Nisemonogatari and the Arrow of Female Hysteria

So. Nisemonogatari. Sure, you’ve got your Shinbo-tastic fanservice and your racy banter, but these traits really operate in the service of patriarchal cognitive bias. Yup. We’re going all Stroop Test on this one for my first outing at Altair & Vega.

I’d like to start by talking quickly about social justice approaches to cultural works. The easiest way to understand it is through the example of the FedEx arrow. See, there is an arrow in the FedEx logo. Some people can go their whole lives without seeing it or knowing it’s there (I actually was, until someone pointed it out), but once you see it, it cannot be unseen. This same logic applies to issues like gendered or racially aware analysis of art. Now that I’ve started to watch anime through the lens of feminism, I see its core issues everywhere and my plan is to bring you along for the ride. So? On to Nisemonogatari!

At its core, Nisemonogatari is a harem series, but it gets kudos, especially from the more thoughtful members of the blogosphere for its oblique characterization, which it achieves through the examination of what brought each girl in Araragi’s gang to her oddity. Nadeko’s budding maturity reflects in her constant come-ons to Araragi, Kanbaru indulges her perversion to reflect her dualistic nature, and Senjougahara’s violence reflects her past vulnerability: tsundere as emotional armor (that’s a common theme, see: Toradora!).

Even if the series wasn’t rampantly moé to an almost mercenary degree, the central conceit of the story works only because we as viewers are willing to take its female characters’ imperfections and vulnerabilities at face-value and still consider them sympathetic. Simply switch the genders of Araragi and his harem and it’s easy to see that the sexism doesn’t end at the fanservice. It is, as they say, turtles all the way down.

Nisemonogatari operates on the inherent vulnerability that we subscribe to female characters that comes from the central trope of women as passive or in need of protection. It’s the strange duality of “emotional, but repressed” that drives tsundere (a large part in creating Hitagi as a character is a mashup of her imperious coldness and her deep, helpless affection for Araragi), just as much as it creates the unabashedly shameless and cloying Kanbaru. Through this emotional vulnerability and inherent quirkiness Araragi both gets an opportunity to play rescuer and appear comparatively sane despite the strangeness of his own circumstances and habits.

Hitagi Senjougahara provides a good framework for understanding this duality. Despite her imperious nature and overt violence towards Araragi, she remains smitten with him, allowing him to do as he pleases despite the possible repercussions (her control over him is heavily lampshaded during both Suruga Monkey and Nadeko Snake). As viewers we swallow Hitagi’s act easily, at once in awe of her powerful tsun-tsun,  but capable of ignoring it when the situations call for it.

But what does this have to do with gender? And why the Stroop Test? Well, that is simple—assuming you’re willing to step through the door. The Stroop Test demonstrates that cognitive bias can be induced or is operating at all times. Some things, like the roles of man-as-rescuer and woman-as-damsel-in-distress have been so ingrained that when it forms the foundation for a work, we hardly notice—unless we’re looking. Nisio Isin is using our cognitive bias to sweep a small narrative problem under the rug: why, when surrounded by more capable and clever girls does he get to be the hero? Because he’s male. At every turn, the female cast members need Araragi’s help or are drawn to him for some reason or another; despite his minor ability and seemingly deplorable nature (the rest of the cast frequently picks on him), he is doubtlessly the hero of the show, as the only truly sane one among a group of girls we’re primed to see as hysterical or flighty.

Is this bad? I think yes, it is. See, you can describe a great deal of character inconsistency in this show through the old frat-house adage of “b**ches be crazy,” and if you find yourself in this place, the show’s characterization is failing you.

But where does this get us? What purpose does “seeing the arrow” have in this context, because, frankly, I may have just told you that your favorite show this season is complete shite? Well, feminist reading of anime can do a few things for you. First, you can learn the difference between actual, three-dimensional characters and ones who merely conform to your preconceived ideas of good characters (if you take some time to compare Hitagi to Taiga, for example, you’ll see that one is defined by her archetype while the other inhabits it as a consequence of her other character traits). But more importantly, when it appears an author knows what he’s doing, it can also lead you to completely change your understanding of a work. In Katanagatari, the main female protagonists, Togami and Hitei Hime don’t appear as inconsistent or wooden as the girls from Nisemonogatari. This leads to another interpretation of Bakemonogatari and its sequel. My reading is actually that the show and its prequel were not really about the women at all, or Isin would have taken more time to push them from their archetypes. Instead, I think it means the show is about Araragi at its core, despite its moé.

