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.