Bakemonogatari – New Orthodoxy, Hentai Seiyoku & My Stupid Self

This review first appeared on my MyAnimeList profile. I have decided to transfer it here.

Pre-Introduction: The Review Portion

It’s good. Go watch it. 10/10.

Introduction

This is a study. This is about two histories. This is about dreams. This is about what I dream about when I write fiction. This is about what Edogawa Ranpo dreams about when he writes fiction. This is about what Nisio Isin’s dreams about when he writes fiction. This is about what I dream about when I write mystery fiction.

The first section is the stupid section about me. The second section is about the world. Part two is probably the part you’re looking for because no one gives a damn about the obligatory digressionary masturbatory part where I talk about my feelings towards this very specific franchise that every otaku and their fujoshi mom has most likely heard a thousand and one things about before. I allow you to skip to part two without being burdened by the guilt of violating the specific writer-reader contract of having to read the entire text linearly.

Section 1.1: What I Felt When I First Watched Bakemonogatari

I watched Bakemonogatari after Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. I thought that the first few episodes of SZS were funny, but that it got progressively less interesting as it went on. Now I feel the opposite way. SZS is the anime I watch for comfort. I can turn on any episode and just start watching. I can enjoy its irreverent style, its wit, and its frenetic explanatory cadence. I press pause when the screen floods with examples. I have told myself again and again: This is what I want to do when I grow up, I want to be a satirist rock star avant-gardist.

Well, when I finished reading Karamazov I told myself: I want to write honestly and vividly about humanity and society.

My attitude towards my influences have always been sinusodial. I love them to death, then I want to destroy them whole. I want to eat them for breakfast. I want to imbibe their so-called Genius. I tell myself “I can’t write like this!”, but then I tell myself “I can write like this!”.

My advances towards my literature has always been inspired by Pierre Menard. I believe I can write Don Quixote word for word if I tried.

Before I watched Beckett’s tale about his two impoverished hobos standing under a tree, I watched episode 3 of Bakemonogatari. A boy and a girl sit at some pop art conception of a park and talk about everything.

Linklater was probably the one who first figured that there is something immensely comforting about watching two characters shoot the shit. I am glad that later seasons of the Monogatari series have only gotten ‘worse’ in this regard, in the increase of excessive verbiage. Alienate all your audiences! Who cares!

I watched Steins;Gate four times precisely because of the specific character oriented comfort developed in the first 12 or so episodes. There is a skill in combining movement with stillness. You want to walk slow-fast. You want to reach your destination but take your time. This is something Key adaptations have never mastered.

But from the sales it seems that other people, too, love nothing more than a good mystery, a good romance, a great art style, abuse of fanservice, and a whole bunch of verbiage.

Fanservice is an accentuation of the body. The body is the vivacity of potential motion. In the Monogatari series everything moves. It is this movement that delineates, or rather, transfers the libido into Art. It is the mix between Kabuki and striptease.

In the Monogatari series the words snake around the bodies, the bodies play around the words. This innate connection between the angel of our thought and our sorry beast connection to nature is the essential foundational substance of any great acting.

In Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, when Nobunaga hears the death of his great enemy, he doesn’t say much, but dances. The song he sings while he does so is a solemn evocation towards the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. Every step he makes feels powerful, anchored to great destiny.

At its most visceral, guts are spilt, and limbs are twisted in strange unnatural directions. Bakemonogatari understands the truths of the body. It understands the specific emotion crease in a face that spells internal suffering, as well as the highest bound of playfulness.

But why should I have to explain all of that? Everything is nicely bundled together in this little package here.

Section 1.2: A Locked Room with No Key

This is the section where I talk about murder as one of the fine arts. Specifically I talk about murder in relation to my own fears. If you want the fine-tuned stuff, skip to the next section.

