This post is the tenth of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!
Spoilers for the Hitagi Crab arc of Bakemonogatari (episodes 1 and 2). This essay is intended as a look at specific elements of the Hitagi Crab arc that build into the core narrative and themes of the arc, rather than a direct analysis of those things that I might complete in the future when I have additional writing time available.
Hitagi Crab is a tale of weight. The weight of our bodies, of our emotions, of our memories; weight made from our choices, from our words, from our perspectives from one moment to the next; weight we choose to carry, to reject, to share. It is a story of a young woman facing the weight of her past, accepting her weight in the present, and sharing the weight of her future.
As we begin the story, our narrator Koyomi Araragi discovers through a sudden moment in a tall stairway that Hitagi Senjougahara’s weight is missing – taken from her by a crab god, or perhaps given away for safekeeping instead. We walk with Senjougahara on her path to finding her weight again, and we see events as they occur through Araragi’s eyes and words. And at the close of our story, we are present as Meme Oshino guides Senjougahara in opening up about the pain and abuse in her past, and Senjougahara coming to terms with the weight of that pain, the weight of the memories and emotions and the weight of the desire to carry those things herself and be better for it.
Though that journey is along a rather straightforward path, time and visuals and symbols along the way guide us to understand the weight of this short story better. The somewhat distorted presentation of time helps us appreciate the moments Araragi and Senjougahara spent together, and contrast in the visuals allows us to see things better from Senjougahara’s perspective. And in the heaviest, most intense moments, the symbols presented to us provide us with a wide picture of the emotional weight carried by both characters.
When we look the time Araragi and Senjougahara spend together, it doesn’t quite fill in the gaps from the beginning of a scene to the end, and can rush or slow down depending on the perspectives of the characters. The first bike ride to the ruined cram school has a fast-forwarded moment near the end of their ride together, signs of sparse conversation beyond the initial dialogue we hear. It’s an understandable situation – these two haven’t known each other long, and Senjougahara is only just beginning to trust Araragi in her situation. But as a counterbalance, Araragi leading Senjougahara into the ruined school is a longer segment with back and forth conversation and wandering visuals; a sequence that feels more tense, more quickly approaching an unknown conversation with Oshino. Understandably, this walk might feel longer or more overwhelming for Araragi as he leads Senjougahara to meet Oshino.
These sequences occur during other segments of the story as well – in more direct contrast, the moment where Araragi catches Senjougahara is just a single moment, yet Senjougahara’s confrontation of Araragi following his conversation with Hanekawa is a minutes-long dialogue. And in the well-known apartment scene, moments of Araragi’s discomfort are lengthened and stretched to fill the gaps left by missing shots of Senjougahara setting up a blowdryer or putting on her full outfit. These moments help scenes maintain an engaging pace, but they also allow us to experience these scenes as Araragi does; moments without conversation or consequence aren’t something we hold onto like we do with the conversations that connect us with others. And so these scenes help us gain a greater understanding for the friendship forming between Araragi and Senjougahara, and knowledge as to why Senjougahara says that “she’s gained a dear friend” at the end of the story.
Further helping us to understand Senjougahara are contrasts we see in visuals throughout the arc. One of these is clearly found is Araragi’s second confrontation with Senjougahara – clearly angered with Araragi’s persistence in reaching out to her, Senjougahara prepares to go to war with her arsenal of stationery. In these moments, the scene frames her in darker light and with clear shadows across her figure – but as Araragi shows her his healed wound, a wider, brighter shot shifts the tone of the scene away from Hitagi’s fury as she stands stunned in silence. Because of how close these shots are to one another, it’s easy to notice this contrast from one emotion to another, but these pairings can span close to the entire length of the arc. Key among these are some of Senjougahara’s smiles towards Araragi – in her first confrontation with Araragi, her face is again in shadow and with a more sinister expression, but her smile to Araragi in the closing moments of the arc is in light and with an expression of gratefulness. There are even cases where they help us understand Araragi’s perspective better – compare the staircase from the opening scenes with the staircase of the second confrontation. It’s possible that these staircases may actually be the same; but regardless of whether that theory is true, the first scene far more heavily emphasizes the distance of Senjougahara’s fall compared to the fairly standard second staircase. These images, like all of the contrasts, are at least partially shaped by Araragi’s perception, and they help to add additional understanding of the emotions that help to shape the narrative of the Hitagi Crab arc.
But the biggest piece of the show’s weight lies in the symbolism surrounding Senjougahara’s emotional weight, and two moments have always stood out for me personally in this regard. First among these is the first appearance of the crab and its attack on Senjougahara. The crab represents the weight of Senjougahara’s feelings, thoughts, and memories, and it only appears after Senjougahara has once again acknowledged the existence of those things and the events of her past through Oshino’s guidance. The crab attacks and pins Senjougahara to the wall as she feels the full burden of those feelings once more, and the weight that she’s lacked for so long begins to crush her. But despite Oshino’s offer to take those things away once more, she holds onto them still, speaking directly to the crab god in a plea for her emotional weight:
“I’m sorry. And thank you. But it’s all right now. Those are my feelings, my thoughts and my memories, so I’ll bear them. They were things that I was never supposed to lose. Please. I’m asking you to please give me back my weight. Please give me back my mother.”
But while the first scene showed Senjougahara’s struggle to recover her weight, the second of these moments acts a sign of how Senjougahara has changed across the evening shown in the arc. Senjougahara finds that her struggles were worth it for the friend she gained in Araragi, and is grateful for his persistence to help her find her weight once more. And through doing so, she puts her trust in Araragi and her emotional weight onto him. Just as Senjougahara’s missing weight was a symbol of her rejected emotions and feelings towards her past, Araragi steps on a scale to find that Senjougahara’s trust in him is symbolized by him taking her physical weight on himself as well. It is a moment that signals how Senjougahara has changed for the better, and a sign of how important Araragi was in that process.
Each one of these themes is crucial for bringing the Hitagi Crab arc together. They add character and depth to the story with themes integrated on multiple visual levels, and allow us a deeper understanding of both Araragi and Senjougahara. Even as many of these details pass us by or remain undecipherable to us, they work behind the scenes to help themes and imagery come to life in Senjougahara’s story. Across 2 episodes, Hitagi Crab tells a tale of weight and emotion, and strong visual storytelling lifts those themes to new heights throughout Senjougahara’s journey towards self-acceptance and a new friendship with Araragi.