Is there a Guinness World Record for the longest, most convoluted, and most tangential character study in existence?
When I say I love Sengoku Nadeko, I think a lot of people misinterpret what I mean. I actually think that Nadeko is an awful character. I think she embodies everything that is wrong with her archetype. I hate her.
The reason why I love Nadeko is not because she is a good character. It is that she is, quite possibly, the best example of a poorly-written character to ever grace the anime screen. And that makes her nothing short of brilliant.
Because Sengoku Nadeko hates “Sengoku Nadeko” as well. The character we see is not who Nadeko really is. She’s just an entirely fake construction of everything Nadeko thinks that others want her to be.
The real Nadeko is lost, scared, and confused. She just wants acceptance and love.
But nobody can love the fake “Nadeko”. She’s absolutely hideous. The tool that Nadeko thought would make more people like her is what ended up making people hate her. How about that?
Nadeko shows us that, despite the messages we may get from other media, the “ideal woman” doesn’t exist. And, if she does, she is shallow, dumb, and boring.
The fake “Nadeko” is just the empty shell that the real Nadeko lives in. In this way, “Nadeko” is kind of like a house that the true Nadeko lives in. A house where the windows–her eyes!–are shaded with curtains–her bangs!–so that she doesn’t have to look out and see the disgusted glares being thrown her way.
Or maybe “Nadeko” isn’t an entire house. Maybe it’s just a room that Nadeko has spent most of her life in. A room that she can call her own. A room that she has grown up in.
In other words, her bedroom.
And, as Kaiki Deshu will find out, Nadeko’s bedroom is indeed an almost perfect metaphor for her fake personality.
Kaiki picks up a book of photos that Nadeko’s parents have collected of her over the years. “I see. So this is Sengoku Nadeko,” he thinks to himself. “Childish, cute, and disgusting. She seemed like a fake. It seemed like she was forced to be pretty.”
It’s noteworthy that Kaiki is equally disgusted by the ultra cute and girly way her room is decorated. And even more interesting, he sees her bedroom decor the same way her sees her personalty, “I thought,” he recalls, “the room was one where immaturity and cuteness were being forced against her will.”
The implications of this cannot be ignored. Kaiki is essentially saying that both Nadeko’s bedroom decor and personality were forced upon her by her parents. In other words, Nadeko’s parents are the ones who stripped away her personality and made her “nothing but cute.”
There is a super meta metaphor here (METAphor–ha! get it?), and although it may be a bit of a stretch, it is also one of my favorite parts of Nadeko’s story arc. And luckily, it’s pretty simple to grasp. We only have to ask ourselves one question: who really is Nadeko’s parent?
Well, fictional characters don’t have “parents” in the truest sense of the word. But they do have a creator, someone who gives them “life” and directs them how to “act” on a page or screen. In this way, an author can be thought of as a “parent” of his or her characters.
Do you realize what this means? Nisio Isin, the creator of Monogatari, is turning the blade of his commentary on himself. In other words, he isn’t just acknowledging that Nadeko’s existence is pathetic and miserable. He is actively taking the blame for condemning her to such a torturous life.
Of course, on the most basic level all of this discussion is completely ridiculous. Fictional characters cannot be angry, sad, or even self-aware. So can Sengoku Nadeko, a fictional character, actually be unhappy? Of course not. But if real people were forced to dumb themselves and their emotions down to the level that most “dere” characters operate on, would they be miserable? Absolutely. Characters like Nadeko are harmless fun. But the ideas they give us about how to treat other people–and ourselves–are anything but harmless.
And that’s what makes Nadeko such a beautiful, brilliant, important character. She is at once the ultimate moé trope and a real person. More specifically, she behaves like a moe character, expresses the thoughts and feelings of a realistic person. And it is these conflicting aspects of her character that allow us to see just how unrealistic and degrading the exceptions we have of moé and dere characters would be if we were to apply them to real people.
After observing Nadeko after only a few minutes, Kaiki figures out that her outer superficiality is the result of her deeply disturbed mind. “She was smiling but it was somehow awkward,” he observes as he flips through a book of old pictures of her. “It seems like she’s nervous about something. What exactly is she fearing? What is she afraid of?” he wonders. And so, he resolves to find out what it is that’s troubling Nadeko, hoping that it will help him convince her not to attack Araragi and his friends. He begins his investigation by visiting her house and asking her parents about Nadeko and the “shadows she harbored in her heart.”
