Bakemonogatari Episode 6
by Nick Creamer,
Bakemonogatari's sixth episode marks the beginning of Suruga Monkey, the show's third arc. As the episode opens, we see Araragi and Mayoi bantering in what's become their usual manner, with Mayoi essentially handing off her arc to the next protagonist. Their conversations are contrasted against running feet, which the show also layers over its usual dramatic title cards to create a uniquely ominous tone. And then our new hero arrives, as freshman basketball star Kanbaru Suruga leaps onto the stage.
Kanbaru is a new character, but her opening song gives us a fair amount of context for her story. She divides her time in the opening sequence between playing basketball and chasing after Senjougahara, all while the lilies that are often associated with lesbian romance spin past in the background. It would seem that Araragi isn't actually the one Kanbaru is interested in.
Their subsequent conversation more or less confirms that. Kanbaru's words to Araragi are a mix of obvious fawning (“now that's what I call a witty comeback”) and distraction (“I wanted to ask your opinion on where the political situation is headed in Russia”). While Araragi's focus remains on her bandaged arm, Kanbaru plugs him for information on his daily routine, eventually realizing he's heading to Senjougahara's house. Kanbaru is hiding something, or several somethings, but Araragi isn't really in a position to find out what.
In the meantime, Araragi has far more pressing concerns. His study session with Senjougahara reverts back from the bracing honesty of their confession last episode to the guarded detente of their first meetings. The camera paints Araragi as too distracted by his girlfriend's body to study, while Senjougahara seems to have already assumed their relationship is some kind of life pact. Her questions about his plans for the future run aground on his flippant attitude, but after five episodes of watching Senjougahara banter, it seems clear that she's just as nervous as he is. Our perspective is close to Araragi's head, which lets us understand how his banter reflects underlying anxieties; we aren't given such a clear impression of Senjougahara's layers, but even Araragi has enough emotional intelligence to understand that “neither of us know how to express our feelings.”
This conversation is also important in an overt narrative sense. Unlike many high school shows, Bakemonogatari doesn't take place in the first or second years, where it's possible to imagine high school will last forever. Araragi and Senjougahara both have exactly one year to figure out their future plans, meaning the specter of impermanence hangs over all their actions. The Monogatari franchise is in large part about adolescents finding themselves, and that process is a brief and fleeting arc.
The conversation eventually turns from Senjougahara's determination to be Araragi's killer to their mutual underclassman. From both Senjougahara and Araragi's later call with Hanekawa, we learn Senjougahara and Kanbaru were both star athletes in middle school, known as the “Valhalla Combo.” Kanbaru apparently “worshipped” Senjougahara, but when she learned of Senjougahara's apparition, Senjougahara pushed her away. And so now, it seems Kanbaru is tailing Araragi either to get closer to Senjougahara, or to understand the kind of man Senjougahara could love.
Both of these conversations are littered with important details, many of them concerning the full nature of Araragi's personality. Araragi claims that he wants to help Senjougahara regain her friendship with Kanbaru partially because “that was something I'd never be able to do myself.” Araragi seems to be emotionally punishing himself for some past failure, but we don't really have the context to understand why.
What we can already understand is the result. Araragi's desire to save everyone what was made Senjougahara fall in love with him, but it's already clear that his feelings aren't totally positive or healthy. Hanekawa correctly defines his actions as meddling, and it doesn't seem like Senjougahara actually wants him to help, either. When you give of yourself to help others in spite of their own desires, you're ultimately committing a selfish act. Perhaps it's because Hanekawa understands Araragi's nature that she lies about wandering around the streets at night, instead of being safe at home. Or perhaps she has her own reasons as well.
Then, violence. After five episodes dominated by wandering conversations, Araragi is viciously struck by an apparition, spinning across the train tracks, trailing blood behind him. The crossing light and alarm form an intimidating backdrop to a shockingly visceral sequence, and then the creature is gone. Helping everyone is well and good when you're leading a lost snail home, but it seems like this arc may force Araragi to actually put his life on the line.
Bakemonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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