VISUALIZED: Bakemonogatari 15 (PART II: Abstraction and Expressions)

It’s been a while, but since posts don’t write themselves, I’m going look even further into Bakemonogatari episode 15!

As anyone who’s watched the show will know, Bakemonogatari uses symbols, photography, typography, and alternative imagery quite often. The use of these techniques is usually for the sake of emphasis–to call specific attention to a certain line or scene in a cool and interesting way.

The first two screencaps are from the beginning of the episode, in which Black Hanekawa throws plot revelations towards Araragi at lighting speed. At the same speed, various photos and bits of text are flashed onto the screen to provoke something of a visceral response matching Araragi’s. Hanekawa–who mostly appears as a cute anime girl–is now a photograph of a woman, and once neatly arranged typography comes flying out of place straight towards Araragi, as if the power radiating off of Black Hanekawa was shooting them out of place. This sudden breaking of the show’s established “rules” does well to illustrate Araragi’s shock. Sadly, being unable to read the various kanji SHAFT decides to flash on the screen, I can’t offer any deeper reading.

To drive Araragi’s reaction home even further, a high angle shot with him in the the corner, flanked on every side by his own constantly expanding shadow illustrates his sudden realization of the lengths to which he’s driven Hanekawa over the edge. In short, the shadows could represent the weight of the responsibility he feels.

In every Bakemonogatari arc, the girls’ backstories are each presented in a unique manner that matches their personality and story. As the episode progresses, we get some quick backstory on Hanekawa by way of Black Hanekawa. This narration is matched to a short bit of animation by Gekidan Inu Curry. They takes us on a short trip into Hanekawa’s mind, rendered in their signature dirty style made up of sketchy drawings and and paper cutouts. The surrounding ruins are a good parallel for Hanekawa’s tumultuous domestic life, while Araragi’s figure reflected in the shattered glasses on her despairing face drives home how much their relationship helped keep Hanekawa sane.

Near the end of the episode, Black Hanekawa embraces Araragi while shocking him to death, and we’re treated to a lovely psychedelic image of what is presumably Hanekawa’s body (those are certainly the right proportions) matched to a set of seductive eyes with rays firing out of them. This is obviously an analog to what’s happening, but this shot, which only flashes for a brief moment, does well to stress the sensuality of the scene. While Araragi is indeed being shocked to death, the woman who loves him is embracing him. This same sort of sexual imagery is seen in other parts of this episode, through black and white images of  Hanekawa and Araragi embracing each other while naked. I can’t really read much into this juxtaposition of violence and sexuality, but I suppose it’s a good representation for Hanekawa’s conflicted feelings towards Araragi, and it’s just simply compelling.

And while we’re on the subject of violence…

The bloodspray in this episode is incredible. Its sketchy and over-the-top rendering complements Kamiyama’s screaming perfectly, and does an excellent job of portraying terrible pain. It also contrasts nicely with Hanekawa’s very sensual licking of Araragi’s neck just before it explodes into blood.

Of all the elements that make this episode shine, the one that makes it shine the brightest are the facial expressions. SHAFT is generally quite good at giving characters good static facial expressions in lieu of actual acting through animation, and the faces in this episode are particularly intense. While the faces aren’t Ikegami detailed or anything, there is notable attention to detail in certain areas that make the expressions in this episode come alive. Right at the very beginning, we’re treated to another lovely closeup of Araragi’s eye. Except this time around, it boasts some rather stylized eyelashes. Similarly, during closeups, characters will have individual teeth, rather an amorphous block of whiteness. When looking at characters head-on, rather than having a dot for a nose, we’re treated to shading that carves out the shape of the nose, and nostrils.

Along with this heightened attention to detail, characters’ expressions in this episode have a lot of feeling behind them. Hanekawa’s crying face looks realistically devastated, and Araragi’s shocked expression makes it seem as if his world is falling apart around him. Black Hanekawa’s scowl doesn’t suggest simple anger, but a gradually rising anger–a pot about to boil over. On the flip side, her cat-like eyes in the last screencap are devilishly seductive.

Black Hanekawa in general has a lot of good expressions. While she’s angrily yelling at Araragi, her expressions seem more human. But as she begins to attack, she develops this very cat-like smirk. Aside from the obviously cat-like eyes, I think what makes her smirk seem “cat-like” is how cool and confident it is. The shape of her eyes is what defines this look, with the top half her eyes completely down, and curved inwards.

You can see this subtle transformation from human to cat at the very moment she starts her attack in these next three frames:

Take note of the difference between the the more confident scheming grin at the top, and the more animalistic grin that follows. The closeup on the fangs at the end punctuates this moment wonderfully. In these screencaps, Black Hanekawa looks more like an actual cat, where as her “cat-like smirk” is more cat-like in tone than in a visual manner.

Araragi’s expressions aren’t as distinctive as Hanekawa’s, but they’re still worth about six screencaps and some words. What I think makes a lot of his expressions work are not just the eyes, but the lines around the eyes as well. They add a good bit of character to his eyes, and suggest different emotions in different contexts–such as fatigue (screencap 3) and desperation (screencap 4.) Other things that make that fourth screencap work particularly well are the distortion of the pupil, the way the mouth hangs open, and the length to which the head is pushed out, as if Araragi is gasping for air whilst drowning. It’s an expression that perfectly captures a guy at the end of his rope, begging for life.

In the end, what makes this episode great is something of an over-the-top sense of drama mixed with a good sense of atmosphere. Between different types of lighting schemes, settings, experimental scenes, and convincing facial expressions, Bakemonogatari 15 is probably one of the nicest episodes of anime SHAFT has produced during their time on the scene. I hope Kizumonogatari can manage to deliver the same, but perhaps with even more of an animation budget.

And with that, three months and 2000 words later, I’ve basically exhausted anything I have to say about this episode… for the time being. I hope it was interesting!