The Courage to Tell a Lie

The Courage to Tell a Lie

Introduction

Today we’ll be taking a look at a scene from Nisemonogatari involving Koyomi Araragi and Mayoi Hachikuji. I’ve said before that despite her appearance, Mayoi is actually a mentor figure to Koyomi, and this is just one of many scenes which illustrates that relationship.

Before proceeding, I suggest watching the video embedded above because everything I’m going to say will make much more sense if you’re familiar with the scene I’ll  be discussing. It’s only a two-minute video, so nothing too extreme.

Courage

On the surface it may seem that Mayoi is just playing word games with Koyomi as she tends to do, and that’s true, but she’s also teaching him a valuable life lesson at the same time. Remember, Mayoi, although technically younger than Koyomi, as been around longer and has a greater understanding of how the world works.

She also knows Koyomi and how he’s likely to react to various situations, as well as how he’ll attempt to defend his actions. Because of this, the choice to use the word “courage” is targeted specifically at Koyomi, a person who is completely selfless, but in a selfish way.

Mayoi demonstrates how just by adding the word “courage” to a sentence, you can turn the implied meaning from something bad to something good. As demonstrated by Mayoi, and explained by Koyomi, the word courage can be used to make a generally negative thing such as lying seem righteous.

But why does this matter for Koyomi specifically?

As I mentioned, he’s a completely selfless person who will sacrifice his own life if it means he’ll be able to save someone else.However, even though his actions seem selfless, they’re actually selfish because he isn’t taking into consideration how anyone else involved feels.

What Mayoi is indirectly telling him is that just because he claims to be doing something for the sake of someone else, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do, or even what the person he’s doing it for wants him to do.

Koyomi understands that adding the word “courage” to a sentence about lying doesn’t make the lying any better, and so Mayoi‘s goal is to make him realize that he does the same thing whenever he claims to be doing something for someone else’s sake.

However, we as the viewer, and Mayoi as well, know that even if Koyomi comes to this realization, it still won’t change his nature. The end result that Mayoi is most likely going after is simply to make Koyomi think about his actions more before he does something he can’t take back.

Mayoi Hachikuji from the Monogatari series anime
Mayoi Hachikuji

Righteous Evil

While Mayoi wants Koyomi to understand that his defenses don’t make his actions acceptable, this also applies to others as well. It’s a warning about how others will try to use this same trick to justify their ill intentions, and so Koyomi needs to be able to see through it.

Mayoi‘s example of the courage to tell a lie not only applies to Koyomi, but also applies to the fact that anyone else can use the same trick to defend their own actions against him. This is important because the conversation Mayoi and Koyomi are having comes during the Tsukihi Phoenix arc of Nisemonogatari (hence Mayoi‘s reference to a phoenix).

In this arc, Koyomi learns that his “smaller, younger sister,” Tsukihi, is actually a kind of apparition and not his true sister. Yozuru and Yotsugi attempt to eliminate the Phoenix apparition known as Tsukihi because they claim that it’s their duty as specialists to do so.

This is an example of what Mayoi is talking about in her courage to tell a lie dialogue with Koyomi. Yozuru and Yotsugi are framing the elimination of Tsukihi as something that needs to be done by referring to her as an apparition, but all they’re really doing is killing Koyomi’s sister.

Despite Yozuru and Yotsugi technically being correct here, their reasoning is flawed. Simply because Tsukihi is an apparition doesn’t make her dangerous nor any less a part of the Araragi family, just like how simply using the word courage doesn’t make lying acceptable.

We can find examples of this in other anime as well such as Pain’s, Obito’s, or Madara’s explanation for why they’re starting a war with the rest of the shinobi world in Naruto: Shippūden. They each claim it’s what’s best for everyone, but in reality they’re just doing what they want despite how everyone else feels.


Conclusion

Although Mayoi appears to simply be demonstrating a way in which the structure of Japanese (and even English) can be used to twist the meaning of a phrase around with the inclusion of a single word, she’s really doing much more.

An important thing to remember is that by making Koyomi realize what’s happening, she’s also demonstrating that those who twist words to fit their own needs tend to realize that doing so doesn’t really change the fact that their actions are wrong. They’re attempting to convince themselves just as much as anyone else.

For a series which relies heavily on dialogue, it seems fitting that there would be a warning about the dangers of twisting language to fit one’s own needs.

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