Instead of focusing your attention, then, on each girl’s arc and her unique problems, you should instead watch for the challenges Araragi faces each week. How each interaction shapes his sense of self as the “man of the show”. As this interpretation has a clear masculist bent, it’s a topic I may return to at a later date. Or, I’ll just abandon it to write about the awesomeness that is Chihaya. I do love Chihaya.

33 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Nisemonogatari

33 responses to “Nisemonogatari and the Arrow of Female Hysteria

  1. Good blog, but I have to object to this (mis)reading of both Bake/Nise/monogatari as something patriarchal/masculinist.

    While it is true that the main character is male, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the female characters are all necessarily hysterical/flighty, and passive, while the male is the only “sane” one in the cast. This judgment automatically demonstrates me the failure of the lens of a single minded reading.

    Several female characters have demonstrated wisdom and offer sage advice for Koyomi Araragi.

    The lens of feminism can itself too be a cognitive bias, because it forces you to superimpose foreign concepts on the story and ignore whatever does not fit, and declare everything misogynistic bile if it fails to meet the Beschdel test (or your Stroop test).

    Most artwork or stories are far too layered to be reduced to simplistic readings, and feminism is only a tool that can take you so far with such multi-layered works.

    • I don’t think that’s quite the point of the Bechdel test. The point is to analyze a larger body of work. I doubt much harem anime is going to pass the Bechdel test (Index is all that comes to mind), and as such one can say that harem anime has a problem with how women are characterized. That -monogatari can’t pass merely says that for all its progress with characterization, the female characters have not managed to become their own beings. I don’t think this means it’s crap, but it probably isn’t the masterpiece it may otherwise be considered.

      • No, that was my point: an artwork does not need to pass late 20th-21st century notions of political theory in order to be a masterpiece. A masterpiece must succeed the very standards it establishes, not obey some external, transcendent, moving goalpost of a political theory.

        IOW, aesthetics is not dependent on political ideology. It obeys different rules or principles and those principles are immanent within the work.

    • the_patches

      Thanks for commenting!

      I have a few reactions to what you’ve said but I want to limit them so the discussion doesn’t range too far afield. I would start by agreeing on the whole with your assertion that feminist critique is a specific lens through which one can examine the work, and I’d not intended to put it forth as the be all and end all. So, I’m not trying to tell you that any other interpretation is invalid.

      That said, I think that there is merit in unpacking any patriarchal memes or problems that exist within a work (quick aside: that something has patriarchal elements in it doesn’t mean that its a misogynist work a its core, many patriarchal ideas are so ingrained in common knowledge, they appear in works of fiction like known fact or folk wisdom without any harm intended). Since, as you indicate a multi-layered analysis only helps to bolster our understanding of a work, I figure throwing my two cents in from a feminist point of view only helps discourse. ^_^

      The only place I’d really like to clarify your reading of my post is in your initial assertion. I did assume that because there was a male main character that the girls were hysterical/flighty. Instead, examining the situation of Araragi in relation to the girls bears out their oddness (word choice: deliberate), and his role as their problem-solver/rescuer. In this case, each character’s quirkiness and vulnerability works within patriarchal ideas of women as overly emotional, vulnerable, and needing of help.

  2. You’ve given us a very well written, and, more importantly, good read.

    I find it interesting that you should mention my main tsundere love, Taiga. Her reading in the light novels is a different girl than the viewing in the anime. Of course, she had to headbutt poor Ryuuji after his confession (one that she pressured him into in advance). Anime has to live by certain standards.

    The LN, has the reunion scene done quite differently, as her dere side is on full and believable display. Yes, she gushes her love for her fella, but she is a young woman, by all means, let her gush. Her personality becomes more reliable afterwards, and shows us a complex person that has come to grips with her goals. I toradored the anime, but I relished, and loved the LN.

    I have to admit here (as I have elsewhere in the anibloggosphere), that I do not have Senjogohara Fascination. In fact, I have a sense of fear and concern for her. Perhaps it is because of my age, I have a child that is nearly the same age as Nadeko and Tshuki. So, I may have paternal reactions to Hitagi; so I feel her Tsundere qualities are not so much useful, as they need to be a transitional state. Much like Taiga in her LN version.

