“I had believed that not taking care of myself was the act of loving others. The days of kind deception, filled with thin, weak euphoria have now come to an end.”
-Koyomi Araragi, Owarimonogatari Season 2, Episode 7
The Monogatari franchise is often incorrectly labeled as another harem where the male lead (Koyomi Araragi) saves a bevy of cute girls. Bakemonogatari starts this way, Nisemonogatari meanders, and it’s not until Monogatari Second Season that the series really begins unravel preconceived notions of the audience and in-universe characters. At the end of the long, emotionally-exhausting, and verbose journey, the series lays everything bare. Monogatari is not about saving others. It’s about saving yourself.
And only you can save yourself.
Monogatari begins with Koyomi Araragi sacrificing himself to save the vampire Kiss-shot Acerola-Orion Heart-under-blade in Kizumonogatari, and effectively ends with Araragi saving himself in the form of Ougi Oshino.
The final episode of Ougi Dark reveals what many suspected since Ougi’s first chronological interactions with Araragi in the first season of Owarimonogatari: Ougi is an apparition created by Araragi. When faced with feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, guilt, and inferiority after helping the various young women of his so-called harem, Araragi created Ougi to question his motives and force him to face his own past.
“Aren’t I the worst kind of human imaginable?” Izuko Gaen says mockingly, mirroring Araragi’s innermost thoughts when he created Ougi.
This revelation comes after Second Season, when Araragi first learns that he can’t be the hero — the aforementioned unraveling of the tropes that Kizumonogatari, Bakemonogatari, and Nisemonogatari establish for Araragi’s inevitable demise. It begins with Tsubasa Tiger. The moment that Hanekawa calls out to Dark Hanekawa, and asks for help is a triumphant one because she finally examines her own feelings and realizes that only she can save herself. This is reiterated again in Koimonogatari, when Deishu Kaiki tells Araragi that he cannot help Sengoku Nadeko, and further driven home by Yotsugi Ononoki‘s actions in Tsukimonogatari.
The message is clear. Araragi cannot save them, they have to save themselves.
Before he fully confronts his own feelings (Ougi) Araragi takes a short field trip to hell, where he’s confronted by the fact that he will never truly be able to understand another human being. This is even mirrored by Ougi’s awe of Hanekawa’s timely arrival with Meme Oshino (and a clever name reveal). She doesn’t understand Hanekawa’s actions and neither does Araragi. They never will.
Ultimately, he decides that it’s still worth growing close to others anyway. He’s almost there. The final step is accepting himself. As Gaen tells him before he goes to face Ougi, still in a mocking tone, “Go be victorious in the battle against yourself.”
The moment Araragi accepts Ougi as a part of himself and saves her, he saves himself.
It’s almost anti-climatic for the Monogatari franchise to end with this sentiment — all the seasons, years, and words end in a simple lesson — but accepting yourself and loving yourself requires effort. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t struggle with this personally. I wake up, hate myself, make mistakes, and have to get over them in order to move forward. It’s a long journey with no end in sight, but one worth fighting.