Katanagatari expels all further doubt from my mind as it delves into yet another aspect of the sword; I know now, that this is a show that sets itself apart from others.
For the past two episodes, Katanagatari has set itself up to be a show with brilliant aesthetics, a delightful but sometimes flawed script, and decently developed characters that held potential for development. The setup was rather similar: witty dialogue, followed by some humorous moments and romance, and then finally the battle. However, after watching Episode 3, I realized that Katanagatari‘s format follows much more of a layer-by-layer one rather than an episodic one. While the show does follow this formula, each installment attacks a certain angle of swordsmanship but progresses from a technical level to a more ideological one. The first episode dealt with being ‘immovable’ and introduced our cast. The second dealt with ‘sharpness’ and went into the fundamental aspects of protection. This week, we look at ‘multiplicity’, expanding the themes focused on in the previous episodes, and asking one new question: Why and for what purpose do we use a sword?
Like last episode, Katanagatari takes a varied approach to this theme; this time, it ties in with the priestess Tsuruga, who is in charge of a temple that holds one thousand mikos and is a place of beauty and calm. At first glance, Tsuraga almost looks hawk-like, with the markings at the ends of her eyes and her sharp glance and posture. This sternness is mirrored with an air of mystery. Upon meeting Togame and Shichika, she simply tells them to come with her, without using any sort of threats. Not only that, but she does not carry the Deviant Blade with her. However, as Togame sits down to discuss options with Tsuraga, this heavy mood is, like a light switch, flicked off. What begins as a simple formality – inviting your guest to drink your sake – becomes something a little more casual as Tsuruga doesn’t even bother getting out cups. She just drinks from the bottle itself. And that’s only the beginning; Tsuraga is also the first to reach out to her opponents. She tasks Togame with finding the original Tsurugi blade and shares a drink with the hard-headed Shichika. Our heroes are even allowed to stay the night. It’s similar to last episode where Ginkaku made no attempts on his own to killing our party, but here, Tsuraga befriends Shichika and Togame, out of pure curiosity but also to understand them and their motives better. Tsuraga does not even wish to kill Togame or Shichika, but her options limit her to choosing that course of action.
Her chaotic past, sided with an enigmatic, lukewarm personality, breathes a new sort of life onto the screen as we witness introspective dialogue as well as sharp questions. Tsuraga’s story is nothing new – yet another redemption tale about her trying to atone for the sins she’s taken in her life, much like Togame. But the way it is told is compelling and dramatic. Paired with vibrant and saturated scenes, she talks about how her clan was destroyed during the rebellion and how she, as the last survivor, takes the art of Sentoryuu and uses it to dominate and claim power for herself, leaving a trail of the dead behind her. Tsuraga does not hold herself in complete contempt, but takes no pride in the art she has so skillfully mastered. After all, that art has been used to kill friends and foes. It’s only afterwards when she meets the current priest of the temple that she finally asks herself why she fought and what she has fought for, and sees the mikos. The mikos have been repeatedly abused, manipulated in the service of men, and lost their identity, and Tsuraga feels similar to them in wishing to be separate of a society dominated by man’s power. This is her drive; this is why she takes up the role of a priestess, using the swords to protect them. It reflects the idea that a woman can maintain her own power and identity without shedding either in order to live in society. In becoming a priestess, and holding one of the Deviant Blades, Tsuraga clearly shows that she holds power and order in her domain. By possessing a sword, Tsuraga’s status rises to that of a swordsman. She belongs to no man, and thus cannot be taken captive by them, as the mikos had been once in their lives. Ironically, Tsuraga is still imprisoned by her own selfish desires. Last time, Katanagatari delved into the idea of protection being a selfless act; here, Katanagatari tells us that protection can be selfish. It can be a measure of self defense, to reclaim and hold onto our own identity. Women in society can function by themselves, given the chance. It can also be said though, that in order to function alone we must have some sort of identity or self awareness. Tsuraga’s monologues, her desperate attempt to salvage her identity through recuperation, and taking responsibility for the mikos and the Deviant Blade show that she struggles just as hard as Togame and Shichika to hold onto her own self. In this way, Tsuraga does need the Deviant Blade to obtain power, but not in the way the last two wielders had obtained it. She seeks to use Tsurugi to protect the mikos – whom she sees as potential versions of her younger self – but she also wishes to protect herself, as a way to atone for her past crimes and useless killings.