The first manga I ever read in my life was the new Young Kindaichi Case Files. It was a translation from a newly established Singapore publishing company, but they only released two volumes, and shut down shortly afterwards. The two volumes were The Cerberus Murder Mystery, and The Scorpio Killer of the Silver Screen (yes I’m too lazy to actually search up their proper names). I read it in Primary School, or rather, I skimmed the pages, being completely clueless about what a non-linear story structure meant. I thought that, at the end, when the killer was flashbacking about his past motives, time was still moving forward, and I wondered how the murder victims came back from the dead. I was just enjoying looking at the pictures.

Later my father got the whole set of the official Tokyopop translations. This was in Secondary School. Afterwards he got Case Closed and I started following Detective Conan.

My old home was a small flat. There were cabinets full of books. One cabinet had nothing but Agatha Christie novels. These novels had illustrations full of mystery and horror. You had your milieu of broken creepy dolls, cracked mirrors, various murder implements, and other strange surrealistic images. Until now I have never read an Agatha Christie Mystery, except for flipping through And Then There Were None. Back at my old home it still had the old unsanitary title: “10 Little Niggers”. My father had no qualms about using the old title, although the new one has a better ring.

Now to talk about my fear.

Thomas DeQuincey’s essay on Macbeth explains the murder of King Duncan in such a way:

“…the retiring of the human heart and the entrance of the fiendish heart was to be expressed and made sensible. Another world has stepped in; and the murderers are taken out of the region of human things, human purposes, human desires…The murderers, and the murder, must be insulated—cut off by an immeasurable gulph from the ordinary tide and succession of human affairs—locked up and sequestered in some deep recess; we must be made sensible that the world of ordinary life is suddenly arrested—laid asleep—tranced—racked into a dread armistice: time must be annihilated; relation to things without abolished; and all must pass self-withdrawn into a deep syncope and suspension of earthly passion.”

I have never been comfortable. Certain shades of dark still transfers into this ‘another world’. When I first flipped through those pages of the Young Kindaichi Case files, I was so frightened by the images of death that I had nightmares for weeks. Fumiya Sato is an amazing artist of death, compared to the more moe-fied Aoyama from Case Closed. Her corpses are splayed in all directions. Their eyes are empty. The deaths are imaginatively horrific.

Young Kindaichi Case Files murders are usually structured around a myth, as opposed to the more human-centric Case-closed mysteries. Per book the death rate is usually 3-4 before the case is closed. This is what grants the case power. You know a human is behind it, but the murders are always structured around this higher narrative. With the Cerberus murders you have claw marks as a motif and tearing in the flesh. In the Scorpio Killings, the murders are centered around Film motifs. The Magical Express is so far, in my opinion, the most powerful and most carnivalesque of the mysteries.

Once I saw a face in the crowd staring at me. It was any stranger, but he seemed wrong and full of dark intent. I cried in my bed 3 week after the event, when one day the memory came back to me. Now I know I was utterly hysterical, but at the time the visage of the stranger was so real to me that any small connection could send me spiralling into paroxysms of fear.

Even till now my dreams have always bested me. Sleep Paralysis and layered nightmares have always occurred to me. I wake up from one layer, and find myself back in my room, except that there is a presence, and everything is off. Every chemical in my brain feels off during these moments. Inexpressible fear permeates through the layers of blankets and pillows. These dreams are locked room mysteries.

Yet I am enamoured with my dreams. I have tried to ride these states of fear all the way through. I am always curious to wonder, after reaching the other end of being crushed, will I wake up in a strange new state? That’s because on the other end of the spectrum, when everything becomes lucid, the feeling is an equally inexpressible sense of awe and wonder. Everything feels possible.

More frightening to me, than the standard Gothic Outlook and Bizzare Experience that usually characterizes Horror Fiction, is that sense of something underlying everything else. I thought Ligotti’s Fiction was lovely and poetic, yet Nabokov’s Signs and Symbols sends chills down my back.  This evocation of an unsolvable but infinitely deep mystery is terrifying to me. With Ligotti, as with Lovecraft, at least you have the certainty of Man’s insignificance wrapped in Gothic flair. It is the idea of a truth just within your grasp, yet always elusive, and invokes strange omens of a different structure of existence, that entraps me in a labyrinth paranoia. Higurashi captured that feeling perfectly, of nothing being right, yet wrapped in inexplicable mystery. Without mystery, horror is quite tame.

