Bakemonogatari
Episode 11

by Nick Creamer,

In the world of Monogatari, it seems like everyone is some kind of liar. Some of its heroes lie directly to others, like how Mayoi hid her true nature from Araragi, or how Kanbaru downplayed her own feelings towards Senjougahara. Others lie to themselves - Senjougahara's apparition was based in denying her own feelings, and Araragi seems happy to see his altruism as his own lack of self-regard. Lying is so natural to these characters that it ultimately raises the question of what “truth” means at all. Senjougahara couldn't see Mayoi and Araragi could, but neither of them were “wrong.” The ways we interpret the facts of reality aren't just important, they actually contribute to constructing reality. All we can share are our personal worlds, and those are always an act of interpretation - or from someone else's perspective, a lie waiting to be denied. In Bakemonogatari's final arc, we turn to the person who may well be Monogatari's most practiced liar: Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Tsubasa Cat opens with a flashback to Golden Week, a time of terror that's been alluded to all through the season. All we've really learned so far is that Hanekawa suffered from some apparition, and that she no longer remembers whatever happened. That by itself is a slight red flag; given that every climax outside of Nadeko's has required the victim to embrace their own psychological pain, the fact that Hanekawa can't remember her own catharsis seems like it would be a problem.

As Hanekawa and Araragi walk through a grey afternoon, Hanekawa gives Araragi a matter-of-fact rundown of her unhappy home life. Her current parents are each a couple of awkward steps removed from her birth parents, and as she bluntly states, “In their eyes, I really do seem to be a bit of a nuisance. But they have to keep up appearances, you know.” As Hanekawa reveals that her stepparents actually tried to send her to an orphanage without an emotional tremor, it seems clear that learning to keep up appearances may be the one gift her parents have given her. “For me, holidays are for taking walks. Because I don't want to be at home.”

The visual composition of this scene emphasizes the disconnect between Hanekawa's tone and the content of her speech. Hyper-closeups of her expressions only underline her emotional reserve, and shots of the clouds overhead reflect how this really isn't a day for walking outside. But in contrast to someone like Araragi, Kanbaru, or even Senjougahara, Hanekawa is a closed book.

After making Araragi promise not to tell anyone else, Hanekawa ultimately reveals that her father actually hit her this morning. Though she rushes to defend her abusive father, the fact that she'd say this at all seems to imply she places a great deal of trust in Araragi. Unable to acknowledge her own suffering, this may be her version of a cry for help - but for perhaps the first time, Araragi agrees not to interfere. The sky opens up then, and the sunlight reveals a dead cat lying on the asphalt. Hanekawa rushes over and asks Araragi to help her bury the cat that we'll soon see tied to her suppressed feelings.

The rest of the episode is fortunately less dense and stressful. Jumping back to the present, we witness a conversation between Araragi and Nadeko that feels like the total opposite of her own arc's tone. In contrast to the predatory camera and meek presentation of Nadeko Snake, Nadeko comes off as confident and self-possessed here, snarking at Araragi and undermining his more pervy instincts. Nadeko's actions actually seem almost like flirting for her own sake, and that impression is only heightened when she dashes off at Hanekawa's appearance.

Hanekawa seems to be doing a little better than in her flashback appearance, but she clearly still isn't in great shape. There's an edge to her teasing of Araragi, and when he brings up Senjougahara, her reactions are juxtaposed with deliberate shots of the setting sun. Hanekawa's response to Araragi talking about his girlfriend is to immediately bring up a bunch of nasty rumors about the two of them, warning him that “more stuff like that will happen in the future.” Of course, Hanekawa states that she herself denied these rumors—when Araragi asks if she truly believes the rumors aren't true, she responds “Yes. After all, I've never told a lie in my life.”

From dancing around her feelings on Senjougahara to framing herself as “just normal,” this whole conversation is built on unhappy lies. Unfortunately, Araragi seems totally unable to parse these lies—in response to a direct and frankly petty attack on his relationship, he blithely wonders if Hanekawa has “someone special” in her own life. Hanekawa is a better liar than Senjougahara or Kanbaru, but not that much better. It seems that Araragi's clear respect and near-adoration for Hanekawa makes him blind to her suffering and weaknesses.

Perhaps prompted by Araragi's failure to take the bait, Hanekawa is struck by another migraine, and we learn that these headaches were actually the symptom of her Golden Week troubles. As Oshino informs us, Hanekawa's apparition is something like a “multiple personality disorder.” Hanekawa's repressed feelings are pushed down and turned into personal stress, which then finds its release in the form of “Black Hanekawa,” the cat. In order to drain Hanekawa's stress, the cat would drain energy from humans at night, starting with her own abusive parents. But in the end, Shinobu drained the energy of the cat itself, and Hanekawa's stress was relieved. Happy ending!

Of course, this is Monogatari we're talking about. Solutions are never as easy as “a vampire solved my problem, and now I don't have it anymore.” Having your apparition drained doesn't make your stress go away - that's treating the symptom, not the cause. And so we're stuck with the current Hanekawa, still suffering, and the current Araragi, too impressed by his deceitful friend to notice the pain she hides.

Overall: B+

Bakemonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.


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