A week ago, I had a conversation with a fellow aniblogger about why we write, or rather, the honesty in writing. There’s a sense of gratification and self-fulfillment in placing words on paper (or in this case, in the form of pixels), but as I told him, more than anything, we write as a way to confirm our existence; to prove that we were here, that we existed, and that we have a story to tell.
Katanagatari‘s final two episodes seem to be a testament to this will. They are no doubt the coldest and cruelest episodes of the story. There are lies and deceit interwoven in them. But they are also full of heart, emotion, and soul. I cried a lot through these 47-minute installments, and even now, a week later, Katanagatari sits somewhere in my heart as I boggle and think hard about what the show was about.
To begin with, Episode 11 and 12’s introductions are very interesting. Rather than focusing on the now and present at first, the show takes a look at the meaning and importance of history. Not just the history of how Shichizaki and Kazane Yasuri met and how Kyotouryuu was created, but the actual history of Japan itself – the history, as Shichizaki Kiki imagined it.
I will admit that this plot revelation came off as clumsy. Loopholes and time-travelling have always been tricky tropes to handle, and the fact that Shichizaki Kiki is a soothsayer who can see into the future brings up complications, which I’ll mention later. The whole twist that Kiki used the Deviant Blades to ‘falsify’ history, or to create a parallel universe, seems completely unrelated to any of the journeys we’ve seen throughout the show. Not that the show really pays it any attention; Shichika manages to rid the world of Houou and Kiki together rather simply – a scene that is almost comic, considering how dramatic the build up seemed to be. But whereas the history of Kiki and the Deviant Blades is somewhat weak, what’s really great is how Katanagatari manages to combine the prevalent theme of ‘one’s history’ with the characters’ narratives and bring it to a well-defined conclusion.
Katanagatari has always been about history, now that I think about it. Our two main characters are drawn together by a shared past, and every opponent we’ve come across has also had a detailed history of the sort, giving us a preview of the accomplishments and disappointments they’ve faced along their own personal journey. From this standpoint, the show gives us two insights on what history can mean. There’s the personal history, which is very much real, and then there’s the contextual history, which is molded by greater schemes. The two are intimately connected – after all, history is made by the people who live in it, and we assume that personal history is truthful, so therefore, so must contextual history.
But that’s not the case. That sort of honesty is lost these days, as our narrator tells us. In trying to alter the contextual history of Japan, Kiki alters the personal history of these characters. Togame’s father dies fighting to fix this. The Deviant Blades are created, and as a result, so is the entire journey of Katanagatari itself. With that in mind, the realm of what happens in the show is already falsified. It doesn’t exist. It’s not Shichika and Togame who create history; it’s history that created them, and it’s also up to this point that we’re trained to believe everything history tells us, whether it be true, false, real, surreal – history is as complex as the people who make it, and that is Shichika and Togame’s punishment (though honestly, it should be Kiki’s).
We’re also trained to believe everything a narrative tells us. In a way, nothing really sets you up for the stunning character reveals and cliffhanger in Episodes 11 and 12. Or so I thought – but looking back through my reviews, it’s interesting to note that the signs were there all along.
Love, a worthy contrast to the prospect of revenge. “I must use my feelings as a tool for revenge,” Togame thinks early in the show. For Togame, everything can be, and will be used against her in society (…) But at the same time, love can be the pliant support Togame needs to achieve her revenge.
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.
(…) Azekura wisely predicting, “You can’t live with someone without hurting them at the same time,” as well as how Shichika simply states that his father is dead, which may cover up a more traumatic and interesting past that’s been witheld from us for some time now – and it seems that the stage for a darker, more ominous side of Katanagatari has been set. Amongst all this lighthearted humor and the positive outlook on love and its triumphs, both on the battlefield and in the heart, I feel that something is stirring up, and it does not bode well for our heroes.