So my ambition has always been to create that labyrinthian structure of elusive meaning. The good mystery is always out of reach, and earth-shattering upon discovery.

Section 2.1: Irregular Mysteries, their Predecessors and a whole bunch of hoot about Authenticity

All roads lead to Poe. He was the first to conceive of the Detective story in its most archetypal form. He was the first to grant it its dignity. First there was Auguste Dupin, and he begat Holmes, who begat Poirot, who begat all the way until you have as diverse manifestations as Moffat’s variant of Sherlock, to Nasu’s over-explaining rough and hardboiled Aozaki Touko, to Borges’s ridiculous homage, Lonnrot. If you really wanted to trace ‘puzzle-solvers’ back to ancient times, you would have wise men like Solomon disputing cases with logical clarity, and in India you’d have tricky couriers like Birbal, Tenali Raman, or haunted parables like those in the Vikram Vetala tales, and in China you’d have your famous tales of old judges. Then there’s disputes about whether it was Poe or Wilkie Collin’s the Moonstone, and all that other stuff. But I bring your attention to Poe because, at least in the vein of irregular mysteries, you can link everything back to him.

Actually we have to firstly talk about the etymology of this idea of irregular. By irregular mystery, I’m talking about the demarcation that occurred in Japan between the Honkaku Tantei Shosetsu, or regular mystery, versus the Henkaku Tantei Shosetsu, or irregular mystery. And even then there’s confusion translating it like that. The translation irregular comes from Japanese Science Fiction: A View of a Changing Society . On the other hand The Discursive Space of Japanese Detective Fiction and the Formation of the National Imaginary (TDS) translated the divide as Authentic Detective Fiction and Inauthentic Detective Fiction.

Of course, as you can tell from the terms, the Hen in Henkaku is the Hen in Hentai. This provides a scope of definitions larger than irregularity and inauthenticity. It covers connotations of perversion and bizzareness. A subversion of normal values in its strangest form. Dreams from Below: Yumeno Kyusaku and Subculture Literature of Japan goes into the henkaku definition, with the erotic and subversive connotations, even more fully, but with specific reference to the Literature of Yumeno Kyusaku who wrote the surrealistic detective story Dogura Magura.

Before getting into that definition though, I want to focus on the Authentic vs Inauthentic debates, as fully described in TDS. As with any particularly flourishing period of avant-garde or new forms of literature, you’ll have literary criticism. As with any literary criticism, most of it will be semantically dense and usually about stupid trivialities, like whether writing in first-person is more literary, or writing in third person (the ‘I’ novel debates).

In the case of the Honkaku vs Henkaku debates that was taking place in the new magazine ShinSeinen, it was between a highly rationalistic procedural form of Detective Fiction, as in those of the Agatha Christie variety where every clue is left for you to see, so by right the reader can divine the truth as well, or basically any other type of fiction that had a veneer of Mysteryness but was more focused on affect and doing stupid literary things like delving into people’s guilt and stuff. The Honkaku faction were against Dostoyevsky style meandering mystery fiction or weird BDSM stories marketed as detective fiction.

At the center of this debate was the mystery-god of Japan himself, Edogawa Rampo. From TDS, here’s some of the numerous complaints levied against Rampo and his ilk:

“the modern detective fiction of the prewar years, which started after the publication of Shinseinen and the debut of Edogawa Rampo, consists of an overwhelmingly large number of stories that play with the fantastic world of horror and bizarreness that rejects social reality.” Gonda describes prewar detective fiction as “irrational dreams rather than rational logic, utopian fantasies of a splendid death rather than harsh social reality,” and discusses the genre with the metaphor of “abysmal dreams of a deep-sea fish.””

