Home > Episode Reviews, Katanagatari > Katanagatari Episode 3 – Histories of Violence

Katanagatari Episode 3 – Histories of Violence

Structurally, this episode of Katanagatari bears many similarities with its predecessor. Togame and Shichika approach the owner of a sword, negotiations for a peaceful transfer fail, there’s a battle between Shichika and the sword-wielder—whose sword is married to a particular fighting style that seems perfect for it—and of course Shichika is triumphant in the end, again due to a cunning insight that gives him an edge in battle. There’s even another Maniwa ninja, who is slaughtered near instantly by the sword-wielder of the episode as a way of proving that the fighter is skilled, as well as a cameo by Hakuhei Sabi.

It is thus a tribute to the writer and the production team that this episode feels completely different from the last, even with all the similarities of plot and some continuity in theme. Again in this episode, the question of why one fights and what one wants to protect play a major role in the affair. Rather than discard that issue, this episode deepens it, asking about how to deal with the legacy of violence and death left in the wake of protecting what’s important to you.

Another parallel between episodes is that our heroes are shown in a quasi-intimate situation without any real intimate intent. Tellingly, Shichika doesn't seem to know why he should be embarrassed

The current sword owner is Meisai Tsuruga, the head of the Sanzu Shrine. The shrine functions as a refuge and place of sanctuary for abused women, who make up its staff and patrons all at once; many are wanted for murdering their abusers and thus have nowhere to go. The current sword is Tsurugi, which purports to be one sword with a thousand copies. (I know, it’s really a thousand different identical swords. But everyone acts as if it’s one sword for some reason.) Meisai has distributed these swords among the women in the shrine, hoping that the feeling of empowerment that gives will help to restore their shattered psyches.

It’s an interesting trick, particularly given how basically everyone who has talked about the swords (Meisai included) thinks of them as poisonous. They are even known as the hentai (Japanese for deviant or perverted) blades, which twist the minds of those who wield them. Meisei knows, however, that poison in light doses can be used as medicine, and thus she is unwilling to release control of Tsurugi, even with Togame’s offer of a full pardon for everyone in the shrine and official protection from the Shogunate.

The sword "treatment" doesn't seem perfect, as one of the girls goes berserk when someone else touches her sword

Instead, she proposes a counter-offer: Togame may take Tsurugi if she can identify the original blade, and then have Shichika defeat Meisei in combat. The first request is just a stalling tactic, as Meisei doesn’t seem herself to know which blade is the original, but it gives Meisei a few days to prepare for the battle. It also gives characters plenty of time to talk before they get to killing each other.

Meisei’s own combat style is Sentouryuu, which is a style meant to turn an opponent’s weapon against him. Since Shichika wields no weapon, this puts her at a disadvantage, so she counters by having the various copies of Tsurugi discretely placed throughout the shrine in the days it take Togame to conduct her inspection. Thus she has easy access to weapons which she can dispose of and replace without difficulty, providing her with a outlet for her style.

A "forest of blades" set up is somewhat common in anime (I can think of examples in three other works) but rarely has it been taken this literally

Shichika successfully defeats her by relocating the battle to the one place in the shrine that he deduces she wasn’t able to conceal weapons. It’s another example of Shichika using his head, which stands in stark contrast to how he acts throughout the entire rest of the episode. He seems to have internalized thinking of himself as Togame’s sword even before Togame started using that language herself; it’s almost as if he has been waiting his entire life to entrust his mission and direction to another human being. That means, by extension, that all his thought is directed toward combat and winning battles.

Meisai’s mission, as it happens, took longer for her to discover. Orphaned at a result of the rebellion that did the same to Togame, she fell in with a group of bandits, eventually taking over the band and Tsurugi with it. Then she and they went on a standard bandit career of murder and destruction, from which she was only awoken upon killing the previous head of the Sanzu Shrine, who begged her not to let harm come to the girls there.

I don't know for a fact that Meisai's triple layered eyes are meant to be a symbol for the layers of her character, but would I like to believe so

Meisai, like Ginkaku before her, now has something she wants to protect—but unlike Ginkaku, she also has the remaining guilt of her prior life, even when she left it. The only people she remembers killing are her 43 companions in the bandit group, which she forcefully “disbanded” when she left the life herself. She, like the other girls at the shrine, is constantly working against the violence of her past. But it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up.

In this case, that catching up is in the form of Tsurugi itself, which is what triggered the conflict between Meisai and Shichika. Despite her excuses about wanting the swords for her girls, she knows that they ultimately will need to stop using them as a crutch sooner or later, and thus having them removed will ultimately be a good thing. But her own “poisoning” from the blade—and perhaps a desire, from her previous life as a warrior—makes her unwilling to relinquish it even when she can get everything she wants without it. At the end of the day she can’t avoid the confrontation, as it’s not in her nature to do so.

This episode's Maniwa offers more proof that chains make you evil. I'm surprised tvtropes doesn't have a page on that yet

I’m not certain it’s correct to call the Deviant Blades the One Ring of the Katanagatari universe, although the parallels seem to be there. Certainly, the Maniwa seem bizarre and twisted even when they don’t possess the blades, and this episode’s ninja is the worst of the lot, slaughtering unarmed bystanders simply because he could. But the real contrast of the episode is between Meisai and Shichika, who as a “sword” himself is immune to the lure of the blades, yet also devoid of normal human responses.

For Meisai, the memories of killing her companions (and, one can tell, the former priest at the shrine) weigh heavily upon her, and she devotes her life to atone for those deaths, and the countless more, she inflicted on the innocent and guilty alike. For Shichika, killing is what a sword does, and there’s no need to get emotional about it. His kill count is obviously lower, but the idea that one should get upset about winning a fight just because your opponent is dead is alien to him.

Shichika's expression here promptly changes to cheerfulness when he sees Togame, even as his hand is still warm with the blood of his opponent

We’ve seen hints of his amorality before, as he got confused last episode when Togame kept him from dispatching a pair of hapless robbers. But it’s only in this episode, as Meisai tries various forms of psychological warfare to throw him off his game, that we learn he has no conception of the value of human life. He has no real malice, and is relatively good-natured and helpful by default. But, even with his immunity to the lure of the blades, there seems to be something a little deviant about him, as well.

Accordingly, the most shocking revelation of the episode is not that he killed his own father. It’s that he didn’t remember it immediately upon being asked about people he’s slain, but only after thinking about it for a couple minutes. For Shichika, remembering that he killed his own father, his mentor and one of the only two family members he knew, is like trying to remember what you had for breakfast last week; it isn’t important enough to keep clear in your mind.

Hakuhei Sabi is so cool they change the art style whenever he appears on screen. If this world had Chuck Norris jokes, they'd be about Sabi

His relationship with Togame seems to be his only real human connection, at least in the absence of his sister (and perhaps even then). I still don’t have a clue why Shichika “fell” for Togame or what makes him so eager to become her sword, but it’s clear that Togame is the only person now who can restrain him. She seems genuinely upset that he winds up killing Meisai—although she promptly thinks better than to rebuke him for it—and it’s possible that she’ll learn to wield her sword more responsibly in the future.

All that aside, it looks like the show will be breaking formula next week, as the narrator and next episode preview confirm that what looked the final antagonist for the series, Hakuhei Sabi, will be attacking directly next episode. While I’m sure that keeping the present formula, with Sabi as an continual background threat, would have worked fine, I admit I’m curious how Shichika will take on a “final boss” a third of the way through the show.

  1. theorangeeggplant
    October 6, 2011 at 5:19 am

    Thanks! This was really helpful, I’m always so confused during the episode from all their non-stop talking making it hard to follow ^_^;

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