Relatively early in the movie Mean Girls, Regina George claims that she will help the then-hapless Cady Heron snag her dream date: Regina’s former boyfriend Aaron Samuels. At a Halloween party, Cady watches as Aaron and Regina talk, eagerly trusting her new friend Regina.
“How could Janis hate Regina? She was such a good– SLUT!?”
Cady’s inner monologue devolves into a screeched slur as the friend whom she had trusted leans in to kiss the object of her affection. For Cady, this is a major step in her transformation from unsocialized homeschooled child to manipulative school idol. Mean Girls rings true in a myriad of ways. The manner in which girls are taught to both preen and fight for male attention is only one of the movie’s focal points, but it’s an important one.
Keeping this in mind, let’s turn our attention to the world of Bakemonogatari. More specifically, Nekomonogatari: Shiro.
Tsubasa Hanekawa and Hitagi Senjougahara love the same person: Koyomi Araragi. Naturally, this pits them against one another, both within the series and in the keen eyes of viewers looking pair Araragi off with their favorite girl. Much of Sengoku Nadeko’s narrative is focused on the similar societal trappings of her feelings towards Araragi, but in Nekomonogatari: Shiro – which wraps up a large piece of Hanekawa’s story – the audience observes a genuine attempt at friendship between Hanekawa and Senjougahara.
While one could make the case that all Monogatari women are vying for Araragi’s affection, Hanekawa’s case is unique in that – prior to his meeting and subsequent romantic relationship with Senjougahara – Araragi was attracted to Hanekawa at one time. This makes Hanekawa a far more dangerous, for lack of a better word, threat to Senjougahara and her relationship with Araragi.
Yet, in Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Hanekawa serves as a vessel for Senjougahara to fill with the latter’s newly-discovered feelings. While Senjougahara had shown emotional development at Araragi’s side in both Bakemonogatari and Nisemonogatari, her treatment of Hanekawa in Nekomonogatari: Shiro does far more in proving how much she has matured.
Fanservice is abundant throughout Monogatari, and Nekomonogatari: Shiro is no exception. In fact, it contains – depending on how one personally feels about oral hygiene – the most sensual scene in the franchise to date: a romp in the shower between Hanekawa and Senjougahara.
When naked women start feeling each other up in anime’s endless parade of bath, beach, pool, and hot springs episodes they inevitably begin to compare their assets to one another, always finding themselves lacking.
There is a scene in Mean Girls where the school’s popular trio look in a mirror together and each find a pointed insult aimed at a personal physical feature. When they turn to Cady, expecting her to follow their lead, the confused girl responds that she has really bad breath in the morning. It’s an insult that doesn’t fit the mold for a few reasons – it’s universal and not specific to Cady, and it’s not an outward physical attribute on which she will be judged.
Mean Girls is meant for a North American female audience and as such creates a scene that, when removed from the context of one’s self – the target viewing audience watching the characters do something that they do themselves on a daily basis – looks very silly. These are four beautiful young women who shouldn’t be spending their free time denigrating their respective appearances.
Anime, overwhelmingly aimed at the Japanese male viewer, is far more concerned with girls comparing themselves to each other for that specific audience.
“Thinking of the sheer weight of everything she’s overcome recently, I feel miserable about myself because, in the end, I haven’t overcome a thing despite having a similar experiences. That’s right, I have not overcome one thing. Despite the commotion during Golden Week and the day before the arts festival, I have not matured. I have not changed. That’s why I envied Senjougahara so, and loved her so. I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. I honestly thought that.”
– Tsubasa Hanekawa on Hitagi Senjougahara, Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Episode 2
Where Hanekawa finds herself lacking is not in bust size, nor hips, waist size, or any physical attribute. The scene is not accompanied by the traditional lack of consent and forced sizing up, so to speak. As the two young women explore each other for their own – and obviously the viewing audience’s – arousal, Hanekawa finds herself lacking is in maturity or temperament. Recognizing that Senjougahara cares about her as a friend, Hanekawa acknowledges how difficult it must have been for Senjougahara to trust other people, especially when Hanekawa herself trusts no one.
As a private place, Senjougahara’s shower sets a far more homey scene than the average bath or hot springs. It calls to mind her first shower within the scope of the viewing audience in Bakemonogatari‘s second episode. Then, Araragi is forced to wait for her. In Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Hanekawa is expressly invited to join Senjougahara in an intimate setting, another reflection of how far she has come since the days of Hitagi Crab. Conversely, Hanekawa has barely advanced emotionally, eschewing her internal stress, bitterness, and jealousy into two oddities: the cat and the tiger.
At the start of Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Hanekawa can’t be true friends with Senjougahara, regardless of how often the latter reaches out. It would be a false friendship built on their mutual love of Araragi – which naturally pits them against one another anyway – and proximity. When Senjougahara extends her hand to Black Hanekawa, accepting the consequences of the cat’s energy drain, she additionally acts as a catalyst for Hanekawa to acknowledge and understand herself.
“But I think something’s wrong with living like that, Hanekawa. It’s not something limited to your eating habits. You know, you always accept anything and everything as it comes your way. To have something you detest is about as important as having something you love. Yet you accept everything that comes your way, right? That may be the case with me, and that may also be the case with Araragi.”
– Hitagi Senjougahara to Tsubasa Hanekawa, Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Episode 2
This is furthered in a conversation sparked by the plain food that Hanekawa serves to Senjougahara. Senjougahara ends up challenging Hanekawa to truly examine her feelings. If all food is the same to Hanekawa, she may as well not have a sense of taste. Similarly, if all people are the same to Hanekawa – which they are for as long as she refuses to welcome the darker parts of herself – she may not love Araragi after all, and additionally, Hanekawa will remain unable to receive Senjougahara’s friendship. This angers Senjougahara, who cares for Hanekawa but knows that nothing will change until Hanekawa accepts all of herself.
“Finally I get an answer, and finally I can be sad.”
– Tsubasa Hanekawa, Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Episode 5
Hanekawa eventually grows to accept herself by Nekomonogatari: Shiro‘s conclusion. This leads to her confession to and subsequent rejection from Araragi. At the time of airing, many took issue with Araragi’s sudden romance novel cover appearance to save the day. However, the first person that Hanekawa cries out to for help is not Araragi, nor is it Senjougahara. It’s Black Hanekawa, an embodiment of her own negative feelings and stress. Araragi appears almost as a stage prop so Hanekawa can admit her feelings and move forward.
A major catalyst for Hanekawa in her long journey of self discovery was the intimacy she experienced from Senjougahara. In a situation where the two would typically be pitted against each other, Senjougahara reaches out instead, gently pushing Hanekawa forward.