For a very long time, I have been wanting to start a deep dive series where I take an anime, read the source material (be it light novel or manga) and do a detailed analysis of what I read. The closest I came to this idea was when I rewatched Neon Genesis Evangelion and shared my notes I had throughout. Maybe I would have named this “Deep Dives w/ Dil” with “3D” as the abbreviation, but I never followed through because I suppose I didn’t want the perception that I was going for something “clickbait”-y.
Perception, incidentally enough, is one of the many themes explored in the Monogatari franchise. This is series is jammed full of intriguing world-building, philosophy, characters and stellar storytelling. It has flaws, however, since the series has a plague (or should I say “plaque”) of very problematic “jokes” and a main character who teeters into dangerous grounds pretty much throughout the entire experience. When someone manages to get past the...unsavory parts, the stories and their themes are jaw dropping beautiful.
In many ways, this is why I find the respective stories in Monogatari Second Season to be the very best. From my experience, if people make it through Bakemonogatari, they usually get stopped by a few scenes that occur in Nisemonogatari (heck, I almost stopped there myself). This is such a shame because in many ways I think Nisemonogatari basically cleanses the franchise of the suggestive content for the future stories. These are the stories I really want to discuss my love for.
Of everything in the franchise, my absolute favorite story (as I’m sure you can guess by now) is Hanamonogatari. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration for me to say it is the most important anime for me, period. My friends make fun of me for how much I like it, claiming foul reasons for why I like the character in focus for the story, Suruga Kanbaru, so much. Truth be told, there is a very deep and personal reason that I like the character and story as much as I do. Today I would like to share those details and my impetus for timing this when I did.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to live up to the level of love I have for this story in a written format, so I went all out for this article. I bought the light novel and highlighted the living daylights out of the text, putting page numbers and annotations in my notes as I went. This is a big deal for me, since I rarely am able to make it through books like I did for this one (for perspective, I read Kizumonogatari over five months on and off). It wasn’t a long book by any means (it was actually rather short), but I finished everything in only a few days. Despite loving the anime, for the sake of getting the most out of the deep dive into the meat and potatoes of this story I am going to stick with discussion and quotes from the novel. I’ll use screenshots from the anime since it is a pretty faithful adaptation and it will help give context, but don’t expect much analysis into how Shaft animates scenes save one.
For the sake of professionalism, I will just get it out of the way now and say all quotes come from Hanamonogatari by NISIOISIN, published in English by Vertical Inc. and translated by Daniel Joseph. When I share a quote, I’ll put the page number at the end, but please don’t expect this to be an APA format literature review.
Obligatory Spoiler Warning- This has spoilers for both Hanamonogatari and the Monogatari franchise. Additionally, I know I’m not making any friends by putting this in here but as someone who cares deeply about this sort of thing, I want to put a trigger warning here as well. This story speaks of mental health and affliction and there are some graphic details.
One of my favorite lines of the entire work comes from the beginning and at the tail-end it comes full circle with the weight it has a lesson. It would only be fitting to kick this off.
There is depth to the characters in the various tales from the Monogatari franchise, however I think they all pale in comparison to the journey that Suruga Kanbaru goes on. The girl who made a selfish wish and lived with the arm of a monkey bandaged up has an incredible maturation throughout this series. I make people scratch their heads when I speak so highly of the character, because most of them just think of her wild antics in the franchise all the way up until this story. But in all actuality, Kanbaru begins Hanamonogatari being a very serious, self-deprecating young woman who grapples with a very compelling introspection. She speaks about how she doesn’t understand how people go about their daily lives the way they do, or rather how people live without disliking others. There is a stance she reaches before the story begins that she dislikes many people, including herself.
I think one of the things that makes an introduction like this so effective is that rather than getting the usual “I hate myself, and I hate everyone else too” pout that anime characters make all too often, there is a lot of thought and logic behind why our heroine reaches this. She doesn’t simply out in say it, and I think that levelheadedness in her evaluation of things makes her a much more enjoyable viewpoint character than Araragi for this journey. There are no childish asides or odd impulses to distract the narrative, and I am really satisfied with the way NISIOISIN writes such a development for the character.
