by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 5 of
This week's Owarimonogatari let slip the whole (alleged) story of Oikura and Araragi's relationship, straight from Oikura herself. There was a reason Oikura knew his parents were police officers - it was because the two of them had actually met even earlier, back when Oikura's violent home life led to her being temporarily sheltered by the Araragi family. But seeing a family like that, and realizing that her own fraying house and violent parents weren't the norm, was only a painful experience to Oikura, and so she returned to her home. She then met Araragi once more in middle school, where in spite of her resentment and shame, she attempted to use her math lessons to signal to him that she needed a rescue. But that too failed, and so when she met him for the third time in high school, she decided that from then on, they would be enemies.
Filling in the gaps of this timeline are long periods of isolation and pain. As Oikura tells it, her mother was the better parent, because she “only hit her when she was angry from being hit by her father.” When her parents divorced, she was left with her mother, who fell to pieces in a garbage-filled home and eventually abandoned her daughter. And now Oikura is alone, barely scraping by on government support, living in an apartment wiped clean of any personality or painful reminders.
This was an exhausting episode of Owarimonogatari, an emotional gauntlet that confirmed every awful hint about Oikura's home life. Marina Inoue's performance brought Oikura to life through a combination of halting, bitter normal speech, frequent explosions into anger, and a defeated monotone for her longer memories. Shots were framed to emphasize how much Oikura has blotted herself out as a person, her inability to face her classmates clear in compositions that either cut off below characters' faces or hid them behind sterile ceiling lights. And light and shadow were used to visually express Oikura's fear of the “light” of potential happiness, with her current self hiding just outside of a window's glow and her former one trapped in shadowed halls and floors. Oikura exists in shadow and lacks identity, an obscured face to match Araragi's obscured memories. This episode's execution was thoroughly up to the task of conveying Oikura's haunted mindspace.
Fortunately, Hanekawa and Araragi have a certain amount of experience in dealing with emotionally scarred adolescents. While Oikura pleaded with Araragi to “be her villain” (a desire reminiscent of Nadeko's preference for framing her problems as outside her control, and thus nothing she can actually engage with), Hanekawa shook her with the sharp lines “you're not happy because you're not trying to be happy. Nobody can make someone that's not trying to be happy into someone that's happy.” This wasn't meant to demean the significance of the awful things Oikura's suffered, or intended as the consistently useless “why don't you just cheer up” offered to someone suffering from depression. Instead, as Oikura realized, it was a statement of solidarity - Hanekawa's been exactly there, and Hanekawa's felt exactly that. The familiar weight of constant, inescapable unhappiness can be easier to bear than the potential fear or responsibility of seeking happiness. There is a certain sad comfort in that pain, and in accepting you will sink beneath it. And in Oikura's specific case, embracing “only someone else can bring you happiness” is an easier act of self-acceptance than the struggle of being unhappy and knowing you yourself need to fight that, day after day after day.
Araragi's response to this discussion was equally pointed and equally valid - “don't overestimate what happiness is.” Happiness isn't some holy grail, and though both Araragi and Hanekawa have come to much happier places than where they started, it's still a struggle. Just as they say there's no such thing as a recovered alcoholic, depression or self-loathing aren't sets of stairs you eventually finish climbing. Life is a process of taking it one day at a time.
This episode's articulation of deep-seated unhappiness, and the small pieces of advice from these characters we've come to know so well, felt like a breath-stealing punch in the gut. Monogatari is always at its best when it's embracing unhappy people this completely, and lending totally sincere execution and empathy to their personal traumas. The episode's last scenes tied this breakthrough first into Araragi's current arc, and then into Monogatari as a whole, when Araragi first echoed Ougi's words two weeks ago by saying he'd “accept all the types of ‘despise’ within her.” But Hanekawa's words ended up summing up one of the occasionally bitter but ultimately warm messages of Monogatari: “troubling those we care about is how we do things.” “I've grown to be pretty fond of you,” she leans back to tell Oikura. And for the first time, we see Oikura's face clearly from above, unobscured by the bare trappings of her empty home.
Monogatari came to an emotional peak this week and knocked it out of the park. When you get past the silly jokes and wild visuals, this is what Monogatari does best - setting hurt people on the stage and letting them speak for themselves. After all this time, the show's ability to convey an emotional truth still gives me chills.
Owarimonogatari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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