Katanagatari Episode 7 – I Lived and Died by Suicide
Katanagatari has been one of my favorite shows of the year, and seemed to improve with every episode. Nanami, Shichika’s sociopathic sister, is probably my favorite character thus far outside the leads. This episode contains the inevitable confrontation between the two Yasuri siblings, as Shichika’s sword hunt leads him in opposition to the only family he has left. It promised to be a wonderfully tragic moment and perhaps the most tragic event of the series thus far. So why don’t I like it?
I think a major element of it has to do with the discontinuity (in my view) of what was established in episode four, and here. We knew that Nanami had decided to start her own personal sword hunt, which led to the utter annihilation of at least two villages last season. We see the second set of sword defenders slaughtered at the beginning of the episode, as well as a completely unrelated group of monks later on when she decided to claim the Gokenji temple for her own abode. But she doesn’t do these things because she is trying to race Shichika for the swords. Rather, she wants to force a confrontation with him, and she succeeds.
Nanami previously was a homicidal monster concealed by a outward veneer of extreme courtesy and politeness. Now, she remains polite with Shichika and Togame, but everyone else she simply kills, treating not as honorable foes to be buried but weeds to be uprooted and burned. Unless she has some knowledge of who is a named character and who isn’t, this change of style has no explanation. Neither was the shift of Nanami’s stated motivations; both privately and publicly she is no longer interested in collecting swords.
The current (and final) depiction of Nanami is as a suicidal self-loather concealed by an outward level of homicidal monstrousness. It’s obvious that she considers herself an abomination and wants to die, but she isn’t willing to let just anyone kill her. It needs to be Shichika, partially just because he’s family, but also, once she meets with him, because she’s worried that he might be too soft to succeed in his journey. Learning that he’s started sparing the lives of his opponents, she thinks that he’s become too blunt of a sword.
Hearing of Nanami’s slaughter, Shichika and Togame make a beeline to the temple to confront her, but Nanami of course soundly defeats Shichika like she has defeated everyone else that has come before her. She’s absorbed several more skills since last they fought, including the absurd strength of the Itezora tribe, but her most important acquisition is Bita, the rather ominously named “evil sword.” Under normal conditions, Shichika could hope to just keep himself alive long enough for sickly Nanami to tire herself out; Bita’s ability is to fortify its user, so now even that weakness is taken away.
Shichika is driven into an even greater state of melancholy and despair than he was at two months prior, and once again it takes Togame to get him out of it. If your moves have weaknesses that your sister can exploit, she says, invent new moves. If you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Togame has failed dozens of times herself, but she’s always won out in the end because she refused to give up.
Togame, as I’ve mentioned, has been growing on me with every episode. She’s still selfish, vain, petty, and lazy, but she honestly cares for Shichika and each episode gives her greater opportunity to show off her intelligence and cunning. She and Nanami have a private conversation as Shichika continues his special training, and even as they chat her strategy for victory is being put into place. Nanami claims that Togame’s plans won’t help him win, but Togame demurs. “I don’t have plans,” she says, “I have schemes.”
And Togame’s scheme (which of course I’m not going to spoil) does work: Shichika lands a serious blow on Nanami and manages to rip Bita out of her, thus reducing her to the level of a combat genius, rather than an effective immortal. Between that and her injuries, the good guys are willing to chalk up the day as a win and leave Nanami alive—but Nanami has other ideas. She needs to die, and she needs to have Shichika do it. So she threatens to kill Togame (and cuts off her hair in the process) in order to drive Shichika to the deed.
The two of them do fight to death, with Nanami dying as much from overworking her own body as from her brother’s killing blow, and afterward Shichika reflects with Togame about the result. Although regretful, he’s not broken up about it as much as one would expect. Like Togame, he now has no family left in the world, which only serves to bind him closer to her. If Nanami’s plan was for her death to harden Shichika (and to counter the humanizing elements from Togame), it doesn’t seem to have worked.
I appreciate, particularly after it was revealed that she wiped two villages off the map in the course of a month, that Nanami had crossed a moral line and basically had to die. I am annoyed, however, that her presentation here just doesn’t line up with what was set up in episode four. One of the strengths of the series is its planning and character growth. Here, it seems like Nanami was what she needed to be for the purposes of the episode, with less consistency of characterization than I’ve come to expect.
The episode also plays around considerably with both chronology and art style. The show starts with the slaughter at Shireizan (which technically happened last episode), then follows her taking Gokenji, then jumps to the opening confrontation between Shichika and Nanami, then back to Shichika and Togame first hearing about Nanami, etc. It’s far too complicated, and, combined with the fact that even the “normal” scenes of the episode are done in a different art style than previous episodes, unnecessarily jarring.
The episode director is also apparently fond of old films (the style the episode starts with) and video games. There are three to four different game styles shown at various different points, with the slaughter at Gokenji temple being depicted twice, first as a side scrolling action game and then (in a flashback) as a space invaders style game. It’s fun, in its own way, but this isn’t supposed to be a fun episode, and the gimmicky art plays against the mood.
Overall, this episode carries with it some necessary plot developments—Nanami, as I said, had to die—and fulfilled the basic formula, but both because the of the various unforced errors of production, and because the end result just seems … lacking, I have to rate this as the weakest episode of Katanagatari since the first one. That still makes it better than the vast majority of anime currently airing, but I know this show can do better. I expect this show to do better.