Unstaple My Heart: Embracing Heavy Omoi (思い) in Bakemonogatari

October 5, 2009


Many will claim that Akiyuki Shinbo’s erratic visuals are pointlessly random. If you have read my previous articles on the art and animation of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Maria+Holic, then you know where I stand. What fascinates me the most in Shinbo’s Bakemonogatari is his choice of materiality and form in the rendering of background art, and how they may be thematically related to the lightness and heaviness of the show.

Before I go on, allow me to introduce you to several luminous artworks from an artist named Nils-R Schultze.


Now I’m not saying Shinbo was influenced by Neil. What I want to illustrate here is the lightness (as in lack of weight, not brightness of light) of objects and spaces illuminated by lighting. What you see here can be described as floating clouds of light, changing the heavy and stagnant urban areas of Berlin into light and inviting environment. It forms interesting shade of saturation level, mostly lying on the very low end of the spectrum. See how weightless the Dior building looks compared to its neighbouring building at night below.


Aside from lighting, another point I want to draw your attention to the above building is its light-weight framed structure. In architecture there is an intriguingly contrasting quality between light (usually framed) and heavy (usually masonry) structures. To achieve lightness, we usually use strong (yet light) columns and beams put together to form frames, where we can then accomplish spacious open floor plan, as well as large outside window spaces for transparency. In contrast there are heavy buildings like the one you see above (left).


Keeping those in mind, I think the phrase ‘lightly framed’ can be used to describe the form (shape) and materiality (colours, textures making up the form) of the background art in Bakemonogatari. You may notice that there are many staple-like structures and objects framing over/enclosing the movement of characters. You may also notice how the saturation of colours making up the background have gradual change (as if illuminated by something), while most of them having very low saturation level, without the presence of any black outlines defining different colours. Especially in the design of settings like the school’s interior, playground, the road outside the car driven by Senjougahara’s father, Kanbaru’s home as well as places he fights her demon paw.


So what do they mean? Or if you’ve read my article on cruel anime II, infinitely better question would be what do we sense from such designs? It is from sense in which we derive our own meaning and interpretation.

What I sensed was an interesting interplay of lightness and heaviness. While there are moments of comedy and lightness like the ones above (like when Senjougahara was teasing Araragi early in the playground, or when Araragi is walking through the forest with Kanbaru), most of the scenes you see below would be moments of uneasiness and tension. Although steel framed structures are commonly used to achieve lightness, some architects have chosen to use much heavier steel columns positioned closer than needed in order to create more intimacy, awareness and dominance. If you look closely, you might find that there are a lot more ‘frames’, which are positioned lot closer than really needed. The effect is that most of these scenes reflect the inner psyche of characters, and they are projected externally for us to perceive as sensations of uneasiness, amplified by Shinbo’s quirky use of ‘cut-cut’ animation and disorienting BGM. It’s interesting how the frames that are used to create open space in real life enclose the characters and environment almost like a prison.


And of course, when we see characters forced to move rapidly through these array of frames, what we sense is total chaos and confusion, like when Araragi is fighting against Kanbaru’s demon, or when Senjougahara ‘tortures’ him inside the car.



Could there be a pattern we can find in each mini stories? From lightness->uneasiness->chaos->fulfilment. What we basically have are characters who suppressed their feelings and became ‘lighter’ of the burden of facing themselves. But doing so won’t solve the problem. Uneasiness of your regret will continue, just as in Mononoke, where our ghosts of the past will continue to haunt us til we confront it and exorcise it. It may be hard and confusing when we do face it, when we draw out our buried emotions to the surface. Burst into tears even. So reach out for those hands that will be there for you. After that, you may now have to carry that burden. Of knowing the cruel past. Of realising that you can’t pretend to have forgotten about the rejection of the one you loved. Carry that burden and move on. No longer lost in maze or possessed by your selfish fears. Unstaple that light emptiness imprisoning you and strive towards that heavy fulfilment.




Miscellaneous comments and shameless plug further readings

#I appreciate deriving meaning from sense, rather than through symbolic representation, which you can read about here.

#I hate Shinbo for royally screwing up the production value in key areas. Especially episode 10. That was horribly animated and it shows. However, cost-cutting animation techniques can be very effective when utilised well (i.e. Maria+Holic), which you can read more about here.