    Koyomi as the nexus. I see him as another character in a different medium. Capt. Malcolm Reynolds. I heard Joss Whedon claim that his main character in Firefly surrounded himself with a crew that was both facets of his personality, and extensions of his world view (right or wrong). Koyomi and his harem are pretty much a counter-part in my own mind.

    Hitagi. He wears armour as much as she does, yet he does have a very soft, very empathic side he wishes to convey.

    Tsubasa. Like her, he doesn’t know everything. Only what he knows.

    Karen. The desire to be both strong and right.

    Kanbaru. He has his perversions, this is true, but they come from such a honest point.

    Mayoi. His need for guidance. She had none, yet is so clear in giving it. Much like a parent.

    Tshuki. Unknown as of now.

    and Shinobu. In the LN he sacrificed his life for her because he felt that his own was poorly spent. In that context he felt it only nature. He wasn’t using life to it’s fullest, why not give the yield of it to a “superior being”. Only, he did not know what Kiss Shot Areorion Heart Under Blade had in mind. We live until we die. Gaiman’s Death, “You get what everyone gets, a lifetime”. This is the truest of love stories in the whole of the tale. That you can love, and yet not forgive. It’s hard, and it’s sad, yet it happens.

  3. I may gush about Senjougahara almost nonstop, even have her in the header for my site, but I agree that she and almost every other character isn’t at the pinnacle of character development by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve actually paid attention to Araragi above the other characters during Nisemonogatari, which I didn’t for Bake-, and I can say that it’s a much more interesting watch as a result.

    Of course it wasn’t because it’s not exactly a feminist show, I just didn’t get much from many of the characters the first time around. Araragi may not be the most interesting guy, but it’s fun to see how he develops as the series goes on. In any case, great post!

  4. First off welcome to Altair and Vega! I hope you enjoy your stay.

    Amazing post by the way! I really do love me some Nisemonogatari and true this is typical harem related stuff through this series…Araragi is always helping and getting himself pulled into a lot of strange situations with every girl in the series I still find it amazing that Senjougahara hasn’t kicked his ass.

    Araragi you crazy bastard! I feel for him all this unwanted attention and temptation all around him…oh man he should lock himself up! But vampire-loli will still be around after that.

  5. Man…are all the best writers in the blogosphere now writing for this blog?! Hehe, well, I’m glad to see I have another reason to visit!

    You know, the more I watch Nisemonogatari, the more I’m impressed by Akiyuki Shinbo. He’s magic (or rather, brilliant). He gives throughtful viewers what they want – the normal male as hero (well, as normal as a vampire can be), fanservice, etc., while letting us strut around proudly telling others that we like this show because the dialogue, direction, and other art values are so high. Both are true.

    On another note, I like your FedEx symbol analogy – I remember reading your writing about it before. I feel that applies also to how I write, as I now frequently see spiritual themes in anime (even though they’re seldom purposely placed there).

    • the_patches

      I… I didn’t make this post for you or anything! *blushes*

      BAAAAKA!

      But in all seriousness, you’re absolutely right about the interpretation thing. Anyone with a particular mindset has the chance to take something different from a show that zie watches. And yes, Shinbo gets it done. Although, his fanservice obsession seems to have jumped the shark a little with this one.

  6. There’s also another thing to keep in mind.

    NISIOISIN, like pretty much any creator in Japan, is born and exposed into an insular, patriarchal society (for the most part). If you’re going to have to read a NISIOISIN work with a feminist perspective, it really depends on your opinion of Japanese society in general.

    As for Shinbo, he’s the hardest working director in anime. Hell, there was a dark period in his life where he actually directed porn. And honestly speaking, how he does the talky scenes is quite similar to how Banner of the Stars did that one exposition scene where Lafiel and Atosurya (whose brother she murdered in self defense much earlier) were honoring his death. From the male perspective, one way to keep the viewer interested is to… focus on what guys like to see. It’s sexist and totally un-PC, but not everyone can crank out interesting conversation like NISIOISIN.

    • the_patches

      To be clear, I’m not trying to take away from either of these artists. They’re both pretty damn good at what they do. In ISIN’s case especially (notice how I referenced Katanagatari at the end).

