So getting back from Anime Weekend Atlanta, I was smart enough to take Monday off for recuperative purposes. I needed time to cleanse my body from the overdose of caffeine, sleep deprivation (cause of the first ailment) and to reflect on the awesome experience that was AWA. It was a seriously great time. I got hungry at around eleven and ordered a Domino’s Philly Cheese steak pizza of which I am eating now. But what does this have to do with anything? Nothing – this is just the filler paragraph to get you to
So with nothing to do, I was watching some more cartoons as I am want to do. With an upcoming episode of Bakemonogatari with the Subtle Doctor in the works, I’ve been rewatching the series again, refreshing myself of it’s charms. I was a big fan when it first aired, (insert: before it was cool) and even more so now. But I don’t need to explain how much better my anime fandom is than yours is (sarcasm), I assume only people who’ve watched Bakemonogatari are reading this and for the few who are reading this just for my snarkyness – bless you.
Assuming you are here for either of those two things, you know that I often analyze whatever I am watching, posting it on Twitter. Assuming you know that, there’s no point in making that known. But I assume there could be a random walk-in who stumbles across this post. Assuming that person is you, read above. You’ll like what I have to say, I assume.
Assuming too much
I was posting such analysis when I came across a single shot, lasting no longer than 3 seconds, of a still single frame that focused all the thoughts and emotions of a single character. It was towards the end of the opening five minutes of episode 8, and with no clear way to express what I saw in 140 characters (not for the lack of trying), I took to my blog. Hopefully I can better explain it here, but to do so we need to cover the first five minutes of Kanbaru’s episode 8. It goes without saying, but I was make it clear: SPOILERS. Assuming you’re here for one of two reasons, who cares.
The opening shot of this episode is a very important one; it is the establishing shot, one that contrasts greatly with where we left off last episode. Usually establishing shots are long shots of some nature, long, extreme-long, or even wide angle shots are traditionally used. But Josh, what does that even mean? Remember that time you saw a shot of the city or a room before the actual subject matter or focus of that scene? Well, that was it, the establishing shot. It tells us, the audience, exactly were we are, much like the props or background of play on stage. In fact, that’s exactly what it is, the background of the stage.
There are two major differences in these settings. At the end of episode seven, we are in a dark room, the focus being three bodies (Araragi, Oshino and Kanbaru from right to left) in a long medium shot. It’s not quite a long shot, but it’s still within the bounds of standard expectations. Darkness aside, we see the details of were we are, but we can’t see the floor, it’s not the focus. Then episode eight opens, and the focus is almost exclusively the floor; and it’s bright. It may be unconventional, but it is the establishing shot. The two things omitted in the closing shot are the focus in the opening shot. Added with prior knowledge of Kanbaru’s living area in the beginning of episode seven, and it’s a masterful establishing shot.
But where’s your proof? That’s just your personal opinion, and I still think Bakemonogatari is too abstract and is garbage. And I would agree with you in that case, (no I wouldn’t, it’s my opinion) but notice how I said “almost exclusively”? When the episode opens we get a blank cut. It has no visual info, but we do get the sound of footsteps. When we transition out of the blank cut, omitting information of the footfall the only new information is the floor. That’s why the blank cut was in there, to break from the prior setting visually. That’s why Kanbaru’s feet are pushed into the upper third of the frame. We need to know she’s walking, but it’s more important to know where she’s walking. But notice how I said ” break from visually”.
Just get to the point
It only breaks the setting visually. Thematically, we are still there, in front of Oshino as he explains the Rainy Devil, Kanbaru’s affliction. So we’re in two places at once? Exactly. The theme is still the same. Right after the establishing shot, we get a semi-repetitive shot of doors opening. Are you going to go over every single thing in those first five minutes? Probably, just bare with me. Oshino is revealing the nature, how, and why of the Monkey’s Paw, the Rainy Devil. More or less, delving back into Kanbaru’s damage, her issues. Hence the doors. As we see feet cross the floor, it’s inter spliced with scenes of doors opening. It’s an aspect to aspect transition that alerts us that we are opening the backstory of this character. This is done in a set of three for strength of narrative before finally placing Kanbaru in the center of the shot. The door is now open to talk into Kanbaru’s backstory.
