「しのぶメイル 其ノ肆」 (Shinobu Meiru Sono Shi)
“Shinobu Mail Part Four”
If the third part of Shinobu Mail last week was a thorough showcase of Monogatari‘s visual style, the fourth part is probably equally representative of its writing. That’s not to say that this week diverges visually from the norm that we’ve come to enjoy from the team at Shaft (that is, no norm at all). There’s head tilts, familiar cardboard people, floating text, non-sequitors, obvious metaphors, less obvious metaphors, and things science can’t explain aplenty. The first half is but a continuation of the Gaen Story Time after all, though perhaps scaled down. Gaen, done playing god, has retired to the director’s chair. In her story, though, and in the goofy, tension draining comedy that follows it, one can see the essence of the writing of the Monogatari Series. That is, the fact that it’s untranslatable.
I know I say that with regularity about the Monogatari Series, but I think there’s few better examples of this axiomatic principle than Shinobu Mail Part Four, where wordplay is at a maximum. Now, puns are a staple of the English language, but Japanese takes it to a different level. It’s a relatively phonetically limited language, so homophones are a dime a dozen (a rhyme a dozen, even). And this is before we even consider the word associations that simply do not have a good analogue in English, which is, unfortunately for any subbing team, exactly the kind of thing that original author Nisio Isin seems to revel in. Even without noting the times that subbers have to resort to crude translation notes to get a particular piece of wordplay across, one can get a sense when Nisio is using his linguistic judo wring extra meaning from any particular piece of dialogue (i.e. all the time). Whether talking about something serious (like the nature of the angry wraith that was Shinobu’s first minion) or just playful banter (like promoting Kaiki x Episode BL novels), I suspect any hapless translator will have to almost rewrite entire conversations if they want capture the same wit as the original source. And this is before we even consider how they’d tackle Japanese cultural references that are no more than Mysteries of the Orient for foreign audiences not in the know.
Of course, I’m not saying that the Owarimonogatari experience is somehow crippled for anyone but those with native fluency in nihongo, just that one should be aware what filters they are receiving it through. Besides the language barrier, there actually is another: the filter on the Araragi-cam. I and others have mentioned this one before, and I won’t go into a lengthy discussion about the first person narrator right now. What I’m wondering is whether, for members of the anime-only audience like myself, the lack of Kizumonogatari also impacts our perspective of this arc. What Arrrraragi experienced, how he got fanged and turned into a vampire, how he was aided by Hanekawa Tsubasa, would all colour his view of this current incident. Normally, we’ll be seeing things from his perspective, but Kizumonogatari is not a story that has been told yet, so we have a disconnect. Right now, we’re just left to wonder about what our protagonist means to do and how he feels about it. For example, does Shinobu’s first have to be killed? If that were the case, you’d think they’d more adamant about seeking out Kagenui, who is definitely a ‘purge with fire’ sort of person (I suppose anyone who would make a career out of killings things that refuse to die would need that sort of personality). Araragi’s feelings about this, about vampires and about his bond with Shinobu are perhaps more obscure that they should be.
Kizumonogatari soon. Part of Kizumonogatari soon. Part of Kizumonogatari soon next year.
Until then, we shall just muse on other effects of Araragi-vision. After all Araragi did to disguise (looks familiar, right?) the BL he was buying, and to convince everybody that he wasn’t a lolicon, he finally meets the First in flesh… who looks both feminine and small.
I’m trying not to judge, Araragi. I’m trying very hard.