I Fell For You; Katanagatari Episodes 11-12

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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.

The last words are the truest. There is no purple eye here – Togame finally asks Shichika if it was okay for her to fall in love with him, despite her true nature.

It’s important to understand that Togame loved Shichika and experienced all those feelings, but didn’t change. She refused to change. To love someone, and to be a product of a cycle of hatred and revenge are two separate things, and I’m extremely proud of how Togame’s narrative has been handled, because she didn’t just die for Shichika’s sake. She freed herself through death; a choice made by herself alone. It’s a nice subversion of the typical ~female dies for the hero~ narrative, because Shichika’s story would have never made it without Togame in the first place.

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.

Despite being betrayed, Shichika fulfills Togame’s death wish in one of the most emotional and powerful (literally) moves to date.

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.

A last sign of good luck.

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.)

Last Notes:

  • 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.
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10 responses to “I Fell For You; Katanagatari Episodes 11-12

  1. This writing is very beautiful. I just finished Katanagatari a while ago, and while the effect of the ending is still too strong, I just had to look for a review, writing, or anything to read about this series so that I can reflect the emotions I’m feeling right now.
    And yes I cried so much while watching the entire last episode. I was biting on to a piece of cloth to muffle my sobs while still trying to focus on the scenes. I totally lost it when Togame started to reveal herself, the words coming out on her mouth were just hurtful. When she said her dying last words to Shichika, it was just too much and it was more than I could bear when Shichika showed up to the castle to “die”- finally unrestricted by anyone or anything.
    This is one of the few anime series that made me cry like really cry so much like my tears just won’t stop pouring out my eyes.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for this really in-dept analysis. I think it’s the best explanation out there. The show was sadder than I thought though :( “They are the stories we will never hear, or never care about, because in the end, they didn’t amount to anything.” I’m crying.

  3. I see I’m a little late to this, but in reference to 11-12 with Togame death as a lot of people kept saying it was BS (what with her saying she was using everything as a pawn and lied about her feelings), don’t forget, she did contradict herself at the end with her final words asking if Shichika didn’t mind that she fell for him. Ah, what a killer scene.

  4. No big—my writing wasn’t organized. And in any case, I was looking for an engaging series. I got that here. Post authors need to be considering that more: writing those ought-to-exist commentaries and impressions, ones that will add a heck of a lot more to the table.

    Regarding authorial intention, etc: there’s uncertainty. We know NisiOisin literally wrote a novel a month for a year (between two other projects), and that the product has many times been labeled a stunt. Some reviewers of the novels (Andrew Cunningham was the big one everyone talked about a few years back) and forumites seemed to consider it one of his weaker works. Possible that many readers missed the mark? Definitely. The likelihood itself is a bit tougher to determine.

    In the effort to be optimistic, I like to consider two possibilities: the change to a different medium, simply, made this a more resonant work, or NisiOisin got the chance to work with the studio and tweak things. Change of medium is an attractive possibility because, expectation-wise, light novels have come to have something of a—urgh—I know the word “visceral” is going to come off more pejorative than I mean it to be…aesthetic. It works for the Monogatari series, where there’s action, pulpy and all-around unforgettable characters. In other words, maybe the whole darn effect just came off wrong, or the audience plain had wrong expectations. Whereas the talkiness was subdued in the anime adaptation, or appeared to be more fluid (as opposed to read). And the other option makes sense because even though his ability to change things would have been limited, the author would have still been able to give go-ahead and green-light things.

    Given context, I tend to think that whatever weaknesses might have existed in the novel were proportionately or even significantly lessened by an adherence to thematic unity in the adaptation; and I’m not clear on how much say he had. And, like we’ve discussed, if it’s there and it’s solid, you’ve got yourself something beautiful.

    I spoke without enough forethought. I oughtn’t to have given the impression that I *barely* connected with the characters. Brutally honestly, I was distracted by the talking (not to the point of missing the text), because I was not-so-often convinced that the talking was more than NisiOisin’s mannerism. And besides, what you’re implicitly saying is that the story suggests, “Your caring (i.e. attachment), based on what arguably little you may have encountered, actually happened.” Tough to dispute, really. I just figure there’s more we can say and do with that kind of claim in this particular story, though there are limitations to what those feelings can do for us—as part of a larger context. And I’m knowingly walking an obvious tightrope: a big point is that these characters *are* isolated and play parts in a twisted plan.