Then enters the voice of Araragi as narrator as we are told the tale of how Kanbaru came to this predicament. (Take note of this, it will be the crux in the shot to come.) In order to understand the present, we have to understand what happened in the past, requiring another transition. So we’re literally told we’re going back to when she was younger. And I mean literally literally, I mean, it’s put into writing, as in you have to read it. Don’t you think your writing in kinda pretentious?
As Araragi narrates the story, we get splices of limited animation, or rather limited splices of animation – both really. What actual hand drawn animation is on screen is used to touch on the key points of narration, and the rest is abstract imagery to invoke very specific feelings or (in their lack of visual information) more information about the setting around Kanbaru. That is, aside from Kanbaru, nothing else is hand animated. The focus is almost exclusively her, at least in the narrative; all other aspects are reduced to subtle images of satire and aesthetic complement.
Senjogahara is animated too
But there is on exception. Senjogahara. We know from the prior episode that Kanbaru is a lesbian – that she’s in love with Senjogahara. In this regard, she allies herself with Araragi, who is Senjogahara’s boyfriend. Given the narrative situation, visuals conform to this fact.
With Senjougahara being part of Kanbaru’s issue it makes sense that she would be animated. She’s an actual character, it’s not like they’d have to whip up a random character design. But up until this point, Araragi has been narrating alone, and with one cut, Hitagi’s voice is overlapped with his. It’s uncomfortable to hear two voices from different ends of the pitch spectrum at the same time – the best word is dissonant. The feeling is otherworldly. But if Senjogahara is animated, and in the narration as well, that means Araragi is animated too? Quite the opposite actually.
As before with the ‘extras’, Araragi is reduced, objectified, for reasons explained later in the show. We only know it’s Araragi for two reasons. The little hair thing. It’s called an ahoge, but yes. And because Araragi says it’s him. Exactly. And unlike the prior ‘extras’ these ones seem to be menacing, imbuing Kanbaru with a sense of fear. It’s all these intense emotions that build up to this one shot.
Everything is in this one shot. Everything about this shot recaps the last five minutes of what we’ve been watching. The angle, the lens, the narration, the background, the framing – Everything. The fish-eye lens warps the background, bending it around Kanbaru. The phrase ‘center of your own universe comes to mind’. The framing cuts her off, we don’t see her expression, just her head, or her head space, leaving us to assume what she might be thinking. If we saw her expression we would know what she was thinking, and would demystify the head space. In the background, all the doors are open, reminding us that we are about to pinpoint the cause of the matter – again centered around Kanbaru. But what I find most telling is the angle, looking down on her.
Through the vast amount of information is about Kanbaru, the angle coupled with the narration, is a two lane street. In that exact moment, the overlapped narration resumes, meaning that aside from the audience, Araragi and Hitagi are the only other one’s present. With Araragi being the narrator, he has to look down on what is going on. The narrator is always positioned above the film itself, in the very least distanced from it either by time or physical distance. Narratively, Araragi is distanced the moment his was objectified as an extra. But the same can not be said for Senjogahara.
Then it must be Senjogahara
Senjogahara Hitagi looks down on Kanbaru Suruga. In the story it is mentioned more than once that Hitagi rejected Kanbaru’s love/assistance with her oddity. The two can be equated. We know Senjogahara rejected Kanbaru the same way she did Araragi – by demeaning her. Either out of self-preservation, or lack of compassion, it doesn’t matter. The fact is Hitagi is borderline hostile towards even just the mentioning of Kanbaru. This shot capitalizes on that, all while perfectly expressing the fear, anger, jealousy, and hurt that is swirling in Kanbaru. Senjogahara Hitagi looks down on Kanbaru Suruga.
The episode hasn’t even ended. Hell, the opening hasn’t even played, yet within five minutes everything is said. Bakemonogatari is a visual powerhouse. Shinbo is a mad genius. But that’s just your opinion. Did you only skip to the end? Fine – 10/10 watch this show in Crunchyroll. Like it or not, you cannot ignore that the first five minutes of an episode in the middle of a show has handled itself better than most. Taste is subjective, but that fact you’re reading an analysis of a single episode of a series that is six years old speaks for itself.
Assuming you read it all.