      With that out of the way, I think that saying “It’s Japan, of course it’s problematic, let’s move on,” squanders an opportunity to educate anime watchers about the role of sexist or patriarchal memes in their content. And personally, I feel that this knowledge can enhance anime as much as is it can detract from it (I have to admit, I’m now doubly-unlikely to watch Rosario to Vampire).

  7. “NISIOISIN, like pretty much any creator in Japan, is born and exposed into an insular, patriarchal society (for the most part). If you’re going to have to read a NISIOISIN work with a feminist perspective, it really depends on your opinion of Japanese society in general.”

    I share these sentiments. To deconstruct *monogatari with a feminist lens is like throwing rocks at a hurricane. I agree with this post but see the larger problem being the context of creation rather than a particular work. Japanese society generally has a long tradition of sexism and gender bias, so the existence of many stories, especially harems, that are typically in the “canon” of this society is unspectacular. We are essentially painting this work red while it exists in a sea of red; it’s nothing new.

    Perhaps what I find more interesting are the mentions of “whitelisted” characters/stories, like the mentions of Katanagatari and Chihaya.

    • the_patches

      So, in reverse order:
      I wrote about Katanagatari for my personal feminist blog awhile back, and am hoping to provide new content over here for the most part the link is here (http://aboutwaifuz.tumblr.com/post/10847651026/dont-hate-the-princess-hate-the-game), Chihaya, though continues to be a fascination to me (despite the fact that the most interesting feminist character in that show is Kana-chan).

      HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to point sexist or poor characterizations in other shows. Many of the more problematic ideas and tropes form the bedrock of anime writing and exist beyond the level of copious fanservice and recycled harem plots. With this post (and others when I do this in the future), I will try to uncover some of these problems. Not that it means you can’t enjoy the anime. I just believe that awareness allows everyone to appreciate their favorite shows fully “eyes open” to how it might influence viewers or trade on their preconceptions.

  8. Orangespike

    If there was a point I would have to make, its that the reason the female characters don’t appear to be as fleshed out as they could have been is because the entire -monogatari series is written through Araragi Koyomi. The scenes that don’t involve him such as Karen’s face-off with Kaiki are only what Koyomi understands of the situation as he states at the beginning of the scene. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that female characters don’t often get to interact with each other on screen, however there are hints as to the relationships between these characters during the show. One example of which is the conversation on the phone with Senjougahara and Hanekawa in which Araragi sees a side of Hitagi he normally would not. This is later built upon by the characters themselves, I would highly doubt that Hanekawa was actually bullying Hitagi, but rather that Hitagi was deflecting the suspicion Koyomi had of their relationship. Even with Karen in the lastest episode 8, while everyone has been captivated by Toothbrushing they’ve missed an extremely important detail. Karen flat-out stated that the way she acts with Koyomi is completely different than how she acts with other people, this is also more subtly hinted at with Kanbaru who’s Sexual preferences are a part of her personality she doesn’t show to other people. Given the title of the anime Imposter Story it would appear to be that the theme is how there are multiple facets to a person that differ depending on the situation and what exactly constitutes as a person’s “Real” self. If you have read the authors comments on the Light novels of Nisemonogatari its painfully clear this was his intent, but that seems like cheating to me.
    Rather than Nisemonogatari, in regards to Bakemonogatari or Ghost story, I would question whether Araragi saved anyone or if it was Araragi who was himself saved.
    With regards to the first arc Hitagi crab, Araragi’s only role was to introduce Hitagi to a professional (Oshino Meme) in order for her problem to be “Solved”. In the end though, the only thing Araragi did was not back down, which has rather dark implications I’ll mention later. Hitagi decided on her own that she would risk being betrayed again and face her past opting to own up to her past decisions rather than let Meme kill the crab or run away.
    During Mayoi snail Araragi decides to stick with Hachikuji despite knowing she is the oddity possesing him to help her; though I would think the only reason Hitagi even asks Araragi if he would is because she is trying to confirm if hes selfless or had ulterior motives in getting involved with Hitagi’s problem. Ultimately though it’s Meme’s professional advice and Hitagi’s guidance that get Mayoi home.
    In Suruga Monkey, Kabaru doesn’t so much face her problem as have an unfair situation thrust upon her. Unlike the previous 2 Kanbaru is facing her problem from the start, she tries her hardest to be honest with her own emotions and is willing to give up her arm if it means she can correct the mistake she made in a jealous fit. While Koyomi again does not back down and risks life and limb to save Kanbaru, in the end its Hitagi who shows up to save the day and scold Koyomi on his reckless actions and breach of trust.
    In Nadeko Snake Koyomi finally gets his chance to shine and act the hero. He finds Nadeko gets the charm from Meme, and when shit starts going wrong steps in to fix it. Kanbaru does end up saving Koyomi from himself though so Its not the most shining hero example. Nadeko herself is a bit of a problem as she doesn’t get much solid character development until Nadeko Medusa much later on so you only get bits and pieces, though she comes off as a little creepy to me with how obsessed she is.
    Finally in Tsubasa Cat, Hanekawa’s delusions of becoming part of a twilight-esque romantic fantasy lead to the reappearance of black Hanekawa. In the end though a clear rejection from Koyomi some help from Shinobu and a lot of effort on her own part to move on while remaining friends with Koyomi. I imagine she holds lingering feelings to some degree which she deals with by tormenting Koyomi somewhat (breast ticket).
    Then comes Koyomi himself and if you look at all his heroism it doesn’t really amount to much, in fact he’s rather suicidal with his actions. In the last arc Tsubasa Cat he was ready to die to pay back the debt to Hanekawa, but for the first time in the series he thinks that maybe, just maybe his death will have a negative impact on his friends. In the end it took the entire series and a lot of Senjougahara’s insight to finally convince Koyomi Araragi that his own life holds value outside of being a sacrifice for someone else.
    Another major note, the Bluerays come with commentary done by the characters themselves doing a Mystery Science Theater of their own show with dialogue written by NisioIsin himself. This includes interaction between the girls and from what i’ve heard and read of it gives a lot more depth the characters.