“(He also argued that) modern Japanese detective fiction was influenced by the Japanese romantic school of serious literature, such as Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Satō Haruo, and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, and thus tended to emphasize the human criminal rather than the logical solution of a crime.”

Due to the influence of the Decadent Movement, the Symbolist Movement, the Romanticsts, the Gothic Writers (including Poe), and other people like the Grand Guignol playwrights. Japanese Romanticism was developed, and culminated later into what was widely known as Ero-Guro Nansensu. Rampo was widely into that kind of thing, and so one of the rumors developed around him was that:

“Rampo kept a certain distance from the debates and even claimed that he lost his confidence in writing detective fiction in 1932—less thanten years after his debut in Shinseinen. While he rarely published his detective stories in dedicated magazines of detective fiction after the 1930s, he continued to be a prolific writer of “grotesque” serials with detective tastes in general magazines and newspapers,which contributed to establishing the “legend” among the public that he wrote only at night in a storehouse (dozō)—which he aptly called “the castle of illusion” (gen’ei no kura)—under the dim light of a candle surrounded by pictures of cruelties (muzan’e).”

As can be seen from the above quote too, Rampo has always had a strange relationship with the Authentic vs Inauthentic debates. He was able to write on both sides of fence, creating numerous and tightly plotted stories revolving around his own Detective Kogoro Akechi, while also writing stories of bizarre gothic nature such as ‘The Caterpillar’ and ‘The Hell of Mirrors’. Sometimes he even combined both types together to create tightly plotted mystery stories with surreal dark atmospheres. Some people have even interpreted some of his stories as having an ambiguously derisive view of the whole enterprise of mystery fiction in general:

“In his “Ningen isu” (Human Chair, 1925) for example, a popular female writer receives a letter from her enthusiastic fan, in which a furniture maker, supposedly the writer of the letter, confesses his perverted desire to sneak into the cavity inside a large arm chair. The letter scares her in the course of her reading because the chair he refers to in the letter seems to be exactly the one she sits in right now. Yet, his subsequent letter reveals that the initial letter is just a manuscript sent to ask her criticism. In “Akai heya” (The Red Chamber, 1925), the confession of the ninety nine murders of probability and the confessor’s subsequent killing of himself as his own one hundredth victim turn out to be a setup for the bored audience of a members-only club in the gloomy red chamber. Not only a logical resolution in the end but also the grotesque imaginations are rejected and mocked as daydreams that temporarily make bored everyday life bearable.”

So while Rampo was more or less doing his thing all the way, contributing to the debates while also making works that subverted their arguments in every way possible, there were some others in defence of Henkaku Tantei Shosetsu. This included the famous mainstream literary writer Sato Haruo who commented that:

“In short, what we call detective fiction is a branch of the tree called rich Romanticism, a fruit of curiosity hunting, and a mysterious light emits from the multi-faceted gem called poetry. It is no exaggeration to say that it originated in a peculiar admiration of evil and on the strange psyche of horrified curiosity common to all human beings and at the same time related to the healthy mind that loves explicitness”

Haruo was all in favour of widening the narrow definition of Detective Fiction, and linking it to the Romanticist movement. Indeed the Romanticist movement, at its core, was generally an affirmation of humanity’s splendour and beauty, even above concepts like religion and god. Detective fiction was, in effect, and as Poe originally conceived of it, a Romantic take on procedural rationality and logic. The super-detective isn’t just a man of logic, but of fashion as well. In response to the idea of the dis-enchantment of the world due to Modernity, there is a case raised that Fantasy Fiction, Science Fiction, and Detective Fiction are representatives of a re-enchantment with the world.