In many ways, I didn’t realize that Kanbaru would be one of my favorite characters in creative works until well into my first viewing of the anime adaptation of this story. Sure, people can take potshots and try to make everything about vain details such as “haha Dil likes basketball girl” but it really was never that sort of conclusion I reached with the character. I think it is stupid to say any given work, be it animation/light novels or film or whatever, is something anyone can relate 1:1 to. What I do think, however, is that there is something beautiful about being able to relate to and be connected to a character development, or a story as a whole. I’d be lying to say my inability to express how much I related to this character didn’t bother me, but people will be silly.
The Start of a New Spring
The world of Monogatari is one full of specialists who have various approaches and philosophies for dealing the occult. Oddities and aberrations that everyday people get tangled up in are taken care of in unique ways based off of the respective specialist’s perspectives. This in of itself is one of the most intriguing facets to the world in these stories, since the aberrations themselves represent different flaws in the human condition. It is probably not a stretch to say the exorcisms (or lack thereof) of these represent a very striking comparison to philosophy on the many parts of humanities as a whole.
Of these specialists, there is one that arguably has the most power and influence over the entire group of talented individuals. She is only alluded to for most of the series to this point due to her being deceased, however even to this point her ideologies linger along. This specialist’s name is Toé Gaen- Suruga Kanbaru’s mother. The jaded worldviews and lectures of her mother still manifest in dreams and nagging asides in the corner of her mind long after she was left without parents due to a car accident. Her mother really pushed for her daughter to be an aggressive force in the world to over-compensate for weakness. Or perhaps that was just what she remembered and thought about when she heard the words of her mother.
Regardless, the cover flap of the novel lays the story down simply with what most people already know about this particular tale: Kanbaru begins a new school year without her upperclassmen Hitagi Senjougahara and Monogatari main narrator Koyomi Araragi. Her curiosity leads her to look into rumors of a wish granting “Devil” and sets in motion a journey of self-actualization.
Without getting too ahead of the story here, there is a particular plot line that I have had a lot of fun chewing on and trying to come up with an interpretation for. On her way to school, Kanbaru has an odd discussion with her underclassman, an individual named Ougi (or Ogi in the book, I don’t know). As a spoiler of Owarimonogatari, it is revealed that Ougi is actually an oddity themselves. I find Ougi to be such a fascinating character because it makes me think that that their entire self becomes whatever the person who needs their presence the most. In the other series where Araragi was the one doing all of the discussion with Ougi, he noticed similarities between himself and Ougi’s way of thinking about things but shrugged it off. This is where the classic line of “It isn’t about what I know, it is about what you know Araragi.” gets its’ weight.
The silliness of Ougi rambling about “being a boy now” after asking a feminine question to Kanbaru aside, Kanbaru is thoroughly disgusted with Ougi for most of the novel. Keeping the interactions Araragi had in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if (again, as an oddity) Ougi could manifest with the same knowledge as Kanbaru. Since she has already stated she isn’t fond of herself, this disdain can be the same she feels towards herself, so hearing Ougi say exactly what she truly believes or thinks doesn’t set well with her.
I felt as though I was slowly being shown what I disliked about myself. Slowly. But steadily. (p. 37)
Although there is a point in their conversation that counters this where Kanbaru states that Araragi would say the same things to her, which could easily mean Ougi is just being the blunt side of Araragi’s thinking for her.
A Burden off Your Hand?
Upon investigating a rumor about a devil that was a wish granter, Kanbaru encounters an old basketball rival of hers, a girl by the name of Roka Numachi. She describes her as small and frail, being suspended by a crutch to help a broken leg she had from a basketball injury. Numachi explains that she had taken up a hobby of “collecting misfortune” from individuals after her injury left her permanently unable to use her leg again. This first encounter between the two individuals doesn’t provide a whole lot of depth into her character (why would the first time a character appears in a story yield much besides hints anyways?) however there is one particular bit that stuck with me. It really explains things later on as well and I will double back to this when we get there, but for now I’ll share this line from Numachi:
Balance is a critical theme throughout all of Monogatari- it is sought out by every character in some form or another, and they all have their own way of finding it. This illustrates an important flavor of balance that this story focuses on, that of psychological balance. The two characters in this story both show drastically different results of their own psychological balance- with Numachi’s being revealed later and Kanbaru finding her own as a result of the events in the novel.