    • the_patches

      Whoa! There are times when I feel that I’m really missing out by not reading the light novels. This is one of those times. ;)

      In many ways, the assessment that the whole show serves Koyomi’s development is news to no one, and the point I was trying to make lives in the same vein of analysis as the one you just provided.

      Instead of trying to invalidate the roles of the girls in the show, I was mainly trying to point out that many of the issues that they experience are narrowly gendered, a fact that I’m sure NISIOISIN understands and made use of. I think the idea that the girls’ actions, oddities, and portrayals support your overall thesis about Koyomi learning to give value to his life.

      Notice that the oddities focus on typically “female” concerns (romance, jealousy, sexual assault and shame) and that we as an audience don’t bat an eye that these oddities spring from their underlying psychology and that it requires the intervention of a male hero. True, ISIN subverts Koyomi heavily as you point out, but the dichotomy of the cast makes it hard to ignore the possibility that the genders were chose deliberately. Even the hand-wavy interpretation that they were chosen as female so that their devotion to Koyomi in the wake of their ordeals would seem more realistic carries with it a gendered logic of harem anime.

      Consider again, the situation where all the secondaries were boys. In the understood logic of male interaction, Koyomi would only become the focus by demonstrating that he really was the strongest (see: Luffy, although I challenge you to fight me about Medaka Box on this one I’d like to see if I can manage to convince you that it applies there, too), which in itself is a negative stereotype about men. Instead, in the situation you outlined above, we see Koyomi as forming the center of the group DESPITE his inadequacies.

      • Orangespike

        I would argue about the nature of the oddities being solely female problems. While there’s not much I can argue with on Sengoku’s behalf, the other girl’s problems I believe are more universally applicable than you give credit.

        In reference to Hitagi’s problem, my understanding of her situation was that she denied her past due to the guilt she felt over the divorce and animosity her mother may or may not have felt toward her after the attempted rape. The key emotion I associated with her arc was Guilt, the guilt of a child who’s parents divorced as a result of something that happened to them whether it was the child’s fault or not. In terms of the attempted rape, while its uncommon to see grown males in this situation the idea of a small boy being subjected to this is rather common suprisingly I.E. Berserk. If I were to replace Hitagi with a male counter-part, barring the notion that he might be Homosexual, the outcome would probably be Admiration and debt In much the same way Araragi feels indebted to hanekawa. The notion of a Male tsundere is not at all far-fetched and Instead of Hitagi we would probably end up with a character Similar to Guts/Gatts from the Golden age arc and his relation to Griffith.

