After an intense episode, Katanagatari rolls back to its steady and more easygoing rhythm while giving us some insightful character development and perspective with the headstrong Shichika.
For a good 7 episodes, Katanagatari has been dodging the importance of the topic of swords and their meaning to the story. Yes, we’ve had curiouser and curiouser cases of the development of a sword and how it’s slowly transcending physical boundaries, and yes, we’ve witnessed a gradual development of Shichika as he transitions from a blade to a human being, but it’s only up until now that we’ve never really understood what a sword really meant and why it was important. Episode 8 marks the significant change of Shichika, but it also marks a subtle change in the storytelling itself.
What do I mean by a change in storytelling? Like the mysterious character-centric Episode 4, Episode 8 is also character centric. It does have several important plot points, like the Princess and her relationship with Togame, or the continuation of the deaths of the Maniwani Corps. There’s also an Eighth Deviant Sword that needs to be obtained. From this point of view, Episode 8 functions very similarly to the rest of the episodes – as an Act – and as a “Blade of the Month” part. But the center of this episode focuses on Shichika; not the Blade, not Togame and Shichika’s relationship, or even the Princess and her devious schemes. It is about Shichika alone, and that’s what makes it so interesting to watch. At the same time, it also continues to set up ominous foreshadowing, which is only exaggerated with the new OP by ALI Project – a dismal tune, with lyrics like “Your luck ran out/When you happened upon me”.
But what makes this episode really special is how far Shichika has come. At the beginning, Shichika was none other than a blade. He could not think for himself – he wasn’t taught to think for himself. He was the embodiment of a secret teaching/style of sword art that had been passed on from one generation to the next. In terms of physical health, Shichika was perfect. He was sound of mind as well, and he was easily able to communicate with other human beings and follow orders. But that was the extent of his ability. He was shielded from the world; the island was almost like an extension of Shichika’s humanity itself – separate, distant and foreign. With Togame in the picture however, all of that began to change, as he was exposed to different types of opponents and the ideals they fought for in life. As Shichika journeyed with Togame in finding the rest of the Deviant Swords, he began to breathe and think for himself. What started out as a collection of teachings slowly turned into a collection of experiences. And what is a better teacher than experience itself?
But yes! We already know this. We’ve seen Shicihika grow. We’ve seen him find other ways of beating his opponent through Kyotoryuu; we’ve seen him be defeated by a little girl who lived on the mountains, with no battle knowledge whatsoever. We’ve witnessed Shichika fight and talk and crack jokes. But what matters in the end, is not us knowing that Shichika has changed. It’s the fact that Shichika finally becomes self aware and understands his own nature. I talked in my Episode 5 review about how each installment of Katanagatari was a gradual exploration of the Hierarchy of Needs, and how, at that certain point, Shichika had reached the level of Esteem level. Here, Shichika has finally completed the Self Awareness level. He is bestowed with a sense of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, a lack of prejudice, and most importantly, an acceptance of facts. This episode clearly shows all levels of this as Shichika comes face to face with the Eighth Sword, which turns out to be a former shell of himself: a robot. As Shichika fights Bitou Kanzashi, he utilizes a variety of Kyotoryuu moves; he even feels sorry for the Sword despite acting upon instinct, and defeats the Bitou using his own mind (as well as Togame’s), but most importantly, he realizes that he has his own free will as both a Blade and a human being – a crucial part of being self aware. This is probably the most satisfying part of the entire episode – to see that Shichika’s arc has finally come to fruition.
What Nisiosin has often dodged around however, as said before, is his intent for subverting the idea of a ’sword’. This definition has been a slow transition from the basic understandings – the physical limitations, such as the sharpness and swiftness of the blade – to more conceptual elements, like the reason for using a blade and its psychological and physical effect on the people who have used it. What’s brilliant about this development is that there are two essential parts of this story. The first part is the introduction of a new Deviant Blade every month. The first month’s was a blade whose unique ability was to remain incredibly sharp. This month’s blade is the form of a robot, built to defend its creator’s ground. The previous blade had the ability to forcibly heal wounds; the one before that, to be used on both ends (and one this week, thought to be a pair of guns). It’s because of these Blades that we can mark a certain kind this trend of surpassing physical boundaries to enter the conceptual ones (much like Maslow’s Pyramid itself).
However, if this was the only motif for Nisiosin’s theme, the arc would become rather dull and repetitive over a short period of time. Enter the second and equally essential part of the story: Shichika. Katanagatari already has remarked that Shichika is a Sword himself, using the art of Kyotoryuu, and that his journey has ‘dulled’ him because he has gained human empathy. But with Episode 8, we finally see Shichika versus the concept of a Blade – versus an old version of himself – and it’s with this direct contrast that we not only see how far Shichika has progressed, but how far the Deviant Sword story has progressed. In other words, whereas the previous episodes had Shichika passively understanding humanity after confronting an opponent wielding a Deviant Blade and learning from his battle, this episode had Shichika confronting a Blade itself, and thus learning about himself during the battle, which marked his ascension into the Third Level of the Pyramid. It also was a signal as to how bizarre and conceptual the definition of a ‘sword’ has become when looking at the progression of the Deviant Blades. By paralleling Shichika – a Sword himself – and his character development alongside the development of the Deviant Blades to the point where they can converge and contrast, Nisiosin allows us to understand two very important ideas:
- Blades, physical tools and ‘extensions’ of the body, are formed and hardened through the resolve of the mind and soul; the purpose of a Blade depends on whomever uses it, and thus may not be always used to ‘cut’.
- The relationship between a Sword and its User is also essential to forging a fierce blade. If a Blade becomes a self-functioning entity, to the point where it blends the idea of a User and a Tool, it will ultimately lose its own purpose and fail (see: Nanami, this Episode)
But in forming these two ideas, Nisiosin also asks this: Which is a better Blade – one that serves its User without question, forming the deepest bond, or a Blade that is forged through friendship and equality? (Something I suspect, will be raised when Himei’s servant and Shichika go face to face.)
Of course, this episode doesn’t provide us with all the answers. I can’t say for sure as to whether the Deviant Blades will play a more passive or active role in the next four episodes. I also can’t say as to how Shichika’s humanity will be resolved in four episodes. Is there going to be a point where the highest concept of what being a Blade means comes into conflict with Shichika’s ideals at the end? Maybe, maybe not. Whoever remains victorious will answer the main question asked from those two ideas. But what Episode 8 has answered for me is this: Katanagatari is a story about two people obtaining 12 swords, but it is also about a sword who becomes a human being. Like a sword itself, there are two sides to this journey, and each is essential so that we can understand and fully enjoy the whole tale.
*I apologize for the crappy photos (I’ll update them with nice and new ones when I return from break!)