As they discuss what she does, Numachi explains that she takes on “misfortune” of everyday things from people. These small complaints or gripes can be seen as acute stressors- little things that accumulate over time (traffic, computer issues, etc.). By doing so, she would allow time to let these issues resolve themselves despite telling people who came to her for counseling that she would take care of their issues without fail. There is a back and forth about the concept of running away from problems and whether talking about them to someone without resolution was the correct thing to do. These sort of discussions in Monogatari fatigue people, but I like them because it doesn’t offer a clear winner- they are indifferent and it is up to an individual to find their own interpretation of “right” or “wrong”. If balance is one theme, another huge one is that there are no absolutes in the world.
Furthermore, Kanbaru is noticeably frustrated about how she can’t agree with Numachi, however she does not have a clear idea as to how she could fight her logic on the matter. This is one of the many frustrations her character expresses in this story that I really relate to in my own life. The concept of not agreeing with someone on something but not having your own clear or concrete answer as to the reasoning why can be incredibly challenging to communicate with others. Ultimately, it makes the individual who does not have their own answer thought out to a stance really feel dumb. There’s a lot of Kanbaru calling herself dumb throughout this, and I have found myself to say the same. I know it might not seem this way, but I do not have a ton of confidence in my own intelligence, nor do I think I am anything special for what I do academically. I’ve always credited any successes to my support system and my undying stubbornness to see something through until it is done to the best of my ability. When faced with the option of running away being viable, Kanbaru knows it isn’t the right thing in her heart, but she doesn’t feel like she has the smarts or life experience to rely on to refute it. This is something that is remarkably well written and worth bringing attention to.
After meeting with the rumored “devil”, Kanbaru wakes up the next morning to find that her monkey paw cursed arm is no longer present underneath her bandages. It is just as powerful as in the anime to read her become overwhelmed with joy and tears as she ran around her neighborhood for the first time without the monkey paw. Despite the joy of being free of her curse, she gets the suspicion that Numachi is the reason for this development, and seeks out answers.
While going on college visits with her friend Higasa, Kanbaru grapples with the desire to see Numachi again after her old rival “fixed” her arm. Just as she says her goodbyes to her classmate, the former basketball star comes face to face with a tall, grim looking man that could be only described as “ominous”. Immediately recognizing this man as Deishu Kaiki, a man her senpai had warned her to avoid, Kanbaru attempts to run away from him. Despite running away, Kaiki catches up to her no matter how many times she tries to flee. After she finally gives up trying to run away, Kaiki says something that sparks a new idea in Kanbaru’s mind and sets in motion what I might say is a part of the novel that is far better in text than as an anime.
“The lesson you should take home from this is that some things can’t be solved just by running away.”
Some things can’t be solved-just by running away.
Does not heal all wounds. (p. 112)
Par for the course that is Monogatari, a character challenges an ideology another had just shared in a previous encounter for our narrator. In some regards, this meeting with Kaiki allows Kanbaru to start piece together the exact kind of person she wants to be. This is in no small part thanks to Kaiki’s relationship to her deceased mother, Toé. Before we get into this interaction, however, there is a little backtracking we need to discuss first.
That’s right. Kaiki.
Last time Kaiki showed up chronologically, he was stabbed in a snowy field after finishing his work helping basically save everyone in the whole series from the wrath of Nadeko Sengoku. This stabbing by a child he had conned in a cold, dreary day looked like absolute poetic justice and the end that he likely deserved.
But, he’s still here. He’s in this scene having Korean BBQ with Kanbaru and speaking in his usual half truths. So what gives? Well, I have a theory on what is going on here, and I know it is a stretch, but hear me out. Not trying to be some anime theory guy on Youtube or anything so if this isn’t a new take (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an old one), don’t think I’m stealing it by any means.
