Welcome to the first installment of my arc-by-arc analysis of the Monogatari series! Thank you for joining me on this journey. This project is intended to be a companion piece to the series, progressing in tandem with instead of in retrospect of it. Due to this I’ll be keeping spoilers past the current arc to a minimum. Feel free to watch it alongside reading these dissections.
So without further ado, I present to you the first arc of Bakemonogatari: Hitagi Crab.
And so Monogatari begins. A winding story of oddities and the people possessed by them. A tale spun through mountains of symbolic dialogue and stylistic visuals. A journey that is as unapologetic as it is layered (and often misunderstood because of it).
More precisely, this is Bakemonogatari, the first in a span of series that make up the Monogatari franchise. It’s not the chronological start of the story but rather the logical one, establishing the tone and cast of characters we’ll be following throughout its run.
We begin with Hitagi Crab, discovering what it truly means to be weightless.
Cancer the Crab
Hitagi Senjougahara is emotionally repressed of her own volition. Due to an attempted rape by a member of her mother’s cult between middle and high school she became possessed by a “Heavy Stone Crab,” a god that steals its victim’s weight. This happens on both a literal and metaphorical level, the latter coming in multiple forms.
The obvious metaphor is presented in plain sight by the series: Hitagi’s weight equates to her emotional burden. By not confronting it she’s able to feign contentedness but it’ll always hang over her, it’ll always be present. This is shown in how Hitagi still maintains 5kg of her weight. She can never get rid of all her troubles no matter how much she forcefully disregards them. It’s as oddity-exorcising expert Meme Oshino says: Hitagi can only free herself from the crab’s grasping claws if she braves her fears head-on… sort of. Meme didn’t account for Koyomi Araragi.
Koyomi is the key to Hitagi’s mending process; he’s there for her every step of the way like nobody else had been. In the time since she was nearly raped she protected herself by building impenetrable walls around her. We’re talking walls so thick that Koyomi had never interacted with her before despite the two being in the same class for three consecutive years. With newfound resolve he goes full Gorbachev and tears down those walls by reminding her of the healing qualities friendship has, namely that by confiding in others you don’t need to shoulder all the burden by yourself. This is why once she proclaims Koyomi to be her friend at the end of the arc her physical weight is added to his own (although this is entirely flavor, a continuation of the metaphor; don’t expect the series to address this again).
So, why make Hitagi’s oddity a crab? The answer is steeped in a less obvious metaphor that requires some setup.
Hitagi Crab is very much a story about the namesake character breaking away from her archetype. Initially she’s what Koyomi coins to be a “tsundra,” a term that from my research seems to be created by and used exclusively in this series (and at that only in this instance). As such there’s debate over the origins of the term with some fans arguing it’s a play on “tundra” while others believing it to be a combination of “tsun” and “dragon”. Regardless, the intended meaning is a character that’s hostile both inwardly and outwardly, a good description for Hitagi when we first meet her.
Through Koyomi’s aforementioned friendship the “dere” (feeling of love) inside of her is unlocked. She becomes a tsundere, still deflective of her emotions but with a newfound warmness beginning to shine through. When she later crushes the crab god by foot like Hercules did in Greek mythology she frees herself from the constraints of archetypes entirely. The significance of this is that the crab is the physical embodiment of a tsundere with its hard shell and soft inside.
Hitagi’s birthday is July 7th, making her astrological sign Cancer (it should come as no surprise that Cancer too is depicted by a crab). The traits of the sign can be seen as incredibly tsundere: the “tsun” being tendencies towards moodiness, insecurity and suspicion while the “dere” is represented by loyalty and emotionality. Hitagi is unlike many other Monogatari characters in that she has a defined birthday which makes author Nisio Isin’s intentions in using the crab even clearer.
We shouldn’t discount the literal idea of weight loss either. In the first episode there’s a seemingly offhand line from Koyomi’s best friend Tsubasa Hanekawa about how Hitagi is much more attractive now than she was in middle school. Given that the crab possessed her in the transition between middle and high school it can be interpreted that Hitagi’s perceived increase in beauty is in direct correlation to her weight loss. Yet this is strange as by all accounts the loss of weight doesn’t manifest itself in her appearance. Perhaps the real meaning behind Hanekawa’s comment is that society derives beauty in people we can admire from a distance without the baggage that comes along with emotional involvement. Hitagi’s transition from an athletic and social middle schooler to a high schooler that lives in seclusion only served to made her more enviable; she became a flawless object of envy to her beholders.
