The first 13 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the Student Council arc, is finally complete. There is much I can say about it, but criticisms wise, let me just leave it at this. The show does a poor job of mixing the tones of serious drama with the slapstick comedy thus far, and leaves many moments extremely awkward. That said, there are many things that I find interesting about the show, so I watch on. And through the course of the viewing, some repeating themes jumps out, and bear mentioning.
Tenjou Utena, the reigning duelist, has has one wish. She wishes for the Rose Bride, Himemiya, to be a normal girl. Yet as the Rose Bride, Himemiya lacks any and all personal agency. She is the bride of the winning duelist and will do all that he or she commands. Utena holds the ideal of "free will" highly, and despises the duels for taking it away from Himemiya. Yet she unwittingly commands Himemiya to internalize that ideal, regardless of what she may truly wish for.
Saionji Kyouichi, the first duelist, hides his true reason behind his desire over the Rose Bride. His character comes off as the over bearing and violent boyfriend. We are never asked to sympathize with him. Yet even following his subsequent defeats, the show shows him continuing to obsess over Himemiya, to the point where one begins to wonder if his love is sincere. Twisted, without a doubt, but still ultimately sincere. But the revelation of his history with Touga clears things up. He longs to surpass Touga in some way. His desire to find something eternal, and the promise by the Rose Bride that castle in the sky holds such a thing is what drives him. He longs for Himemiya not out of love for her, but for the eternal power of Dios that she guards.
Kaoru Miki, the second duelist, embodies false nostalgia and paranoia. He does not have any interest in the Rose Bride for the sake of world revolution. It is his memories of youth that drives him. His sister will no longer play the piano, and the notes that she plays in his memory is discovered coming from Himemiya's fingers. It is ironic that his desire, to not lose that music a second time, would have been granted if he simply remained friends with Utena and Himemiya. But paranoia at Himemiya's innate obedience to Utena, as she the Rose Bride is fully obedient to the duelist champion, has him fearing she may be ordered to never play again. To add on to his disillusionment, the viewers, but not Miki, are made privy to the fact that his sister in fact never could play well. Her notes sounded perfect because he played with her, and his talents covered her failings. Rose tinted nostalgia indeed.
Arisugawa Juri, the third duelist, despises the notion of what the duels promise: the power to revolutionize the world, a miracle. She participates in the duels for the ability to prove that miracles do not exist. However, in a case of cruel irony, her duel against Utena ends with her the loser because her fight allowed a miracle to be granted to her opponent. Her hate for miracles is also lie and self-deceit. After all, the opposite of love is not hate, rather the opposite of both on the scale of emotions is disinterest. She hates miracles is a result of her desire for one, a desire that goes ungranted. As if deciding to be a bit meta, the show offers the viewers one final moment of inauthenticity at the end. The show itself portrays Juri's back story to be one of a tragic love triangle where her crush was tricked taken by their mutual third friend, the same friend that told her to "believe in miracles and they will know your heart." But the spite against miracles was not this deceitful friend who preached it, it was that her love was for her, not him, and the miracle Juri hoped for all this time in vain was for her true heart to be known.
Kiryuu Nanami, the fourth duelist, has a brother complex for Touga. (brocon doesn't roll of the lips as well as siscon, does it?) Her inauthenticity stems from her overt and vocal adoration of her brother, and yet her true desire is to be adored instead, and has gained great hatred for anything that gets in their way. As children, she gave him a cat as a present. Yet she then threw away the cat with her own hands when Touga started liking it so much that it "got in the way" of his adoration for her. Similar behavior leads to her duel against Utena. Having become the subject of Touga's interest, Utena also became the subject of Nanami's hate.
Kiryuu Touga, the fifth duelist, is perhaps the most authentic of them all. But only in a sense that he is consistently false. His true character IS that of a liar that revels in plots. He used his sister's brother complex to pit her against Utena and slept with Miki's sister to display his powerlessness, urging him to "protect Himemiya", so that he can collect data on Utena's fighting ability in preparation for his own fight. He forged a letter from the End of the World to send to Saionji, whom considered him a friend, goading him into kidnapping and attacking Himemiya, so that he could have a chance to perform princely for Utena as he shielded the blow. He further attempted to immitate the prince of Utena's past and dreams to have her drop her guard during their duel. His motto is that "Becoming close to someone will end in betrayal". And he used the feelings of others for him to his own advantage. Yet that motto itself also has an inherent inauthenticity to it. For the only ones that can espouse such ideals are those that fear and cannot handle betrayle. Will Touga also fall prey to this personal weakness? Only future episodes will tell.
Lastly, the duels for the Rose Bride themselves are a potential sham. They are meant to be planned and instigated by an organization called the End of the World. The rose seal rings are sent by them to those they deem fit to be duelists and the time of duels are sent by letters to the student council. Yet now we have seen that Touga has the ability to forge the letters as shown by the fake he sent Saionji. He also has access to extra Rose Seals, as shown by the one he personally gave Nanami. So what exactly is the End of the World then, and is there any truth to its supposed desire to Revolutionize The World?
Episode 13 is the ending point of this arc. The council members are all defeated, Utena has developed a closer relationship with Himemiya. And we are teased with more duelists, black roses, and perhaps with the truth behind Utena's prince and the Power of Dios. Oh my.
