Katanagatari Episode 11 – Changing the Rules of the Game
I mentioned last episode that I wasn’t too impressed with the revelations of the last episode, as the fact that the Kyotouryuu fighting style is a creation of Kiki Shikizaki was too clearly telegraphed in prior episodes to be that shocking. This episode, by contrast, is filled with surprises, such that I don’t even know where to begin covering them.
One thing I’ve tried to do in my Katanagatari reviews is not be too spoilerish; I’ve nearly always kept the method of victory in each battle secret. This time, however, its going to be impossible to say anything of substance about this episode without dropping major revelations, so I’m going to recommend that interested readers watch the episode all the way through first. Those who read on anyway, do so at their own risk.
The basic framing for the episode is simple. We get a flashback to Houou and Emonzaemon’s initial fight, in which Pengin unwisely tosses the unsheathed poison sword to Houou, only to discover that the poison of the sword isn’t just an affliction to those slashed by it. Houou is possessed by the spirit of Kiki Shikizaki, and promptly overpowers both Emonzaemon and Pengin.
It’s not his purpose to kill either of them. Pengin he leaves wounded for Togame and Shichika to find, to let them know that he can be found at the Maniwa’s village. (Only the possessed Houou and Pengin know its location.) Emonzaemon he leaves alone, possibly because he knows that Emonzaemon will eventually kill Pengin off, ending the Maniwa line entirely.
Shikizaki isn’t really a swordsmith; rather, he’s a prophet, a seer, from a family of the same, and his gifts of swordmaking was taken from knowledge of future techniques and technology. It’s also clear, even as Shichika defeats and kills his possessed form, that his plans are still in motion.
In fact, the entire alternate history setting of the show (with the particularized ninja arts of the Maniwas and the super strong Itezora tribe and all the other historical anomalies) came into existence only through Shikizaki’s interference. One of the more confusing conversations in the last episode suggested that Togame’s father rebelled to correct the “distortions” in history, with minimal explanation save that the deviant sword under his castle was somehow guiding his actions. Now, it’s revealed that he was trying to restore the time frame back into order.
Why Shikizaki did all this, and why he sought to eliminate the Maniwa tribe when he helped to create it, and why he would deliberately pick a fight which Shichika, the descendant of a man he not just trained but viewed as a friend, is unclear. But when you’re dealing with someone who can not just see the future but change it, it pays to assume that he’s gone through all his options. If Shikizaki really has remade all of history to serve his ends, he has to have some deeper purpose behind it all.
Emonzaemon forms another interesting puzzle. We learn, like Togame and Hitei and who knows how many other people in this show, that Emonzaemon is not is real name, but his exactly former relationship with Houou is unclear. The two speak as if they were brothers, and know many of the same moves, yet Emonzaemon’s clan was eliminated decades ago. Very likely, he possesses the same life extension power as Houou.
Emonzaemon’s knowledge is not limited to just the mysteries of the past . He seems oddly aware of the weaknesses of Pengin’s seemingly unbeatable defensive technique, making cryptic comments about fate that imply that he, like Shikizaki, has some knowledge of the inner workings of the world.
He’s also remarkably ruthless; the only emotion he shows when defeating and killing Pengin is thinly controlled rage, because Pengin spends his last moments pleading for his life. (This is only the second time in the entire series, by my count, that he’s shown serious emotion.) By contrast, Togame spared Pengin earlier—even if she knew she couldn’t protect him long term—although Pengin is completely surprised by the action.
Of course, Pengin is basing his impressions of Togame off of second hand stories from the ninja who betrayed her; his source is hardly unbiased. But Togame herself admits that she has softened remarkably in the process of traveling with Shichika. Like with episodes seven and eight, this episode brings to completion the character development that was promised last time. Only now has Togame, through the influence of her partner and the resolution of her family issues, finally learned to trust.
It’s unfortunate for her that by opening up last episode, she gave a spying Emonzaemon the clues to figure out her real identity. Princess Hitei is actually shown hesitating over using it against her, not wanting to use such a method to crush her longstanding rival. Thus, it’s even possible (if rather unlikely) that Emonzaemon is acting on his own initiative when he confronts Togame and Shichika, as the pair return to Owari to return the latest sword.
Under orders or not, Emonzaemon identifies Togame as Princess Yousha, the daughter of the rebel Hida Takahito and still under sentence of death for the latter’s rebellion. What happens next brings an end to the sword hunt in a way that I don’t think anyone was expecting. But this, unlike everything else in the episode, I will not directly spoil.
What is clear is at all bets are off for the finale, and that the many deaths contained within this episode will only be the beginning. Whether Shikizaki’s second death has removed him from the chess board entirely, or if he plans to restore himself again through other means, his pieces are still in motion. And both Emonzaemon and Shichika are likely in their number.
My only concern is that the show introduced too many elements at the last moment to be properly resolved by the end of next episode. We have Shikizaki’s plot and motivations, Emonzaemon’s backstory, Hitei’s ultimate plans, the mystery behind Pengin’s power failure, and the means by which Takahito sought to restore the timeline all remain in question (in a rough order of descending importance).
Very few shows could pull off the balancing act that it would require to reveal all that information and produce the action and excitement that this series deserves for its final episode. What Katanagatari has shown time and again, however, is that it is one of the few that can.