Yet even Rampo, with his usual ambivalence about his stand, stepped in to clean up Sato’s definition a little:

“Satō’s aestheticism cannot be just anti-Naturalism or a return to romanticism. It is rather a juxtaposition of the two in relation to the modern concept of rationality. As Edogawa Ranpo points out, although Satō’s definition is not strictly about the detective fiction genre and it might be more appropriate to call it crime literature, writers at the time “wanted to give a certain name to the kind of literature Satō defined,”and the term detective fiction was thus employed to denote the literature of romantic rationality””

Rampo was supportive of Sato’s definition, but he was still at odds with linking Detective Fiction completely to Romanticism, and so settled for an in-between idea. But from the slight differentiation you can see at the time he still thought that a proper procedural was of paramount importance if one were to define the fiction in such a way as to be true ‘Detective Fiction’. So due to the grand floofing of these debates, I’ve decided that the best term for me to use is irregular mystery fiction, since I want the definition to be broad enough to go beyond just the grotesque erotic nature of henkaku or to be politically charged as the word inauthentic. Later we’ll see how the whole thing gets even more complicated with writers from the New Authentic School or New Orthodox School, and by then I’ll probably have given up trying to explain the semantical differences and just stuck to the formal structure of the mysteries.

So we’ve chased the idea of Henkaku around a bit, mainly focusing on the erotic-grotesque romanticist poetic aspects vs the rationalistic structurally sound aspects. Now let’s bring the I-Novel debates into the picture.

Section 2.2: What’s an ‘I’ got to do with this anyway?

The Japanese have been throwing lit-fits over this issue for ages. I won’t go into it. To make a long story short they were arguing about intensely personal First-Person novels (because stream of consciousness style First-Person narration is a really weird and pretty new thing in the less pronoun-centric Japanese language) versus descriptive and literary Third-Person novels. Obviously this carried over into the Detective Fiction debate about Authenticity and people figured you can’t have an ‘objective’ set of facts displayed in the first-person voice. If you want to know the roots of OreGairu and why so many Light Novels appear in first-person with snarky protagonists, blame the ‘I’ Novel or ‘State-of-the-mind’ Novel. (Strangely they count Dostoyevsky as on the good side, probably because he wrote beyond just a single first-person view, but I think that such a statement is just plain off)

Actually I think its a new trend in current mystery fiction, at least at its current state, but now I know its roots. I think today’s self-awareness and postmodern playing around with the mystery format has all-around deepened characterization and has led to narratives focused on the principle of ‘know thyself’ over solving any objective truths. Or rather now both go hand in hand. So you have Hyouka, which is about self-awareness but also about solving mundane everyday mysteries.

Although this was pretty brief, I think we’re quite ready to put together all the building blocks leading to Nisio Isin’s career and style as a whole.

Section 2.3 The 5 Gods of Nisio Isin

The first way to know something about a writer is to know his predecessors. Thankfully Wikipedia, quite kindly, has this quote for us:

“He said that he learned much from the novels of Kiyoshi Kasai (the author of Vampire Wars), Hiroshi MoriNatsuhiko KyogokuRyusui Seiryoin and Kouhei Kadono. He also said that the five writers were, metaphorically speaking, the God-like beings, who had shaped and molded his writing style.”

Before we go into these, lets bring together what we know about the ‘Isin-style’ (at least from Monogatari series and Katanagatari. I’ve only read the Death Note BB Murders besides these two anime, and that’s a conventional mystery story.)

Puns & Wordplay

Magic or Supernatural Phenomena based around Semantics and Etymology rather than straightforward mystery solving

Innovative and self-referential narrative structures

Mysteries or Phenomena being thematically relevant to character’s internal states (and since our thoughts and abstract moods are reflected in language, this is why words are weapons in Isin stories)

Eccentric Characters that are the farthest dramatizations and parodies of simple internal states (something Dostoyevsky also did very well)

Otaku references (mandatory of course for any prevalent writer in the subculture)

Sadly of the above 5, I can only talk about two, which is Natsuhiko Kyogoku, because I watched Moryou no Hako, and Kouhei Kadano, because I watched Boogiepop Phantom. Hiroshi Mori wrote The Perfect Insider, which is being animated with character designs by Inio Asano, so we’ll get to witness his finesse soon.

