Katanagatari continues it’s narrative, offering twists on familiar tropes and stereotypes. It gives an impression that it is quite unpredictable, and yet feels very familiar (and consequently predictable as well). In this episode Shichika and Togame take on the Pirate-King of Kyushu who holds the most ridiculous of the 12 Deviant Blades yet.
By ridiculous, it’s not even a sword. It’s an entire suit of plate armor – more ceremonial looking, than an actual suit used for a full charge on horseback. Its trimmings give a vague impression that it is a Japanese sword, with its headpiece resembling a hilt. Otherwise, it very much functions as a powered armor straight out of Genensis Climber Mospaeda or Iron Man, without the ability to transform, shoot projectile or energy weapons, or fly.
It ‘cuts’ when the ‘wielder’ launches himself in a full body block type of tackle more at home in an American football game than in a samurai period drama. But these aside, it presented an interesting matchup with Shichika’s Kyotoryuu style of martial arts.
Azekura Kanara wields the Yoroi, a sword that is fashioned for defense (as I already mentioned, ridiculously so). I’m a fan of fighting sports, particularly mixed martial arts and boxing. I can tell you after watching MMA for a decade and a half, and boxing for two decades and a half, there is nothing more boring than two defensive fighters matched against each other. There’s a lot of circling around, lots of less-skillful feints and attempts to get the other fighter to commit first. This is because the defensive fighter is confident in not getting hit, and being able to launch an effective counter.
However, neither fighter is confident in launching probing, much less direct attacks. So fights like these end up lacking action and exchanges.
It’s a very good thing that Katanagatari is not very interested in realism.
The whole idea of Yoroi is a defensive sword simply means that the armor is invulnerable. The ‘wielder’ simply cannot get hurt while inside. The combat aesthetic in the show is still rooted in the kenjutsu philosophy of “one cut, one kill” so whatever technique Shichika has in store against Azekura, it’s a silver bullet. The strength of this week’s Deviant Blade is demonstrated when it proves to be completely invulnerable even against the Kyotoryuu technique used against it.
The battle is resolved when Shichika is coached by Togame to look beyond Kyotoryuu, that he has become strong even outside the parameters of his art’s techniques. This I think is a rather important development not only for Shichika, but also for Togame (her strategy is spot on for a change), and for their relationship (Azekura presented himself as a professional and romantic rival). I think this will be important later on.
With brute strength Shichika picks up Azekura and freaking shoulder presses him. This prone position wherein Azakura is only supported by Shichika’s palms on certain points on his backside has rendered him immobile, and then Shichika finishes him by throwing him 10 meters in the air.
Here’s what I don’t like about this episode: First, the (rather) offhand description of Kyotoryuu as a defensive style (“analysis” offered by the aide of the mysterious woman who dislikes Togame). It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, since the style itself is filled with counterattacks. Also, it’s rather difficult to threaten a swordsman without a naked blade in the traditional sense; the spacing and distance becomes complicated. However, this ‘defensive’ description seems arbitrary given how in episode two, Kyotoryuu was already demonstrated to be a probing and attacking style.
In fact, given the nature of the quick-draw (Iaido) demonstrated by Uneri, this was the defensive matchup of the show. Uneri’s Zerosen is probably the best defensive technique in Katanagatari so far. Shichika was forced to be the aggressor here, and he was more than competent at being one. So for the show to use that mysterious woman – playing Ms. Exposition, is kind of a cheap trick.
It’s a cheap trick to set up a cheap stylistic contrast between Azekura and Shichika, and an even cheaper gimmick for the Yoroi.
Now, I may sound like I hated this episode, but actually I found it entertaining. I just don’t think it’s very well done.