“You’re not happy because you’re not trying to be happy. Nobody can make someone who isn’t trying to be happy into someone that’s happy.”
-Tsubasa Hanekawa to Sodachi Oikura, Owarimonogatari, Episode 5
Had this line been spoken by anyone but Tsubasa Hanekawa, it would have rightfully been dismissed as a treacly platitude, meant to prod the recipient into action. Instead, it acts as a powerful summation of all that Hanekawa has gone through in search of her own happiness and self-acceptance. Hanekawa was in Sodachi Oikura’s figurative shoes not long ago, and remembers all too well how she blocked out vital parts of herself in pursuit of perfection rather than addressing her innermost desires and seeking out personal contentment.
Owarimonogatari‘s Sodachi Oikura offers not only a reminder of the Hanekawa of Nekomonogataris past, but additionally provides a mystery on which the new, self-assured Hanekawa can cut her teeth.
“Nobody can help you with that. Nobody can rescue you. Because it’s a problem you, yourself, have.”
-Izuko Gaen to Tsubasa Hanekawa, Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Episode 4
When at a loss for how to approach a tiger oddity in Nekomonogatari: Shiro, Hanekawa receives similar advice from Izuko Gaen that she later dispenses to Sodachi Oikura – no one is going to help you unless you help yourself first. Furthermore, Hanekawa is almost basking in her lack of awareness while refusing to admit that there is a myriad of things that she doesn’t know. Gaen shoves Hanekawa’s playful catchphrase – “I don’t know everything, I just know what I know” – back in her face, confidently saying that Hanekawa knows nothing while she, Gaen, knows everything. Previously, Hanekawa’s slogan had hinted at the fact that Hanekawa always knew more than she let on; however, Gaen gleefully stomps on this, forcing Hanekawa to confront and rectify her own ignorance.
In the vast majority of cases – without the same, oft-surprising amount of nuance provided by the Monogatari series overall – this would devolve into victim-blaming. As it stands, Hanekawa and Oikura share similarly awful upbringings through absolutely no fault of their own. Hanekawa spawns oddities to maintain an image of perfection, firmly keeping everyone at arm’s length, while Oikura blocks out everything, falling further and further into an isolated depression. Emerging from her shell as an actual person with flaws, rather than a paragon to be placed upon a pedestal, Hanekawa pens a heartfelt letter to her other half – Black Hanekawa – acknowledging the worst parts of herself. Hanekawa also leaves town to travel, think, and unearth the emotional bits and pieces that she had previously kept locked up, away from the world.
When Hanekawa is shown later in Koimonogatari, she is far more confident and assured, with a similar manner to Gaen. In the time that has passed – provided one is watching the series in its originally aired order – Hanekawa has remained out of sight, with the foremost of her problems solved in Monogatari Second Season‘s first narrative arc.
As the stories of Shinobu, Mayoi Hachikuji, Nadeko Sengoku, and lastly Hitagi Senjougahara are addressed, Hanekawa has broadened her horizons off-screen and appears as an entirely different person by the time of Koimonogatari. Where Hanekawa previously would have played at being the smartest person in the room, in Koimonogatari she simply allows Deishuu Kaiki to speak and ask questions, immediately putting him ill at ease. Come the time for her infamous catchphrase, it now sounds as if Hanekawa is genuinely admitting that she doesn’t know everything, all while having the mystery of Kaiki completely solved.
New Hanekawa is genuine, poised, and self-assured to the point where she sets those in her vicinity on edge – reminiscent of how Gaen thoroughly decimated her in their previous conversation. However, until Owarimonogatari, the anime audience had no knowledge of how Hanekawa evolved. Thanks to her recent interactions with Sodachi Oikura and Ougi Oshino in Owarimonogatari, the Monogatari viewing audience is able to pull back the proverbial curtain surrounding Hanekawa’s character development.
In solving the mystery of Oikura’s missing mother, Hanekawa shows bits and pieces of her new self without the same refinement of the Tsubasa Hanekawa who appears later in Koimonogatari. When pushed by Ougi, she washes out her hair dye, reveals her tiger-striped hair, and shakily steps into her new role: one willing to take the best with the very worst. However her confidence while in said role is still not all there, leaving her presence to act as a buffer between the bluntness of Ougi Oshino and the truth of the disappearance of Sodachi Oikura’s mother. Oikura is someone with whom Hanekawa resonates with strongly, and whose feelings she desires to protect – perhaps a bit too much – until Oikura can figure it out on her own.
Most notably in Owarimonogatari, she’s at odds with Ougi Oshino not because she feels personally threatened by her, but due to a sense of uneasiness around Ougi’s being. If the theory that Ougi is actually Koyomi Araragi himself is correct, Hanekawa seemingly has already sniffed out the truth of Ougi, evidenced by the stilted nature of her parting words to Araragi when he asks her to tell Meme Oshino about his “niece.” Sensing Araragi’s own discomfort around Ougi, Hanekawa is unsure as to how to proceed in Ougi’s company recognizing that she, Hanekawa, is the better choice to accompany Araragi to Oikura’s apartment even if she hasn’t fully realized why.
“Someone saying that they are happy doesn’t necessarily mean that they are happy, right?”
-Tsubasa Hanekawa to Deishuu Kaiki, Koimonogatari, Episode 5
Through her interactions with Ougi – in addition to her words to Oikura regarding happiness – Owarimonogatari reveals a glimpse of what later becomes Hanekawa’s thought processes. While her conversations don’t flow as smoothly as they do later in Koimonogatari, Hanekawa is already a force to be reckoned with when she sheds her public persona, able to offer sage advice while still recognizing when one has to solve their own problems first. After all, saying one is happy doesn’t make the speaker happy unless they’re willing to face their inner demons, just as saying that one only knows “what they know” means nothing if they won’t first recognize their own ignorance.