Color Theory in Shinobu Mail and the Monogatari Series

The Monogatari anime adaptation has always paid close attention to color. Although SHAFT can — and has been, rightfully so in my opinion — criticized for their lack of animation at times while drawing the Monogatari series into its animated form, there’s no denying its purposeful style or cinematography, which changes from narrative arc to narrative arc

Along with other stylish visual choices that set the adaptation firmly apart from its source material, color creates an ancillary emotional narrative, or helps direct the viewer’s attention to a specific character, even if that character is offscreen.

Owarimonogatari Episode 8, the first episode of Shinobu Mail, acts as a microcosm for the series’ use of color and color primaries while also tying this particular arc of Koyomi Araragi’s story together with Tsubasa Hanekawa’s Nekomonogatari: ShiroTsubasa Tiger — which runs concurrently. Since the Monogatari timeline is deliberately out of chronological order, the anime uses devices like color theory not only to compare and contrast emotional narratives, but to remind the viewer of events that are occurring simultaneously to the story that they’re watching.

Shinobu Mail‘s first episode reminds the viewer of Tsubasa Hanekawa’s individual plight and character growth throughout Tsubasa Tiger using the colors white and magenta.

White flames with magenta edges, representing the tiger spawned by Hanekawa, pour into the abandoned cram school, visually separating Araragi from the suit of armor. Not only does the framing speak volumes — Araragi is Shinobu’s last disciple, one she swore she would never spawn due to the circumstances around her First, the suit of armor in this shot — but the colors immediately date this scene within the context of Tsubasa Tiger.

Magenta and white act as a timestamp.

If Suruga Kanbaru’s whispered, “Hanekawa-san” doesn’t suffice in firmly tying the two arcs together, the white and magenta flames that quickly engulf the building become tiger stripes across the screen.

The Monogatari series trains its audience early on to associate specific colors with specific characters.

For example, Hitagi Senjougahara is represented by the color purple from her first appearance, largely thanks to her hair color. This is reiterated with the color purple in quick cuts throughout the series that express her thoughts or reiterate her dialogue.

Shinobu Oshino is similarly associated with yellow, and the color yellow is used as a shortcut to remind viewers of her continuous presence. When Kanbaru kicks Araragi into a yellow blackboard, shattering it, it reiterates the fact that Araragi is, at this point in time, severed from Shinobu.

Tsubasa Hanekawa prior and during the events of Tsubasa Tiger is often represented by white due to her internal insistence on being a pure, perfect person. Magenta is only added during the appearance of her second oddity, the tiger, and the events of Tsubasa Tiger. White is at the center of the additive color model and occurs when the three additive primaries — red, blue, and green — are combined. Additive color also makes up the spectrum of light and “white light” is a result of adding the three color primaries.

Within this first episode of Shinobu Mail, the magenta flames from Tsubasa’s tiger continue a pattern introduced by Araragi recalling still images of Kanbaru’s fight with the suit of armor. As he does this, he realizes that the armor, much like Tsubasa’s Black Hanekawa, uses an energy drain technique, growing stronger while Kanbaru grows weaker by the punch.

The colors appear in this order: Cyan, green, yellow, red, magenta, with the magenta represented in the flames, not a flashback.

Their order of appearance implies adhering to the subtractive color model, where the primary colors are cyan, yellow, and magenta. Subtractive colors are used in pigments and dyes — color printer ink, for example, is cyan, yellow, and magenta — and are produced by subtracting certain wavelengths of light. Secondary colors in the subtractive model are the primary colors of the additive model — red, green, blue — and vice versa. Just as white is the center of the additive color model, black is the center of the subtractive color model.

Not-so-coincidentally, black in the Monogatari series is most often a shortcut for Koyomi Araragi himself.

The lesson of Shinobu Mail is arguably something that Araragi doesn’t truly learn until the events of Koimonogatari and Tsukimonogatari, when Araragi is faced with the consequences of how he treats others in relation to himself. Even with Shinobu’s painful emotional past as an example, Araragi doesn’t always listen or relate. However, the series is quick to remind us that he’s still at the center of the narrative, even through minute details like color choice and theory.

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4 comments

  1. This Monogatari series sounds quite interesting! I haven’t watched a series that utilizes color theory to get its ideas across to people. Do you feel like the creators use colors primarily to create characterization, or as a symbol of other things throughout?

  2. Ah, so much depth in Monogatari. I was turned off by Nisemonogatari, but this post reminds me of what I originally loved about the series – all the care given by the animators to create something meaningful and artistic on a variety of levels.

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