Otorimonogatari: Decoy Tale

By NISIOISIN and VOFAN. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Ko Ransom.

This was one I was always going to be very interested in. Long-time readers of this blog will know that “Sean loves to defend hated characters” is a thing I do, especially when the characters are young women and the haters are mostly men. And while I’d argue that the most recent Monogatari anime has meant that Nadeko Sengoku isn’t hated anymore, I think there’s still a lot of ambivalence about how to react to her in the fandom. Now, having read the book that features her, I can see why that’s the case; Nisioisin is trying to lead you that way himself. There are a LOT of elements in this book designed to set the reader up to viciously turn on Nadeko. Rumor has it that the story idea came to Nisioisin after Kana Hanazawa, the voice actress who played her in the first Bakemonogatari series, said she’d like to play a Nadeko who’s turned evil. And that’s what we get here, even though I can’t help but see it as a stressed introvert at the end of her rope finally snapping.

Even Nadeko’s narrative voice is leading the reader to think “OMG, FAKE CUTE!”. She thinks of herself in third person, and speaks that way as well, which is common for children in Japan, as well as “girls who are trying to be cute”. She also has a tendency to quote and misspell certain words, which I’m not sure about – is it something to do with katakana? I’d like translation notes on that, but again, I think it’s meant to be seen as an affectation. Most notably, though, when she uses the personal pronoun ‘I’ it’s in lower case, showing off the fact that Nadeko debases herself to a large degree. That said, for all the narrative tricks, Nadeko is basically going through the ever-popular “middle school syndrome” to a large degree, and most of her personality problems that aren’t “is a terminally shy girl” are based around that. It’s telling that she gets called out big time by Tsukihi, who one can argue is the extroverted version of Nadeko, but also owns that and doesn’t try to deny it.

There are a lot of great set pieces in this book. Tsukihi’s teardown of Nadeko, which is not so much about Nadeko’s fake cuteness – Tsukihi even praises that – so much as Nadeko’s desire to not try to move forward or have a goal. (There’s some light subtext here, not helped by Nadeko wondering if she actually fell in love with Tsukihi rather than Araragi.) And then there’s Nadeko finally losing it when her asshole teacher asks if she’s managed to fix their classes’ problem, as she starts screaming, swearing, and kicking in doors in one epic tantrum that is, frankly, awesome. Unfortunately, things go south after that. For all that the “villain” of this piece points out that he’s imaginary and this is all Nadeko’s delusion, we can finally start to see a sort of arc villain: Ogi Oshino seems to actively be pushing against Araragi, and it’s concerning, especially as this book ends unresolved – Nadeko is now a Missing Person, and the god that took her place is holed up at the shrine fantasizing about blockbuster action-filled finales that, I hate to break it to her, are not going to take place.

Next time, after Hanamonogatari leapt forward nine months, and Otorimonogatari about 2-3, we finally go back to August to resolve a few plot points there. In the meantime, enjoy Nadeko Medusa, but try not to think of evil scorned Nadeko as her “real” personality any more than cutesy Nadeko was. If we see a “real” Nadeko in this story, I think it comes from a repeated line of dialogue: “It’s just… tiring.”

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