Kaiki is dead. Kaiki is dead and Kanbaru can see his ghost. This would explain some holes in this particular story alone and better clarify what his fate was at the end of, well, Hitagi End. It wouldn’t be wild to think that Kanbaru can see ghosts (especially given the twist later in this story) given who her mother is and their family of oddity specialists. Indeed, I believe that Kanbaru has a latency for understanding and communicating with aberrations, ghosts, and all of that good stuff that comes to fruition in her adulthood in Hanamonogatari.
Kicking the can down the field for a bit longer here before we continue just for the sake of it, it wouldn’t be that hard to explain the “physical” things he does in this book. His business card that leads to a disconnected line could easily be a joke that he is too cheap to pay for his phone bill, but seeing as the last thing he was doing was talking on his cellphone then destroying the thing, it would make sense for him to no longer be alive. Later, she is sent a package that contains part of the monkey demon, but with as much money as Kaiki has (had?) he could have easily predetermined when he would ship it. Weirder things have happened in this series that have been explained by the occult than someone getting two day shipping of a monkey’s head in a box via FedEx. Finally, when the twist happens later on in the book and you learn that Numachi had been communicating with Kaiki, it probably isn’t that wild to guess Kaiki being a ghost has something to do with that business relationship.
Into their actual interaction, there is a cheekiness that these two exchange back and forth that is far more entertaining to read than see in the anime. The most famous memory most have of this scene is Kaiki bringing up his love for Toé despite not remembering what she looked like. In context, however, I interpreted that “love” differently. Even as Kanbaru grilled (no pun intended) Kaiki about being “in love”, he refuted her claims for a good chunk of their talk over that topic (he even says “cut the shit” at one point). The way he talks about falling for her mother comes off more that he fell for her ideologies than the woman herself. For example:
He also dismisses intimacy as a factor, since he was already romantically involved with someone at the time. In other words, he was visiting Kanbaru to reminisce about any time he had known Toé. I found it incredibly entertaining that he went out of his way to express how she was a good person unlike her sister, Izuko (who I am convinced everyone in this whole series is terrified of for her directness and confidence about dealing with the balance of the world).
This interaction starts to make Kanbaru realize that her mother is nothing more than a memory to her. When she chastises Kaiki for not remembering what Toé looked like, she realizes that she does not have a very vivid memory of her mother either. This starts to double back to the theme of perception, where everything she hears from her mother in her head may very well not be the same person she had as her mother.
Another really intriguing beat to this interaction was how by reflecting on how easily Kaiki recalled his time with Toé as if it was “just flipping the pages of a photo album”, Kanbaru starts to question if she will ever reach the point where her old flames she had for a certain someone would go away. Kaiki responds with a new theme this story: graduation (or maturation).
...Would it come for me too someday? The day when a person I had fancied, when unrealized desire, came nostalgic memory? Unrealized goals, unrequited love. Would the day come when I could look back on them and laugh?
“It will...Maybe I should say you graduate from them.” (p. 125)
Afterward, Kanbaru struggles to show gratitude towards Kaiki for all he does for her in this meeting. She knows what he has done to her friends, and yet he has been adamant that he wants to look out for her and be of good standing (and doesn’t show a con with it, either). After all, he did give her his Gmail. I usually don’t completely buy into what the characters are saying in Monogatari, but there are a few instance in this book where I have audibly said “oh that is good!”. It probably helps too that he uses a running analogy for this one, but this monologue by Kaiki has had me thinking on it for days since I read it.
I think through this, Kanbaru realizes she should re-adjust her viewpoints on people. Not necessarily go away from her convictions, but she’s shown how unhealthy it is to harbor hate like what she has for her mother. As the rest of the story goes on, she becomes nothing more than another person in her life and she starts to free herself from the burdens of perception (be it the ones she holds towards others and the ones she feels herself). This is an important lesson for me because even with this in mind, I sometimes spend too much time concerned with perception of others and what the perception of me might be. People I don’t always care for have their good moments too, and this buys into another quote later on in the book that hits home an ideology I formed from this originally.
