Home > Episode Reviews, Katanagatari > Katanagatari Episode 2 – A House Built on Sand

Katanagatari Episode 2 – A House Built on Sand

Katanagatari had a solid first episode, but it was still a first episode, which meant that introducing the characters and establishing the plotline took precedence over great pacing or really creative action. This time all the basic elements from that introduction are maintained, but improved upon and put to better use. We also have the first indications that Shichika isn’t just a lucky idiot, but instead a very skillful and intelligent combatant. He may have no common sense, but our hero’s instinct for battle is top notch.

The sword owner for this episode is Ginkaku, a ronin and feudal lord in formal rebellion to the shogunate. He’s been allowed to go unmolested for so long since his territory has degraded into a desert due to catastrophic climate change, and because one of his forebears eliminated an entire army with the sword that has since been passed through the family.

One of the ever bizarre Maniwa ninja heads also makes an appearance, saying every sentence in reverse. Ginkaku bisects him in less than a minute

Ginkaku comes off as a little unhinged, which means he fits in with the rest of the cast just fine, but his obsession with protecting his land, even with no people left to protect, is what gives him strength to persevere. Our first sighting of him is when he eliminates an interloper from the ever-bizarre Maniwa ninjas, who doesn’t realize he’s been attacked until after he’s dead.

Unlike last time, the nature of the sword is actually important (another improvement from last episode); this sword’s ability is that it exceptionally sharp, and with the particular training of Ginkaku behind it (speed drawing), he’s learned that he can kill anyone the moment they step into the small chamber of the castle in which he resides. There he stays, without moving, in a perfect position to kill anyone who tries to remove him. He can do nothing but guard the room, but that defense means everything to him.

It also means he spends his entire life in a dark, empty void, completely alone. No wonder he's a bit off his rocker

Togame’s attempt to negotiate with him for the sword breaks down, of course, and only Shichika’s quick action saves her from getting killed after Ginkaku tricks her into entering the room. They regroup outside the castle to come up with a winning battle strategy (Ginkaku, obviously, can’t follow them without sacrificing his advantage), and after a couple of false starts Shichika comes up with a plan.

I won’t spoil the episode by describing exactly what Shichika does to break through Ginkaku’s ultimate defense, but suffice to say it is both clever and extremely funny—at least if you have the same feelings for the characters as I do—and at the same time very cool. Keep in mind that when Shichika says that what he wants to protect is Togame, he expresses it in very idiosyncratic way, which is perfectly in keeping with his character.

Shichika's original plan was to ambush Ginkaku while he moved Togame's corpse outside of the castle. Togame finds reason to object to this plan

Another clever thing this show does is provide reasons for the tropes it (and most anime) slavishly follows. Sure, combat is interrupted by long bouts of talking to your opponent about what cool moves you have, but it doesn’t seem forced as the fighters are in a classic stand-off situation and can’t interrupt the other with an attack.

Likewise, Togame makes several near-fourth wall breaking comments on their long trek through the castle, commenting how little character Shichiki showed in the previous fight and how he needs to improve his performance with cool moves and a catch phrase in order to keep the reader’s interest. Since she’s writing a narrative account of the story (her reports to the shogunate, which she wants to keep as spicy as possible), it all works, even as it’s also a knowing hint to the readers of the original light novels.

Togame is a bit too eager in finding a catch phrase for Shichika, so he just goes for the first thing that doesn't sound horrible

That being said, this show is obviously going for more style than for realism. Realistically speaking, Ginkaku can’t live by himself in one room in a castle in the middle of the desert, with no way of getting food or water. Nor is there any reason why, say, a couple good archers couldn’t have taken care of the task of eliminating him, or more accurately his rebellious ancestor. That’s not the point, of course; the point is to advance the story line while collecting another of the swords.

For—and this is important—the story line isn’t, or at least isn’t just, about the collection of the swords. It’s about the evolution of Shichika and Togame as characters and their burgeoning relationship with each other. Officially, Shichika is in love with Togame, but he doesn’t always seem to act in such a way, instead treating himself more like a tool of Togame, a sword to be wielded, than a lover. Officially, Togame treats Shichika like a tool, but it’s clear that she is beginning to have some degree of genuine concern for him.

Despite being in love with Togame, Shichika still has trouble telling her apart from anyone of an equal height

If there is a unifying theme to this episode, it’s about the need to have something to protect, that one thing which motivates a man to fight and die. For Ginkaku, that is his land and his castle, which he protects without hesitation or remorse, even with the land devastated and the castle half buried in sand. His obsession is what drives him, but also what burdens him, and the epilogue seems to paint him out as being genuinely happy to have died defending his land, but also happy that he’s done.

Is this some hint of the ultimate fate of our hero? I don’t think so, if for no other reason that Shichiki is far too quirky to fall into such a classic mold. He also has the advantage of having his thing to protect be a person, rather than a place or a sword. He was recruited, after all, because he had no interest in material things. It’s odd to think that his relationship with Togame might be Shichika’s saving grace, given how willful, selfish, and vain she can be. But, unlike a place or a thing, a person can tell you when it’s time to move on. Ginkaku’s obsession is the kind where one can only move on through death, long after everything else is buried under the dunes.

We also get a glimpse of Hakuhei Sabi, the samurai who betrayed Togame, who looks like he is being set up to be the final boss of the show

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