Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Katanagatari 04: Smile Faint, Swift Death

Sabi Hakuhei falls and we don't even get to see it.
EPISODE 04: Hakutou Hari

It has been a month since Togame and Shichika defeated Meisai and recovered the Sentou Tsurugi from her. They are now moving on to their next opponent, Sabi Hakuhei, wielder of the Hakutou Hari (lit. "Needle, the Light") and the strongest swordsman in all of Japan. However, Sabi thwarts Togame's attempt to surprise him by sending out a letter of challenge, advising Shichika to meet him for a duel at the historical Ganryuu Island. Togame warns Shichika to watch out for Sabi's swordsmanship since he did not get the title of Japan's strongest for nothing. After hearing this, Shichika becomes interested in gaining the title for himself once he defeats Sabi but at the same time wonders if Sabi is stronger than his sister. Meanwhile, the Maniwa Corps' Insect Squad, composed of Kamakiri, Chouchou and Mitsubachi, arrive at the Yasuri's island with the intention of taking Nanami as hostage in exchange for the swords in Togame and Shichika's possession. Kamakiri, the leader of the squad and also the oldest, volunteers to perform the deed, but to his surprise, Nanami proves to be less than helpless. Next thing he knows, Kamakiri is tied to a tree with Nanami telling him calmly that she is going to torture him now for information. It is then revealed that Nanami was meant to be the next head of the Kyoutouryuu but her father refused to do so, not because she is a woman or that her body is weak, but because he did not think he was strong enough to train someone of her exceptional power and genius. When Kamakiri makes one last effort to fatally wound Nanami, the latter is forced to slay him right then, using Kamakiri's own ninpou. His death brings out the next senior member of the squad, Chouchou. Nanami faces him with the same soft-spoken calm she used with Kamakiri and kills him with the same ease, using his own technique, Ninpou: Ashigaru (lit. "Light Feet"). At this point, it is revealed that Nanami's true power is in her ability to master any martial arts technique by mere observation. Despite this, Nanami is cursed with an illness that makes her unable to fight for very long. Even Shichika is able to last a fight with her, ending it in a draw, because of Nanami's low stamina. When the last member of the Insect Squad, Mitsubachi, discovers this seemingly weak point, he tries to take advantage of it by attacking her when she seems at the point of exhaustion. But it turns out to be just an act. Moreover, Nanami is so used to so much pain that she can withstand the pain from a nonlethal dose of poison. From Mitsubachi, Nanami learns Ninpou: Makibishi Shidan (lit. "Caltrop Bullets") and how to use a sword. Later, Nanami fulfills Mitsubachi's dying wish and buries all three members of the Insect Squad together. Meanwhile, Togame and Shichika discuss their triumph over Sabi Hakuhei and how Shichika is now the bearer of the title of Japan's strongest. But Shichika knows that the title is only provisional as his fight with Sabi tells him that Nanami is so much stronger. Back in the island, Nanami is considering leaving the Yasuri homeland in order to join Shichika in his quest for the twelve deviant blades.


Talk about cheating. After all the hype around Sabi Hakuhei and Yasuri Shichika's eventual face-off, NisiOisin pulled a big one on us. We don't even see it. Crap. And in exchange we get to see how ridiculously strong Nanami really is. Where did that come from? The part about her being so strong was not even hinted at in episode one. I can tell people are going to get so mad at this development. As for me, I enjoyed the episode. Looks are definitely deceiving in this anime. Nothing is ever at it seems. A castle in the sand. A bandit who protects shrine maidens. And now a girl so powerful even her own father is afraid of her. Still, I would have loved to see more of Sabi Hakuhei. 
Now for Nanami, it's only right that the deviant sword school Kyoutouryuu would consider even her deviant. Zero Stance? I mean, yes! Why not? If swordless is possible and works very well, then why not stanceless? For all its talk about being unlimited with the necessity for swords, Kyoutouryuu is still a slave to its stances. Whereas Nanami's stanceless style is...perfect. If you have no stance, your enemy cannot fathom your movements. If you have no stance, you can mold yourself only in response to your opponent's movements. It's like Bruce Lee's philosophy of being "like water." Water has no shape. It only seems to have shape because it adapts to its surrounding. It's brilliant! I love Nanami.
In other news, Togame is finally catching up to Shichika's odd character. I'm less puzzled by the fact that Shichika is moral apathy, more by Togame's noticing it. Does she have reason for concern? If so, what reason is that? If you paste this together with Shichika's observation that Sabi Hakuhei is simply too noble and traditional a swordsman to dishonor himself for a mere sword, then you get a hint of the answer. Maybe, Togame's talk about this being a Shogun-sanctioned mission is not so true. Togame, after all, as the daughter of the failed rebel leader Takahito, has her own agenda. 
This is actually getting more and more interesting and I can't wait for the next episode.