An interesting trend is in place here. Katanagatari started off somewhat as a counter-fairy-tale. Togame and Shichika have a mission to accomplish, and people need to be fought and killed along the way. And people were fought with and killed, swiftly and cleanly. All adversaries, including ones shown to be insane and hateful, and ones deliberately and deftly portrayed as good and admirable, were put to the equal sword. It was cold and simple, Shichika was the slashing blade necessary to clear the path of obstacles, and the way had been smooth and easy due to his incredible competence. Shichika was a blade perfect from tip to hilt. But things appear to be changing.
The first uncanny thing that’s been happening of late is that “fairy tale” endings are popping out of our previously brutally matter-of-fact Swordstory. People who are nice and honorable are beginning to be spared, even though the coldly rational thing to do was to slay them. (Especially Shredder-Pirate dude last month, Abyss take him) What’s going on? Of course, a clear course of the plot is the gradual discovery of Shichika’s humanity. He continues to call himself a katana, and his loyalty to Togame is as yet unwavering, but he is thinking now, he is speaking about opinions and feelings – and he is making independent decisions. Once completely (even oafishly) dependent on Togame’s commands, he is beginning to decide what is the best thing to do ad-hoc. Don’t slay the innocent girl, slay the malicious possessor if possible. Of course, it wasn’t a bad decision by any stretch – but blades don’t make decisions. Humans do. Shichika is steadily beginning to understand what it is to be human, and naturally blending into the role – for he is human. But Togame is swift to see and wonder – and we should do well to also wonder – if Shichika’s growing humanity might really be putting a widening notch upon Shichika’s once smooth and lethal blade.
Back in the day when Shichika drew blood without feeling, Dustin predicted that Togame might come to eventually resent Shichika – the unfailing avatar that makes real and irrefutable the murders that Togame commits in her heart. Incredibly though, it has seemed – and this episode confirmed it – that Togame has gone the distance and actually secretly taken it upon herself to strive to teach Shichika his humanity. Another example of a recurring pattern in anime that I really like – the decentralization of focus from the self to the other. And like so many other (real life inclusive) instances, the decentralization leads to a natural solution that benefits both the other and the self. Thus shall Togame tame, civilize and humanize her brandished blade, whilst at the same time redeeming herself in some way.
(Oh the many happy parallels with Rurouni Kenshin. How clearly do I remember that resonating metaphor in the Trust and Betrayal OVAs. A sheathe (Tomoe) to the blade (Kenshin). )
Another thing that I appreciate – the base plot this week is really quite simple and predictable. When the little girl was introduced it got increasingly likely that Shichika would eventually need to fight her. When the dog ninja girl (kudos for the first not-really-annoying Maniwani Ninja btw) dashed off in search of revenge it was not difficult to infer that she would end up being instrumental to defeating the little girl. And of course, in the end Shichika would either have killed the little girl, or miraculously spared her by somehow slaying her possessor without harming her. Not a lot of room for guessing and surprises/twists there I’d say – but the surprises came in the how. How these predictable plot events actually occured, which character actually triggered them under which circumstances. Shichika just naturally making a last minute decision to only attack the tattoos took me off guard. It is not the story but the people that are often most interesting in Katanagatari.
I have to say I’m pretty glad lonely loli-chan here survived the episode in a relatively happy way. Lolis do that to you I guess (thank you Japan). Although that trap about her clan being destroyed by a snow avalanche totally sounded fishy coming right before she said the snowstorm did not matter one bit to her and her clan. Also, anyone else surprised at how uncharacteristically spot on Togame’s deduction was this time round (about loli-chan lying)?
Also notably, our friends from Maniwani are finally evolving from annoying villain cannon-fodder of the month into something somewhat more interesting. There is a clear highlighted contradiction this ep between the uncharacteristic attachment the ninja feel for their kin (exemplified by late Maniwa Kyouken), and the apparent ease and willingness with which, for example, Maniwa Huou sacrifices a comrade for a presumably greater gain. These rag-tag bunch of weird-ass dudes may be more central to the plot from here on out than I’d have imagined back in the day.
(A theory just formed in my head. Maniwa Huou’s ninpou has of course not yet been revealed, but he has been chopping extremely valuable things off for quite a bit. On the other hand his name – and his ridiculous getup – is associated with the Phoenix, which in turn is often associated with rebirth and regeneration. Given the weird-ass things the Maniwani ninpou have been known to do, I wouldn’t put that pass them. Not at all)
Anyway so we are now left, at the end, witnessing a rather awkward situation. Shichika is clearly beginning to be able to understand people and how they feel, and this is definitely a precursor to the dawning of compassion, which is itself a precursor to the realization of what it truly means to kill. This can only be detrimental to his function as a sword. Togame of course realizes this, and this must surely come into conflict with her delight at seeing her efforts on Shichika pay off. Unfortunately time and events wait for no one. A terrible test appears to be imminent in the coming episode, where, if the previews don’t lie, an uncertain Shichika must battle his insanely powerful sister – a sister that he grew up with, and a sister that he could only possibly hope to defeat with his blade in perfect, unflinching form. Nanami – the very embodiment of the growing dilemma?
Needless to say, I can hardly wait :)