Bakemonogatari is a show about damaged people. Bad people. Socially awkward people. Fetishistic people. And somehow it manages to pull off a conversation with all these traits and still make it sound both convincing and proper. In response to Nick's W&L on episode two, I had asserted that the first half of the show was a depiction of Senjougahara's willingness to expose herself to him and for him. There was a degree of trust that she placed in him, and indeed, felt that she owed him for her new lease on life as it were. This episode's fantastic back and forth dialogue adds to this dynamic.
First things first, let's set this fact in stone: Senjougahara is a marvelous tsundere character type. In anime tropes, a tsundere's inner feelings are soft and mushy (deredere) while their outer shell is harsh (tsuntsun). This is particularly true when said tsundere is involved with a character she is attracted to. However, what Senjougahara does to excel even further at this trope and bring her character beyond a mere archetypal tsundere is the balance of power she sets for her relationship with Araragi.
The truth of the matter is, despite their overt displays, a typical tsundere is ultimately the subservient half of the relationship. (Much like how yanderes, despite their outer display of soft cutness, are the dominant side in a relationship in violent ways.) what differs about Senjougahara is the fact that her words and acts towards Araragi are authentic. Lets take a look at this first exchange of words between the two.
S: If possible, I wanted you to see it [these clothes] first.
A: That you wanted to show it to me first... How do I put it...? It's beyond lucky, I feel honored.
S: I didn’t want to show them to you, Araragi-kun. I wanted you to see them. The nuance between them is completely different.
This line of dialogue is significant because of what is not. Read the following and see if it sounds familiar.
"It's...it's not like I wanted to show my clothes to you."
There is no masked embarrassment in Senjogahara's words. No bashfulness. We know what response she wanted to illicit from Araragi. This entire exhange is flirtatious by design, both for the sake of Araragi and for us the viewer in both a verbal and a visual sense and appeals to the fetishistic nature of both him and us in a subtle but purposeful moment of fourth wall breaking. Her actions are designed to please, but not place her in a subservient position. She has her own will in the matter, and lets him see just what she is willing to offer.
The next portion of the conversation drifts to her need to do something for him. She says she wants to be "friends on equal footing". That line is not a joke on her part, some bashful attempt at a confession. The long banter following that line, her list of oh so many potential sexual favors she would do for Araragi (all yet more fan service for both our sake and his) is a display of both trust and confidence she has in him that he would not take her up on anything so shallow. She wants to do something special for him on a more personal level, and she both trusts, and knows in an almost overbearing manner, that he would only have her do such a thing, even when all other options are open.
To phrase it in another way, she is not offering to be friends on an even footing with him by stooping down to a level of momentary sexual subservience. She is stepping up to Araragi's level by offering him what he gave her, something that makes a profound personal difference in his life.
And until then she teases him constantly and honestly. "But regardless of how petty you are, I will never abandon you." A teasing insult, but an honest one because it is not a value judgment on her part of Araragi, but more one placed against herself, letting him know that the two are similar, and trusts him to never leave her just as she will never leave him. After all, they are two psychotic virgins whose only shot at social interaction with the opposite sex is with each other, right? (Hey, her words, not mine.)
Senjougahara is a marvelous tsundere. Because the tsuntsun does not cover the deredere. The tsuntsun is honest, and is complementary.
You can find the previous part here.
Edit: A broken PC monitor and a laptop too old to play HQ .mkv files means no pretty screencaps for awhile.
Bakemonogatari is a very visually unique show. Like many other works by Akiyuki Shinobu, it frantically injects different and purposefully jarring animation styles together, making every moment chocked full of fan service goodness not just of the sexual kind. More than simply to look pretty however, there is a common theme of isolation and sparseness to the aesthetics of the show in every facet imaginable. It is appearant in its environment design, its cast, and even the opening and ending songs. All of this helps given the show a very lonely and empty feel that helps make the story told a far more intimate one.
The most obvious things are the environment designs, so lets take a look at that first. Bakemonogatari takes place in a city, one that we can expect to be full of people going about their daily lives. However, the show negates that expectation by rarely if ever showing its inhabitants. The streets are devoid of traffic. No bikes and pedestrians are never seen while the number of cars passing by through out the entire series can be counted on the fingers of on hand. Yet more distinct is the school setting it self. The school: one the biggest concentrations of people in an area is devoid of other students. Shots of Araragi's classroom is always of only him and the class rep Tsubasa Hanekawa. Even in the first episode, during a conversation between them that one can only assume takes place after school given the state of the classroom, even as the camera drifts between shots of the other areas of the school like the athletic field and the swimming pool, they are all still eerily devoid of people.
Shots like the above, that slow panning of empty terrain from the first episode, further emphasizes its emptiness and isolation by adding the background noise of a regular school filled with conversation and movement. It sounds nearby and all encompassing, but the scenery is devoid of any beings. The show wants you to feel the isolation the characters feel: that their problems with apparitions are not something anyone else can deal with. It does so marvelously.
Just like the environments are devoid of people, the same can be said for the cast of characters. There are 11 characters in total that have both faces and voices. 3 of them are minor and have mere minutes of screen time. The rest are composed of Araragi and those that find themselves wrapped up in the business of apparitions. Every scene gives full attention to only the cast at hand and neither they nor the viewer is given a chance to be distracted by those that can be called normal.
The opening song sequences lend even more to the focus. The episodes drift between characters whose issues Araragi help resolve and the OP changes, each one custom made in both song and animation for that character. Senjougahara has the OP with the dancing staplers and...well, I won't spoil the rest for those following along with Nick Robinson's write-ups.
Though I can't say the rest can match up to the hot saucy stapler on stapler action that Senjougahara's theme offers.