Friday, March 12, 2010

Katanagatari 03: Shrine Maidens and Bandits

EPISODE 03: Sentou Tsurugi

After leaving Inaba, Togame and Shichika next go to the Sanzu shrine in Daisen, Izumo where Tsurugi Meisai, the head of the shrine and the owner of the Sentou Tsurugi (lit. "Thousand Blade") can be found. They finally reach the shrine after climbing 100 steps all the way to the top, with Shichika carrying Togame most of the way. They are met by a woman who identifies herself as Tsurugi Meisai -- or at least, his successor. As for her real name, she has forgotten. Togame then goes off with Meisai to start the negotiation process by offering the Shogun's protection of the Sanzu shrine in return for Sentou Tsurugi. Meisai admits that the deal is too good to refuse and goes on to explain that the maidens at her shrine are all victims of abuse and therefore need her protection. But instead of accepting Togame's offer, she makes one of her own: Togame must find the original Sentou Tsurugi from the 1,000 blades and once she does, Meisai would agree to a one-on-one fight with Shichika, with the winner taking all. Later that evening, Togame discusses the deal with Shichika, who is once again acquainting himself well with her hair. Unknown to both of them, their conversation is being observed by Meisai's two bodyguards, who then report the matter to their master. Meisai comments that Togame's hair did not become that color unless something significant happened. She likewise notes how Togame wears bright clothes, which she interprets as Togame's determination not to forget herself. Meisai guesses correctly that Togame may be the daughter of a feudal lord. The next day, Togame goes to start her task of identifying the original Sentou Tsurugi. All of Meisai's 1,000 shrine maidens present their sword for her inspection. However, when Togame picks up one sword, one of these maidens goes berserk and attacks her. Thankfully, Meisai intervenes, getting cut in the process. Meanwhile, Shichika disregards Togame's orders not to wander around the shrine and tries to help some of the shrine maidens with their work. At first, they are terrified of him but after seeing that he means no harm, they quietly return to their tasks. Meisai hears about this and decides to have a sit-down with Shichika. She tries different tactics to disarm him -- first, by trying to gain his sympathy (she says that she is using the Sentou Tsurugi to help her maidens in the hopes that they would find inner peace through the sword) and then, by getting him to question his belief. But her tactics only make Shichika think all the more that she is a worthy opponent. Just then, their conversation is halted when they finally notice Maniwa Kuizame of the Maniwa Corps in the vicinity. In typical Maniwa ninja fashion, Kuizame brazenly announces his intention but Meisai kills him off using his own weapon. Afterwards, Togame returns to say that she has found the original blade, supposing the one with the oldest scar on its sheath to be it. The next morning, Shichika finally faces Meisai in the battlefield. However, instead of fighting him outright, Meisai flees from the scene, forcing him to chase after her until he lands on a trap where she reveals the true face of Sentouryuu (lit. "Thousand Blade" Style). The style seeks to use any sword found in a battlefield and is based on the principle that all swords are dispensable. That said, Sentou Tsurugi is the perfect weapon to use in the execution of Sentouryuu. Meisai also reveals that her father had been a commander of Izumo's defense corps but was killed, along with all of the students of her family's kendo school, fighting the rebels under Hida Takahito. As an embittered orphan, Meisai joined the bandits, whose leader then owned the Sentou Tsurugi, rising up in the ranks and eventually deposing the leader and becoming possessor of the famous blade. As the new leader of the bandits, Meisai murdered many people, including the original Tsurugi Meisai. However, her encounter with Tsurugi proved to be her undoing as it made her see a different purpose in her life. She went back to the bandits' lair, killed all 43 of her comrades and then took Tsurugi Meisai for her name and became the head of the Sanzu shrine. Her purpose is now to protect the maidens of the shrine with Sentouryuu. Claiming that her technique is invincible, she wants Shichika to give up but he refuses. There is a weakness in Meisai's style and he takes advantage of it by running back to the shrine where he knows no trap is waiting for him. Realizing that her strategy has failed yet again, Meisai declares that she would lose this battle if Shichika makes sure that the shrine is protected. After Shichika agrees, Meisai then reaches for another blade that she has hidden under the ground. Shichika immediately recognizes it as the original Sentou Tsurugi and adds that the weapon has chosen Meisai, just as he as a "sword" has chosen Togame. Meisai attacks and Shichika moves into position. When Togame finds them, Shichika is standing over the bloodied form of Meisai on the ground. Togame starts to say that Shichika did not have to kill her but catches herself. Later, she says that Meisai, as possessor of one of the 12 Deviant Blades, may have been corrupted by the sword's power and never would have given it up unless forced. This prompts Shichika to wonder whether Togame would give up the Zettou Kana and the Zantou Namakura had he lost the fight, to which Togame only replies that she never even considered that Shichika would lose.