Later in the first episode, Meme states that the crab can take the form of a rabbit or beautiful woman outside of Japan. This represents the insider-outsider dichotomy that Hitagi personifies: the crab form of the aberration is withholding her status as a member of Japanese society and until she faces it she’ll be viewed as an outsider, only a beautiful woman.
Fanservice Is Not Fanservice
Consider this my mission statement for the entire Monogatari series: the so-called fanservice always serves a purpose. It’s the most misunderstood aspect of the franchise, often pointed to by its decriers as the reason they dislike the series. What they fail to understand is that Monogatari is all about the exploration of sex, sexuality and everything that comes along with it. It posits that our base instincts are the key to everything we say, think, feel and do.
The big “fanservice” scene in Hitagi Crab revolves around Hitagi and Koyomi preparing for the exorcism. We begin with Hitagi showering.
Hitagi’s arms cover her breasts as she recounts her misfortunes through voiceover. It’s supplemental imagery that gives us a peak “behind the curtain,” showing us that she’s only been using a standoffish personality to cover up how scared she is. Only by showing Hitagi through the vulnerability of nakedness can we see this side of her. It’s also worth noting that the water droplets reflect her upside-down as if she’s sinking…
…which you can see more clearly here.
Next, this screencap is a great example of the double entendre that seeps through Monogatari’s every pore. The context of this dialogue is Hitagi talking about her dad yet the animation shows Koyomi. By bringing him into her most personal of spaces she’s clearly put a lot of trust in him, even equal to her trusted family member.
The scene continues with Hitagi dressing in front of Koyomi much to his abashment. Her personality spins right back to curt and controlling the moment she exits the shower, overcompensating more than usual due to her vulnerable state. It ends up working because her innate sexuality has a grip over the embarrassed and sexually immature Koyomi. However, she too shows her own sexual immaturity by looking to Koyomi for validation of her beauty, asking that he compliment her body. Her facade breaks for a fleeting moment when he doesn’t immediately respond. These two are more similar than they know, even if they’re yet to fully realize it.
This scene which is often written off as dumb fanservice does more to develop the characters and their relationship than any other scene in the arc. This is a trend we’ll continue to see throughout the series.
One of the hallmarks of the Monogatari series are its arc-specific openings, each sung by their respective focal character. In this case we have Hitagi’s “Staple Stable,” a song echoing the friendship she finds within Koyomi. The title itself holds a lot of significance in that Hitagi has stapled herself together like patchwork in order to maintain stability.
Speaking of staplers, school supplies play a large role in Hitagi Crab. They come to represent Hitagi’s defense mechanism as she uses them to fend off Koyomi after overhearing him discuss her with Tsubasa. She literally staples his mouth, symbolic for trying to keep him from spreading rumors that would put a spotlight on her. By the same token Hitagi must drop her defenses before meeting with Meme, handing her bucket load of supplies over to Koyomi in her first act of trust towards him.
Repression Through Religion
That the crab is not just an oddity but also a god is important in understanding what the arc has to say about giving oneself to a religion or ideology as a coping mechanism. When Hitagi’s mother does this in response to a severe illness Hitagi suffered from as a child it only leads to the ruination of her and her family’s lives. Her emotional investment in the cult creates a power imbalance where she simply can’t cope without it. She’s lost to it forever.
In this flashback, Hitagi’s mother can do nothing but pray as she watches her daughter nearly get raped. She has no other way to deal with difficult situations.
This is why praying to the crab god as Meme suggests fails. The series posits that prayer only serves as another method of rejecting one’s burden and that you instead need to face them head-on.
The Hand Speaks
One of the cool visual storytelling techniques used by director Akiyuki Shinbo in Hitagi Crab is to show hands from a first-person perspective in relation to another character. Here are two examples:
Koyomi’s pen breaks his eye contact with Tsubasa as they talk about Hitagi. He’s in his own world, thinking about this mysterious girl that has only ever existed to him in body up until this point (much to Tsubasa’s chagrin as we’ll find out in future arcs).
Here, Meme’s hands are placed in the foreground over Hitagi’s breasts as he tells her he’ll give her a discount on his exorcism services. We all know his reasoning without any character having to say it outright because the visual speaks for itself.
Next Time on Monogatari…
Phew, and all that was only two episodes! Next time we’ll dive into Mayoi Snail where our leads grow closer and we meet a fifth grader with a surprising past. Read it here.
See you then and as always thanks for reading!