Monogatari Second Season: Otorimonogatari Review: In which Doctorkev realises that everything he ever achieved in life was because of his innate cuteness.
As every parent of one grows to understand, teenage girls are terrifying. In this latest part of my Monogatari-fuelled descent into madness and horror, we’ll examine the case of Nadeko Sengoku who I previously discussed in my review of Bakemonogatari part 2. In that story, she was introduced as a somewhat precociously infatuated child, another Koyomi Araragi groupie, disconcertingly sexualised. I did not like her at all, and this story does not aim to make her more likable. However, it does make her several orders of magnitude more interesting.
Otorimonogatari continues the second season trend of deepening the female characters and moving away from Koyomi Araragi as main viewpoint character. Each story acts as a counterpoint to its first season equivalent. Last time I wrote about Hanamonogatari and how it fleshed out Suruga Kanbaru’s character — no longer just a comedy lesbian — it explored her serious, melancholy side. While I found Kanbaru’s story arc dull, this latest update to Nadeko’s development is much more entertaining.
Season one Nadeko was presented as a lovestruck tween — pining for “big brother” Koyomi Araragi, she deliberately dressed in revealing clothes and posed suggestively to get his attention. It didn’t work, and while Araragi helped rid her of her snake apparition problem, he remained faithful to his girlfriend Hitagi Senjogahara. Nadeko was unaware of the existence of this girlfriend until shortly before the start of this story, several months afterwards.
One thing the viewer must be acutely aware of in Monogatari in general, though especially in this tale, is that it features unreliable narrators. Anyone who has ever attempted to argue with a teenage girl will be acutely aware of the incredible feats of mental gymnastics they employ to justify themselves and their objectively bizarre worldviews, in order to avoid responsibility or an admission of wrongdoing. They use weapons of affected outrage, embarrassment, vulnerability or — yes — even cuteness to twist the truth and by extension the response of their victim/parent/boyfriend/other-human-being-caught-in-the-maelstrom. Teenage girls will attempt to rewrite reality to suit their agendas.
At the start of the story, it is not at all obvious that this will be the overall theme. In what has become common for the past three second season stories (after a bloody, violent flash-forward prologue), it starts with our (unreliable) narrator Nadeko encountering mysterious, black-haired, dead-eyed, androgynous Ougi Oshino, who it seems has decided to be a girl again this time. In what appears to be a knowing, deliberate scene of audience misdirection, Ougi bemoans causality by greeting Nadeko in familiar terms without apparently having been introduced to her “yet”. They have a confusing conversation and Nadeko wanders off, feeling that “her time had been stolen from her”.
At school, Nadeko hides her eyes from her teachers and fellow pupils in order to avoid interacting with them. It seems the fallout from Kaiki’s middle-school-children-targeting fraud has wrecked the relationships betwween her classmates and the resultant atmosphere is oppressive. For once, non-main characters are depicted in the series (albeit in weird white-silhouetted with rainbow circle pattern manner). Normally when Araragi is the viewpoint character, Monogatari’s abstract world is spookily empty as he does not pay attention to anyone outside of his immediate concerns. Nadeko, however, is acutely aware of others’ eyes on her and communicates mainly by vaguely apologising and looking at the floor, waiting for people to move on from her. As a defence mechanism it seems to work — on a superficial level. Unfortunately we witness her mind unravel as she starts to hallucinate white snakes everywhere and hears the voice of a snake god emanate from the white scrunchie on her wrist.
Is this voice a consequence of her guilt from her misguided actions of several months previous (cutting up and nailing snakes to the tree in the shrine in an attempt to dispel her curse)? The snake spirit on her wrist convinces her that to rid herself of her unsettling auditory and visual hallucinations she must find the missing corpse of the snake shrine’s forgotten god. Where is this corpse to be found? The snake god’s instructions are very vague, though at one point when he claims that he’ll vibrate like a cellphone when his corpse is near, the viewer’s bullshit antennae should be twitching.
Initially acting to type, Nadeko reaches out to Aragagi for help but finds she can’t tell him the truth. When, in fact, has she ever been able to effectively communicate with him? Araragi clearly sees her as a little girl, a friend of his younger sister, someone to be rescued but not to be seen as an equal. Nadeko does not help herself in this regard with her infantile habit of continually referring to herself in the third person. She never says the Japanese equivalent of “I”. It’s always “Nadeko wants this” or “Nadeko says this”. Is this a thing that teenage girls in Japan do or is it something peculiar to her character? She seems to deliberately infantilise herself to get what she wants, and in fact the narrative is just about to call her out on this…
Araragi finds her inexplicably making sandcastles at midnight after she’s sneaked out of her house to ostensibly search for the snake god corpse. Nadeko fails to explain her intentions and Araragi takes her to his house where he does his best to tarnish his white knight image by offering his own bed (plus himself) to Nadeko. This is where I have a huge problem with Araragi. I know these scenes are played for laughs, and he’s meant to be devoted to Senjogahara, but the only thing saving Nadeko from Imminent Teen Pregnancy and Araragi from a charge of Statutory Rape is vampire Shinobu who leaps out at the correct moment to knock Araragi out and drag his unconscious body downstairs to sleep on the couch. How many more episodes until we cover the surely imminent Araragi: Registered Sex Offender arc?
