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In Session: Marginal Japan: Rethinking 20th Century Japanese Literature and Culture
2: Marginal Moji: The Recentering of Marginalized History in Bakemonogatari
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Florida, United States
Bakemonogatari (Monster Story) is a 2009 television anime directed by Shinbō Akiyuki. It follows teenager Araragi Koyomi as he assists several young women with their problems and receives their affection in return. The show revolves around a teenage male heterosexual protagonist who becomes the center of a circle of heteronormative affection through heroic action. Therefore in both social terms (male, heterosexual, etc.) and genre terms (high school romance, “harem anime,” etc.) it represents the normative center of society. Yet there is another voice in Bakemonogatari that creates constant unease with this normative position. That voice takes the form of the profuse and reflexive use of text on the screen. The series is nearly overflowing with text, much of it highly conspicuous and disruptive, written in prewar orthography: traditional kanji, historical kana spelling, and katakana rather than hiragana phonetics. This paper argues that this text is a marginalized voice representing the discourse of twentieth-century history that is effaced in twenty-first-century popular culture. The viewer is constantly reminded that there is a history of modernization, imperialism, war, defeat, and democratization that both created this prewar text and made it alien to modern readers. These constant flashes of text are a voice that recenters the modern history of Japan in a pop narrative that otherwise marginalizes it and dehistoricizes the urban consumer paradise of present Japan. Furthermore, because this text represents memory, unconscious thought, and even sexual desire, the anime argues that interiority is also historicized and intertextually linked to Japan’s modern history.