        In regards to the other arcs, I would argue that jealousy is not a strictly female concern as It’s used a lot in romance series where 2 or more males are vying for the affection of one female. There’s a tv-tropes page full of examples under Green-eyed Monster. Mayoi’s is really more of a child’s problem than a female problem and Hanekawa’s arc is basically a deconstruction of twilight. Though if you were to replace Hanekawa with a male and Araragi with a female, you would end up with a deconstruction of the “Girl falling out of the sky” stories that are so prevalent in anime.

        Though I would agree that the situation would be strange if you made all the secondaries boy’s, except under the condition that this became a shounen-ai or Araragi was replaced with a Female counterpart. Romance is part of the story, so it would be strange if you removed that aspect of it.

        There have been characters that were female with major flaws that held together a band of minor characters in anime such as Angel beats, The major reason being charisma, while the other characters certainly aren’t hollow and some are definitely more stable its the one with the charisma that is the center of the group.

        That being said Araragi is easy to talk to, funny, and extremely charismatic which is why he seems to be the center of the group. However he’s not keeping everyone together, as the characters do not form around him. Rather Araragi knows of the characters and the form seperate groups that he is a part of. Take for instance Kanbaru, she is connected to Senjougahara and even mentioned that if Araragi did something to endanger his relationship with Hitagi that she would cut ties with him. Senjougahara and Kanbaru share a senpai/kouhai relationship as well as her seperate world that she has formed with Hanekawa which she refuses to let araragi into. Hanekawa is friends with Koyomi but at the same time has teamed up with his Sister’s which she hid from him. Koyomi’s sisters form their own group with Hanekawa as friends of justice as well as Karen’s admiration of Kanbaru whom she intends to befriend. Mayoi is off on her own and only interacts with Koyomi, but that’s the point as she can’t interact with other people and is lonely without Koyomi around.
        Its more like the show is a bunch of cliques that araragi happens to be a part of

        On a last note, as much a fan of NisioIsin as I am, I actually didn’t like Medaka Box.

  9. the_patches

    So, this is where the arrow comes in.

    I can’t argue with your analysis, but as someone aware of the significance of gender in framing a narrative, I can’t NOT see it at work in the story. You’ve built a strong case, and I’ve certainly learned a lot. So long as we’re willing to acknowledge that there are two potential sides to this, I consider the exchange win-win (at least I hope you got something out of it, because I did).

    I’m not trying to take away from what NISIOISIN accomplished in Bake/Nise, but instead trying to illustrate how his choice of gender has an effect on how we view his work.

    • Orangespike

      Your opinion has certainly given me a unique way of looking at this series. Several points I mentioned were things I’d not even considered until I attempted to raise a counterpoint to your post. I specifically read the blogs of shows I’ve watched to get a different perspective on it, If you’ve gained anything out of my posts then I feel better knowing I’ve at least given back something of value in return for what I’ve learned here.

  10. Let me start with the caveat that I’ve read Bake, Kizu, and most of Nise, thus I may have a hard time seeing the series from the eyes of most of the fanbase who’ve only seen the anime. I find it curious how you compare Taiga and Hitagi with respect to their being tsunderes, because as best as I can see, neither are. Taiga doesn’t act tsuntsun to the object of her affections, and Hitagi doesn’t act deredere – not in any traditional way, anyway. I’d argue that Hitagi certainly comes closer to tsundere than Taiga, but really, the events of Nisemonogatari show her to be closer to a yandere – again, with barely any deredere to speak of.

    This is actually explored extensively in the novel Nisemonogatari when Koyomi thinks about what archetype Hitagi falls in. It’s mentioned in the 1st episode of Bakemonogatari, but he calls Hitagi a “tsundra,” an obvious pun on “tundra,” a rather harsh and cold place. There’s another pun in there with the “dra” part, in Japanese, but the specifics of it escapes my memories, though it was also along the same line. But point being, Hitagi is just a tsuntsun person. More than once, Koyomi calls her out as being simply a sociopathic, cruel person, without the positive sides of a tsundere.

