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Katanagatari Episode 8 – Pinocchio’s Progress

I was fairly critical of last month’s episode of Katanagatari, but even there I noted it was not an objectively bad episode. It just completely failed to match the excellence that this show has shown on a regular basis. It felt like the writers took what should be one of the dramatic climaxes of the series—Shichika’s face off against his own sister—and produced it with the quality of a filler episode.

This episode, by contrast, provides the emotional catharsis that really should have been included last episode, but does it so well and so thematically I can’t much complain about the end result. Far from being a life-changing event, Shichika defeating Nanami and losing what biological family he had is only one step in his continuing journey to becoming human.

This episode also marks another Maniwa being killed, in order to conceal the location of Juu, the Flame Sword

We’ve had swords that are actually suits of armor, arcane life force generators, and even ultra-heavy clubs, so it’s obvious when people talk about the “deviant blades”, the blade part should be taken in a very loose fashion. This time the sword, Kanzashi, is a clockwork doll, known in legend as Biyorigou, which guards the site on which Kiki Shikizaki hid his workshop. Its programming is to kill any human that tries to find the workshop, so Togame sees taking it as a crucial step in the sword hunt.

Now, a lot of this is completely lacking any sense of realism (clockwork constructions can’t tell humans from anything else, can’t be programed at all, and aren’t solar powered), but as usual that’s not the point. Those overly concerned with realism should have gotten off this train when Koumori Maniwa did his shape changing act. Rather, it provides a trigger for Shichika to reflect on his own journey, and how he is no longer an object himself.

Clockwork gears cannot explain half of what Biyorigou can do, but the animators still make it look cool

One thing that basically everyone has taken for granted from the start of the series is that Shichika is a sword, a thing to be wielded, rather than a person. Even Togame, who has been the primary instigator of his growth as a human being, resorts to this language frequently and without guilt; when Nanami complains that Togame has been letting Shichika grow blunt (by not killing his opponents), Togame retorts that her sword is hers, to be used as she sees fit, and Nanami concedes the point.

But Togame’s actions, if not her words, have been precisely those to bring Shichika out of his objectification, so firmly ingrained that even he didn’t see the need to challenge it at first. For all Togame’s faults, she’s taught him of the value of human life, of loyalty to another human being, and of the range of emotions that come from being in love, and being a person. She is the one who has made him human.

I mentioned in my first episode review that Togame is utterly devoid of fashion sense. We now know this extends to architecture, too

His slow-growing humanity shows in a variety of ways throughout the episode, from actually expressing his opinions on matters to finding humor in an impossibly gaudy house in Owari (which happens to be Togame’s, of course). However, the main difference is in his interactions with Togame. Granted, he still doesn’t seem to understand how men and women are supposed to relate. But he does seem to understand how humans are supposed to relate.

You could make a drinking game in the first half of the series out of the number of times Shichika was in a compromised situation with Togame, or otherwise exposed to her body, but it never seemed to affect or interest him. Now, he’s playful and expressive in all his interactions with her. Granted, it’s more like a child might express affection for a sister rather than anything romantic, but it’s another step in his learning human affections. And there’s still four months to go in the series.

In addition to their normal antics, there's a bit of a running gag about how many different ways Shichika can carry Togame

In fighting Biyorigou, Shichika comes to realize what he was, and what he is now. Biyorigou is a masterfully crafted fighting machine, but Togame manages to decipher its moves by observation and has Shichika memorize her findings. Shichika can keep alive and unharmed because Biyorigou cannot deviate from its programing; once that has been cracked, all the remains is for him to outlast it.

In the same way, Shichika has come to realize that his old self, when he existed as a mere sword, could not have defeated Nanami. Only through coming to terms with himself as a person, and finding out about his own desires (particularly, to defend and aid Togame), did he find the strength and the will to succeed. In many ways, this episode shows that Shichika is not only not hurt by losing his sister—he is freed. His former way of life, as an unfeeling and uncaring sword, has passed away for good with her; now he can be more than just an object.

The doll isn't actually crying at being defeated; that's a rain drop. At least, probably

This episode is the culmination of everything that has happened in the entire series prior; each month providing a slow progression of Shichika’s transformation. It’s most evident in the quiet respect and compassion he shows to Biyorigou; it might just be a doll devoid of feeling and humanity, but once upon a time, so was he. This empathy, even beyond what Togame is inclined to grant, shows that he is developing his own moral standards and habits, not just assimilating hers.

This episode also sets up what will be, along with the ultimate destruction of the Maniwa clan, the end plot for the series. Togame’s rival, Princess Hitei, plays a prominent role in this episode, providing the location of Kanzashi while secretly hoping it kills them, and sending her personal ninja to hide evidence of the location of another of the swords—the one she is keeping on her mantle. If they are the ones I think they are, then the finale will be a confrontation between these two enemies, as much as it is between their champions.

Togame and Hitei engage in what seems like ritualized smack-talking before settling down for business. Sometimes it's hard to tell that they're not friends ... but only sometimes

There’s a lot about Hitei herself that remains unexplained; both her history with Togame and her odd appearance (apparently her blond hair and blue eyes are real, not just a conceit of the animators) need to get explored at some point in the future. More notable, however, are her similarities with Togame. Both are survivors, who have overcome multiple setbacks in pursuit of their goals of greater power and prestige. By sheer determination, each has reached the position of influence they currently hold, and each has an omni-competent and utterly loyal fighter at her side. The only thing in their way is each other.

Oddly, had the two faced off from the beginning of the show, I’m not certain whom I would have naturally sided with. Neither Togame nor Hitei come across as the most morally upstanding individuals. But over the course of this year, we’ve had the opportunity to learn of Togame’s depth, of Shichika’s growing humanity, of their struggle together. They’ve proven themselves worthy protagonists, even if flawed ones.

Yes, one of the swords is actually a pair of revolvers. Remember what I said about the "flame" sword?

There may be a similarly moving story behind Hitei as well—given Katanagatari’s tendency of creating quasi-tragic situations, it would not surprise me if we learn at least some of it eventually—but by now the loyalties of most of the audience are set. (At least, mine are.) The next four episodes cannot come quickly enough.

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