    Like I said in my last comment, I think Katanagatari’s pretty sound thematically, whatever I think about the strength of the ideas or conclusions personally. Heck, despite my upset back in late 2010, I still gave it a high B- (high for me, on average; though I’ve since found numerical ratings/reviews largely silly these days, in terms of aesthetic value judgments). Rarely when I complain about this sort of thing is it about outright “bad” or “wrong” thinking—it usually just strikes me as incomplete or “not-quite-there.” A large part of this is merely asking ourselves whether the author put all of the chips on the table, played hard, and played for keeps. You seem to think so, and I kind of do; I hesitate because the conclusion was something I…I dunno, didn’t feel attached to. It’s the sort of thing thinkers say and babble about in conversation, but I didn’t come to anything of a deeper or new understanding. Not talking epistemology or whatever, or for-all-time answers, just…deep stirring.

    Do you get me? When watching the epilogue the first time (the second time I was upset), I remember raising an eyebrow and laughing at the “died by the side of the road” line and blurting, “And who’s gonna kill him?” It felt like an insincere or careless remark meant to bludgeon me, saying, “Don’t forget—the universe is absurd!” But I was literally aware of that sort of thinking before even stepping into the genre, let alone the series, and the style of plot development only made it more obvious. I wanted less glancing back at the audience, and deeper delving. I wanted the author to trust us with picking up on the meaning.

    Regarding Togame; in truth, I refused to take her at her word for years because doing so felt extremely weird. I don’t understand the value judgment on her end. I hasten to say that yes, I understand that it *was made*. I’ve seen that sort of value judgment made in stacks of novels and movies. But I don’t believe it. The validity of her hatred seemed cheap, somehow. I’ve seen scores of comments saying, “Psh, yeah, Togame had it coming.” This very deeply disturbs me, and other instances of this flippant thinking with respect to fiction. Any viewer gets that she wanted revenge and that she was fine with using people. But I come to fiction to get people’s thinking, deeply get it, to the point that I understand why a particular person won’t and—if you can catch my nuance—“can’t” do anything else. They’re almost “drawn,” which is an exploration I kept expecting the plot to engage. What “can’t be helped,” and what is the little that can? What is “necessity?” The deaths struck me as too pointless, too heavily tied to story convention than to outright cause-and-effect. I got the artistic point, to be fair; just didn’t hit me right. I think in the end her assertions just struck me as assertions, because to me what she said already struck me as untrue or…naïve, maybe? There was a “rightness” to them, though, and that’s what I felt most concerned about exploring.

    There are various useful points to saying what we “conventionally” say about history. Aligning (or attempting to align) oneself with “what’s out there,” figuring out what works for people like and unlike you, is a real and valid part of living. We *could* say that Katanagatari was never meant to address this directly, but that still doesn’t seem right to me as a conclusion. There’s only so much “finding the sword within yourself” that you can do, which is why the plot’s focusing so much on motivation and resolve ended up being a downer for me. Articulating it doesn’t mean that you’ve found it, but that you’ve found a thread of history in your existence that feels “right” to you, something to assert for all time, as Sartre would put it (which can—we humorously nod with the realization—change with enough of a driver). Meisai and Kiguchi are the closest to really getting this (Meisai’s story was the only one that had me riveted, talking aside). It’s implied that Shichika sort of does this, but not really when you think about it, because we’re not sure that he has any reason to change his habits or personality. He seems indifferent toward Hime, and I found her nihilism a bore anyway. Now, should the characters have been forced to realize this? No, because that would have been out-of-character. That’s the job of story itself.

    I dunno, I think the cause to live can go either way—largely because we do live in societies and in relationships. That’s why I thought the story (as a metafictional work) was going to engage more closely the notion of story-writing, and narrative-history “writing.” How we do this. What that does for and to people. The interplay with reality. The fickleness of emotional “tools” (Togame again). In the end, we need stories to live. That’s why even though I didn’t agree with Shichika’s final-battle motivation and barely believed it, I immediately saw its value. B.S. narrative or not, there’s a resolve that comes from building a “story” of why you act. Of course, there’s the risk of going overboard with Sartrean thinking—getting too isolated. Good for times of crisis, but not so much post-crisis.

