Someone told me that the last three episodes of Katanagatari were something to treasure, and so far, I can’t disagree with them.
There’s a particular quality to Katangatari‘s distinctive storytelling that makes it admirable and captivating – a quality I’ve only just begun to appreciate after the climax of Episode 7. The evolution of Shichika and Togame’s narratives has always been at the center of the story, but what makes their story so fascinating is how it seamlessly integrates character development with plot twists, to a point where it seems very organic. The twists are surprising, but not coincidental or out of reach; they fit perfectly into the large puzzle of themes and characterization that makes up Katanagatari in the first place. With that in mind, Episode 10 decides to focus on Togame and Shichika individually (well, sort of) as they meet their greatest challenge yet: their deepest fears.
And it’s fantastic storytelling, really. Shichika and Togame do share a common thread of loneliness and chaos in their past; their lives are connected by their ancestors, and both have witnessed tragic losses to their own families. From this point of view, we could argue that Shichika and Togame are the typical sob story characters. But this episode chooses to go about a different way, and instead of us sympathizing with Shichika and Togame’s past – hell, we’ve had a good 9 episodes to sympathize and fall in love with them already – we root for them to persevere, but we also understand that there are some personal challenges that get even the best of us, and that these flaws are things that need to be overcome.
Such is the challenge for Shichika, who must face the three women he failed to defeat in the past: Tsuruga, Itezora, and Nanami. As Rinne Hagaki says, Shichika must look into the mirror of himself, and find his deepest flaw. In one sense, that is the fact that he ultimately failed to win against these three opponents. Shichika’s life has always been about fighting and winning – it makes sense for him to be distraught and confused a little. Shichika must not only evaluate why he lost his fights, however; he must also find the reason for why he fights. It’s a strange question, considering that Shichika is a blade, and if that notion were true, there wouldn’t really be a reason for a blade to fight – that is its purpose. But we’ve witnessed Shichika become less of a blade and more of an independent human being with his own free will and reasoning. The last question is perhaps the most enigmatic one of all: why do we fight in the first place?
The answers in this episode are not easy. In a previous battle with Zanki, Shichika remembers that as a swordsman (literally) he lacks the capability to use a different sword than his own. His Kyotoryuu isn’t versatile, and even has a curse of its own. He can’t change his battling style to completely defend or attack, and thus ends up losing a battle against an old hermit. The end result? “Fighting is pointless,” Rinne Higaki concludes. And to be fair, his argument is perfectly valid. Many of the battles fought in Katanagatari could have been averted had Shichika and Togame thought things through a little. Tsuruga’s life could have been spared. Perhaps Nanami too, or even Ginkaku, if we were idealistic enough.What has fighting really gained us? A sense of glory? Revenge? We have 10 out of the 12 swords. But is that all there is to it? And Katanagatari almost seems mocking at this point, because we know these opponents had their own values and reasons for living – reasons that are lost because they have now been slain. Shichika and Togame have never really shed tears of remorse for their slaughter, and it’s important to understand that these heroes, as charming as they are, will do what’s necessary to gain the 12 Swords and complete their objective. And as Higaki points out, there could be another way of ‘winning’. You could just run away.
But that’s not the true answer, is it? Shichika finally understands the weight of his own reply when he denies that method and instead says, “I fell for her.” Not just in the romantic sense, but in the platonic sense too. He fights for Togame because he loves her, but he fights for Togame because he believes in her. More than anything, he chooses to take what is Togame’s will, and make it his own. That’s what swords do, and that is what Shichika is: a sword who follows his master out of his own will and love. The love may be unconventional or simplistic to Higaki Rinne and the audience, but it does have resolve. To fight for someone, as well as because of someone, is to possibly be the sharpest and most true-hearted sword of all. And maybe we’ve learnt this from Episode 8, and yes, maybe it seems to be a rehash of Shichika finding a will of his own, but it’s the way it’s written in with Togame’s half that makes it so enjoyable. (It also is incredibly foreboding; Higaki notes that Shichika and Togame have traveled without understanding the consequence of stealing death, and that they may have to pay for it)
Speaking of Togame’s half – what an enjoyable introduction and conclusion to the depths of her character! A large part of Katanagatari focuses on Togame and Shichika’s relationship, and Shichika’s growth as an individual, but we’ve rarely spent time on how Togame became who she is today, and it was fascinating to see her estranged relationship with her father, now examined in a new and more mature light. We’ve always understood that Togame has sought after the recovery of the 12 Blades as a way of gaining revenge on her past, but here, we see that it’s something much more emotional and raw. The Togame from before would have been much more hot-headed and cold, but here, we’re seeing a Togame who’s much more flexible and able to accept the one thing she never wanted to face: the fact that her father loved her, and that she fights for him. It gives a newfound, if not important meaning of the journey for her, and why she’s so persistent. But it’s the way this answer is found that makes it much more satisfying. Togame must dig a hole – an already exhausting task, as she’s physically weak – but it’s what’s in the hole that makes it much more hard and difficult to go on. Relics and items of the tragedy that made who into who she is are there, but so is a memory of love. As Zero says from the novel Holes, when you spend your life in a hole, the only way you can go is up. And that’s exactly what Togame does. She accepts the courage to face her demons, and more than anything, takes pride in it. It’s an admirable trait, one which makes me fall even more in love with Togame.
What really makes this episode great though, is how natural the plot twists seem. I did have a suspicion that Shichika’s Kyotouryuu was related to the 12 Blades in some way or the other, but the idea that it was the Final Blade was something that escaped me entirely. But revelations like the fact that Togame’s father was under the influence of a Blade, or that the Princess is the descendant of Shikizaki Kiki, were enough to make me realize that the show still has plenty of things up its sleeves, and that we’re only just getting started. These surprises make sense though; the idea that Kiki’s descendant, Hida’s descendant, and Yasuri’s descendant would all come face to face at the end seems proper, if not well-fitting.
Of course, it’s not a Katangatari episode without Emonzaemon off to murder someone, and this time, it’s poor Maniwani Pengin’s fate to be the victim. While I’m not sure if he’s actually dead yet, it seems like that’s going to be the least of our problems, judging from the preview of the next episode. I still don’t trust these previews (not after Episode 5) but there are worrisome scenes in there – Maniwani Houou and Emonzaemon fighting, Houou and Shichika also battling, and lastly, what it seems to be a pair of bullets heading right for Togame’s chest. Talk about plenty of death flags, and with only two episodes to go, I’m excited – and anxious – to see how this show heads for its final destination.