As he bids Kanbaru farewell, Kaiki inadvertently brings it to her attention that he knew where she would be because of being in contact with Numachi. Kanbaru asks Karen, Koyomi’s little sister, if she could look into Numachi and information about her. When she meets her old rival next, things really begin to pick up steam right up into the big twist.
The Other Shoe (Paw) Drops
On the surface, the next interaction between Kanbaru and Numachi seems simple enough: they meet first in Kanbaru’s homeroom then agree to meet at the basketball gym later on. There is an odd note of how empty the facilities appear to be when they’re conversing, but this is quickly forgotten about. Numachi reveals that she is not only collecting misfortune of others, but also “devil” parts like the monkey paw Kanbaru had on her arm. She shows her once injured leg is now taken over by a hairy beast’s, and explains that Kaiki is her business connect to find where to find the next part to collect.
This discussion between the two is rather lengthy given the portion of the book it takes up, and there are some of the slowest bogs throughout here, however there are some really important things to note.
I think the biggest takeaways is learning about Numachi’s background and sifting through her “I’m so evil” bluffs. Her character constantly wants to push this message that she is an awful person who is collecting misfortune of others, but if you boil it down, it just seems like she’s trying to find a way to cope with her circumstances.
Even before her injury, Numachi has negative perception placed on her because of being athletically superior to boys she played soccer with. The boys hated her, and she says that in turn the girls in her classes did as well. So from a young age we have a girl who is constantly hearing negative things because of her talent, and it gets under her skin to the point that she begins leaning into a “character” that everyone else placed on her. She speaks something really sad about talent and how much she wishes it didn’t have to affect her the way it did:
...Look, all this is a result of our effort paying off. We’re no different from you, we just tried a little harder, we weren’t born like this, we didn’t just luck out- when all the while, what we’re really saying is ‘so please don’t ostracize us’...The nail that sticks up gets hammered down—that’s the traditional ceremony of human society that gifted people need to fear more than anything else. (p. 171)
As she goes on, she says some chilling things that really sting when you look back at this story a second time through because of the big twist...
...it’s only because of where I am ‘now’ that I can look back on that period of my life and understand...reality is overwhelming. It’s the most deplorable thing in the world (p. 171).
She plays off stopping soccer to start basketball as nothing in particular, but it is obvious that she didn’t like being ostracized. Even as she made the basketball team, she struggled with the guilt of taking a spot from another player. Then she injured her left leg in a gruesome stress fracture, to which she thoroughly believed was because of the wrath of God.
This is when she begins collecting misfortune for others. One of her classmates begins telling her all of her acute stress throughout her middle school life and the rest is known history. An interesting detail she shares is how angry people got when she tried to speak and give actual advice or input on things.
Even more, she claims her teammates only came to see her after they knew how low she had fallen and they knew they weren’t as worse off as she was. She gives another red flag with:
I’ll admit upfront that I didn’t recognize what I was going on with my own psychology until I understood what was going on with hers-I believed that, in my own way, I was dispensing earnest advice (p. 180)
After her leg injury, she requests her parents transfer her to a different school, and tries to ramp up her “counseling” services for other people. As much as she called it selfish reasoning, it really just seems like she’s using the listening as a way to cope with the new reality she had. Her mother brutally criticized her for her stress fracture but this, like everything else really alluding to how bad her situation was, was downplayed as she played a villain to Kanbaru. She said how the girls who came to her just wanted to talk- they didn’t want solutions. She also sneaks in how brutally painful her rehab sessions were. She goes as far as saying how much she wanted it to kill her.