Natsuhiko Kyogoku is a member of that New Authentic School I was talking about above. New Authentic, as you can tell from the definition, was a revival of Honkaku Tantei Shosetsu to its firmest roots, that being the standard detective locked room mystery. Except now being New, they’re more complex, more playful, more metafictional, and crazier than ever before. One of the main works of the New Authentic School, Ayatsuji Yukito’s Decagon House Murders, is about an And Then There Were None style mystery taking place in a mansion where all the inhabitants are members of a Mystery Club, and everyone is named after a famous detective.

The New Authentic strains are described quite well by this mystery blog (http://ho-lingnojikenbo.blogspot.sg/):

Ubume no Natsu, together with Mori Hiroshi’s Subete ga F ni Naru – The Perfect Insider, forms the start of the so-called second wave of the Japanese New Orthodox/Authentic detective novel school by the way (Note: I normally use the term “orthodox” here, but because I mainly used “authentic” in my MA thesis, I might use both terms here at times). The New Orthodox school is both a revival, and reconstruction of the classic detective novel. Ayatsuji Yukito’s debut work Jukkakukan no Satsujin is seen as the start of the New Orthodox movement and novels of the early writers in the movement like Abiko Takemaru, Norizuki Rintarou and Arisugawa Alice all showed strong influences from classic novels, but also deconstructive and reconstructive elements to the genre (thus making it “New” Orthodox, as opposed to just a copy). The second stage of this movement however, as envisioned by genre critic/scholar Kasai Kiyoshi, represented by novels like Ubume no Natsu and Subete ga F ni Naru – The Perfect Insider on the other hand, while still more-or-less classic puzzle plots, tend to be 1) very long novels and 2) ‘a bit’ more pedantic, which explains the different fields of sciences and more information being jammed between the pages.”

So the New Authentic School followed closely the old rational structure of mostly closed room mysteries, but played around with formal experimentation. Their late strain becomes more Henkaku in that it involves specialized topics like hard science, occultism, philosophy, or youkai studies.

From the definition above, Umineko no Naku Koro Ni, and Higurashi too for that matter, would probably fall very nicely into the New Authentic School style. Umineko represents the late strain, while Higurashi represents the early strain, one being more philosophical and meta-textual, chock full of references, while the other is more straightforward despite its recurring time structure.

If you haven’t watched Moryou no Hako, you should watch it. There’s episode that is a complete etymological analysis of a certain type of Youkai essential to the plot that upon watching it you’ll see Kyogoku’s influence on Isin so clearly and plainly. Also the ending is a brilliant revelation of coincidence and psychology that would make Borges proud. (somehow the plot also reminds me of the visual novel Kara no Shoujo).

Another example of the late strain school can be seen here:

Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken takes on the form of a standard detective story, but it is never really about the murders. It is just a set-up for Norimizu Rintarou (and author Oguri Mushitarou) to hold page-long expositions and discussions about pretty much any topic, but mostly occultism, mysticism, criminology, religions, astrology, astronomy psychology, heraldry, medicine and cryptography. Mostly. Any time Norimizu sees anything, he starts rattling about how this relates to a certain book, or a certain writer, or an experiment conducted somewhere, which in turns is related to another topic and so on. The number of works referenced in Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken is easily more than two hundred, with a majority of them being obscure books on occultism. Heck, probably about 70, 80% of this book consists of just pedantic talk. It makes this novel practically unreadable, because you are confronted with a master course Occultism every two pages.”

From Kyogoku and Mushitarou, you can also see possible strands to Kinoko Nasu and his metaphysical mystery plots.

Kiyoshi Kasai, another of Isin’s gods, is also quite the pedant it seems. His largest book seems to be a 2000 page or so mystery novel about a Detective who solves things using Phenomenology (mainly of the Heideggerian variety).

The pedantism and extreme knowledge-specificity of these novels has been linked to the Otaku subculture (as in the general database or reference centric fervor filled Otaku definition, rather than the anime or idol centric Otaku definition). The flaunting of specific obscure knowledge or technical knowledge, especially with regards to weird occult stuff, requires quite a certain database hound sensibility to get by.

