The Child bound to the Statue – Nadeko Sengoku and Jizo

It’s a common practice in Monogatari fandom – ‘best girl’ ranking. Logic takes a spectator’s seat to the side; watching, but rarely taking part in the tumult of opinion and maelstrom of emotion. There are a few clear heads that stand above all the rest, this much is true, but I think I stand alone in defense of Nadeko Sengoku, the arc Nadeko Snake being one of the most thematically driven and narrative tight arcs of that first series.

But let me clarify a few things. First and foremost, I am, and always will be, a Hitagi-ist – have been since the beginning. That being said, I do not claim Nadeko privy to the title of ‘best girl’, but she is in the top three. Second clarification, I have not seen Monogatari Second Season, nor do I think it imperative to this article. Second Season has cast such a shadow over what was already present; I say this in some admitted ignorance, but my point stands. What occurs later in the story does not undo what has already been done, much like a sequel does not ruin it’s original. Finally, I don’t like Hanekawa nearly as much as everyone else does. Sue me.

Bakemonogatari-OP4-Nadeko-Snake.mp4_snapshot_00.30_2009.09.12_03.51.08

I am still surprised this hasn’t been mentioned before. Out of all the analysis that Bakemonogatari has been subject to, I would have expected someone to have written extensively on the themes portrayed within this arc. I expected some guy to have argued on somewhat wobbly standing that Nadeko was deep character. I expected some some Sengoku zealot to have explained away criticisms with his undying love for snake-girl. While not exclusively a Sengoku zealot, and though my love falls far short of undying, I guess I’m that guy. But lets see if I can make that standing less wobbly.

Nadeko and Jizo. To fully understand my praise for this arc, we need to look at Jizo. Jizo becomes relevant to the conversation in the opening of episode 9. Two aspect shots are used to establish our location, both shots feature statues of Jizo, the ‘patron deity’ (if such terms can be applied) over travelers, protection from thieves, health, and children. It is the last sphere of influence that will hold greatest sway in my argument, as Nadeko is very obviously a child, but it is the whole of Jizo, what he stands for, that I find so compelling.

Bakemonogatari jizo nadeko sengoku

Let me start off with a story. A traveling clothe merchant, weary from his travels, reaches a village along his route, and stops to rest. In some accounts, the village is poor, thus explaining the inciting theft that occurs of a most prized fabric of sea-green/blue hue. The merchant discovers the theft, and unable to determine the perpetrator, calls upon the great judge, Ōoka Tadasuke, to correct this injustice. After failure to produce witness, Ōoka calls for the local statue of Jizo to be bound and brought to court for neglecting his protective duties. The sight is too much for the townsfolk, who burst into a mocking laughter. This angers Ōoka, who demands token tax as recompense. Too poor to provide the required amount, each of the townsfolk instead provides a portion of clothe. Foolishly, the thief reveals himself, producing fabric of matching color is produced. Even bound, Jizo granted Ōoka‘s wish.

Jizo is also know as Bound Jizo for this very reason. Although the story doesn’t have much to do with children, it’s does illustrate the origin of tying a rope around Jizo when making a wish. When that wish comes true, the rope is then untied by the same person, while ropes of unrequited wishes are cut by the priest at the end of year. With that knowledge, it’s easy to see why Jizo would be heralded as patron of travelers and protection from thievery.  It’s all very fascinating, and has a role to play in this analysis, but what of the child connection mentioned earlier?

Bound Jizo bakemonogatari

You might be more familiar with this aspect then you think. Tying in with the protection of travelers, Jizo has been featured in anime many times, most notably in Hideaki Anno’s Totoro homage in Evangelion. Most shrines of Jizo are like this, roadside ornaments to help guide the lost. Real life reflections are very similar. But what can be more lost than a damned soul? In Buddhist thought, karma is he basis of where our eternal soul travel into the next life. It’s fairly straight forward: good karma elevates the soul towards nirvana, while evil deeds lead to torment for an extended amount of time until compensated for. So lacking good karma, yet still being subject to judgement, where do young children go?

