Bakemonogatari
Episode 5

by Nick Creamer,

Mayoi Snail's final episode opens with Araragi and Mayoi discussing meetings with parents. Araragi seems curious about Mayoi's quest, and Mayoi states that Araragi living in the same house as his parents means he can't understand her desire to see them. It's another direct gesture to one of the show's core themes - how our individual perspectives are inherently limited, and how our personalities and experiences will always dictate not just what seems normal or desirable, but our fundamental view of the world around us. Of course, there are always a variety of strange bridges linking our perspectives, as Mayoi points out. The fact that Araragi is “a kid who can never grow up” makes him just like her.

Then it's time for a bunch of sexual harassment jokes!

Beyond the rambling conversations and consistent puns, the final pillar of Why I Don't Like Mayoi Arcs is the ever-reliable sexual harassment humor. Araragi being a horny teenage boy is completely understandable, but when it comes to stuff like groping little girls, his behavior swiftly moves him beyond the realm of sympathy or investment. It's creepy in a way that doesn't just feel unpleasant to watch, but actually harms my ability to care about a character the show very much needs the audience to care about.

Fortunately, there's barely a hint of sensual framing in any of this material. The groping makes me more uncomfortable than is intended by the narrative, but the neutral, slapstick-oriented framing makes clear that this behavior is divorced from any actual lust. As Araragi says after they fight, “I get into these kind of brawls with my kid sisters all the time.” Sexual harassment isn't something I'm happy seeing employed as a lighthearted demonstration of character, but the point being demonstrated is that unlike Araragi and Senjougahara's perpetually tense, sexually charged conversations, Araragi and Mayoi have already arrived at a friendship that resembles comfortable siblings.

Their fast bond is clear in the following conversations. Araragi's reference to his sisters returns him to wondering how he can apologize, and Mayoi actually tries to cheer him up with her silly word games. Mayoi then opens up about her own family relationship, and we learn about a bitter divorce in the same visual language used for Senjougahara's horrible memories. The two have problems on wholly different scales, but they're both trapped wondering how they can find their way back to a happy home.

Then Senjougahara finally returns and drops the bombshell. Just like Araragi and Mayoi, Araragi and Senjougahara were operating in two different realities - one where a teenage boy had to help a little girl find her way home, and another where a teenage girl watched her crush perform an incoherent series of wild actions, all while she wondered if she was the one losing her mind. “That child is invisible to me,” Senjougahara admits, putting her earlier standoffishness into clear focus. Mayoi isn't just a victim of the lost cow - she is the lost cow. Struck by a car while seeking her mother's house ten years ago, Mayoi has been wandering as a lost ghost ever since.

This revelation - and all three characters' responses to it - offers more context for every one of them. The insecurity that has underlined all of Senjougahara's actions is painted in sharp relief, as we learn that she's more likely to trust Araragi's incomprehensible actions than her own senses. In a show defined by limited perspectives, Senjougahara has learned that she can't even trust her own eyes. In spite of her strong antagonistic front, Senjougahara could not be more vulnerable. She has no faith in herself and a great deal of faith in Araragi.

On Mayoi's side, this truth puts many of her actions in a much kinder light. Mayoi wasn't driving people away because she wanted to - she was trying to protect them from getting caught up in her fundamental nature. Mayoi didn't just try to drive both Araragi and Hanekawa away (whose own ability to see Mayoi is worth remembering), she spent a great deal of time trying to understand and sympathize with Araragi's desire to avoid his home. Even lying about her nature seems like an act of kindness; Mayoi is clearly desperate to go home, but she didn't want to burden her companions with the truth of her sad story.

For Araragi, the truth of Mayoi's nature puts his own nature in sharp focus. Mayoi wasn't just the focus character of this arc, she was an apparition haunting Araragi, reflecting his anxiety about his home life. But in spite of his own problems, Araragi is unwilling to take the easy solution and simply leave Mayoi to her fate. Araragi can't abandon someone who needs help, even if it implies hardship for him, and even if it's wrong or impossible. Helping others at his own expense is what Araragi does - his choice to help comes so naturally that it doesn't even register as a choice in his mind. Where others might see multiple paths out of this situation, in Araragi's worldview, there is only one. If he didn't help others, he wouldn't be himself.

Hearing that, Senjougahara confirms her own vision of Araragi. Araragi didn't help her because she was a pretty girl or because she was particularly desperate. She could have been anyone, and he would have done the same. The fact that Senjougahara wasn't special to him is precisely what convinces her of his true nature. Bathed in golden light, Senjougahara says what she'd been dancing around from the start of this arc: “I love you.”

It's a startling confession for what's theoretically a harem series, and the follow-through is just as powerful. Accompanied by a lovely piano version of her Staple Stable theme, Senjougahara admits that she was just talking about “paying Araragi back” to try and cajole him into admitting his own feelings. She doesn't truly feel that indebted to him, because one of the things she loves about him is that he'd help anyone. She enjoys talking to him and wants to do it more.

In a show defined by rhetorical games and wordplay, Senjougahara's words are blunt, honest, and brave. She admits not just to strong emotional feelings, but to the limits of her feelings and the ways that her pride and insecurity made her try and convince Araragi to act first. We understand that our private mental worlds are all different, and one of the ways we accommodate that is by simply lying about it - by saying less than we feel or testing the waters to see if everyone can arrive safely at a communal articulated reality. Senjougahara's honesty is the opposite of that - she's offering her private world to Araragi, letting him see the closest any of us can come to the “real us.”

Fortunately for Senjougahara, Araragi is exactly the man she judged him to be. Araragi's only request for their relationship is that they continue that honesty. No more lying about apparitions to try and create a false accord - “if we don't agree on something, let's sit down and talk about it.” Beginning in the fifth episode, Araragi and Senjougahara's strange relationship represents the fundamental hope of the Monogatari franchise. Even if we all live in separate realities, we must still hope to trust and understand each other. Through respect, communication, and honest friendship, we may one day reach each other's hearts.

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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