    And I think that connects most with the most influential part of Hitagi’s story, her near-rape, via betrayal by her mother. She’s a victim of abuse, someone who can’t help but lash out due to the trauma, but who’s also working to get over it and move forward. And I think that’s what ultimately defines her character, which is called tsundere even in the series itself, but which, in the very same book, is also called out as something only resembling tsundere but isn’t at all. I don’t know how much, if any, of it we’ll see in the anime, but her character transformation following the events of Karen Bee should prove… interesting to fans.

    • the_patches

      Sorry it took me so long to respond. That was rude. I wanted to say a few things:

      First, the text I have to work with is the anime, not the light novels, and so you have to remember that when I answer. I think one of the points that’s implied in my post is that the narrative of Bake and Nise seems aware of its interaction with archetypal characters. NISIOISN knows that whether or not Hitagi’s character bears out both the tsuntsun and the deredere side of her personality, the evidence points to it, especially in an environment eager to assign moe labels to characters for ease of classification and comparison. In Hitagi’s case in particular, I feel that even if she’s missing the sweetness required for a true “dere” side, she maintains the archetype’s duplicity (which is actually its most dangerous element in regard to rape culture, TBH).

      In regard to the Taiga comparison in particular, I feel that both girls share the underlying cause of emotional immaturity (parental abuse of varying degrees) but maybe they express it differently? Taiga is certainly capable of affection, whereas we have to rely on inference and the one episode in Bake to assume that Hitagi is as well.

  11. Bakemonogatari and now Nisemonogatari always get points from me for being self-aware. They’re absolutely harem shows and they suffer the same conceit – unremarkable and/or useless guy is surrounded by amazing girls who are drawn to him for some (inadequately explained) reason. At least Bakemonogatari never gave me the impression that this was supposed to seem normal! It makes fun of the harem format while still conforming to it.

    I think it might of been ghostlightning (I’m not sure?) who talked about how Araragi is powerful, dominating and exploitative of the younger girls like Mayoi and Nadeko, but is totally cowed and dominated by women closer to his own age and experience (Senjougahara, Kanbaru, Hanekawa). He’s immature. It’s nice to see that acknowledged of a harem lead! He’s also afraid of femininity, except where he knows he can control it, and we can hope that his female friendships will allow him to come to a less otaku-y attitude to women.

    All this is not to deny the patriarchal man-as-hero woman-as-damsel issue – it’s there, loud and clear, and the occasional cute bullying scene doesn’t make the girls equal to Araragi. I just think Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari do it from a reason.

    • Orangespike

      Araragi is most certainly not unremarkable/useless, he’s a charismatic, witty, self-sacrificing, bishounen vampire. He’s not a character people are supposed to project themselves on to like other harem leads, he’s got quite a harem outside of the show as well as tons of fanart and places high on the “people you would like as friends” list.
      In terms of relationships, I think the hierarchy was something like
      Oshino / Kaiki
      Mayoi / hanekawa
      Senjougahara / Araragi / shinobu
      kanbaru / karen / tsukihi

      Oshino and kaiki are a given,
      Mayoi is actually in her 20’s (she’s been dead 11 years) and acts the mentor to Araragi, Hanekawa is frighteningly manipulative and also acts the mentor part.
      Senjougahara and Araragi have a very S&M relationship, but when either one is serious then they stand on equal ground. Shinobu isn’t at the top only because she’s too world-weary to assert authority.
      Kanbaru looks up to araragi/senjougahara and karen/tsukihi look up to araragi and hanekawa.
      Nadeko is wildly unstable and I don’t think really fits anywhere on the chart.

      On the last point, the previous posts contain a conversation between myself and the writer of the article where we discussed this.

    • the_patches

      Thanks for your comment, but I think you misunderstood my point at the end, since your final statement and my purpose are in alignment.

      I never claimed that there wasn’t a REASON for the the portrayals, I merely wanted to indicate that one of the tools at NISIOISIN’s disposal was an understanding of the central patriarchal ideas in both Japanese and western culture. Personally, I think a heavily-gendered reading supports the idea of the work as a more intelligent examination of what it means to be a teenage boy in modern Japan.

  12. So, was the Stroop Test better for this than the Bechdel Test?

    • the_patches

      So, Nise and Bakemono don’t really pass the Bechdel test, either, but the use of the Stroop Test here is more illustrative than evaluative. I chose to mention the Stroop Test because the point of the post was to examine how cognitive bias can be present in a viewer even when attempting to use his analytic capacity to examine a work.

