What Does Monogatari’s Character Development Add?

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I have a lot for reasons for why the Monogatari series bores my brains out of my skull, but I’m going to put them aside for this post in order to ask a question that’s been bugging me for a while now: what exactly is the point of its character development?

Obviously, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have characters that are developed in your story. Still, whilst I get the appeal of origin stories and seeing people change over time, the praise for it is getting to the point where it’s becoming as overrated a virtue as “not taking yourself seriously”. James Bond and Indiana Jones are well-loved cultural icons and they don’t really develop over their franchises so much as receive characterization as a consequence of the story arc they’re attached to. And even if you argued that they did go through fully realized character arcs within the entire span of their franchises’ lifetimes, you can’t deny that said arcs were ultimately used as a means to an end, whether it be killing Nazis or having your new wife killed not even five minutes after you’re married. Because if you don’t have said arcs become a means to an end, you just get The Prestige without its plot twist ending.

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I read some of the positive reviews for Tsukimonogatari shortly after finishing it and whilst I’m confused at how they can possibly excuse the fact that it was nothing but setup at the end of the day, I did notice the praise going to Araragi’s maturation over the series (snicker) as well as the development given to Yotsugi, who if you’ve been paying attention to the promo material for this, is supposed to be the main focus of the arc. But what the reviews failed to point out is this: what is the development used for? Because even the good “character porn” stories like Iron Man 3 have a point to its character growth at the end of the day.

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Let’s start with Araragi. Ignoring the fact that I’d argue he hasn’t developed at all, as well as most of the fans I know having gotten sick of him and his pedophile ways, why exactly is him maturing a good thing? Is it supposed to be a commentary on how playboys mature over time? Because that’s kind of hard to believe when he still gropes his sisters every chance he gets. Is it to symbolize the transition between high school and adult life? Because I haven’t seen him work a job or anything. At the end of the day, all that’s changed is how he deals with a problem. But that’s useless if the problem isn’t compelling, and from where I come from, compelling problems don’t have an ending that lame. Also, his vampire story is going to continue in Koyomimonogatari or whatever the next novel is, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what the appeal of that story is either. For an insight into vampires that don’t sparkle? Well unless you want to pretend that the “no reflection in the mirror” is a new thing, I see no evidence to support that claim.

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Well then let’s go to Yotsugi. From what I can understand, her (woefully underdeveloped because the show focused so much time on Araragi’s crap) arc was to develop her from a sort of emotionless doll into a more friendly person. If I had to think of a reason for why said story exists, it’s to symbolize how even the most monstrous of people can be human, even when they “kill” a man out of nowhere because they’re monsters at the end of the day. So something similar to Migi in Parasyte? Well that’s nice, except it wasn’t original when Parasyte did it, and it’s not original here either. The “monster becoming more human” thing is about as tired a story trope as “save the rainforest”, and unless you inject freshness into the trope, you’re not going to sell it to me. And I don’t think I have to spell it out to you that Tsukimonogatari failed to sell Yotsugi’s development as anything meaningful or new. I could clarify why, but that would involve getting my overall problems regarding Monogatari in general involved, so I won’t.

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And of course, this extends to the other characters too. Now I’ve only seen Hanekawa’s and Kanbaru’s stories, but I got the gist from what I’ve read and whilst I’m all for improving characters, what is the point of making Nadeko likable? I’ve seen theories that it’s supposed to symbolize the girls moving on from their dependence on Araragi as a sort of take that to Clannad’s wish-fulfillment thing, but that seems kind of weak because Monogatari is still going on long after those arcs have finished to the point that said theme is a small part of the story at best and irrelevant at worst. There’s like six more novels to adapt for Christ’s sake, and that’s excluding that mythical Kizumonogatari that is in no way going to be worth the buildup. I don’t care if Monogatari is a bunch of fragmented stories. The good episodic stuff always have a strong connecting theme to their individual pieces and I’m not seeing anything of the sort in regards to Monogatari’s character pieces.

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So yeah, at the end of the day, I’m not seeing Monogatari as any more than junk food with the occasional smart idea buried under a mountain of garbage. Of course I’ve listened to the people I know on a more personal level regarding why they like Monogatari’s storytelling, but they mostly praise the aesthetics (voice acting, Shaft style, etc.), and we all know that I can’t get into a work of fiction purely for aesthetics (I mean Iron Man 2 had a lot of things catered to me and I still found it to be a boring piece of shit). The more intellectual-minded of my confidants aren’t really much better at selling the show to me because they’re not as strict(?) about themes as I am, plus they’re into that sort of “watching characters constantly grow and change over time” sort of storytelling with no real climaxes provided the foundation is strong. I can’t buy into that. I want my entertainment to always challenge me, and I have my own standards regarding what I consider challenging.

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And that’s why I fail to see the appeal of Monogatari’s character arcs/development, let alone its actual story…whatever it is.

8 responses to “What Does Monogatari’s Character Development Add?

  1. “I want my entertainment to always challenge me, and I have my own standards regarding what I consider challenging.”

    What sort of things do you consider challenging then?

    • You read what I wrote about Shirobako? That should get you up to speed a bit.

      For a more specific answer, that’s kind of like asking what my exact taste is. Off the top of my head, I like things that examine humanity’s complications/evolution. I like things that tear down what the media makes public. I like stories that add a unique layer to what we’ve been taught in school (the stuff that just tells me what I learn from school is usually crap though). I have a post somewhere detailing why Saturday Night Fever is my favorite coming-of-age story of all-time, and I have similar writings on my “favorite movies” list that provide a good insight into what I enjoy as well.