Togame’s reveal of her true nature is probably the ultimate climax of the show (Her death almost seems to be a resolution). The image we associated with her – a semi-tsundere and clever girl with a big heart is gone, as Togame’s purple eye of scheming opens and she discloses her final plan to Shichika. To argue if she meant what she said or did not is meaningless; I think the snake symbolism – an extent of her twisted grief and rage – is more than enough to tell us that Togame meant exactly what she said. Maybe she would have killed Shichika. Maybe she couldn’t change. Feelings, emotions, heart and soul: they were all just tools, and it’s cruel as it is heartbreaking.
Can we defend this? Katanagatari has always been brutal in it scheming, and Togame is no exception. She wanted to change, but could not let go of her past. And how is she to blame? Togame is the product of a vicious cycle that has continued for years. She was made to calculate and to plot – she has said on multiple ocassions, that the only thing she could ever do was scheme. But this doesn’t mean she wasn’t self-aware of her own actions and feelings. Togame was revolted at her own cold heartedness, to the point where she couldn’t accept the fact that she could possible end up happy, or that she could change and be a woman worth living for. Revenge is for the forsaken; it is fitting then, that Togame die, being free of her curse, and finally telling Shichika the truth. It’s a critical point in her narrative, because it makes her a much more layered and complex character than we thought.
There’s always the question of whether it is fair that Togame dies like this or not. Katanagatari doesn’t seem to be interested in this question; it never has been. What the show does examine (just like Emonzaemon) is how a person dies, and the values they live by. For Togame, even if it her way of living was built by lies, the love wasn’t. The feelings were real. It makes her death all the more tragic and important, because Togame’s passing ensures one thing: Shichika’s completion.
We have to understand that Katanagatari’s main focus has been about Shichika and his development. I’ve mentioned how Shichika has gradually risen up the ranks of Maslow’s Pyramid. He changed from a blunt and unaware blade to a human being through Togame’s upbringing, but also through the lessons he learnt from every sword battle and opponent he met. But at the end of Episode 10 and in the middle of 11, you sense that Shichika, while the Final Blade, is not final. He’s not perfected, or completed. The only reason was that Shichika had become a human being, and was also a blade. But he had no agency. He was still a tool of others. Whereas Nanami had also strived to become both a User and a Tool, she hadn’t reached Completion because she was not her own independent human being. With Togame’s death, Shichika is no longer bound to complete orders or restrain his strength. The only thing he is bound is by grief; it is that grief that empowers him to make his own decisions, and come clash to clash with the 12 Blades he had only just traveled to obtain.
And in a way, what I did say was true. Shichika’s pure heartedness faces off with Emonzaemon’s cold obedience. Who is stronger – a Blade that dutifully obeys its master, or a Blade that can recognize what to do for itself, and for others? A selfish and selfless blade? It’s obvious that Shichika wins. But not because this is a show where heroes win (there are no heroes in Katanagatari). Shichika wins because of the 11 episodes he’s spent to fighting and finding out why he fights; a simple answer he gives to Emonzaemon during their battle.
All this time, I think I was fighting for myself.
Is it selfish? Yes. Selfishness, at the core, is what makes up human beings. But so does selflessness. While Shichika claims that he has come to the castle to die, there’s no doubt that part of him also goes there on behalf of Togame. Not for Togame, necessarily, but because of Togame. This is clearly shown when Shichika spares Hitei’s life, but kills the man who was the perpetrator of the system that made Togame the way she was (and thus, in a way, was the actual one responsible for her suffering). It is also through the saving grace of finally being complete, that Shichika manages to erase every accomplishment of Shikizaki Kiki’s plan except himself. It would seem logical that all of the Deviant Blades needed to be destroyed, but Shichika is the only survivor, because he isn’t just a blade any more. He pursues his own life, and make a choice. Blades do not make choices, and yet Shichika does, which is what enables him to simultaneously destroy Kiki’s plan and to ironically come out alive, despite wanting to die.