It’s the Limbo concept. Children who pass prematurely lack any good karma to show for, but still left behind grief for their parents, the hardship of baring a child; their souls are innocent, but they have no karma to benefit them. Thus they are judged to reside by the river of souls, Sai no Kawara, where they stack pebbles and small rocks trying to climb free of their judgment. All the while, they are beaten with iron clubs, and their accumulated pebbles are knocked down by oni. It is here that Jizo comes into play. Putting aside his own nirvana, Jizo hides the children in the fold of his garments, protecting them from the oni of the underworld, assisting them in their escape from purgatory. This is also why we see Jizo adorned with bib and hat; just as he clothes our children, so too do we clothe him in gratitude.

Jizo statue bound

So how does this relate to Nadeko beyond her being a child? Look at the narrative structure of Bakemonogatari. Whenever a new girl comes into Araragi’s life, he has to discern what it is causing the problem. Is it the weight of memories, sexualized jealousy, pent up stress, or wanting to stay away? With Nadeko it’s different, she is not the one with the problem, she is the victim of others’ desires – or wishes. In a way, she is in a sort of purgatory – innocent with no karma to show.

The name of Sengoku’s apparition is also a testament to this: “Jakiri, Janawa, Jagignawa.” Beaking the name down, it makes sense. The first part of the name ‘Ja‘ – 虵 is an old way of saying snake. ‘Kiri‘ – 干刀 rather straightforward, is to cut with a sword. Thus ‘Jakiri’ is snake cutting, ‘kiri‘ becoming conjugated to ‘giri‘ when adding the final kanji. The last part, ‘nawa‘ – 縄 the word for rope or cord, has a direct correlation to Jizo. The curse of the Jagirinawa was placed on Nadeko for turning down a boy’s feelings; not a deed that would earn bad karma. However, if that boy were to place a wish on Jizo, he would bind it with a rope. Thus, Jagirinawa is a snake cutter rope. The fact that the apparition takes the form of a white snake is also an interesting thought, as white serpents are often associated with money. We learn later Kaiki was the one to play the curse, but that’s another story.

Bakemonogatari Nadeko Sengoku

All this would be inherent thought privy to a native viewer. Nadeko Sengoku needs saving, just as Jizo saves a child, but at the same time is a Jizo, bound by the wishes of others. It’s all quite clever, actually. But none of this is why people dislike Nadeko in Bakemono. That final scene in Araragi’s bedroom, at the end of episode 9 makes people uncomfortable. If it was there for the wrong reasons, I would agree, but first let me ask you a question. Do you value what you don’t like? Ever have a car you ran into the ground? A meal you had no taste for? Most naturally, the answer is ‘no’, we don’t take care of things we don’t value.

This scene asks you that question, or at least, asks Nadeko that question. The scene is prepped with lewd jokes about Araragi’s dirty magazines, then moves to an undressed Nadeko, poking fun at the situation the characters find themselves in. There’s a tension, an awkward one that at that. But that awkwardness was capitalized in the end. “I.. I.. don’t like this body.” she stutters as tears fall from her eyes, begging Koyomi for help. That line only works under one pretense, we see Nadeko as she sees herself. Was she sexualized in that scene, yes, and the characters do well to point it out. But there was a reason. She’s a person stuck in a very personal purgatory, one of self depreciation, hoping the boy she liked would appreciate her. I guess the question then posed to the audience is, did you depreciate her too?


-Addendum 10/31/15-

When I posted this article I knew there was an elephant in the room. I didn’t address it. I thought, ‘well, I explained my thoughts on the matter, if the readers just extrapolate…’ which is a really bad and lazy way of doing things. And things would have stayed that way until Monocle_Grizzly made the comment below. I was compelled, and realized I needed to agress what I had blissfully ignored. As Hachikuji would say, the courage to to lie to one’s self.

Part of the reason I shied away from addressing the events in episode 10 was honestly, how do you address the topic of sexualized imagery of assault without sounding pro sexual assault? It goes without saying, that is not my view. But it also my view that no matter how hard it is to look at or talk about in open forum, it is there for a reason. And again, Jizo is the answer.

Bakemonogatari Nadeko

Red string of fate.

First, indulge me in recapping the situation. Araragi and Kanbaru have established the curse Jagirinawa was cast by a classmate of Nadeko’s when she rejected a boy’s confession. Love triangles have this odd effect. The girl likes the boy who likes Nadeko. Nadeko is head over heels for Koyomi Araragi, who is oblivious – Koyomi doesn’t see any romantic potential in her. When Nadeko rejected that boy, he was hurt, and so too was his admirer, the other girl. And the curse was then cast. Except there’s more to the story – what we thought was one Jagirinawa is actually two. The boy held feelings of contempt as well.