      It doesn’t have to be intentional or anything. It just has to be there. I mean my favorite genre of all-time IS exploitation and I’m pretty sure the directors who made my favorites from said genre intended to make crap.

      • I didn’t read your Shirobako posts because I don’t watch Shirobako, sorry.

        But anyway, about Monogatari. I don’t even like the series, but I understand it’s about exploring the human condition and the nature of subjectivity, which I think is a worthy narrative goal. So I can understand it being praised for its character development.

        I do know about your tastes (I mean, I’ve been reading your blog for how long?) but I just never quite understood what constitutes “challenging” in fiction. I think most of us like stories that try to say something the creator feels is important to them, rather than just repeating conventional wisdom. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as “challenging”. Challenging generally brings to mind things that are hard to understand or dense with ideas, but it doesn’t seem like that’s necessarily what you’re talking about. Something with a political axe to grind, maybe? But then, you don’t seem interested in talking about politics, either…

    • Monogatari’s “insight” into the human condition comes off as really shallow to me. It feels more like you take an anime stereotype and examine why said character conforms to it, but the reasoning comes off like it was written by Joss Whedon: too far removed from reality and smugly self-aware about it.

      As for politics, of course I like talking about it (keeping up with it is a different matter). Some of my recent favorite fictional works have been political stories. The Boondocks was my favorite comic strip growing up. Just don’t like to express it online very much because I like to keep that sorta stuff to myself and when I joke about said things, they tend to fall flat in writing and even end up kind of offensive.

      • “Monogatari’s “insight” into the human condition comes off as really shallow to me.”

        No arguments there.

        And I can understand not wanting to talk politics online. It’s the easiest way to invite a shitstorm. That stuff’s always important, though. Film Crit Hulk recently described politics as “the necessary application of all that really, truly matters”.

    • As for what you said regarding challenging, I think every author has the goal of expressing what’s important to them. But since I consider that the standard for fiction, that alone isn’t enough to keep my attention. And I don’t mean challenging has to be like a Jodorowsky film or one of Oshii’s stuff (especially since the latter tends to be impenetrable in regards to how he treats the viewer). If I had to say the minimum for what I find challenging, it’d be something that’d make me go “Oh. Didn’t think of it like that.” at the very end.

      It also has to be at the end, because otherwise said thought tends to become buried under a mountain of boredom that dilutes its impact.

  2. hello long-time reader etc.

    Even if something like Iron Man 3 uses “character porn” as a means…why does that mean that Monogatari should, too, assuming that it doesn’t already? I imagine the reviews glossed over your question largely because not everyone thinks about characters in such functional terms.

    You’ve made your dislike for what you call character porn clear, but I’m not quite sure why. Would you cast aside something like Mrs. Dalloway under the same reasoning? Or is this strictly a visual thing? Monogatari has a plot in the same general manner that Dalloway does, after all – meandering, repetitive and ostensibly shallow activities slowly collect into something greater. It also has the same “link” across the episodes: lies, lies that go unnoticed as they ripple across the mind’s puddle. Both examine how precisely those ripples might be catalyzed for the person suffering them: through accidental or purposeful interaction from others. Araragi is, of course, the primary perpetrator in the series (though he himself is a target), though hardly the only one. But both remain radically subjective in ways that are abnormal even in our more liberated age of fiction.

    I also think compelling problems often do have “lame” endings – whatever that means. Whether or not an ending is compelling depends on too many factors for that sort of unconditional statement. Who could imagine a more “compelling problem”, the human psyche, than that of Mrs. Dalloway’s; and who could imagine a less capable answer? Or is the very fact of its lameness proof of its compelling nature, since, when considering the story’s themes, the ending is fitting?

    Going off the standards you’ve provided for “challenging”…I’m still a little confused. What exactly, for example, do you mean by you being more “strict” about themes? I consider Monogatari a thematically powerful show, linked, again, by various false truths and shadowed emotions.

    To a certain extent, what you’ve written here reminds me of a recent interview with the novelist John Irving, published in The Paris Review, on not publishing negative reviews. It’s not that negativity, or disliking a work, is bad…but that it just seems so difficult to express so coherently without heavily reflecting taste. And as much as I like to read dissenting opinions, your attempt to root them in structural issues comes off as a little shallow in my eyes.

    Excuse any of this that sounds rude or half-assed, written in a hurry – not intended!

    • Monogatari has a plot in the same general manner that Dalloway does, after all – meandering, repetitive and ostensibly shallow activities slowly collect into something greater. It also has the same “link” across the episodes: lies, lies that go unnoticed as they ripple across the mind’s puddle.

      I consider Monogatari a thematically powerful show, linked, again, by various false truths and shadowed emotions.

      Not speaking for Mrs. Dalloway since I never read it, but what is the “plot” to Monogatari? What is this “something greater”? And how have we not reached that point after so many iterations? You said it yourself that the lies “link” the stories, but unlike Paranoia Agent, I don’t understand what the ultimate goal of these stories are. What is it saying with these false truths and shadowed emotions?

      John Irving, published in The Paris Review, on not publishing negative reviews. It’s not that negativity, or disliking a work, is bad…but that it just seems so difficult to express so coherently without heavily reflecting taste.

      The same can be said for positive reviews.