Monday, August 2, 2010

How Katanagatari’s 7th episode managed to piss me off

Katanagatari, that show with that unusual style of animation, the show that releases one episode a month. It’s a show with unique characters and conversations and even more extraordinary morals. I’ve come to love it unconditionally during the past six months for its distinctiveness in these features.

Then why, why does it feel like episode 7 slowly starts ruining everything?

Do you know the meaning of the words amoral and immoral? According to wikipedia, the difference between these words is something like this: “Amoralism is the complete absence of moral beliefs, and/or the unequivocal belief that the theory of morality is immaterial. Though often associated with immoralism, the two are fundamentally different. Immoralism is a system that does not accept moral principles and directly opposes morality, while amoralism does not even consider the existence of morality plausible.”

In other words, humans who go against morals are immoral, while humans who have no knowledge of morals could be considered amoral. A lion eating a zebra is not immoral, it’s amoral. Immorality is often used to separate villains from heroes. The average anime villain enjoys hurting others mentally or physically and has a dark goal to reach his/her immoral aim while destroying enemies (the good ones). Someone who is immoral could therefore be considered bad or evil, while amorality has no good or evil, only pragmatism. Katanagatari is one of the very few anime in which the lead character is fundamentally amoral without being cruel.

Due to their isolated upbringing, Shichika and Nanami behave amorally. What’s fascinating is that they aren’t animals. They’re well-mannered (though uncomplicated) and only attack when provoked. There’s no bloodlust and no anger, only calmness and control. This is what I found highly intriguing. Shichika will kill when attacked, even if it’s a woman or a child, and he’ll be genuinely happy when he succeeds in defeating them. It has nothing to do with wanting to kill another human being, it’s just that the act of defeating an enemy usually results in his death and can’t be helped. Shichika respects his opponents fully, but doesn’t hesitate to attack with full force when necessairy.

Nanami is even more fascinating. She must be the strongest fighter in the world, but at the same time she chooses to live peacefully on the island. In episode 4 she killed the 3 maniwani who were after her. Though it was shocking and cruel, at the same time it was not. Ninja invaded her territory with evil intentions, so she killed them. Their backgrounds and families didn’t matter. She killed them without breaking a sweat and then buried them next to eachother as they wished, in a proper way. That’s not cruelty, but it isn’t mercy either.

I thought it was just like something that Katanagatari would pull, having seen a glimpse of the impossible strength of the sister while at the same time keeping her on the island, just with episode 4 as an intriguing fact and then following Shichika and Togame for the rest of the series. I thought it was ingenius. I loved it.

Then episode 7 arrived. Nanami, indiscriminately massacring a whole village and a temple. Unnecessairy killing. There was nothing fascinating about that, she was just a plain old evil onee-sama this way. It was like she changed from being amoral to immoral and I’ve already seen immoral anime characters a thousand times. They partially took away from her the thing that was just the best about her. Shichika came and killed her, just like she wanted to.

Shichika, by the way, is getting softer. He’s slowly gaining morality. That, too, isn’t interesting. Like I said, the anime universe is made of morality and immorality, and for a show that didn’t focus on either of these two it’s a pity to move into the realm of commonness. I know they probably want to develop Shichika’s character this way, and a bit of insight into morality isn’t really the problem: the real problem is the unique character of Shichika changing into a normal hero with predefined and common morals. It’s boring.

Is Katanagatari losing its magic? Well, as we have 5 more episodes to go before the ending, I don’t hope so. I genuinely hope it will keep entertaining me in the same unique way it has been doing all along. But episode 7, though still interesting, smelled of its demise…


  1. True, true, BUT I think you're selling the Shichika angle short.

    The show is also a romance. I strange, confused, and stuttering romance to be sure, but still a love story at its heart. Love REQUIRES a sense of morality (or grows one) in order to function, since you have to VALUE something to love it. It would make sense that Shichika would obtain a sense of good and evil as he begins to reflect his wielder's intent. It's actually a mirroring of the effect that the Deviant Blades have on their wielders. Of course, there's a moralistic result that follows (the show basically states that morality + amorality = immorality, VERSUS amorality + morality = morality).

    I find the unflinching and straightforward way that Shichika approaches his developing heart refreshing, since he doesn't mope so much as make decisions or look confused. Similarly, Togame wrestles with the conflict between her desire to be single-minded and her own developing morality in regard to her "sword".

    Instead of looking at Katanagatari as a unique narrative, I think if you look at it as a bizzaro-world version of The Jungle Book, you can continue to appreciate the anime even into its second half. Don't be surprised to find the person who changes the most will be Togame.

  2. haha, true enough ^_^. To be honest, I was hesitating to write something about the romance then decided not to. What you're saying about morality as a requirement for the development of love is something I hadn't consciously thought of myself yet, but I suppose the story could indeed remain interesting if you look at it in this light.

  3. Mm, mm. I can see where you are getting bothered by it. Can I offer my own view? Well I am anyway.
    On Nanami, while it's a departure from her attitude from before, it feels like something completely natural for her. She hasn't had the help of someone like Togame while joining normal society, like Shichika has. Togame showed Shichika that he cannot just simply treat humans as another part of the surrounding world, each one must be treated... as well, a human being. And henceforth, he learned to appreciate an individual. When you live isolated like he did, you don't understand the ripples that arise out of killing one human being. Togame showed Shichika those ripples, and told him they were a bad thing to cause.
    Nanami didn't get such help. Instead, her first contact with society (episode one excluded) was a brutal battle with three deadly assassins. Sure, she mowed them over, but it was a first contact nonetheless. And then, as we see in episode seven, she has been chasing after the Deviant Blades as well. If Shichika's story has been showing us, they're more often than not a fight to the death for the sword. Take into consideration that she would probably be running into criminals after arriving on the mainland, she's probably been fighting for a good chunk of her time in society. A life like that's bound to estrange her a little bit.
    However, yes, I do have to agree that Nanami seems to have developed a bit overboard. I haven't read the original novels, but I'm willing to place money on it just being SHAFT, the studio producing the anime, doing what they're good at: shooting an arrow, and hitting just off the mark.
    On the second point, how Shichika seems to be becoming "normal," I'm not too worried. While I find a normal Shounen hero just about as annoying as you do, I have trust in the author. Nisio Isin, if you've read any of his previous novels (which I strongly advise if you haven't) is amazing at pulling the most surprising twists out of nowhere, all the while stringing along a brilliantly constructed story. I wouldn't put it past him to end this with a surprising development for him towards the end.

  4. Just a quick fix for Raiza. SHAFT actually isn't even touching this one, it's a studio called White Fox I believe. You probably just were confused because Katanagatari and Bakemonogatari (which was done by SHAFT) were novels written by the same author. Had to throw that lil tidbit out there.