Character Cache: Yasuri Nanami

 

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Given that Katanagatari is the only show I’ve seen four times since I picked up anime in mid 2011, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say Katanagatari is the anime which has fascinated me most.  And within Katanagatari, Yasuri Nanami is the character who fascinates me most.  There will be spoilers, so if you’ve not seen Katanagatari yet I highly recommend you do so.

Before it even comes to character traits what I love about Nanami is her character concept – namely that she’s a character who is so strong her power is killing her.  Actually it’s so strong it’s been crippling her since birth and she’s now reaching the point where it will kill her at age 21 (I think), but that’s too in depth to sound slick and cool.  This is concept is not unique but it is sort of a more typical “stronger spells/jutsus/techniques/etc. have greater consequences when used” just taken to an extreme.  What really sets Nanami apart though is that she can’t turn her power off and she did not do anything to obtain it – she’s just born with an awesome power which was always too much for her body to handle.

I’m a huge fan of the general stronger move has stronger consequences concept and I hate it when shows just sort of sidestep it *oh shit we can’t have Sasuke go blind from overusing his power, quick get him new eyes so his powers no longer have consequences that sounds cool right?*  The fact that Nanami has had this power from birth and suffered the consequences from birth makes it a cut above though, especially as it helps play an important role in the kind of person she is and the decisions she ultimately makes during the course of the show.  For context her power is that she can copy any move she sees, with the caveat she needs to see it twice for the copy to be perfect.  If her claims are to be believed she can see through the all the moves any martial art might have just based on the stance her opponent takes, which is why she doesn’t ever use stances when fighting – in sharp contrast to her brother Shichika who puts a lot of emphasis on his stance throughout the course of the show.  Also this power allowed her to absorb the superhuman strength of one the mythical clans present in the show, the Itezora clan, still not sure how that works but whatever.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Katanagatari is set in alternate timeline of Japanese history where a certain soothsayer creates 12 magic swords during the Sengoku Jidai – the war where Oda Nobunaga becomes famous – to distort history.  He does this because he can see the future and knows about Japan’s downfall under the Tokugawa Shogunate and thus manipulates history to attempt a different outcome.  Because of this history meddling Katanagatari is full of abnormal abilities and clans which are described as something which could have potentially taken place in our history – though obviously they didn’t.  The 12 magic swords are only known to high level government officials and their agents, the sword masters who wield them and the Maniwa Ninjas.  What no one realizes until very late in the show is that Shikizaki Kiki – the soothsayer who made the swords – actually made a 13th sword, the sword which isn’t a sword, Kyotou Yasuri.  This manifests as the special martial art which mimics swordsmanship native only to the Yasuri family, Kyotouryuu – the flow of the empty sword.

Despite being the eldest child Nanami isn’t taught Kyotouryuu by her father, who appoints Shichika as the head of the clan – but she watches Shichika learn so she learns it anyway and is ultimately far better at it than Shichika due to her eyes.  The Yasuri family and the 7 siblings (there are only two siblings but Shichi and Nana both mean 7 and they are the 7th generation of the clan) are all a peculiar bunch but it’s most heavily pronounced among Shichika and Nanami.  The two live on an island with only their father for company for 19 years and live another year alone after he passes.  In addition both are raised to think of themselves as swords instead of people, which is why Shichika initially has no compunction killing female or weak opponents.  But Shichika is ultimately recruited on a mission to retrieve the 12 magic swords and that journey humanizes him – Nanami on the other hand only really sees Shichika and the woman who recruits him, Togame, as humans.  Her relationship with Shichika largely maternal as most of what she does is in his bests interests and she thanks Togame for taking him away because she thought it be a waste to see him rust away unused on the island.

Regarding everyone else Nanami is a psychopath.  In fairness this in part her father’s influence since he taught her to be a weapon instead of a human.  However as the show progresses Nanami gets borderline genocidal as she wipes out the entire populations of three key locations in the story.  Perhaps genocidal is too harsh as it’s not as though race has any bearing in her decision making, she describes the rest of humanity as weeds and thinks of her mass murder sprees as nothing more than weeding.  She also has a very dark and twisted sense of humor and seems to believe she should’ve either never been born or been killed long ago – and when she enters the story as Shichika’s opponent for the 7th magic sword in episode 7 – she does so because she wants Shichika to kill her.

