In the Monogatari Series, there is a neat writing style that isn’t super evident at first: the unreliable narrator. While it exists in other media, this one is special; I call it the Monogatari Unreliable Narrator.
The Monogatari Unreliable Narrator
There is some speculation here that this style is deliberate, but given NisiOisin’s wonderful history with great writing, I would be super surprised if it wasn’t. The basic idea of the unreliable narrator is that certain aspects of the narration are often exaggerated, understated, ignored, or just plain wrong. This fits well into the strange, abstract world of the Monogatari Series. It also makes a lot of things make more sense. For instance, characters will often go through subtle changes and then seemingly be back to the way that they were. This has to do with what perspective the narrator has and who the narrator is.
The unreliable narrator has been used as early as 405 BC and in all sorts of media since then. Mostly, it is used to create a twist as the story comes to an end. Showing that everything the narrator said is questionable can make the content change from being awesome to sad or funny. This technique requires a strong build in one direction, only to juke out the audience at the end, making for a very gripping change. It forces the audience to reevaluate what they perceived. The best example I can think of would be Fight Club; if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Monogatari Unreliable Narrator is much different from the traditional usage. The biggest difference is that there are several narrators, each unreliable in their own way. This becomes much evident in the second season of the Monogatari Series. Every character has their own way of being unreliable. Araragi is a drama queen, so whenever he is narrating, which is pretty often, everything is vastly exaggerated. Araragi is self-centered, there are rarely even two other people who have his attention at any given time. Also, he’s a horny teenager. Who has his attention? Hot chicks. He also has a strong sense of justice, so other characters that are acting to his definition of justice will seem to be “cooler” characters.Under other characters’ narration, we see a whole different array of perspectives. Nadeko’s paranoid view of the world comes out. Hanekawa’s sexual repression shines. Senjougahara, the tsundere, seems like an unthreatening kid to Kaiki. Kanbaru, who Araragi sees as super horny, is actually pretty mellow and balanced. Why does this even matter, you might ask. Well first, I’d say we should take a look at what the Monogatari Series is about: fighting against human nature.
If I could pick one anime that is most closely related to the Monogatari Series, I’d pick Mushishi. They are both about the same thing, just done in very, very different ways. Each show takes a bad aspect of human nature, symbolizes it as a sickness (Mushishi) or aberration (Monogatari), and then finding a way to purge it. *Mushishi *deals with more mundane issues like poor communication and family, whereas the Monogatari Series pursues more complex ideas like pathological lying, lifelong guilt from a childhood event, etc. (This doesn’t make Mushishi any less fantastic. Watch it.) Where the unreliable narrator plays a role, is in deal with each aberration. When listening to a character narrate, know that they are lying to you to make themselves seem better. Look at their past aberrations in the show, or even the ones that come up later, and understand their perspective of other people. When looking at it this way, there is a huge web of unreliability going on which is an extra layer on top of the deep symbolism used in the show. The true, unspoken ‘narrative’ is about a group of dysfunctional people who are helping each other, despite never knowing each other’s true perspective. When you look at it that way, it sounds an awful lot like real life. Everyone is unreliable in their own way. Nisioisin really seems to love perseverance in light of dysfunction, similar to his other fantastic story: Katanagatari.
Overall, the Monogatari Unreliable Narrator adds a lot to the entire series, not to mention a much deeper relation to the viewer. While watching the show, keep your eyes open for the subtle cues of the Monogatari Unreliable Narrator. If there are any examples that stand out to you, comment and tell us!