Onimonogatari: to be or not to be, that is the question

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Repaying the favour from Kabukimonogatari, which focused on Araragi’s relationship with Shinobu despite the subtitle of Mayoi Jiangshi, Onimonogatari: Shinobu Time turns our attention to his relationship with a certain twin-tailed shrimp of a girl. Back in 2013, this was the Monogatari story that made it to my yearly countdown, and even now, it continues to pull on my heart-strings. But intellectually, it also highlighted two rather interesting themes. The first—the nature of things—debuts in this arc; the other is an extension of what Araragi should have learned in an earlier arc. Given just this vague description, can you guess what I’m referring to?

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‘They treated me as a god, and I continued to bring them rain.’

Let me begin with the first theme I mentioned: the nature of things. In Onimonogatari, Araragi learns that apparitions are subject to a certain rule of existence: they can only be what they are supposed to be and behave according to that role. A vampire must act as a vampire; it cannot be perceived and acknowledged as anything else. Similarly, a wandering ghost that gets people lost must continue to lead them astray; it cannot allow them to arrive at their destination. Apparitions that stray from their true paths are contradictions that are not meant to exist, and must thus disappear from the world. 400 years earlier, Shinobu almost met that fate after living in Japan as a god for a year; and in the present, it was the turn of the little ghost of a girl who had started showing people where they wanted or needed to go.

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‘I was careless — I was only being witnessed as a god, not as a vampire.’

But is that a rule just for apparitions, or is it something that applies to other existences in our world? Can a teacher that no longer has any students really be considered a teacher? Does a political entity become a state only when others perceive it to be one, and conversely, does it lose that status whey they no longer acknowledge it as a state? When we consider the physical world, there are objects that most certainly have particular characteristics that uniquely identify them. To reference Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would certainly smell as sweet. But there are some categories of being that exist only because of their relations with others in the world. By acknowledging them, we given them an existence; likewise, that existence can disappear when no one acknowledges them any more. This theoretical tangent is something that I have yet to explore in great detail myself, so I’ll just leave one final question for consideration: what implications does this have for us?

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“What are you talking about, Araragi-san? If you use twenty years for me, what will become of Senjougahara-san? Or Hanekawa-san? Or your sisters?”

This brings me to the second theme that this story drove home. Encapsulated in the choice that faced Araragi here is an echo of the message from the Nadeko Snake arc of Bakemonogatari: you cannot save everyone. Although it is an ideal that we might like to uphold, limited resources—be it in terms of time, money, space, materials or personnel—mean that we often have to choose to help or save one person instead of another. Back in the first series, Kanbaru admonished our protagonist, telling him to remember who it was that he should be saving: the girl that had asked for his help as opposed to the people who had cursed her. This time, however, ‘saving’ Mayoi would have meant giving up his relationships with his family and the rest of his friends. And such choices can also occur on a much larger scale, for this is certainly the dilemma that Europe and the rest of the world face as refugees continue to stream out of the Middle East…

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Farewell, little Mayoi.

In posing these questions for consideration, Onimonogatari is arguably one of the heavier arcs of the Monogatari series. That said, can I really contend that Nisio Isin was seriously considering such questions when he wrote it? My guess would be: ‘probably not’, and I can understand why his critics call him pretentious. But perhaps the fault lies with those of us to like to explore his texts by philosophising about whatever grabs our fancy, and if that’s the case, I’ll gladly wear that badge.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

One Response to Onimonogatari: to be or not to be, that is the question

  1. Pingback: Monogatari Series: Kamimashita! | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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