In retrospect I have to wonder just how genuine her behavior is.  She makes it quite clear the reasons she confronts Shichika is that she wants to die and for whatever reason suicide isn’t an option, though she also wants him to learn the weakness of the new special technique he invents in episode 1.  She also makes it clear that she would’ve have been fine with their father killing her the previous year, something Shichika stops by killing their father.  However as Shichika has progressed on his journey, and more specifically his last two opponents, he has learned to show mercy where he can and given his natural instinct to care for Nanami as seen in episode 1 it wouldn’t be all that unthinkable for Nanami to believe she would need to resort to extreme measures to get him to kill her.  He in fact proves that to be true as he doesn’t agree to fight her to the death until she threatens Togame.  That being said their odd upbringing, her knowledge of the fact that her father allegedly killed her mother, and by extension her belief that inter-familial killings were part and parcel of the Yasuri clan and her generally weird state of mind make her thoughts difficult to track even if her endgame is clear as day.

Another fascinating thing about Nanami is that she proves herself to be the most dangerous being in the entire show, to the point where Shichika can’t beat her in a fair fight.  Though Nanami herself has few cryptic lines to suggest her strength in earlier episodes it’s not until episode 4 that Nanami bursts off the page and jumps to the top of Katanagatari’s power level charts.  Personally I find the scene where she fights Maniwa Chocho to be what seals the deal, she ends their pre-fight banter with this evil little smile that sends chills down my spine every fucking time I see it.  Though the fact she takes on three Maniwa ninjas and kills them in quick succession help.  She also wipes out two “Special Disaster Zones” which are areas so dangerous the Shogunate won’t touch them, with remarkable speed as she has strict time limit while fighting.  And the sole survivor of the Nanamicide, Shichika’s opponent in episode 6 remembers her in this split second artsy flashback shot where she looks like some hellish spirit, it’s fucking rad.  And like I said she is the only opponent Shichika seriously loses to, as he and Togame have to use a special trick to temporarily blind her so Shichika can steal the 7th sword from her.

One of the more interesting parts of Nanami’s mindset is her relationship with geniuses and talent.  Geniuses and talent, as well as how geniuses interact with normal people are themes which consistently appear in NisioisiN’s – Katanagatari’s and the more famous Bakemonogatari’s author, works.  In Bakemonogatari for instance there are entire arcs dedicated to the weirdness surrounding Hanekawa due to her genius state of being.  And in Medaka Box arguing about the nature of talent, luck and geniuses is central to several major arcs and all the important characters’ development.  In Nanami’s case specifically she envies everyone else’s ability to work hard and achieve something because she can take up anything with ease and as such can never get that feeling of accomplishment.  And I have to say that while nothing will ever come as easily to me as it does to Nanami and I don’t think I’m a an actual genius, I agree with her sentiments – I’d rather feel accomplished after hard work that just get everything without breaking a sweat, no matter convenient or helpful that might seem during moments of frustration.

Another of the many bizarre facets of Nanami’s character are some her dying words.  She mentions how relying on the 7th magic sword, which forcibly healed whomever it was stabbed into was absurd and weakened her despite ostensibly removing her time limit while fighting.  Part of her justification was that a sword shouldn’t use a sword though I feel like relying on it did in fact weaken her as Shichika is able to kill her in fair fight once the sword is removed – something he previously couldn’t do even before she got the sword.  She also said that by gaining powers with her eyes she was ultimately weakening her powers, a dubious claim considering the range of powers she gets but one that might not be entirely false as she was able to handily defeat Shichika with non-lethal techniques, something she wasn’t shown to be able to do previously – though in this specific case it’s hard to say what other options she had as she had no intentions of killing Shichika even if she wasn’t just going to let him win.

Nanami is a difficult character to parse.  One second she is the caring maternal figure, the next a mass murdering maniac – though I suppose she can be both at once given that she taught Shichika to stop chewing on his fingernails by ripping them out.  Until she obtains the 7th sword her thoughts appear entirely lucid even if they are abnormal or outright fucked up.  Even with her “it’s good, or maybe it’s bad?” lines after she grabs the 7th sword it’s hard to tell if she’s genuinely losing her mind or if that’s the result of her naturally warped sense of humor.  Likewise when she really goes overboard and seems to showcase a total lack of regard for humanity, is that genuine or was it an act to convince her brother to kill her?  Probably both given her upbringing, though she shows no outward sadistic tendencies or overblown personality traits prior to episode 7.  The only thing which I believe one can rightly attribute to Nanami is an acceptance of and familiarity with death.  Nanami wants to die.  Nanami also kills more people than anyone else in Katangatari.  Therefore Nanami and death go hand in hand.

The difficulty and darkness associated with Nanami as a character, as well as her overwhelming power and its consequences, are what draw me to her – though her fantastic character design certainly helps.  I’ve yet to find another character even remotely like her and trying to plumb the depths hidden behind her all-seeing purple eyes is an endeavor I find endlessly intriguing.  That, among many other reasons, is why Katanagatari is one of my favorite anime of all time, and if you made it through this entire post without having seen it, I once again highly recommend that you do.  Hope you enjoyed this post.

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