      • Actually, I always thought the Stroop test requires a viewer to analyze a work. It is that pause engendered in the middle of analysis as the intellect conflicts with the subconscious mind that is registered by the test.

        • the_patches

          Correct, and stated more elegantly than I did. The idea behind this post was to point out that pause and the additional analysis that can come about if we listen to what we hear in that space. ^^;

          I hope I accomplished at least a little of that.

  13. Akira

    First of all, great work on this post. It’s too rare that we see a feminist perspective in the anisphere, and this perspective is very welcomed.

    However, I question your assessment of Araragi as the true protagonist of Nisemonogatari. I believe that your feminist critiques are completely valid in Bakemonogatari, where Araragi indeed acts as the knight in shining armor to a variety of damsels in distress.

    However, in Nisemonogatari, I argue that he is stripped of his own agency and reduced to a much more minor role. Sure, the story is told from his perspective, but I’m not entirely sure that he is fully in control of his actions (or even his thoughts.) If you would like, you can read my full critique at http://akirascuro.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/embracing-impotence-in-nisemonogatari/. I think that it’s important to mark a distinction between protagonist and narrator— in my mind, Araragi is the latter, and not the former.

    • the_patches

      So, I get your point about whether he has agency affects the deeper analysis of the work (and I will build a counter-case on YOUR blog in regard to that, so stay tuned. ^^;), but the reason why I chose to reference the Stroop Test in my post was that the a priori assumtion of these women as crazy/defective/in need of help occurs before we have a chance to perform analysis. Even Araragi himself decides that these problems are his to fix, and again as the only male ‘hero’ in Nisemonogatari, it’s easy for the viewer to assign him the role of agent (which is of course the dissonance which forms the core of your post).

      The idea I am positing is that these central tropes act on us almost before we have a chance to process the work.

  14. Pingback: Anime torpor | chaostangent

  15. I loved this entire series, couldn’t get enough of the music, the bizarreness, and the animation. But you are right! Araragi had zip to recommend him

  16. Cyborg771

    This is pretty old so I wouldn’t be surprised if my comment never gets seen, I just had a few thoughts I wanted to put down. First of all I should address the fact that I’m a guy, but I do care a lot about feminism and I’m not quick to brush off accusations of it in works that I love. That being said, I don’t think that Nise, and the rest of the -monogatari series, is as problematic as you point out. First is your characterization of Koyomi as the “hero”. Protagonist, sure, but hero? If this series has a hero it’s more likely his sisters (if you’re just looking at Nise), Oshino or Shinobu (in Bake and Neko Black) or the girls (in season 2). By his own admission Koyomi doesn’t do anything to help, he just lets people know that help is available. His role in the story is reflected in his abilities, he can’t really fight particularly well, his only ability is to be beaten on again and again without falling down. He rarely takes action to solve any of the girls’ problems and when he does it’s usually just to put them in touch with somebody else who can help. The second mistake (and one that 95% of the viewing audience seems to make) is to confuse sexually charged scenes with fanservice. Bobduh does a great breakdown of the use of sexualized characters here so I won’t try to outdo him. (http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/04/14/nisemonogatari-and-the-nature-of-fanservice/).

    One of -monogatari’s core themes is perspective and how people view each other. Theres a good reason for there being so few male characters in the series, basically just Oshino and Hitagi’s dad. The world is tinted by the eyes of the main character and Koyomi is a teenage boy so the people he notices most are the women, and he notices them in a sexual way as is expected from a boy his age. Whenever stakes are high or there is something important happening the fanservice all but stops as it’s not what Koyomi is thinking of. It’s interesting to note that his parents never once appear until Neko White which is from Tsubasa’s perspective. His sisters even spell out this idea in Neko White when they say that Koyomi has refused to meet their boyfriends and pretends they don’t exist.

    I love the -monogatari series for it’s sharp witty writing and drop dead gorgeous visuals but it really bothers me that so many people just enjoy it for the T&A. I’m glad there are people out there putting more thought into it and I really hope less people would be so quick to make assumptions based on it’s surface elements.

  17. Pingback: Anime Christmas #2 – Learning Post-Modernism Through Chinese Cartoons | Under the Bridge

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