    In the end, I’m with you. A few issues with fairness (some characters really do seem to die in particular ways in order to make “points”). And with some disappointment on my end, I can grant you your conclusions about the characters; I really had trouble from time to time figuring them out. However, it really needs to be said to naysayers—emphatically—that there’s a point, and that it’s very deliberate (viewers can debate the adjectival/adverbial modifiers). The series IS special. Maybe I saw a huge amount extra within the story that is simply imaginary, or is there but never needed to be monumentally addressed.

    I’ve enjoyed this conversation! I urge you to continue on with these sorts of projects.

  5. I feel that the ending of Katanagatari is very similar to the theme of Penguindrum – you really said it perfectly in your last paragraph – which makes the entire story of Katanagatari all the more poignant. Their lives amounted to nothing, but that’s okay; they still mattered. They were here.

    • I can definitely seem some similarities, though I feel like Katanagatari’s storytelling was extremely deliberate and focused in the way that it knew it would end up with those results. In other words, it felt truly complete, with each aspect and theory having its own solid beginning and conclusion. Penguindrum doesn’t give us that sense of completion (there are still so many questions that are never answered) but that’s perfectly okay, because the point was to raise those questions in the first place. However, like you said – while Penguindrum may be more tragic than Katanagatari (The Takakura Brothers will never be remembered by their sister, at least Shichika lives on through the memory and efforts of Togame) I think they both held the same meaning at the end, which makes them equally powerful.

  6. I’m in the habit of writing long comments; I think in paragraphs and essays, rather than in convo.

    First off, let me say that this entire series was remarkable, because you actually bothered to figure out what Nisio Isin was trying to do with his sword-wielding characters. Few reviewers seem to have done that with any seriousness, because the characters are fallaciously blown off as part of an episodic structure. This needs to exist. Now, when I first saw this show (Fall 2010), I went nuts with upset and wrote a rant post about it. Recently, I read a review of this on THEM some time ago—something which, along with your analyses, got me to reevaluate my opinion.

    Is Katanagatari “thematically intentional?” Yes, hell yes. It’s all about dissonance, paradox, indirection, and frustration. I watched this anime in a university club that’s small and particularly talkative; honestly, this ambience was never really a mystery or puzzle to us. It was clearly an author speaking to an audience, telling the metafictional “anti-story,” if you will. And manipulating an audience (though, in truth, all artists do this, at least in some less-sinister sense). Killing off a backwards-speaking ninja? Selective history? Check and check. The intent is essentially telling the story that “nobody” wants to hear, not only the story that “nobody” will hear. This is a precarious and difficult thing to pull off, because fiction inherently works through empathy (and occasionally through sympathy). We have to see what characters see (or be exposed to *how* they see what they see), but we don’t necessarily have to feel pity. We only have to understand, and to care enough about their lot to see what happens next.

    The reason why I disliked—though was entertained by, for various reasons mostly unrelated to plot—Katanagatari isn’t because I thought the basic project was stupid or irreparable. That would be wrong-headed. It’s because I do see the project (i.e. much of what you elaborated in your post), yet the author’s worldview or mentality seems to have an uncomfortable tunnel-vision, in a larger sociological or philosophical scope. Sure, events might feel magically contrived, but we know that feelings aren’t equitable to truth in this case. And the determinism/debate deal is huge; you don’t just leap into one and marginalize the other by giving any individual undue role in shaping the destinies of others. True, we do get “stuck” and make the sorts of mistakes that the characters did. True, the characters are meant to be stagnating obsessors, in various grades. And in the larger scheme of things, maybe that can be good for something, given a particular scenario. Despite all of these concessions, however, there didn’t seem to be an all-the-way honest or deliberate assessment of why these drivers push us over the edge (why we give in to them and can’t let go of them), or of alternative ways of seeing things as I expected. I had trouble valuing and becoming invested in their opinions/worldviews. I couldn’t help but feel that the fairy-tale-ness of the story risked detracting from its own social currency, because some of the “magical” or “seemingly out of nowhere” events carry sufficient weight that they might have served greater empathetic purpose traditionally handled, rather than stylized or “unsaid.”

    Deliberate assessment? Well, not that there necessarily has to be; Chekhov did get it critically right when he said that fiction’s project is less didacticism than a clearer articulation of questions. Then again, I guess we could go nuts and close read all of the monologues. Maybe I’m missing something huge here.

