At the request of a woman I met at a con, I’m watching Bakemonogatari and sending her my thoughts. I figured that since I’m writing them up anyway, I may as well just share them here as well.
I’ve only seen and written up the first two episodes, so this covers them ONLY–I have zero idea what happens later in the story:
Is the weight crab a “real” folk tale? That is, is the show drawing on a folkloric source text or merely constructed as if it were?
Either possibility resonates with the “holes” in the anime–the shots replaced by a solid-color blank screen and text descriptions of the action that “should” have been filmed. If there is no folk tale, then those frames are structured around the absence of a shot, just as the episodes are structured around the hole where a legend “should” be–and both are deliberate choices.
If there is a folkloric source text (and possibly even if there isn’t) then the deliberately incomplete animation reflects a fundamental difference between commercial art and folklore, namely that commercial art is “finished” and locked into a static state so that it can be sold, while folklore constantly evolves as it is retold. In that sense, the anime may be acknowledging how commercial mass media have largely usurped the position of folk culture in the past century, possibly even positioning itself as a replacement for that folk culture.
The episode is also structured like a chapter of a dating sim. Point of view shots continually place us within Araragi, while no other character receives such shots. The episode begins with a dramatic meeting with a conventionally attractive young woman who has both notable behavioral quirks and a problem which requires the help of the POV character. As Araragi helps her, a rather risqué encounter occurs as an initial “reward,” but she is still emotionally inaccessible (in this case, due to her mocking hostility). When he finally helps her solve her problem, she opens up and becomes friendly. This pattern is somewhat subverted, however, in that Hitami largely solves her problem herself in the end while Araragi stands by.
This is quite openly magical realism, where Hitami’s real life problem is signified by a metaphor that manifests physically. As with the discussion of moe archetypes within the dating sim structure, the episode takes great pains to call the audience’s attention to this metaphor.
The stapler is interesting. It is heavily signified, physically resembling a crab’s claw, but the function of a stapler is to hold things together and maintain their order, the opposite of what the crab does to Hitagi.