The Consequence of Sound — Kizumonogatari

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2:24.

This is the exact amount of time that the opening moments of the first episode of Bakemonogatari goes without lead Koyomi Araragi speaking a word.

“A better decision than dodging, wasn’t it?”

The first words out of Hiroshi Kamiya’s mouth as Araragi form this question, followed by an immediate and unsure retraction that devolves into a constant stream of Araragi’s innermost thoughts.

Upon revisiting the first episode of the series — going by initial airdate, not chronology or any other measurement — I was shocked to find that he went this long without speaking. Araragi’s voice is synonymous with the Monogatari franchise at this point. His monologues long-winded, his conversations unnaturally verbose — Kamiya’s specific Araragi tone is etched in every viewer’s mind who has watched Bakemonogatari or other parts of the series. When I picked up the Kizumonogatari novel, I somehow heard Kamiya’s voice in my head, despite reading it in English, not Japanese.

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The televised anime adaptation of Bakemonogatari and its first movie prequel, Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu, begin with the same exact scene — the former with a recounting of the event in a flashback and the latter with the entirety of the event told in the present — Araragi’s accidental and surprisingly long look at Tsubasa Hanekawa’s panties thanks to a fortuitous gust of wind.

In the translated English novel of Kizumonogatari, approximately four pages are spent on this monumental event in Araragi’s life. Every detail is catalogued and expounded upon despite no actual spoken words. The books, and the vast majority of the Monogatari anime — a few narrative arcs in Second Season aside — are all told specifically from Araragi’s perspective. As readers or viewers of either the anime or light novels, we are privy to Araragi’s every thought.

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The Kizumonogatari movie takes a long 8:16 before a character speaks. It’s Hanekawa’s hesitant “Ummm” followed by Araragi’s “I didn’t see anything!” response — the latter of which is obviously a lie. Fast-paced dialogue is a hallmark of the Monogatari series, and this stunted conversation between Hanekawa and Araragi stands out because of this. Not only does Kizumonogatari take nearly eight and a half minutes for a character to speak, but it’s not the self-important, droll tone of Araragi’s inner voice that has become the Monogatari standard.

While Araragi is indubitably the protagonist of the Kizumonogatari movie, the movie refuses to fully allow us access to his mind at any point — marking the first anime adaptation of a Monogatari arc that centers around Araragi to do so. Everything is told through dialogue between characters and breathtaking visuals. We’re left to guess as to what Araragi is thinking at any given time.

This was the best choice that Tatsuya Oishi made in his direction of the film.

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Readers of the light novel can easily fill in the blanks. One could easily make the argument that Oishi is expecting you to, that he made this movie with that in mind. Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu is steeped in Araragi’s self-loathing, despite the absence of any of the novel’s lengthy mental musings. His sexual frustration depicted as a train, his exasperated glance when he notices Hanekawa’s number as a contact in his cell phone, despite just having given in to his more carnal desires — there are a myriad of small moments throughout the film that convey his confused mental state without having to hear Araragi dramatically declare it to himself in his mind.

Filling the void left by the absence of Araragi’s famous monologues is fantastic sound direction that includes a jazzy soundtrack and audible shortcuts that once again let us peer into the mind of Araragi without ever having to listen to his voice. Araragi is driven to follow a trail of blood into the subway, egged on by repeated bursts of “SOS” in morse code, representing his inexplicable desire to find the blood’s source. Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade’s cries that she doesn’t want to die transform into the wailings of a newborn to Araragi’s ears. Araragi’s gasps are echoed by the sounds of steam expelled by nearby chemical plants as the warning klaxons of a railroad crossing fill the air while he’s being surrounded by vampire hunters.

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Monogatari has always had visual focus — absence of actual animation aside — but rarely is the visual direction given the room to breathe as it is in the first Kizumonogatari film. The familiar structures of Naoetsu High School, the cram school, the Araragi family home, the North Shirahebi Shrine are constants throughout the series and undergo convenient transformations to accompany Araragi’s monologues. The visuals across various parts of the anime series are always in service of Araragi and by extension, Nisio Isin’s writing.

Kizumonogatari removes this, and the visuals become our only window into the thoughts of not only Araragi, but the vampire Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade. We are left in the dark — compared to the guiding hand that the rest of the Monogatari series gives us, either through Nisio Isin’s words, or Araragi’s expository reflection — just as Araragi is in the dark. Where the book offers an Araragi thinking back after the fact, the Kizumonogatari movie dumps both Araragi and us in the thick of things and forces us to take in all of the events as they come.

One comment

  1. I’m not entirely sure I love this movie yet. I understand what it was trying to do with the lack of dialogue, and the visuals to some extent, but given how much of my enjoyment of this series is because of the dialogue, I sort of just wish they had kept it. I was actually really looking forward to hearing Kamiya Hiroshi quote that lengthy description of meeting Hanekawa, as well as a few other really notable parts of the book. I also think the lack of dialogue seriously hurts its accessibility to new fans. I was going to recommend this as an entry point after reading the novel, but the way the film is presented would make it hard for anyone who isn’t already pretty deeply familiar with the series, and hopefully the novel as well, to get much out of it, in my opinion.
    I’ve seen it twice, and with my tempered expectations, I did like it a lot more the second time through, so maybe I just need to sit on it some more. And I will definitely marathon all three once I have the Blu-rays.

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