wishes to leave Araragi.
It’s scenes like the one below where we get to first hand experience Senjougahara’s threats along with her unstable mentality. The composition in this frame creates a sense of uneasiness. Apart from the heavily dark color scheme, Senjougahara and Araragi are framed on the extreme top left corner of the screen, skewed from where shots are normally centered at. While negative space is normally used to give comfort, too much of it in complete blackness conveys more of a weary feeling to the audience. This type of scene starkly contrasts the following scene when Hanekawa comes out of the room after Senjougahara leaves slowing Hanekawa and Araragi more stable relationship.
Even when the color returns to the screen, we still feel the tension because the two characters are placed unnaturally far from the center or focal points normally given in a frame. It’s also interesting to note that after Senjougahara leaves the scene, Shinbou plays with focal points even further by rotating the screen continuously in 90 degrees to increase the confusion on the audience.
Following this scene, Araragi goes and chases Senjougahara. Here, what we see is Senjougahara’s confusion rather than Araragi’s. The most prominent way that this is established is through the use of dutch angles — a tilt in the frame. The dutch angles create a sense of discomfort because they are not aligned naturally. Here, we see it used when Senjougahara “declares war” to Araragi, when Araragi is startled by Senjougahara, and when Senjougahara is shocked to see Araragi’s scars be removed. The latter is a close up of the eyes while it is heavily tilted. While this shot isn’t one that we frequently see, it gives a lot of emphasis to how surprised Senjougahara is in this situation.
Next, Senjougahara and Araragi go to find Meme. While this episode doesn’t have as much word play or dialogue as the other episodes do, every line in the first episode presents the idea of lightness and weight really well. I think it’s important to note that in this episode less important information is said more quickly whereas more important information is said more slowly, being given more weight to them. One prominent example of this is when Senjougahara explains how he should be thankful that she stapled Araragi inside the mouth rather than the outside. Bur rather than this scene feeling like a bunch of useless dialogue, Shaft finds a way to make this almost unnecessary additional information interesting through very unique visual presentation.
These types of visuals are ones that I can’t analyze because of how unique they are. Because I haven’t really seen them, I’m more left with fascination about the aesthetics of these types of scenes more than anything which makes me zone more into the conversation. Other than that, it might be possible to say that this type of unique, almost unsettling visual presentation was used to show the mysterious nature of the supernatural world that they are entering into.
As we see Senjougahara and Araragi finally meet Meme, we get to one of the best parts about the Monogatari series: how it uses colors. The show is able to easily convey the atmosphere of any given scene just through the tint of the scene. Above, for example, when Senjougahara arrives to where Meme is, the whole room turns into red signaling Senjougahara’s weariness about those who say they can fix her.
In the immediately following scene, where Senjougahara decides to cooperate and Meme starts talking about what caused Senjougahara’s weight loss, the atmosphere turns to a more eerie green color. This signals to the audience both about Senjougahara’s confusion and the mysterious nature of these aberrations that they are facing. While this is pretty common through different films, one interesting thing that Shinbou does with colors is that such starkly colors appear despite the scene being in the same location at the same time. This type of change in color, completely artificially to fit the mood, is something that Shinbou does very frequently throughout his works to convey atmosphere and give visually flair — something that I’ll be coming back to as I continue to look at the Monogatari series. The episode then ends here with Senjougahara determining to work with Meme to get her weight back from the crab.
Of course, there are a lot of fun dialogue that comes from this scene — easily the most fun one within this episode. Here, as Araragi introduces Senjougahara to Meme, Senjougahara demands that Araragi calls her Senjougahara-sama (prefix with respect). To answer this, Araragi calls Senjougahara Senjougahara-chan, leading to a funny visual of an eye getting poked. Senjougahara then goes on to say that she is made up of 40 grams of copper, 25 grams of zinc, 15 grams of nickel, 5 grams of hiding her embarrassment, and 97 kilograms of malicious intent.
Again, here, the conversation is said really fast as the conversation itself doesn’t carry that much weight. But the performance of the voice actors really sells the characters personality and the sheer absurdness of how Senjougahara interacts with someone else makes this scene absolutely hilarious for the audiences. This awkwardness that Senjougahara presents is something that I’ll go on to explain in the next episode but it is definitely great to see a character like this written almost perfectly with weird dialogue like this.
With this, the first episode sets us up for Senjougahara’s story, showing the atmosphere and character perfectly with visual texture and witty yet absurd dialogue. Since I covered a lot of the visual stuff here, I’ll talk more about the dialogue and how it sets up Senjougahara as a unique, unstereeotypical character we don’t normally see in any type of medium. Until then thanks for reading!