Kouhei Kadano, and Boogiepop Phantom in extension, falls into a different strand, being more psychological and simplistically written in nature. Less of a Detective Mystery and more of a psychological thriller, it pulls off the super-powers linked to character mental states or internal-to-external supernatural phenomena. If you could see the etymology and occult centric taste from Natsuhiko Kyogoku, this is where Isin gets his psychological drama from.

Not many people realize this, and this is a flaw from most Fantasy Writers, but magic is simply philosophical Idealism impinging on Material reality. The Internal Reflects the External. Further down the road the Internal is linked to the Transcendent. Kinoko Nasu understood this perfectly, and he made use of it by not making a cohesively ‘sciency’ magical system in the vein of Brandon Sanderson, but basing his framework on abstract Buddhist concepts with a whole lot of room for maneuver. That’s why a Nasu Magician always feels transcendent or just plain miles above even the basest human being. If you systemize magic, well, it loses what makes it magic in the first place. Likewise Bakemonogatari is an exploration, the same way Evangelion ‘explores’ internal states with alien battles.

So I think we can quite clearly see Isin’s straightforward influences, from old Authentic school crossing to New Authentic, to the otaku variant of it… and then the ‘state-of-the-mind’ variant of psychological mystery, sourced from I-novels and writers like Dostoyevsky, crossing through Kadano, into Isin’s frenetic dialogue style. But that’s on the narrative quality. In the end we still have to dissect Shaft’s visual quality.

2.4 Ero-Guro-Nansensu: The Return

“In these examples of Kyūsaku’s post-earthquake reportage, which spanned autumn 1923 to spring 1925, his usage of hentai leans toward the sexual—and therefore sensational— aspects of Tokyo culture. This is similar to the way he used hentai in “Ayakashi no tsuzumi,” but over the course of his career, there would be a subtle change in which the emphasis shifted from sexuality to psychology (from seiyoku to shinri ). Kyū saku’s writing brought questions of madness and identity to the surface, and this exerted a strong influence on the development of henkaku detective fiction. His fiction was less an account of madness or “abnormal psychology” as much as it was a look inside the hentai mind. He made frequent use of the epistolary or monologue form in order to avoid an omniscient narratorial voice. Kokyō wrote that hentai was not necessarily the same thing as illness, but it was, nevertheless, “abnormal.” Whether one’s hentai shinri manifested itself as kleptomania, paranoia, or mathematical genius, I would argue that these conditions signify that there is something in excess, and this would become a prominent feature of Kyūsaku’s henkaku literature, too.”

The above quote, from Dreams of Below, characterizes something about Yumeno Kyusaku’s fiction, has something very interesting to note about the concept of abnormality or perversion. An excess is involved in the process of any kind of Henkaku mode. Simultaneously, Shaft’s visual style has always been characterized by this mad need for excess in all aspects.

Shaft’s animation is revolutionary in the grandest sense of the word, and it has always been, and this can never be denied no matter how reactionary one is towards the content of their shows. No company has ever done the marriage of so many forms of animation, stop-motion, traditional, sometimes CGI, with an even higher variety of visual styles, ranging from sleek minimal, to high expressionist, to flowery gothic lolita, to fairy-tale like, to plain manifestations or homages to old style Ero-Guro (like countless moments from SZS). Yet while SZS was their testing-ground work, and Ef a tale of two or Hidamari Sketch still had their genre trappings of romdrama and slice-of-life respectively, the Monogatari series was the company’s full work to have a distinct set of visual codes.

The Monogatari series mainly focuses on the city. It focuses on the lines and roads, the signs and traffic stops, the classrooms and alleyways. Along with that many people have drawn up the point that the show itself is structured like a stage-play rather than a straightforward Anime narrative setting. Even Katanagatari has a greater sense of place. The city is startling and empty. Even Madoka had its primary visual conflict be between the skewed fairy-tale world of the Witches and the highly sleek Minimalist architectural style of a Modernized city. These were also the primary struggles back in the day when Japan was first dealing with the starting movements of Modernity and opening up to newer influences.