There is some foreshadowing that is pretty on the nose with how she came to know Kaiki:
...No, he doesn’t believe in ghosts himself, so more precisely he told me about the theory that they exist—but, that’s a bit of foreshadowing (p 199)
The stories get more intense, with a pregnant girl coming to her with one of the devil monkey parts consuming her. Despite sounding ambivalent to it, Numachi clearly wants to help this woman (she details how much she was crying herself) and agrees to take on the part without even realizing what she did. From this, Kanbaru investigates just how many parts Roka had collected to this point. Kanbaru reflects on this:
Sacrificing herself-hurling out her body. But even if she was able to, why did she feel she needed to? Wasn’t she just being dragged along by a moment’s whim. It was the same as her unhappiness collecting. It wasn’t that she wanted to help people, even if that’s what ended up happening...What did Numachi’s life...even mean?...Nothing at all? (p.214)
After revealing how over a third of her body had been changed to that of the monkey devil, she bids Kanbaru an oddly heartfelt sounding farewell (telling her to do all the things she couldn’t do).
Later that night, the story appears to have been resolved. Kanbaru is not satisfied with the news that her old basketball rival collects demon parts, however she expresses frustration in not knowing what to do about it (or if she needs to at all). She beats herself up over not knowing what to have said to her, thinking on what Kaiki told her about how fickle humans can be with love and hate.
Just then, Karen calls about Numachi. Kanbaru apologizes for making the Araragi sisters go through so much trouble to find information about someone she ended up meeting that day anyways. Karen, confused, says there is no way she could have been talking to that person. The twist of this story unfolds in a heart wrenching fashion.
A Run for Resolve
I never handle the topic of suicide well. I never have. I bawl my eyes out and grieve over the thought of losing people I knew (even remotely) or even complete strangers. I get heartbroken for not having any way of helping those I love or their families cope. I’m often lectured how I need thicker skin if I am ever to work in the mental health field, but this sort of thing always stops me in my tracks. I know it is just a story, but this rattled me badly when I first watched the anime. Even as I read it now, I needed to take a break after getting there. I walked away from writing about it in a session. I’m stupid. I know. I get upset about this kind of thing far more than I should. People always think it is from a direct history with it, and I have to say now there is no history of that sort. I just get emotionally distressed by the topic, and it takes everything I have to make it through work briefings about that given month’s suicides without showing any emotion.
Where I get a lot of my kinship for Kanbaru’s character is in this scene, where she has no idea what else to do. She is overwhelmed by the gruesome details surrounding Numachi’s death (which I assure you or more detailed and hard to get through in the book then they are in the anime) and does the one thing she knows she can do. Never mind any of this talk from people thus far about running away or running towards or the philosophy behind how we should be running. She just runs.
She runs for all the night into the late night, going until complete exhaustion. Not even the “can’t go anymore” mentality kind either-she goes until complete collapse.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been distraught by hearing mental health stories of friends, family, or even complete strangers that brought me to a point where I couldn’t do any other function besides running. I’ve ran in blistering snowstorms, scorching heat, you name it. The way Kanbaru goes here? I’ll never find a character in fiction who does anything I can relate to quite the same.
I’d share some quotes but there is a solid three pages where the appeal of running is explained and I sort of just made an arrow pointing to these pages with the annotation “all of this”. Anyways, after running to the point of collapse, Kanbaru lays in the road exhausted. Without having anyone else in her life tell her to, this seems like the way that Kanbaru sought out her psychological balance. It was her release from stress.
Just then, a yellow German vehicle shows up that was conveniently being driven by none other than Koyomi Araragi. This might shock some readers who don’t know my deep love for Monogatari but I really don’t like Koyomi if for nothing else besides the fact his deplorable horniness undermines the artistry of the rest of the stories. With that said, I adore him in this particular tale. He has his moments that have me hold my breath or say to my self “yeah, great bud” and move past, but generally speaking he plays a really awesome secondary role in this tale.
After helping Kanbaru into his car, Araragi agrees to take her back home and catch-up with his friend. Kanbaru learns quickly that Karen had not said anything about Numachi to Koyomi, so he is completely in the dark on what has been happening. I think this in of itself makes for an amazing interaction that has become my favorite part of this whole novel.