The rest of Episode 12 breaks down the subverted tropes the entire show had been building up, and yet at the same time, proves that they exist and were meaningful. In defying Togame’s orders, Shichika releases his true powers. In breaking the blades and killing nearly every owner, Shichika almost defies every lesson learnt from his journey. And in thwarting Shikizaki Kiki’s plan, Shichika renders Togame’s life and efforts moot. Friendship, pain, loss, self-value, selfishness, selflessness – all of these feelings seem to become invalidated. It’s this part that makes Episode 12 the coldest ending I have ever seen to an anime. It’s also this quality that makes Katanagatari‘s finale so perfect; it does not take the easy way out, and thus becomes all the more brilliant. But just like Episode 7, Nisiosin knows when to stop pulling the trigger, and give us ease from pain and the idea that all of Katanagatari‘s story was for naught. We could sum this part up in one word.
Cheerio. The feeling were not a lie. The journey was not a lie. This warped history may not be remembered, but it still was there, and it still had meaning. Even if it amounted to nothingness, and the countless deaths and sacrifices played no effect on the end result, Shichika’s existence and his act of sparing Princess Hitei’s life are the remaining indicators that change still happened. The fact that could move on (with her) is a symbol of hope and that all of the scheming, planning, and betrayal had some purpose, in one way or another. Shichika’s life – his narrative – is the very example that Togame’s efforts, in a way, were achieved, even if her revenge was not.
There are minor plot complaints, of course. How much of this was Kiki’s plan? Was Togame’s plan to collect the 12 Blades a part of altering this history? Why only 12 blades? Why did the blades have a will of their own? How exactly was Shichika, in being a Completed Blade, important to Kiki’s quest to alter history? Did Kiki know he was going to lose in the first place? These questions will never be answered, and perhaps, that’s for the best. The show was never really about the plot anyway; it was about Togame and Shichika, and concluded perfectly in terms of that.
If history was written by the victors, Katanagatari is a story about history being seen through people who lost. They are the stories we will never hear, or never care about, because in the end, they didn’t amount to anything. Not a shard of them was left behind, physically speaking. Their lives were spent chasing after dreams that were never fulfilled, living a life of love that never came to fruition, scheming revenge which never was satisfied, and dying in a way that will never really matter. Pursuing love, pursuing gentleness, pursuing severity, repeatedly, these people only end up pursuing bruises. But it’s exactly because of this, that Katanagatari‘s final message is important. We live, we have dreams, and we won’t be remembered. Our lives will fade like the old pages of a history book. Our names will be forgotten. But that’s okay. We were here. We existed.
(And by the time you may realize this, you will have already been torn into pieces.)
- Maniwani Pengin’s death, good lord. Katanagatari has always been violent, but that was quite…harsh.
- Shichika’s scar, which is in the shape of Togame’s purple eye (a crosshair) was enough to send me to tears. Hell, I was crying the entire 12th episode.
- Shichika vs Emonzaemon is probably one of the most epic fights I’ve seen, damn. I also take back what I said about Shichika not being a tragic Greek hero. Whoops.
- Episode 11 and 12 may have just slightly beaten the power of Episode 7. Okay, a little more than slight. But the cliffhanger of Episode 11 is perhaps one of the best cliffhangers I’ve seen to date. It really proves the benefits of being unspoiled! (But really now: whenever your characters are talking about the future, you just know there are gonna be death flags abound)
- The parallels of this episode were perfect. Shichika’s attack on the mansion mirrored Nanami’s in a beautiful but heartwrenching way as he also came to die; the Princess wears Emonzaemon’s mask while Shichika takes some advice from Togame’s attire. That said, I really liked Hitei. Though I wish we could have gone into her story a little more, I think what we saw was enough to understand that she wasn’t a horrible human being (even if she did order Togame’s death)
- The ending monologue of Episode 12 is perhaps one of the most beautiful and fitting endings I’ve seen to an anime ending. It perfectly summarizes and encompasses the themes and meaning of the show, and there was no finer way to do it.