NisiOisiN’s trolling knows no bounds. “You know what this series needs? TIME TRAVEL!!!'”
This is the first episode of the Mayoi Jiangshi arc, and as an introductory monogatari arc episode it introduces/re-introduces various characters, gives them vague and meandering dialogue, and generally makes no sense. Par for the course, most would say by this point. It’s the dialogue that makes the series so endearing, along with Shinbo and Shaft’s avant-garde directing and animation. This episode in particular feels like the introduction to some puzzle in a video game, with both Ougi and Ononoki engaging in abstract conversations that seem more or less unrelated. Both are riddles, and are heavy with latent meaning. Finally, of course, time travel.
To make sure we are sufficiently confused, Oshino Ougi (a new character who is in some way related to Meme, although it’s possible she was introduced in Kizumonogatari) has a long conversation with Araragi about the nature of traffic lights: “Did you know there’s a moment where every traffic light in an intersection turns red?”. Somehow, despite being a senior in high school (and presumably attending a driving school), Araragi is completely baffled by this question. Although, I guess it’s nice to see Araragi as our usual dunce rather than the tiger-hefting, sword-wielding, definition of masculinity Hanekawa saw him as in Episode 5. After going on a bit further about traffic lights, Oshino abstracts to discuss the psuedo-paradox of warnings; the more signals of danger, the safer people are, and the less signals of danger, the more in danger they put themselves (this is related to the tragedy of the commons and the tragedy of the anti-commons, which reflect the traffic situation of all green lights and all red lights respectively).
Most of this seems to fly over Araragi’s head, who makes a quite frankly fatuous comparison between the “sign” paradox and how healthy food tastes bad and how bad food tastes good. Oshino simply says “Exactly right, you’re so quick to understand /sarcasm”. Oshino moves her abstraction from the world of logic into that of psychology, noting that those who fail to both literally and figuratively check their privilege find themselves with a much less sound understanding of the world, touching on the theme of the Hedgehog’s dilemma along the way. Araragi walks away having learned nothing more than a small piece of trivia (although he seems to recognize that there was some larger meaning to Oshino’s conversation). To be fair, virtually none of that conversation advanced the plot, so we can forgive Araragi for glossing over the details.
After recapping both Mayoi’s previous arc and Kizumonogatari(or previewing, seeing as Kizu has been languishing in development hell -_-), we are presented with riddle #2 in the form of Ononoki(the Shinobu counterpart to Nisemonogatari’s final boss, Yozuru Kagenui). Although she’s ditched her old catchphrase, she continues to display Nisio’s penchant for puns in her method of addressing Araragi, Oni no Onii-chan, highlighting the aural similarity between the word for “demon” and the word for “elder brother” in Japanese. Most of the conversation is just the standard semi-flirtatious back-and-forth Araragi has with every character, along with some info-dumping about Ononoki’s background. Towards the end, though, the conversation turns towards questions of humanity, mortality, and happiness, coming to the conclusion that Mayoi, by virtue of continuing to be a ghost, has still not truly found her rest. This troubles Araragi, and concludes the first half of the episode.
Now we get to the interesting bits(aka time travel). I’m sure some sort of case could be made about how Shinobu is a MPDG and is a bad thing but personally, she introduces some much-needed energy into this episode(and some much-needed time travel). After reminding him about his homework, Araragi begins to work frantically, and we are treated to an extended reference to Doraemon. Araragi jokingly asks Shinobu to be able to go back a day, and to his surprise Shinobu agrees, and they go to the abandoned temple where the Nadeko arc was introduced. Shinobu performs a dramatic ritual to enable time travel and wham, a glowing nether time-travel gate appears. After some hesitation, the jump through, and Araragi promptly passes out. After coming to, Araragi interrogates Shinobu on the nature of time travel, working through time paradoxes and different versions of time travel (the wikipedia summary is helpful, and shows that the Doraemon reference from earlier was also foreshadowing). After deciding to head home to solve some of these time-related issues, the pair find out that they’ve actually travelled 11 years into the past.
Have I mentioned how much I enjoy time travel? I applaud any story that has the guts to do time-travel in a non-thematic way and still deal with all of its implications. Importantly, they’ve travelled back in time to when Mayoi was still alive, so my bet is on them finding Mayoi and helping to solve her problems before she actually dies, so she doesn’t have to be a ghost. I’m still not sure how Oshino’s pearls of wisdom will figure into the plot (hopefully the whole point wasn’t to introduce what a paradox is) but anything is possible when you have time-travel.