Pondering on how she was freed from her demon, Kanbaru wonders if Koyomi will ever be free of his own. She wonders how he can give so much of himself for others, and how he handles it. By asking this, she gets an alarmingly candid response. Koyomi says he has never really given a whole lot of thought into it. After some thought, he offers up a story from when he was in grade school how he would fantasize about saving his classroom from danger, being a hero. As he grew older, he realized that everyone had similar thoughts and fantasies about helping others. He realized that, despite thinking outside the box, he was not special in the regard to the care he had for other people. He calls it “reassuring”:
When I said earlier in reference to a Kaiki line that was paired with another later on that helped me form an ideology for life, this is it. When you stare into a fire for a long time, it can be hard to have perspective on people. People do horrible things. We’re ruthless to one another, tearing one another apart at the seams sometimes even intentionally.
However, I genuinely like to believe that we are inherently good. Something happens along the way that warps people, sure, but there are so many people in this world who have innocent desires for communication and connection with others...they just don’t always realize what they are doing.
It is about forgiveness of both the self and of the world, and it is about understanding them as well.
I think in some ways, going through this novel made me realize at one point I was Numachi until I adopted that ideology on people. My knees were destroyed in a basketball injury, and I had to crutch around everywhere for nearly a year. I think when you have nothing to do but sit around and hurt, you start to think negatively. I went from thinking I was helping to people to being upset that people were using me. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I was miserable though. I hated the way people spoke to me, I hated the way that all of my friends only came to me to talk and never asked me how I was....I even lost my best friend, my closest friend in the whole world, because I got sick of her only ever dropping a text to complain about her own problems or brag about something. It was incredibly selfish of me, I know. The affliction that I wanted to help others from knocked on my door ever-so-steadily.
I didn’t get the opportunity to rehab, my work wouldn’t let me. But I would crutch (I didn’t have my car yet) across the base every morning to go to a cross-fit gym before work and brutally rehab. I thought about how much my mom believed in me and how I was her light through her cancer treatment. I ignored everything else, and I pushed through. I never paid any mind to how much I was burning through internally.
When Numachi was taking on “misfortune” as a way to cope with her situation, I do believe she genuinely wanted to help people. Even as her ghost wandered the world collecting the Rainy Devil parts, she was overwhelmed with emotion of helping people. She neglected herself though, so despite doing this she was ignoring her own “psychological balance” as the book puts it—or as we would say, her mental health.
I say all of this to bring up something important- I was ignoring my own mental health. Even long after my hardship ended, I needed to speak to my support system and work through the exhaustion that followed. But I did. That is the important part. We put so much on our own shoulders, and sometimes I think in doing so we don’t think the rest of the world will understand, or that there isn’t anywhere we can turn. There is. We just need to find it. It can be as simple as talking to someone. We’re not awful human beings for talking to someone else. Just care about the other person you’re talking to too.
There is another part of the interaction Kanbaru has with Koyomi that really speaks to me, one that I deal with now. If Numachi is a character I can relate to how I was, Kanbaru is one that I can relate to with how I am now. Kanbaru beats herself up over having the feeling that she needs to do something about the situation she has witnessed. Something still needed to be done to her, despite her feeling like it would be best left alone. When Koyomi asks her why, she says it is because “No one is suffering.” She goes on to say she thinks Numachi was right that time would heal all of her feelings, and that things would be forgotten. She thinks she is just being selfish. Just then, Koyomi responds:
Even afterward, Kanbaru struggles through this, thinking about what both Numachi and Kaiki (which is to say, her mother as well) said to her about how to live her life. Koyomi shuts this down by telling her to forget about the way that others think she should carry herself and to live how she feels is best.
I think we get so caught up in the perception others might have on us or their own perceptions of the world (be it family or celebrities, you name it) that we forget to form our own approach to things in a way that takes care of ourselves. For me, I always thought if I looked out for myself, I would be selfish and lose my feelings attached to wanting to help others. I’ve had many mentors in my life who were rocked to their cores and didn’t believe in the world or the people in it in a way that I fully agreed with, but I still followed without any better ideas of my own. Kanbaru spends so much time in this book being frustrated that she doesn’t have her own answers to philosophies she disagrees with (only half agrees with). After some time, it becomes harder to process events and, more importantly, our own feelings if all we are doing is cross-checking the philosophies of others. This is why I find Kanbaru’s journey of self discovery to be so beautiful. She isn’t a thinker, no is she so cold as to ignore people. She just decides to get the resolve to go out and do. She becomes a doer not because someone monologued her to death about it, or that it seemed like a sound argument, she listened to what felt right. She listened to her own feelings.