The girl’s Jagirinawa is exorcised, angering the second, the one cast by the boy. It is the the admirer’s Jagirinawa that attacks young Nadeko in a provocative fashion. Just as the statue is bound by desire and wishes, so too is Nadeko. Except, the boy’s wish is the very thing he binds. And what happens when you hold contempt and anger towards the thing you desire? That is what was depicted, that’s what the subtext is; no justification. Instead of making the boy a character (in a show where only the cast is animated) and taking more time, they reduced him and his feelings, his role, all down to a symbol. Any other depiction would have taken drawn out time on screen or would have lead to being even more inappropriate. But Araragi steps in and saves her from the snake, from the boy’s anger and want. The rest I mentioned in the podcast.

nadeko Sengoku snake Bakemonogatari

But there’s an odd duality going on here. The scene of Nadeko chopping up snakes to remove the curse seems almost counter intuitive, Araragi even mentions this. But Oshino corrects him, stating Nadeko has the right idea, but the idea was in the wrong place. The Guru goes on to say it was because the effort was misplaced that the curse intensified. She likes, I dare say loves, Koyomi, to the point – love is a curse that binds us. When she kills snakes to lift that serpentine hindrance it is the same as denying the boy’s affection, intensifying the curse of being infatuated with Araragi. Only Araragi can peel back the snake, cut the bond, but he himself is also indirectly, unconsciously responsible for the curse as much as the boy by not addressing Nadeko’s affection. This is why, narratively, he cannot defeat the snake.

I would like to take the idea of Jizo one step further, then close. Nadeko is the statue, we’ve established that. And two classmates bind her, both looking for love. Much like a priest, Koyomi removes the Jagirinawa. Normaly, the hopeful is the one to remove the binding when they are fulfilled. But with one Jagirinawa, the emotional chord that binds, returning to it’s user, I hope there’s a happy ending with the two unnamed classmates. We never hear of them again, they are inconsequential… But I hope they find what they were looking for. If not in Nadeko, in each other.

10 comments

  1. Monocle_Grizzly · October 26, 2015

    I do want to preface this comment by saying I really did enjoy getting some cultural context for this arc. It helps quite a bit.

    Ok, I’ll get to the point, while I agree with you that Snake is easily one of the strongest arcs thematically and narratively, I found the post lacking in its intended purpose as a defense of it and its central character.

    Do I value a car I ran into the ground? I have ruined a car before, and I didn’t dislike the car for it. I was angry at my neglect that caused it.

    Do I value meal I have distate for? I think the meal has value as nourishment, even if I didn’t enjoy it myself.

    I disagree with the implication that my being discomforted by seeing Nadeko sexualized and humiliated may be an example of deprecation /towards/ her (if I misconstrued your point, please tell me). I have no problem with sexualization as a thing, but the content in Snake, unlike much of the content in Bake, does a very poor job of justifying itself as something significantly deeper. Remember that a significant amount of shots in that scene you’ve focused on are of Nadeko’s cameltoe, and let’s also not forget the very clearly sexualized rape imagery in episode 10.

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    • Monocle_Grizzly · October 26, 2015

      I did revise this a bit in my head after posting it. Basically I don’t think it was necessary to sexualize a deeply insecure young girl to show that she is deeply insecure.

      I hope this extra comment doesn’t make it sound like I’m piling on you, because that’s not my intention.

      Like

      • Josh Dunham · October 31, 2015

        I can fully understand not agreeing to the ‘viewer sexualization/depreciation as a lens into character thoughts of self depreciation’, and respect your retort. I have amended the article to address the final scene of her arc, as I felt it needed to be looked at after reading your remarks. Thank you, I appreciate the honest comment.

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  4. Redwhitenblack · November 23, 2015

    I was going to reply on the 2nd Bakemonogatari podcast thread but I guess what I have to say belongs here more since it’s really a response to Monocle_Grizzly. I have a completely different read on the Nadeko-snake arc. Because actually didn’t see the exorcism in a sexualized light at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of sexualized characters in these series so I’m not trying to give Nisio a pass here. Especially in Nisemonogatari there’s some stuff that’s really difficult to square. That’d be a better point of departure for discussing sexualized characters I think.

