Nisemonogatari: A Brief Analysis

Judging by the three of the four works by NisiOisiN that have been made into anime, the “light” in “light novel” barely seems to apply to his repertoire. In a typical Ishin work you will get deliberately verbose dialogue ripe with puns and comic gags, often deeply alluding to Japanese pop culture, all to culminate in a paranormal scenario that reveals a philosophical point. This is truest perhaps in the latest anime adaptation in the monogatari series, Nisemonogatari.

The Fire Sisters, Araragi Karen (left) and Araragi Tsukihi (right), central characters in Nisemonogatari

Nisemonogatari, as a primer, is a continuation of an earlier anime adaptation, Bakemonogatari, but succeeds in being a series of its own. I will assume that the reader of this post is familiar with Bakemonogatari, and will merely add, in lieu of a thorough synopsis, that this later series focuses instead on Koyomi’s two sisters, Karen (who is victimized by a supernatural bee) and Tsukihi (whose identity, to say without spoilers, is revealed to also have a supernatural background).

The recurring theme in Nisemonogatari is the concept of authenticity and the fake (the title is a portmanteau of “nisemono,” “fake,” and “monogatari,” “story”). The series discusses it explicitly on the level of dialogue (the dominant element in most of Ishin’s works) and, I will contend, by demonstration particularly with regard to sex.

The conundrum shared by Oshino, Kagenui and Kaiki is central to the theme of Nisemonogatari

One philosophical mind is implicitly behind much of Nisemonogatari’s ideology: Friedrich Nietzsche. When the theme of the real and the fake is first mentioned, Koyomi labels the justice-fighting of the Fire Sisters as “fake,” arguing later that no matter how right you may be, justice boils down to strength. This, of course, reflects superficially Nietzsche’s concepts of will to power and Master morality. Senjougahara’s implied crush on Keiki, as well as the positivity acquired by actions when the word “courage” is added – the topic of a complicated dialogue between Koyomi and Hachikuji – both reflect Nietzsche declaration than man only finds in things that which he imports into them (Senjougahara could be merely ascribing attraction to gratitude, and the initial negativity of statements is revealed to be only defaulted as negative with the alternative meaning posed by the word “courage”).  The central thesis of the series itself (that the fake, in its deliberate attempt to be real, is of greater value than the real thing), manifests this both in its insistence of authenticity as arising from endeavor rather than inherent character, and, on a deconstructive level, in the three Onmyouji’s (Kaiki, Oshino and Kagenui) ascription of value in their choices with regard to Kaiki’s conundrum. Come to think of it, Nietzschian thought makes a good literary lens for any text!
But what I, however, would like to insist on is how Kaiki’s maxim – that the fake, in its deliberate attempt to be real, is of more value to the real thing, plays an important part in how the show deals with sex.

Araragi Koyomi, protagonist, displaying the fanservice abundant in the series

It cannot be denied that Nisemonogatari, way more than any of the other NisiOisiN works adapted into anime, deals with sex most. It has an unbelievably rich insight into how sex works. Koyomi is explicitly loyal to Senjougahara, but this doesn’t prevent him from being sexually attracted to the other characters. He retains the latent tension with the now transformed Hanekawa, betraying his attraction in his eagerness to call her in episode  9. She reciprocates (we know from Bakemonogatari that she is attracted to him) when she offers him to touch her breasts, but threatens to never forgive him (an effective albeit betraying denial). Koyomi’s sexual tension with his own sisters is also subtly implied with the fanservice, most notoriously in episode 8’s toothbrush scene with Karen (which ends in tantalizingly ambiguous terms). The tension, however, is downplayed with its innocence as revealed in such un-malicious scenes as Karen’s reaction to having Koyomi on her shoulders, or Koyomi’s kiss with Tsukihi or when he takes of her clothes.  Subtle hints to sexual attraction that are ultimately downplayed are his interactions with Hachikuji (which often begin with him molesting the ghost), with Kanbaru (which end with him being molested) and with Shinobu (with whom he bathes without anything happening).

Senjougahara’s request: the most titillating scene in the whole series

And here I return to my point: that the genuine sexual attraction, as consummated, is in a way “fake,” but in being so is more real than real sexual attraction. Among all the female characters Koyomi, shows the least perversion towards Senjougahara. And yet it is only with Senjougahara that he definitively has sex with (the possibility of coitus with Karen was downplayed by the succeeding episode).  One can say that Koyomi is most genuinely attracted to Hanekawa, but, because his attraction to Senjougahara is deliberate, the latter is proven to be stronger than the former.  On a graphic level, I argue that the most titillating part of the title, when Senjougahara invites Koyomi to spend the night, could in itself be “fake fanservice” (as opposed to, for instance, Koyomi’s bath with Shinobu), and yet the possibilities the scene opens makes the sex much more intense. This “fake fanservice” of extreme tantalization traces its literary tradition to Greek Tragedy, where the deaths are implied but are never shown on stage, heightening its effect.

There is so much to be said about Nisemonogatari, what with its richness of material and the dense intricacy of its dialogue. But if there’s anything that stands out (and there is anything that should be dealt with first) it is the sex!

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