    It’s interesting that you referred to the plot issues as being minor. While the historical plot is tangential, I think a lot of the critics took issue with this factor because it mattered to them. Even if we believe from time to time that history is incongruent or whatever, we as viewers still want to know and we still have to be convinced. Metafictionally speaking, NisiOIsin expects us to take him at his word—or not—but that’s inherently tricky because we need those events at the same time. There are plenty of stories that work well because of this winking, “take-me-at-my-word” tone. Like yarns and other tales. But as long as Kiki wasn’t plumb insane (which he very well might have been), coherence is necessary. And, at the very least, we need to understand to the letter how Kiki’s mind works.

    The deeper question seems to be whether one can appreciate a story that actively toys with your ability to care about characters—and still say the experience was worth it. I…don’t think I can, not quite. I’m fine with tragedy, and things not going the way I’d hoped. But what I do want is a narrative lucidity that punches me in the gut, so that I starting rocking and muttering in despair, “I understand, I understand, I understand! What else could they do?” We are meant to label characters by their goals (a manipulation that winks and shows us that we are understandably “wrong” in some sense for doing so). But empathetic? I’m not sure I can say that about a single person but Togame, and only in the tenth episode. Maybe a bit in ep 12, but not really, because I don’t really see much plot value on her part in fooling a person like Shichika. Did she not notice his gradual change? Did she not see the very real (very likely) possibility that he might ignore everything she said, and do as he pleased? When it comes down to it, her goal wasn’t even to fool Shichika or herself, but to create a bizarre illusion—because even that illusion can create an environment for sincere choice. I at least get that.

    A note: feelings aren’t tools, though we claim they may be used as such. Togame’s really just saying it, though her feelings would obviously betray this claim. At risk of oversimplification: on one hand, you could lie about your feelings (and they would be insincere), and on the other your “calculations” would become irresolute and not very impressive. For Togame’s claims to be true, she’d have to be wading skillfully (or poignantly) between those two extremes. I wasn’t very convinced that she did. The reason why I feel it important for her to do so is because otherwise the goofiness would have to be placed together with cues suggesting the lie (otherwise *we’re* completely fooled, and the theme risks disintegration), or we would probably need choices more interesting than “I can live differently with my lover (or something like that), or I can cling to my revenge fantasy.”

    Aside from personal and contextual history (not sure how you meant that term), there’s also “textual” history—which I think, is the actual focus or crash/conflict point of the story. But knowing the truth isn’t “impossible,” just “extremely difficult.” Books like War and Peace point this out; actually, that work an interesting comparison, since it focuses on notions like escalating failure, purpose, misunderstanding, language, epistemology, history, and is actually a true epic. Things remain a cacophony of events throughout that work, too, but there is never an outright giving up on purpose on the part of the narrator. All the same, Russian culture is not Japanese culture, so we can’t hold them to quite the same narrative paradigms. This is why hearing “Shichika might well have died on the side of the road” at the end of the episode set my teeth on edge and made my stomach churn. Something just felt wrong about that.

    That said, I appreciate the existence of the project, and I realized this reading your posts. I think episode 10 is brilliant. I think the swords were fairly patched-together and not well-thought-out at the practical fighting level (again, Kiki’s a maybe-madman soothsayer who was probably never himself a warrior). I loved the irony of Rinne’s position as the “mirror” who can never himself become truly human (that’s the significance, by the way, of his rejecting the sword and wanting to get rid of it). Meisai’s story, though incomplete to me, drew me in the most. Nanami’s story, not so much, because I’ve never been fond of the strange reasoning that “right psychology” = fighting success. In the end, I realized that I don’t dislike metafiction as much as I thought I did. Maybe I just dislike the feeling I occasionally have when it seems to be the story, rather than a telling of it.

    • Wow I’m super late to responding to this! Sorry about that – RL stuff, but your post had a lot to digest through (not a bad thing at all, I really appreciate the time you took to write this out).

      First off, let me say thank you for sticking with me till the end in terms of reading! I’m glad I was able to maintain SOME sort of consistency in these posts, and Katanagatari has really fascinated me with its way of storytelling and characterization.

