Episode 9

by Nick Creamer,

Bakemonogatari's ninth episode opens with clouded skies and shots of a forested shrine gate. Bamboo stalks encroach over the untended steps, while haggard trees twist like snakes up the broken gate pillars. As Araragi and Kanbaru trudge up the path, a young girl rushes past them, a girl Araragi feels half-certain he's seen before.

After that brief passing, we're formally introduced to Nadeko Sengoku through her own dedicated opening song. As with Kanbaru, Nadeko's opening tells us a great deal about her conflict and character. Nadeko comes off as a traditionally “cutesy” anime girl, right down to consistently referring to Araragi as her big brother. In keeping with that archetype, her opening song is cutesy as all get-out, a starry-eyed love song whose refrain literally opens with “fuwa-fuwari” (‘fuwa fuwa’ essentially translating to “fluffy,” often being used to describe cute, upbeat, or insubstantial things). Every element of Nadeko's introduction frames her as cute and dramatically vacuous - a cliche of moe, someone it's difficult to take seriously.

Nadeko's fluffiness is undercut by the episode's opening text monologue, which speaks of scales being pressed into her skin to the point of bruising, as if she were bound by ropes. The contrast between Nadeko's cutesy, passive framing and her awful condition is important, but before that, Araragi and Kanbaru have a job to do.

The pair's journey up the mountain is one of the more compelling visual setpieces of the show so far. In contrast to the minimalist architecture of the suburbs, the shrine's bamboo forest allows Bakemonogatari's fluid color palettes to really shine. There's a strong sense of lurking danger here, one that's only amplified when the two find the shrine itself in terrible disrepair. After Araragi finishes his task for Oshino, the pair discovered a dead snake stapled to an old tree.

From there, we jump to Hanekawa and Araragi picking out study guides at the bookstore. As usual, the visual framing of the characters offers some key emotional context. Even though Kanbaru was wearing a far more revealing outfit, the camera never lingered on her, while here, Hanekawa's reserved uniform is consistently framed by intimate, sexualized angles. The overall effect makes it clear that Araragi is possibly more infatuated with Hanekawa than his own girlfriend, which only underlines Hanekawa's argument that he needs to be more considerate of what Senjougahara is feeling. Reiterating the conclusion of the Kanbaru arc, Hanekawa stresses that “being kind to everyone is a form of irresponsibility too.” Araragi overtly agrees with her, but the camera's framing doesn't change - the fact that he jumps from agreeing with her to immediately calling Kanbaru instead of his own girlfriend, makes it seem likely that her words haven't actually sunk in.

The bookstore visit also offers a few more tidbits of information regarding Hanekawa. The fact that she's already critiquing Araragi's fatal flaw, and framing it in the context of Senjougahara's unspoken anxieties, implies that her expertise extends beyond book-learning and into emotional intelligence. It also seems clear that she's personally attached to Araragi, in spite of her generally polite persona. And her exit offers one more indicator that things might not be going so swell at home, given that Araragi's offer to walk her there is accompanied by a bright red shot transition and a quick apology. Bakemonogatari has spent most of a season treading carefully around Hanekawa's story, offering troubling details all along the way.

But before we can get to Hanekawa's troubles, there's still Nadeko to consider. Episode nine concludes with Araragi and Kanbaru finally confronting Nadeko and bringing her back to Araragi's house. This sequence opens with a flashback to Nadeko in second grade, which emphasizes her infantile feelings of affection for Araragi right before she strips to bloomers. For the first time since the second episode, Bakemonogatari indulges in an extended sequence of nudity - and it's horrible. Nadeko isn't just naked, she's naked and uncomfortable, actually crying under the stunned stares of fellow lechers Araragi and Kanbaru.

Nadeko's words emphasize her childishness, as she refers to the teenage Araragi as a “grownup” and tries to hide her scale marks. When she finally says “I don't want a body like this,” it feels like a confession on two levels - she obviously doesn't want the scales that bind her, but it seems just as easy to assume she doesn't want this womanly, “sexual” body at all. While Mayoi was framed as a cute girl, the camera never sexualized her - now that Nadeko is put in that provocative light, it feels deeply intrusive, emphasizing the wrongness of seeing her as simultaneously innocent and sexual. Even the fundamental nature of her affliction echoes this uncomfortable duality, her bindings simultaneously echoing a sexual act and a form of imprisonment. Araragi makes jokes and the camera leers, leaving the audience complicit in Nadeko's unwilling victimhood. “Save me,” she pleads, leaving it to us to figure out what she must be saved from.

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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