This episode was even better than I expected. Just as I did in the previous episode, I love the main villain. Meisai's back story doesn't really put her in a sympathetic light but what she's done after the real Tsurugi Meisai freed her with his death from the trauma of her past is nothing short of amazing. That said, she isn't a villain but an antagonist and a very well-constructed one at that.
I especially like the fact that Meisai is more connected to Togame than either of them realize and that the anime hasn't taken advantage of it by trying to forge an insignificant conflict that would have occurred had either of the characters discovered the truth. I like how they left that little part up in the air sort of, maybe to be tackled again at a later episode. I can say the same thing about Shichika's revelation that he slew his father. That's supposed to be a big revelation for the character but it was very casually introduced that it might slip right past the less attentive viewer.
Speaking of Shichika, is it just me or does the young man seem to be lacking some moral restraint? Or maybe, it's not a lack of morality, but more a lack of temperance? Shichika seems to understand sentiment well enough but so far hasn't exhibited an ability to be moved by it. He sees things in black and white and acts accordingly. Togame is the complete opposite. As a strategist, she has to consider not only the whole picture but the tiny details as well and tiptoe around them so as not to tip the scale. This, I think, adds dynamic to their interactions, makes them all entertaining and at the same time authentic. The slapstick aside. Although this month's slapstick got my seal of approval: visual sexual innuendos FTW!


Anonymous said...

The guy/girl above makes a significant point about Meisa's character. Katanagatari strikes me in a way other anime doesn't. Specifically in terms of character. Also I think the opposite persectives of Shichika and Togame are a great aspect of their relationship.

Since everyone else pretty much covered story I guess I'll do the semi-bland thing and talk about strategy and attack. Tsurugi is used specifically for Sentouryuu. But the art itself isn't very practical unless you have two things. The quantity of swords and space. And the fact that your opponent does not interpret the accountability of said space and runs away from it. Focusing one sword is a more effective strategy. Thinking a sword is disposal the way Meisa used them is the equivalent of using a gun. (A not a very good one.).

jute said...

Hi! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. The "guy/girl" above is me. :)

I'd like to say something about Sentouryuu since I didn't say anything about it in my post. I think rather than "quantity" of the swords, it should be availability. For as long as a sword is available -- including even that belonging to the opponent -- the technique is extremely effective. The problem here is that Shichika doesn't use a sword so Meisai has to depend on her own swords. That's why she has to create that elaborate trap; she has to have a sword within her reach in order to put up a good fight against Shichika.

I'm not sure I understand the parallelism you're trying to draw between a "disposable" sword and a gun. However, I do believe that the Sentouryuu is not that different from Shichika's Kyotouryuu. Both techniques do not entirely depend on the sword as the be-all and end-all of every fight. However, the similarity of both techniques ends in that Sentouryuu still requires that some kind of weapon be used while Kyotouryuu is entirely weaponless. That I believe is the reason why Sentouryuu is inferior to Kyotouryuu.