Shinobu’s subsequent conversation with Nadeko is surely the turning point of the whole story. Shinobu sees right through the facade — Nadeko can get away with whatever the hell behaviour she likes because she is cute, and consciously or not, she weaponises that cuteness to get what she wants. She looks and acts harmless so that others lose all will to fight, or to criticise. She avoids arguments by staying silent, and others assume she’s more intelligent than she really is. Nadeko apologises constantly, but Shinobu confronts her with the fact she isn’t actually sorry and doesn’t ever believe herself to be in the wrong when she apologises — it’s merely a way to manipulate people. All very much teenage girl behaviour — codified and pathologised by Shinobu, who presumably was a psychotherapist in her previous life.
Then — Nadeko’s character assassination continues in the morning when the younger Araragi sister Tsukihi inappropriately climbs into her brother’s bed to find an unconscious Nadeko — a shocking development to her — but not for reasons you might hope. This family is seriously weird. I still don’t find the implied incest angle funny and I think it lessens the characters.
Tsukihi is as brutal as Shinobu — but from a different angle. Nadeko protests that she’s not cute, or manipulative, but Tsukihi challenges her to justify her relationship to Araragi, a boy she’s barely interacted with since childhood. She posits that Nadeko doesn’t really love Araragi, she just needs an outlet for her feelings. The fact she’d be willing to pursue a relationship even while Araragi is devoted to his girlfriend shows Nadeko’s feelings are twisted and unrealistic. Perhaps she’s more enamoured with the concept of Araragi, the big-brother-type who will sweep in to save her, do everything for her. Taking a leaf from her sister’s book, Tsukihi swoops in with scissors for some urgent hairstyling and chops off Nadeko’s fringe (the part you crazy North Americans call “bangs” for reasons I’ll never understand) so that she’s unable to hide her eyes and forces her to communicate without evasion.
Left reeling from this double-edged assault on her psyche, Nadeko returns to school and realises she can no longer hide her expressions from her pushy teacher. Unable to stay silent, she finally releases a cathartic outburst of what she really thinks. This scene is fantastic. She essentially rips her teacher a new arsehole with her words, then proceeds to do the same to her class. Who amongst us hasn’t fantasised about doing something similar to a person or people we can’t stand? Nadeko starts to take responsibility for her own destiny — though, perhaps, at the expense of some other characters.
At the encouragement of the flaky snake god’s spirit, Nadeko breaks back into Araragi’s house, because that is now apparently where the god’s corpse resides, as a paper talisman used as a bookmark in one of Araragi’s dodgy magazines. Araragi catches her in the act and Shinobu somewhat unhelpfully goads her, as does the snake god’s voice (promising the return of her hair) which leads her to ingesting the talisman. Said talisman apparently belonged to Izuku Gaen, another name that keeps popping up in the narrative. Whether the thing had anything to do with the snake shrine or not, the story isn’t clear, but anyway it’s enough to transform Nadeko into an apparition/oddity.
As it approaches its conclusion, Otorimonogatari pulls a narrative sleight-of-hand that I think is only partly successful — it comes across as something of an ass-pull. It seems the rot truly started when Nadeko learned of the existence of Araragi’s girlfriend, her jealousy driving her delusions. Nadeko proceeded to not only deceive herself, Araragi and the other characters — the snake god was entirely a figment of her imagination (suggesting she has some kind of underlying psychiatric condition) — but also the viewer by being extremely selective with the information presented. In particular, that earlier conversation with Ougi Oshino had much more substance that wasn’t shared until this point — essentially Ougi gave Nadeko the white scrunchie and the location of the talisman. Most of Nadeko’s recollection of what followed was merely misdirection. That places at least some responsibility for this chaos with Ougi.
And that chaos involves the apotheosis/deification of Nadeko whose hair transforms into snakes that she can wield as spears to effortlessly wreck both Araragi and Shinobu. Don’t fuck with love-struck, unstable teenage girls seems to be the message. With seeming inevitability, Nadeko sets herself up as this season’s “big bad” — divorced entirely from her humanity, she sees nothing more romantic than killing Araragi and chopping him up, because if she can’t have him, then that’s apparently the next best thing. Only Senjogahara’s intervention (via phone) can delay the inevitable carnage. For once, a story arc is left on a cliffhanger for resolution at some point later.
Otorimonogatari is certainly one of the stronger segments of season 2 so far. As much as Nadeko is a horrible character, she is very well defined and explored. At the end, I very much needed to know what happens next, which isn’t usually the case after I finish watching a Monogatari arc. Unfortunately, the next part of season 2 — Onimonogatari goes backwards in the timeline. I guess we’ll all have to wait until the time after next for my thoughts on the climactic end of the season where I hope someone spanks this spoiled little brat’s arse (and not in a creepy way).
Before I end — a quick note on availability of Monogatari Season 2 in the UK: Most of the individual story arc blu-rays are now completely unavailable and go for insane prices on Amazon etc. It’s all available to stream on Crunchyroll, but if you want the physical releases you can get the entire season in a single box set from MVM. It’s pricey at £120, though right now it’s discounted to £84 . I’m grateful we don’t have to pay Aniplex USA prices. Ugh.
Format: PAL Region 2 DVD/Region B Blu-ray Directors: Tomoyuki Itamura, Akiyuki Shinbou
Writers: Fuyahi Tou, Akiyuki Shinbou
Based on the Light Novel by: NisiOisin Language: Japanese with English SubtitlesClassification: BBFC 15 Distributor: MVM Entertainment Original Japanese TV Broadcast: September 21st — October 12th, 2013
Runtime: 96 minutes
UK DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: 9th February 2015
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Originally published at https://anitay.kinja.com on May 3, 2020.