I’m not sure if the conceits of the show hang together in the end (I had just finished watching the finale), but right now it feels that way. And, for feeling that way, I feel rather fulfilled. The very ending gave me a “chin up, kid” kind of impression, something that I’d rather do without since I’d prefer a straight up harrowing tragedy of emotional wreckage, but I propose that it ties in symbolically with the word that can represent the subversive spirit of the show:
Togame dies, and her final wishes to Shichika include the quest to have the whole of Japan to adopt the word “cheerio” for encouragement.
This is representative of the whole conceit of altering the course of post-medieval Japanese history. Shikizaki Kiki saw a future Japan destroyed by foreigners (WWII, if my history is correct) and therefore seeks to correct the historical distortion of the Yanari Shogunate (which replaced the historical Tokugawa; again, if my history is correct). Kiki was a soothsayer from a clan of soothsayers. He used his ability to obtain designs and production methods to make his line of deviant blades.
Whether this succeeds or doesn’t is not quite resolved; even if the Yanari shogunate ended, I’m not sure if who replaced them is historically accurate. The primary sponsor of the Shikizaki plan: Princess Hitei, didn’t seem so thoroughly concerned with the outcome as much as she was concerned that the plan play out either way.
But if we can be fairly certain, that “cheerio” never caught on, and that Hitei never replaced Togame in Shichika’s heart – not that Hitei seemed that interested to do so… whether the real history (as experienced by the present Japanese) is affected as a result of the events of Katanagatari is pretty much moot.
A useless exercise, except…
Katanagatari is showing me that a way to make a love story memorable is to destroy it. And it did. It destroyed the romance of it, and yet it becomes a romance in a greater sense… as Shichika plays out the machinations of Shikizaki and Hitei, it is very important to note that he isn’t quite doing it for Togame’s sake.
In the end every character retreats to the self, become smaller human beings… but truer, more authentic, and perhaps more beautiful in my eyes. Ironies abound… how the living weapon that is the 7th Master of the Kyotoryuu becomes truly human in his desire not so much to keep loving, but in his desire to die.
He did not lay siege to the Shogun’s fortress to exact revenge. He came there to die on his own terms. And in attempting to do so, he actually fails to die at all.
And yet, it leaves me with this yearning for what could no longer happen… a capricious journey throughout Japan by two strange people who fell for each other. Katanagatari reminds me of this sure-handedly by having Hitei follow Shichika in his travels, and having Shichika utter his and Togame’s shared words to her.
I feel like going further, but at that point I think I’d be already torn to pieces.