If someone is reading this far, chances are they know how this story goes. The ending comes fast, and it is satisfying. With that said, there are some good nuggets to be found throughout.
Kanbaru is given a delivery that holds the head to the Rainy Devil and uses it as bait to lure Numachi back out. She contemplates her options, weighing what everyone else probably wanted her to do against the others. Satisfied with her own decision making at this point, she picks the most challenging route because it is what feels right to her. She’s an athlete, and she wants to compete.
With that, she learns that Numachi has no memories of how her life came to an end and she does not realize she is a ghost. With that relief, Kanbaru’s will is ironed further and she is determined to put the spirit of her old rival to rest.
There is a lovely exchange right before their 1 v 1 game that the anime keeps pretty faithfully, but I want to share it here regardless.
“Hey Numachi, what do you think about the saying, ‘It’s better to regret doing something than to regret not doing it?”
“That’s just the whining of a whipped dog,” she declared. “Regretting not doing something is obviously better.”
“Right. I think so too. Only some irresponsible third party who hasn’t tasted the remorse of ‘having gone and done it’ would suggest otherwise...”
And yet, I said, my eyes locked on Numachi’s.
“And yet- what’s best is to do something and not regret it.”(p. 265)
What follows is the iconic Kanbaru (5'3") dunk, but there are some amazing details about the actual game. I love how much she goes on saying how much she loves the game of basketball and how she could tell Numachi was getting into it. Right until the end, she manages to pull Numachi into genuinely caring about fighting and competing. I think this speaks volumes to how she can rekindle a competitive spark in her old rival like that. She slams that dang ball through the hoop but sends Numachi off laughing about how much fun she had. It was sweet.
Kanbaru has a dream where the memory of her mother lectures her, but this time she is able to fight back with her own beliefs. Despite her mother’s disgust in dismissing her usual lecturing, Kanbaru reaffirms that she will be a “flash flood”, an uncontrollable flow of water in spite of her mother’s famous “If you can’t be medicine, be poison. Otherwise you’re nothing but water” line she repeats. With her own way of life in place, Kanbaru looks forward towards the future.
There are two very important characters in this story, and they both speak of the importance of not being destroyed by perception and how much psychological balance (mental health) should be valued in daily life. I know I was kind of all over the place with this, but it is an important journey that a character that is near and dear to my heart goes on so I had a lot to say. If you’ve stuck through with this, thank you. I put a lot of time and care into making this article right, as it was meant to represent my favorite piece of fiction to come from Japan.
I wanted to finish this project before the end of May because it is an important month to me- it is both Mental Health Awareness Month as well as National Military Appreciation Month...regardless, it doesn’t take much to realize why those two together mean so much to me. It has been a really challenging road I’ve been on to become someone who can contribute to the military mental health field, but I have had amazing help from others. This story reminds me how important those are. Because of this I wanted to share my story with this anime and its importance to me without making it too much about me because of the importance of this month.
As I’ve aged, I find different lessons out of Hanamonogatari. At first I saw it simply as a tale of a girl rising above affliction in the memory of someone who fell, and as I learned to separate myself from the work itself, I saw a lot of the commentary it had on humanity. I ultimately think this is an amazing story that speaks to the importance of communication between people, and is a cautionary tale of sorts to trying to bite off too much on our own. Hardship will be in our lives- it is inevitable- but we need to come together to get through it. There is nothing more admirable than someone who wants to be there to help others, but they need to take time for their own health and to share how they’re feeling, too. I stopped trying to be a hero and I know from this story to strike a healthy balance. I want to end this with how it started, because I think the line is key to interactions with others. It shows maturation in not trying to claim someone else’s experiences as your own and yet speaks to importance of said person’s experiences without undercutting your own.