#Here Shinbo has used ligthness and frames to structure his visual aesthetics. You can read about how Shinbo used the setting of traditional/contemporary Japanese time as his visual canvas of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei here.

#It’s not that I dislike harem and fanservice. Some girls and fanservice I just click with. Good examples would be Zetsubou Sensei, Code Geass, FLCL and Minami-ke. Bad examples would be something like Idolmaster Xenoglossia or Zero no Tsukaima. I’d say Bakemonogatari has been a mix of both, but I like it. Anyway, you can read more about the kind of fanservice I appreciate the most here.

#Like Martin said before (I love Sumire from Sputnik too btw…), Senjougahara is a fascinating character and has been characterised very meticulously. A post on her and other characterisations to follow in future.

#Of course, if you are following Bakemonogatari and this blog, then you probably have read ghostlighning’s informative episodic posts.



20 Responses to “Unstaple My Heart: Embracing Heavy Omoi (思い) in Bakemonogatari”

  1. B A D A S S

    Favorite post of the year so far. Jesus Minci I’m gay4u.

  2. usagijen Says:

    forgive me for spewing this totally random comment (on this awesome post no less), but I just have to say… gawd these guys who are gay for you gaguri >_< you SHOULD join the Google Reader Shared Items bandwagon and see your ever-so-speechless fanboys, MUST SEE.

  3. usagijen Says:

    oh, and speaking of which, I also find it interesting that ‘omoi’ in Japanese could either be 思い(feelings) or 重い(heavy). Doesn’t seem like a mere coincidence, isn’t it?

  4. Panther Says:

    Nice post, though I noticed the backgrounds and how they played out, the interplay of the lightness and heaviness and what they represent eluded me. Your post gave a great possible explanation.

  5. Ignore those spineless cowards. I confessed first.

  6. gaguri Says:


    Wow I don’t even know if I have favourite article of any sort of the year. Many thanks =D


    Haha, I have fanboys? Speaking of which, I recently had a director of an animation link to my article and said he was impressed and flattered, something I NEVER thought would happen. I’m just glad he didn’t think I was being pretentious and overanalysing to my heart’s content. Not going to link to his blog or mention the animation, but you are free to link and show me those fanboy comments, haha.

    And the anime pretty much spelled out the difference between the two omois, so I think it’s safe to assume they’re not coincidence =)


    I think it’s nice that you noticed it, and I dare say many people did as well, just wasn’t bothered to perhaps articulate into words, which itself is imo less important than sensing and feeling it as an experience. That’s why we watch anime right?

  7. kadian1364 Says:

    I like reading your posts (when you write about things I’ve actually seen that is :\ ) because you approach anime from a wildly different perspective than I do, and often see things I don’t. I’m a guy that focuses on characters, dialogue, and music, but your fresh perspective on visual aesthetics makes my mind turn in different ways. The big point is that you’re not pretentious about it because there’s validity in what you say when I look at things your way.

    Take this post for example. When Bakemonogatari goes wild with visuals, its confusing and turns into sheer noise to me. Now, while I still don’t think Shinbo crafted every scene with as much sense or meaning as you might like to believe, at least now I’ve got a better idea of how backgrounds and scenery might be interpreted. Your sense of architecture, like in your Utena post, adds new things for a Joe Otaku like me to chew on.

  8. Martin Says:

    Wow, I’m glad you got around to talking about this. TBH I missed quite a lot of what you outline here (have to agree with what Kadian says above), partly because I’m so enamoured by the dialogue and whatnot.

    That said, what you set out here makes sense: I loved that DNA helix-style staircase where Koyomi and Hitagi first meet…so beautiful, yet so fragile and full of a sense of ‘barely there’. An appropriate way to introduce her I suppose.

    The inescapable or repetitive nature of, say, those streetlights or the gridlike streets of the Lost Snail arc really do convey the repective sensations of confinement and disorientation.

    I’ve always thought Shinbo has very firm reasons for the peculiar stylistic choices he makes – he’s of the Anno school in my eyes, but I don’t think anyone has such a command of geometry and colour. Ryutaro Nakamura makes excellent use of light and shadow, but Shinbo is even more distinctive. The only problem I experience is that he’s *so* different, I need to mentally prepare myself for it!

    But eh, I’m all the more inclined to rewatch Bakemonogatari now.