Yet, as I have said above, there is nothing more comfortable than the delivery style of Bakemonogatari. People talk. The whole anime curves around the Word. It is nothing without the Word. Either it drowns you or you think its the best feeling in the world. For that reason Shaft (and the Tatami Galaxy) are pioneers in creating this style of narrative that best unifies Image, Sound and Word, other than the strangely and wholesomely immersive form of the Visual Novel. Although countless others have arguably created better movies or shows, the form here is more or less without precedent. The most over-narrated or over-spoken movies, from Trainspotting, to City of God, to Linklater’s stuff, have yet to reach that kind of speed. I think only a 2013 movie, the Oversimplification of Her Beauty by Terence Nance, comes to that level.

And at the bottom of Shaft’s style is also the vivid movement of their characters. Like I mentioned above, beyond just normal fanservice, accentuation of the body itself. The most famous mark of their is the absurd head-tilt. But even in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, one of the early episodes (Kaere’s first episode) had the entire first part shot from a wide-view of the classroom’s front row with all the main characters of the class in sight reacting to each other with full body movements. Madoka Magica Rebellion 3 had this moment in the finale when Homura is talking, and her hands have nothing better to do than to snake around in weird patterns, as if just plainly displaying Shaft’s animation capability. That’s the sort of excesses underlying it.

At its fullest momentum, the fight scenes are animated by famous Sakuga artist Hironori Tanaka. At this state the limbs of the combatants become hyper-rubberized, and prevalent with gore and innards.

Although not always in the old poetic/gothic sense of the term, with its ridiculous fanservice, its moments of surprising bloodiness, and its pun-focused highly associative editing, the Monogatari Series does fall into the triptych structure of ‘Ero’, ‘Guro’, and ‘Nansensu’.

  1. Just a Plain Good Mystery Story

 

“But experience has taught me that travel presents nothing more than “identical objects moving in identical spaces”” (Cat Town, Hagiwara Sakutaro)

“And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic se’ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.” (20 Rules for Writing Detective Fiction, SS Van Dine)

As most people are starting to figure out, there are only so many configurations of Simple Machines, Red Herrings, Psychological Tricks, Alibi Manipulations, and Locked Room Style settings, and even that is being exhausted beyond all hope of replenishment. Even with an ingenious formal or narrative structure, as all sorts of people like the New Authentic School, to Moffat in some of his Dr Who episodes, to Christopher Nolan’s Memento… all this only goes so far as to add a few stretches more to the eventual exhaustion of your normal idea of Object-Mystery Solving. Yet Subjectivity has always been the greatest mystery of mankind. Intention-centric Mystery, Specialized-Information Mystery, Metaphysical Mystery, Anti-Mystery, and, generally, Irregular Mysteries are soon to become the only areas that have yet been touched by the coming exhaustion.

And that’s what Nisio Isin does, and is best at: The creation of wildly artificial and yet wildly imaginative Irregular Mysteries. And Shaft, the most artificially and artistically excessive animation studio out there, has got his whole supernatural vampire-monster etyomological-existential mystery series backed up with full support.

Yet on the Western side of things (or maybe its a language bias and the Japanese side is actually equally swamped), besides a small selection of Postmodern Anti-mysteries, some cyberpunk and science fiction (Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice), and some Urban Fantasy style comedy fiction (like Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, some of Pratchett’s stuff, or maybe some of Gaiman’s stuff), the market has been more or less overrun by legal dramas, crime dramas, badly written conspiracy theory plots (compare Dan Brown to Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum), and thrillers (Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc…). Even on the Television Department, the Mystery series with the most irregular tastes, Hannibal, was bogged down by such a conventional CSI style monster-of-the-week structure, which was completely distracting from the real plot. And so little out there has yet to even reach the standard of Literary Philosophical Mystery set by Dostoyevsky in The Brother’s Karamazov.

Oh the things I would give to see a great Irregular Mystery movement rise up from the ashes of the current milieu of fluff!

 

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