But, as he recalls, her parents only told him that they “didn’t know of such a thing, and, furthermore, didn’t want to ever find out about it. ” Soon after, Kaiki reaches to open the door of Nadeko’s bedroom closet, only to have her parents command and then beg him to leave it shut. So Nadeko’s parent’s will allow Kaiki to do almost anything, but they insist on two things: 1) that Nadeko isn’t hiding dark secrets, and 2) that her bedroom closet remains shut.
It doesn’t take Kaiki–or us the audience for that matter–more than a few seconds to figure out that Nadeko’s dark secrets are hidden in her closet.
The closet that Nadeko’s parents don’t want to be opened.
“In other words, Nadeko’s parents, despite the fact that their daughter was missing…kept her room clean and were infatuated only in keeping it the way it was,” Kaiki says. This, I think, represents how an author might perpetuate the image of the “cute” anime character while refusing to acknowledge that those fantasies are completely unrealistic. We like them the perfect way that they are, and we certainly don’t want them to have any dark secrets. So if the misery and anger caused by the way we treat a character lies within a closet, that closet must remain locked forever.
Even though there is clearly something deeply wrong with Nadeko, her parents insist on maintain her perfect room as a sort of shrine to the personality that they forced on her. You get the feeling that her parents aren’t really all that upset about their daughter being missing. They’re fine as long as they have her perfectly pink and perfectly pretty room to gaze at. They care more about an aesthetically pleasing shell than the real girl who was trapped within.
And aren’t we all kind of guilty of the same thing? Declaring a series’ best girl based purely upon a few teaser visuals. I’m guilty of this myself–I’ll admit to scrolling through character designs and selecting my favorite character before the show has even begun. Personality doesn’t matter at that point.
And then I think about a character like Shouto Todoroki. I tell people I love him because he has a complex emotional journey and a compelling motivation for becoming a hero. But sometimes I wonder, if my admiration is for much more superficial reasons. There’s always the possibility that I only like Todoroki because of his gorgeous and unique character design. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always had a fondness for characters belonging to the “extremely talented but adorably dense” archetype (It’s not a coincidence that I also have a soft spot for Tobio Kageyama)
Most probably it’s a mix of the superficial aspects and the deeper emotional connection. But the important part is that there is a deeper emotional connection. In fact, I didn’t even remember Todoroki’s name until his Tragic Backstory ™ was revealed and I felt like I had a real reason to care about him beyond his pretty face and appealing quietness.
And this is what makes Nadeko so deliciously meta. Her Tragic Backstory ™ is that she was brought up to not have a Tragic Backstory ™. And therefore, we have no reason to connect with her, to care about her, to truly love her.
Nadeko’s parents probably seem like horrible parents because they don’t care about their daughter. All they care about is the image they’ve created for her. And so, they are like an author who creates one-dimensional characters for quick appeal and then refuses to give those characters development and flesh them out to be more like real people.
She’s a realistic character who is held to the unrealistic standards of a fictional idol. Nadeko is truly a victim. But she’s also the wrongdoer, because a realistic character should have the skills to speak out against those who have done her wrong. A realistic character should have the ability to work towards her own goals and shake off the demands of her parents. But Nadeko does none of those things.
There’s only one reason that Nadeko’s parents don’t open her closet: Nadeko herself told them not to. In fact, I think it could be reasonably argued that Nadeko’s parents want to see what’s inside. But instead, as Kaiki observes, they were doing exactly as “they were told by their daughter, and didn’t even think about opening the closet.”
“I thought…the room was one where immaturity and cuteness were being forced against her will,” he says. “Combine that with how Nadeko’s father said something about her never rebelling against him…and there are a few thoughts I get,” Kaiki says.
Once again, Nadeko is being horribly mistreated. But she is an active and willing participant in that mistreatment. But then again, her parents were the ones who first encouraged her to be a passive victim…
So who’s really to blame here?
That’s an excellent question. Before we try to answer it ourselves, though, let’s take a look at who Nadeko thinks is to blame.
“…in my case, it’s an absolute that it’s Ougi’s fault,” Nadeko says cheerfully to Kaiki.
This makes sense. Oshino Ougi was the one who gave Nadeko all the information that she needed in order to become a god. She even provided the infamous white scrunchie. Now, Nadeko was the one who chose to act on this information, and it was she who spun it into an elaborate hallucination to justify this choice. But still. It was Ougi who gave her the idea in the first place. If Ougi hadn’t told Nadeko anything, it’s very likely that Nadeko would have remained her quiet, miserable self for the rest of her life.
But who is Oshino Ougi?
That’s easy. Oshino Ougi is Araragi Koyomi. Or maybe it’s better to say that Araragi Koyomi is Oshino Ougi. Whichever way you prefer to think about it, Ougi is the personification of Araragi’s “dark side”, which would be best described as his problematic habit of self-depreciation and his destructive obsession with justice.