There is another reason for Tsuraga’s arc though; to see how she uses her blade in comparison to others. She is the first to use Sentoryuu and the Deviant Blade for good. Since Tsurugi is a blade that has 1000 copies, Tsuraga decides to use it to protect not only herself, but the mikos who have been sexually and physically abused by men. In giving these mikos a sword, she makes the mikos feel like they have something worth protecting- themselves. In this case, selfishness is not a poison, but a necessity. The mikos have lost their identity – as seen with their ‘masks’ or the paper covering their faces. In gaining a sword, they not only have the means to defend themselves, but also the understanding that they are worth protecting; that their souls are not lost. Thus, Tsuruga does not view the sword as a weapon to attack, but to defend. It fits well with the schematics of the situation; Tsuruga’s style of the sword is Sentoryuu, which is the ultimate defense. A sword can heal as much as it destroys, and Tsuraga sets out to demonstrate that a Deviant Blade has the capability for good. After all, too much of something can be a poison – in this case, possessing too much control can corrupt a human being. But Tsuruga dilutes this poison, keeping the mikos and their lives intact while struggling herself to live up to her own expectations.
Contrast this reasoning and execution with Shichika’s belief in fighting, which is simply to be used by Togame, and we have a clash of differences. Tsuraga does not wish to fight but will if she needs to. Shichika jumps at the opportunity to fight, using it as a final method to settle all sorts of matters. Unlike Tsuraga however, Shichika considers himself to be a blade. He is “Togame’s sword” and was chosen by her. He does whatever she tells him to do. Be warned though; this is no typical master and slave relationship. Shichika is still a human being, who has only killed three people, including his own father. He chooses to be with Togame and is under no legal contract to stay with her. Shichika still plays a fundamental part in being Togame’s sword, as shown when he talks about how a sword chooses the master and how each sword has a ‘soul’ that can be seen. In that sense then, Shichika ‘chose’ Togame, just like she chose him. It’s a strange way of saying that they’re in love, but it’s a fascinating take on relationships and a deconstruction of the power balance in the relationship.
Compare these beliefs further with the two new characters introduced in this episode: the new Maniwani (I’ve grown fond of Shichika’s nickname for these guys) and the man known as Sabi, and we realize that each character looks at the idea of a sword differently. Sabi believes he was chosen by his sword, exhibiting signs of egocentrism. However, he saves a woman from two thieves and kills them with one stroke, telling them that a sword is only meant to kill. Kuizame on the other hand, simply possesses the desire to obtain the swords for power. He cares nothing about wielding them. Katanagatari thus inspects this answer from various ways. We have people who look at swords to be obtained, to people who idolize the way of the sword and consider it to be a way of life rather than a style of fighting. Which one is the ‘right’ way and which is the ‘wrong’? From one perspective, we could say that those who use the sword for unjustful purposes should be condemned, and those who use the sword to help people should be praised, but where would that put our heroes? Shichika is a man who is faithful to his word and to the person he loves, but that does not wipe the blood of his hands. Tsuruga killed everyone she could at a certain point in time, for the sake of killing and nothing more. There is no black and white when it comes to being a swordsman or swordswoman, and the show makes us remember this by continuously pointing it out throughout each episode. Our characters in the end, are human; nothing less, nothing more. It is only the Deviant Blades that emphasize these destructive and helpful traits – a poison, just like Togame said in the first episode. For Komori, it was his greed, for Ginkaku, it was his loneliness and duty, and for Tsuraga it was her guilt. None of these characters are truly evil in a sense, but fall not just to Shichika’s hand, but to their respective Deviant Blade. And that is why, in the end, the enemy is not necessarily the wielder of the blade, though they do command it to an extent. It is the blade itself.
So do we necessarily always need a reason to fight? Is there a way to judge a person’s reasoning as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’? The answer, like last week, is not given directly. Nor is it an easy one in the first place. But leaked out slowly, drop by drop, with the stunning Tsuraga and her sorrowful journey, we find once again that there’s always two sides – much like a blade – of a story. Katanagatari is about wielding those stories and driving them into our hearts, slowly but carefully. We may not be able to get a clear answer, but sometimes, the journey is more memorable and important than the end result.
Enjoyment Level: 9/10