  9. I rewatched Bakemonogatari and still missed all of this… In my post writing I must have watched every episode at least thrice.

    I continue to fail at Bakemonogatari.


  10. gaguri Says:


    Believe me, I don’t think he crafted every single scene with that much meticulous care, far from it. It’s not as well polished I guess (probably mostly due to budge issue, which is oh so evident in many scenes)but the creativity is there imo. And glad to hear you liked that Utena post, that’s probably one of my favourite posts too =D


    I think dialogue is what most people were engaged with, and background was more of…’background’ (lol), so its effect operated in less noticable manner. I too highly rate Shinbo’s style, it’s a pleasure and refreshing to see some moe/fanservice mixed in with innovative visual creativity.

    Although my favourite work from him still has to be Le Portraite de Petite Cossette. I wonder when he’ll return to doing more poetic and serious works like that (not saying Bakemonogatari isn’t serious but…you get what I mean), but it seems like he found a great demand for his works. Not sure if he even wants to return to more serious works, I think he very much enjoys more otaku-oriented shows I guess.

  11. […] a flat-out reference. However, this reference evokes the correct representation (consider in contrast to sense) in addition to its added levity in a genuinely serious moment; it links three conflicting […]

  12. 2DT Says:

    Interesting and informative. I was vaguely aware that architecture plays with principles like this, but to see it reflected in Bakemonogatari is pretty brilliant. Plus, as much as I like your other stuff, I’m happy that you’re making a return to anime posts. Now I want to be a stalker and see what Shinbo studied in college.

  13. gaguri Says:

    Haha, I don’t think Shinbo had to study architecture to know how to structure his screens with light frames. In fact, one of the greatest architects of our time (Tadao Ando) used to be a trucker and gained his knowledge by travelling around, not formally studying it. Like ‘the secret of kells’ says, the truth is out in the forest (or art/architecture magazines, lol).

  14. elianthos Says:

    Excellent post, as usual 🙂 .
    I’m a bit baffled by people who either fanboy/fangirl this series acritically, as well as by people who just dismiss this as just another harem (it’s not. Unless you count Haruhi as an harem too. It’s a show that cleverly plays with tropes. There’s arguably a harem template going, but the actual content is not 😉 ) with cheap photoshopped backgrounds ;_; .
    Brownie points to you for analysing those oh-so-fantastic backgrounds and colour schemes.
    And I’m with you on the fanservice issue too.
    I’m no harem and fanservice fan. I wish there was some less of it in this series, actually (the Nadeko one, combined with a weaker story arc presentation, was pushing my tolerance :/ ), but most of it I quite liked. The pantyshot of Hanekawa was so bold right there at the beginning, it made me giggle :D. And Senjougahara can afford (for the most part) going around und(erd)ressed, she’s got enough brain and tongue to back it up XD.
    Background-wise – from a merely aesthetic pov- my favourite episodes are #1 and #3 . I just dig spirals and grayscale vs bright colours 🙂 .

  15. gaguri Says:

    I guess it depends what you would label as harem, but I can see why people are calling it that, I mean all the girls are in love with the typically loser male character for a silly reason like ‘hes so nice, he wants to help everyone!’. But I think Bakemonogatari manages to exceed that confined harem template, so it’s all good. As for backgrounds, those are probably my favourites too. The stairs and interiors at the beginning especially were rendered with sooooo much care, shame we didn’t get to see more of that much attention later (probably because of budget).

  16. […] has already spoken at length about the role of style in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, as well as in Bakemonogatari, and his insights illustrate a good point – in animation the artifice is front and centre. […]

  17. Jack Says:

    Even though this post is over a year old, it’s articles like this one (and Ghostlightning’s) that made me want to do a slightly closer examination of the show.

    Some of my rough thoughts can be found here :

  18. gaguri Says:

    Hey you started a blog 😀

    And very intensive dissection of episode one there. You’re right in that Shinbo’s style employs calculating camera angles, close ups, lighting and even framing of shots behind things like ‘stapled fence’, it’s very engaging.

  19. Jack Says:

    I suppose I didn’t really find anything that wasn’t already clear to most viewers.

    I just found it necessary to write something as a response to the arguments that Shinbo just randomly juxtaposes images and pulls of flashy camera work for no reason.

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