      In terms of the actual ‘fairy tale’ deconstruction and deliberate storytelling, I think you’re right on the fact that Katanagatari aims to be almost metafictional, in terms of breaking down the contrivances or limitations of lazy storytelling while building upon those mistakes at the same time – including the tunnelscope ending, as you included. But I think that Nisiosin factored in our emotions – our participation as an audience (which is a tribute to chanbara, I think) – to ultimately realize that these characters are flawed for a reason. We DO root for Shichika and Togame, we care about them, and then the show breaks us, and tells us that it was almost meaningless. Except it wasn’t. That type of ‘definition’ of what is pointless, what is not, etc, is very hard to bring to the table in a compact, orderly form, so with that in mind, I think it was somewhat pardonable to accept the ‘randomness’ of plot twists (I also had slight issues with the turn of events, plot-wise towards the end, as explained in this post).

      I think we do empathize with the characters! Not necessarily their exact positions, but their feelings and situations. Tsuruga for example, and her loneliness, or Nanami and her desire to connect with people, only to end in self-destruction: these are emotions that I somewhat resonate with (maybe for others it’s different). As for Togame, she’s ultimately the most tragic character, which is why she may be the most empathetic of them all, but I think I disagree with the fact that she said that to create an illusion. It’s hinted throughout the series that Togame retained a higher function of revenge, and that she’d do whatever it would take to achieve that revenge. I think feelings CAN be tools. We use them everyday! To get what we want, to make sure we become safe, to protect the friendships and people we love – manipulating ourselves; our minds, our hearts, is an easy thing. To decieve yourself is easy. To decieve the one you love? That’s hard. But Togame managed to do it. Did she believe what she was saying? Yes. And no. I think it’s easy to accept an illusion for what it is, which is what Togame exactly did. But she also believed in that illusion too, which is even more tragic.

      I think the point Nisiosin was trying to make about textual history was fatality? Nothing lasts. We could go to scientific explanations about entropy, but that would be TOO alien. And I think that’s a problem I sometimes see with metafiction. Take Didion’s Democracy, for instance. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, but the metafiction tends to alienate the reader and create an intrustion between the soliditary, confined, and yet intimate bond between the audience and the story. Here, in Katanagatari, Nisiosin manages to be cold, but not alienating. He tells us things that jarr our senses and sometimes disillusion us from the fairytale presence of the story and its aspects. But he never makes fun of us for it, and he always tells his part of the story with heart. I think that’s the key difference. Katanagatari’s ending was cold. But it was conclusive. It was definite. It existed, rather than scraps of nononsense we could have gotten from other sorts of execution instead. That sense of fatality is both disheartening but inspiring. If we die so easily, and history can be rewritten just like that, then this makes the cause to live all the stronger. And it’s that message that stops Katanagatari from being some post-modern piece and a heartfelt, self-examinatory construction of drama and storytelling instead.

  7. I think this ending is part of the reason why I get so frustrated when people give up on it without seeing the story come full circle.

    I will defend the future prediction and messing with time aspects of the show, I felt they tied many of the elements that otherwise stuck out together. Maybe coming from a background of Japanese History made the signs far more apparent to me from very early on. But it also fit in well with the grand sense throughout that what you were seeing was a tiny part of a grand over-arching story that had been going on for centuries. And that fact is another way the influence of existential 90s anime on Katanagatari shows itself very strongly.

    Anyway, I very much enjoyed this, I’m glad you got as much out of Katanagatari as I did and I’m glad you managed to type this all out through your tears and pain.

    • Wow, super late to the response! Sorry about that.

      Yeah, to me this finale was very…definitive? It was a solid conclusion, not just storywise, but thematically so. I think it’s often now that stories raise questions, but refuse to answer them – which is not always a bad thing! But it can be substituted as bad and lazy writing, which is the case in most anime these days. We’re given such interesting questions and themes, and then we never really find a definitive answer for them. It’s here that Katanagatari differs, because it DOES give us a resolution. It may not have been the one we wanted, but it was so well-stated and developed that it doesn’t really matter.

      I completely missed out on the focus of Japanese history as I’m not very knowledgeable in it (something I hope to change!) but I can see how this would fit in for someone who had been paying close attention! And it really does fit in over a large, grand arc, sweeping and covering all aspects of the show; something I can admire while not necessarily understanding everything about it. Perhaps I’ll take a deeper look whenever I do a rewatch in the future (another great thing about this show is how rewatchable it can be!)

      Thank YOU for commenting and reading! It was a pleasure to watch all of it, and I really enjoyed the outcome (despite the tears and pain, like you said).

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