Bakemonogatari Episode 8
by Nick Creamer,
As Bakemonogatari's eighth episode begins, we learn the full story behind Kanbaru's monkey's paw. Apparently, her mother entrusted her with the paw when she died, making this the show's third straight arc hinging on absent or negligent mothers - with both Araragi and Hanekawa seemingly bearing poor relationships with their parents as well. That's not terribly surprising; Monogatari is a show about adolescent emotional scars, and few edges cut as deep or heal as slow as the pain a parent can inflict.
Kanbaru's first wish was to run fast, hoping that beating her classmates in a local race might stop her from being picked on. Of course, in response to this wish, the paw chose to beat up all her competitors, forcing her to run fast for her own sake in order to keep others from being hurt. As Oshino has consistently emphasized, Kanbaru was only able to escape the paw when she learned to save herself, and as Kanbaru herself states, it's likely that her mother “entrusted me with the paw because she wanted me to become strong enough to overcome ordeals on my own.”
Unfortunately, as it turns out, this tragic story of a vicious and single-minded monkey's paw is largely a fabrication. It's Oshino who points out the lie, describing Araragi as “A sweet guy. So sweet I feel like gagging.” Kanbaru's curse isn't a monkey's paw, it's a rainy devil. The hand wasn't fulfilling her wishes in the most violent and undesirable way possible - it was simply fulfilling the wishes she was secretly making all along.
The truth of the “monkey's paw” reflects the overall truth of Monogatari. Just as the violence inflicted on these characters is reflective of their own psychological baggage, the violence Kanbaru's apparition inflicts is reflective of her own desires. The bitter secret of the monkey's paw is that most people don't need their wishes turned on their heads and reinterpreted in the most uncharitable way possible. Our secret hearts are not all sunshine and roses - our most deeply held wishes are often selfish and destructive for their own sake. It's flattering to think that a relic which grants our secret hopes would need to be poisoned in order to bear poison fruit, but we all harbor selfishness and resentment inside ourselves. Our “best selves” only come about when our active, conscious minds apply our reasoned morality to our base desires. On their own, our base desires often embody the violence of the monkey's paw.
If Kanbaru's situation embodies the inescapable nature of human selfishness, then Araragi's embodies the limits and hypocrisies of infinite selflessness. Like with Mayoi, Araragi's fundamental need to see the best in others and sacrifice himself for their sake left him unable to recognize the truth of Kanbaru's situation. When he is confronted with that truth, he searches desperately for a path to avoid it. Oshino offers two solutions: let himself be killed or sever Kanbaru's arm entirely. While Kanbaru is perfectly willing to accept the consequences of her actions, Araragi frantically seeks another path, all while assuring Kanbaru that “there's no need for you to feel responsible in any way.”
Araragi's words reflect his general pathology, the selflessness that both made Senjougahara fall in love with him and also threatens to tear their relationship apart. He's an extremely kind person, but at a certain point, a lack of self-regard becomes a serious liability and its own kind of selfishness. While perfectly effective as a personal failing, his issues with self-esteem also seem like a humanization of a general instinct in harem shows to “woman-saving.” Bakemonogatari is constructed as a series of girl-specific arcs, but the ultimate effect isn't “jeez, Araragi is such a cool and helpful guy,” it's “what is wrong with this self-destructive boy, and what could possibly have brought him to this point.” Giving a harem protagonist a human psychology leaves you with someone too self-destructive to bear the weight of the trust that's placed upon him.
Araragi's failings are put in their starkest terms yet at the end of this episode, when Araragi decides that the only solution is to prove to the Rainy Devil that he can't be destroyed. This episode's finale is a vivid, gory spectacle, as loose animation and sickly color design present Kanbaru's inner devil tearing Araragi to pieces. Just as the other focus characters' apparitions have physically reflected their psychological hangups, so too does Araragi's “power” reflect his fundamental flaw. Araragi's only power is being very difficult to kill, allowing him to suffer all the pain he pointlessly assigns to himself. As heavy percussive music and white backgrounds set the stage of some kind of industrial meat factory, Araragi is minced to pieces, his kind words having led directly to this bloody ruin.
Fortunately, it turns out Oshino's “you can only save yourself” ethos may have been a fib as well. Though Oshino sets up this awful finale, he also takes the time to call Senjougahara, who arrives just in time to pick up the pieces of her stupid boyfriend. Maybe it's Senjougahara's own psychological vulnerability that causes her to forgive Araragi, in spite of him breaking the one rule their relationship was built on. Either way, I can't see that forgiving spirit as a flaw, and I agree with Araragi's acknowledgment that “anyone who's alive has hated someone at least once.” If the worst of our demons come from our secret hearts, then perhaps our better angels are born in the trust we extend to each other. Whether we're lying to ourselves or meaning every word sincerely, the kindness we offer others is its own kind of truth.
Bakemonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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