    While the exorcism was undeniably very physical I didn’t see it as sexual anymore than, say, scenes from the movie The Exorcist. It’s a wrenching physical experience but not necessarily a sexual one. The aberrations the girls of the monogatari series encounter seem symbolic of struggles adolescent girls face. Like Senjougahara’s weightlessness I read as a traumatized young woman who’s struggling with anorexia, or has been placed on meds that keep her from ever feeling strong emotions. With Nadeko, I think there’s some body image stuff there too but I think what she was really facing was something more like rumors and betrayal. .

    Jizo is a protector of children but he’s also a revealer of truth. That’s what happens when the true culprit of the theft in the poor village is revealed by binding him (thanks for delving into the legend there, great job!) So, say two mean spirited kids in Nadeko’s school feel like she wronged them and then start some vicious rumors about her. She’s ostracized and feels sullen. She can’t fight back. Everything she does only seems to make the situation worse. She begins to hate herself. If the situation continues, she may even begin to believe what’s being said about her and start to harm herself. I think that’s what Oshino’s warning was getting at as well as what he told Araragi to remember: What goes around comes around. Araragi can unbind her but he cannot keep the consequences from returning to the two culprits once the truth of who is doing what is revealed.

    So I didn’t see the snakes attacking her as anything intrinsically sexual but something more symbolic about ingesting other peoples’ opinions of oneself. I think that fits with the serpent imagery more than the Freudian bit, but hey that’s the thing about good art right? It’s what you see in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Monogatari: The Sexuality is the Narrative | Wave Motion Cannon
  6. Huh. Nadeko Snake is probably my least favorite arc of Monogatari, not because of Nadeko but just how I don’t find it nearly as compelling as others and I strongly dislike how it ends as well. But this article shed some new light on the arc that I didn’t look at before, especially since I find most people don’t really take her seriously as a character (like myself) until when she invites Koyomi to her house while her parents aren’t home in Nise, or in Otori when her infamous transformation that turned her into ‘worst girl’ begins.

    I did not even notice the Jizo statues at first, that is a super interesting piece of cultural context that strengthens the narrative of that arc. I’m gonna have to take another look at this based on what you said.

    Very insightful and well written, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on haveyouexperiencedshitsurakuen and commented:
    Huh. Nadeko Snake is probably my least favorite arc of Monogatari, not because of Nadeko but just how I don’t find it nearly as compelling as others and I strongly dislike how it ends as well. But this article shed some new light on the arc that I didn’t look at before, especially since I find most people don’t really take her seriously as a character (like myself) until when she invites Koyomi to her house while her parents aren’t home in Nise, or in Otori when her infamous transformation that turned her into ‘worst girl’ begins.

    I did not even notice the Jizo statues at first, that is a super interesting piece of cultural context that strengthens the narrative of that arc. I’m gonna have to take another look at this based on what you said.

    Very insightful and well written, though.

    Like

  8. YahariBento · May 24, 2016

    – I did notice Jizo either (maybe I saw but don’t think jizo have some hidden secret). Thanks for your analysis and you see Nadeko as a Jizo statue made me see image easier.

    – I don’t think one of classmates who put curse will end up happy because one of them would be dead because jagirinawa Araragi tried to fight but fail. It means that snake will return to one of kids and killed boy or girl. If one of them knew another one was killed and how s/he died is the same as curse book mentioned, how can s/he live happily from now on?

    – I think the one who surv**** at****** Kaiki at the back and he fell while he is walking at snow field so one of them should still al*** but de****** him for mani******** them to play with curse. (I marked with * because I should not spoil, right?)

    Your analysis is very interesting and has so much detailed, so I will put my analysis (at other point of view) involved with bakemonogatari ep 9-10 here as well. Bakemonogatari and Corpse Party taught me many things about human’s (negative) emotions. Started from blood covered manga, especially “holding a grudge” to someone.

    I compared two stories in my analysis, focused on “holding a grudge” is not worthwhile. One is Bakemonogatari anime/novel, another is Corpse Party: Blood Covered game/manga. Both of them taught me it will waste your time, energy and made you have misfortune.

    Liked by 1 person

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