As Gaen-san’s explains at the end of Owarimonogatari season 2, “You could say that Oshino Ougi is your own desire to criticize yourself. It corrects mistakes. It tells you that what’s forbidden is forbidden. What is wrong is wrong. It judges things.”
So when Nadeko condemns Araragi to death, it’s important to remember that Ougi is the one who gave Nadeko the initiative to become a god with the ability to kill. This means that what is really happening here is that Araragi is using Nadeko as a weapon to kill himself
But why involve Nadeko? Well, Ougi is Araragi’s desire to criticize himself and to correct his own mistakes, and from that we can infer that Araragi must bringing death upon himself as a form of atonement for his past wrongs. More specifically, all the times he has wronged Sengoku Nadeko.
Araragi feels guilty about the way he treats Nadeko, and his sense of justice (Ougi), decided that n appropriate punishment would be to have having her kill him in a fit of rage and sorrow. This is proved when Araragi comes running up the temple steps after Kaiki’s final battle with Nadeko. He begs Kaiki to let him do something to help her. “It’s my fault that Sengoku ended up this way,” he says. “I have to take responsibility…”
At first I was skeptical. How could Araragi possibly be a fault? I wondered. He’s done absolutely nothing to her.
And that’s exactly it. He’s done nothing. And by doing nothing, he enabled her destructive behavior.
Back when she was a human, he noticed how differently she acted around him. “You always look bothered like that when I talk to you,” he observed coldly. But he never took the effort to try to understand why she might be so shy and uncomfortable around him.
I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that Araragi willingly chose to ignore Nadeko’s extremely obvious feelings for him. Instead of properly rejecting her, he let her feelings for him grow until they destroyed her from the inside out.
And yet, he won’t leave her alone. He keeps paying her just enough attention, showing her just enough affection that he remains in the forefront of his mind. Now, I think it would be going too far to argue that he is leading her on intentionally, but it’s undeniable that he could have approached his relationship with her with a bit less ambiguity and a lot more awareness.
Araragi keeps perpetuating his relationship with Nadeko in a way that is clearly making her miserable. And he doesn’t care enough to even notice that she is unhappy. In other words, he is the primary encourager of her unhealthy obsession with him.
There is an argument that Araragi is just a typical harem protagonist, and therefore being oblivious to the advances of a character like Nadeko is just an inherent part of his nature.
But if that is the case, then it would also be in Nadeko’s nature to be perfectly happy and content to pine after him for all eternity. She would not be ashamed of her cuteness, and she wouldn’t crippling self-esteem issues. And even if she did have both those things, they superficial accessory that added to her cuteness rather than a legitimate part of the narrative.
And we know that none of those things holds true Monogatari. Because Monogatari isn’t a typical harem anime.
Remember when I said that Nadeko provides a unique opportunity for a commentary because she is treated like a fictional character but has the thoughts and feelings of a realistic person? Well, I believe that this is the way that the entire Monogatari series is constructed.
Most of the relationships and situations in Monogatari are structured like they would be in a cliché harem anime. But the characters who act them out are written as flawed, complicated humans. In fact, I would argue that, in some ways, the cast of in Monogatari are closer to being real people than most other anime characters.
So why, then, if Araragi is written to be semi-true to life, does he remain ridiculously oblivious to Nadeko’s clearly obvious feelings? It’s because Araragi has something that sets him apart from every other Monogatari character. He’s split into two parts. As we discussed before, his sense of justice and desire to judge himself–Ougi–is separated completely from the rest of his being. Therefore, Araragi doesn’t really have the ability to judge his own actions and correct/punish himself accordingly.
But Ougi does. Her whole life, Nadeko has been abused by her family, teachers, classmates, friends, and–above all–herself. It didn’t really get bad enough for her to notice until a boy in her class asked a con artist to place a snake curse on her. Once she noticed how poorly she had been allowing others to treat her, she tried to take back her own life. But she did it in all the wrong ways, and in her attempts to free herself only ended up confining herself further.
There’s only one way out of the trap she’s built for herself. Only one thing that will help her escape.
She’s known what it is all along. But she was too scared to use it, so she locked it deep inside her bedroom closet and threatened anyone who dared to even think about looking inside.
The only times she chose to speak up for herself, she used her own words to keep herself oppressed.
But now, with the help of the con artist who started it all, she’s going to learn how to find the courage to fight for her own freedom.
She’s going to open that closet.
To find out how, read on in Part 8!