Katanagatari 08: The Ghost in the Sword

[Mazui]_Katanagatari_-_08_[BC9141A7].mkv_snapshot_02.27_[2010.08.16_19.47.59]

After fighting the soulless, masterless doll, the human sword Yasuri Shichika finally learned what it means to have a human soul.

This episode confirmed my reading of Shichika as part of the tradition of emotionless “dolls” that find a level of humanity at some point in their narrative. Not all such characters start out thusly, but the question of their own humanity – their soul, as it were, is central to their narrative.

humanoid weapons rei ayanami nagato yuki hoshino ruri motoko kusanagi yasuri shichika tieria erde

If through fighting (and killing) Nanami his sister Shichika discovered the limitations of being a weapon without self-motivation or self-determination. It’s when fighting an automated sword that his humanity, as it were, is shown as fully realized. Katanagatari throws all subtlety out the window and forces this contrast down our guts.

Shichika is human and unpredictable, the robot doll sword is mechanical and it’s attacks are determined by it’s design.

[Mazui]_Katanagatari_-_08_[BC9141A7].mkv_snapshot_33.47_[2010.08.16_19.49.03] [Mazui]_Katanagatari_-_08_[BC9141A7].mkv_snapshot_38.08_[2010.08.16_19.49.21] [Mazui]_Katanagatari_-_08_[BC9141A7].mkv_snapshot_39.20_[2010.08.16_19.51.39]

I think there is a moral issue in the show. Shichika is a “sword that ‘shouldn’t’ care what his wielder thinks.” He is a tool, as opposed to an autonomous (moral) agent.

I think it gets played up quite obviously, without being overbearing with it. Swords are for cutting, that’s plain and the show never questions it. The very idea of “deviant blades” makes the cutting aspect of the sword never questionable.

Shichika is the sword that is superior to the 12 deviant blades. It will be proven so because while those swords are ‘only’ for cutting, Shichika through Togame will become something else, something ‘more,’ if he isn’t one already — as Nanami laments.

Shichika’s softness, or dullness — his reticence to cut (kill) is against the purpose of the sword, but is well within the realm of a sword wielder. He is becoming more samurai than sword, someone worth loving and being in a relationship with — as opposed to something to own or use.

These are my thoughts prior to this episode. Now I think it’s become even less subtle, but still not quite overbearing. The duel with Nanami was more about the moral value of human agency. The duel with the doll-sword is more about the practical advantages. Of course the human agent is valued over not-human. Shichika’s story is about finding his humanity after all.

And it happens in almost every other story – Nagato Yuki is humanized more and more in the Haruhi Suzumiya narrative continuity. Ayanami Rei becomes more than just a doll in Evangelion. Hoshino Ruri comes to terms with her ‘manufactured’ kind of upbringing and becomes a person people would rally behind emotionally in Nadesico. Tieria Erde finds himself outside Veda which enables him to regain it in Gundam.

It’s only the Ghost in the Shell franchise that doesn’t necessarily privilege being human. It still does at the end of it all, but it’s interesting to me how the narrative (at least in the Stand Alone Complex shows) contrasts two things: Kusanagi dreading losing her humanity in the sea of digital information the more she fulfills her work (in part: as a weapon against crime), then the Tachikoma (autonomous tanks) who are fully AI becoming more and more human.

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In 2nd Gig I attempted to chart a matrix of individuality in relation to this idea of weapons becoming human, and humans losing their individuality. If I were to place Shichika in the context of such a matrix, he’d be somewhere with the Tachikoma, another example of “robots with feelings,” an manga and anime tradition all the way back from Tezuka Osamu and his Tetsuwan Atom.

What makes Schichika’s story different or novel, is how it’s tied into the amoral, or perhaps even immoral quest of Togame who presents a very interesting kind of complexity in that they have this very innocent kind of love contrasting highly with the murderous nature of their activities. Together they bring out what is good and beautiful from each other. This is what makes them formidable. This is what makes Katanagatari more than just a clever mashup of tropes and fetishes.

Here’s something for you to play around with: pick one of the characters already dead (by Shichika’s hand or otherwise), but not Nanami. Pick the character who you’d think would wield this particular sword, this doll, successfully against Shichika and Togame. Why would they lose to this character?

Further Reading

A proper breakdown of the episode care of Hanners.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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3 Responses to Katanagatari 08: The Ghost in the Sword

  1. Will of the wisps says:

    Of course, when discussing a person being an efficient sword obediant to every command of his or her master, one always come back to the army=sword analogy. Should a soldier question the order of his superior? In most cases, it is shown to be an action that weakens the army besides a way for unimmaginable crimes against humanity to manifest (see German army in WWII). However, in this story, the sword gaining sentience and disobeying orders is shown to be an action that strength the team rather than debilitate it. Perhaps this may be related to how in this show, the team is a two person, small scale unit while in real life, the army is made of millions? I would love to hear what other commenters with a richer background in military can say about this.

    Something else I thought was interesting — Whether there is a common sentiment that the soldiers were “merely obeying the orders” of the “evil” officers/commanders/stratigians during WWII like there was in Germany. If there is, analyzing the link between the idea of sword gaining own will to decide moral dilemmas and the feelings of whether the soldiers were at fault for atrocities during WWII. Of course, Japanese government is in denial of most of the war crimes, and this attitude may reflect the attitude of its people, so perhaps this is a moot point.

  2. You bastard. This sounds damn hard. But I suppose Sabi would be my first choice, just in terms of strength. Though that idea becomes much less feasible given his pride and strict code of bushido. So I guess my 2nd choice would be Hulk-strong girl from the mountains (ep6). Her strength coupled with her unpredictability would do well to sap the stamina from Shichika and she’s already proven that she’s hard to plan for.

    Oh wait, she’s not dead. Bloody hell! I hate that first ninja. You know what? Kyouken Maniwa before the body thievery. That combination of speed and stamina should do it, but that’s a pretty wild guess.

  3. Pingback: We Remember Love Editorial Folio Vol. 5: The Appreciation of Character | We Remember Love

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