Uploading a piece of Katanagatari meta I wrote back in 2014. Do I think it's any kind of definitive reading of the series? Not necessarily, but I still like it.
In the shadows: Togame’s character arc in the first seven episodes
Togame has always been a cold-hearted, ruthless schemer. She thinks of nothing but revenge and cares for nobody, betraying her allies. Shichika is only a weapon, her tool used to exact this revenge. Togame says this. The other Katanagatari characters say this. The few pieces of meta I’ve found also subscribe to this image of Togame.
But is this true? Or how much of it is what Togame wants others to say about her?
The core of Togame’s character arc– found in the first seven episodes of Katanagatari–is really about the path she takes to becoming the ruthless schemer she claims to be.
Nanami: What exactly is a strategian?
Togame: Specifically, I’m the army general director in support of critical tasks under direct control of Yanari Shogun of the Owari Shogunate, the strategian Togame.
Nanami: Um. Is that a new post created in the past 20 years or something?
Togame: No I just made up that title.
Shichika and Nanami (thinking): Self-named….
Togame: If tactics are created by a tactician, strategies are created by a strategian!
Although Togame works for the Shogunate, the title she goes by, and everyone refers to her by–“strategian”– is made-up. Togame is a strategian because she says she is a strategian, though in the first episode little is shown to support this claim. Togame is shown to have poor follow through– falling on her face during her initial attack against Shichika (Why don’t you keep practicing until you master it?)– and doesn’t do any scheming or make any impressive deductions in this episode. Nanami is the one who figures out the boatman was the ninja who attacked them. And the episode ends with Shichika only attaining the first Deviant Blade through luck. Togame’s reputation as a traitor is also shown to be inaccurate. Togame tells the siblings that she wants their help as all previous allies have betrayed her. Koumori later confirms this saying he did betray Togame. So did the other Maniwa and Sabi Hakuhei.
And Shichika is the one who does the scheming in episodes two and three. When negotiation attempts fall through, he is asked by Togame what should they do to obtain Namakura, the second Deviant Blade. Shichika’s first idea is to let Togame get cut in half and strike down the swordsman when he leaves the castle to dispose of her body. Although played for comic relief, this suggestion is not only cruel but smart. Especially coming from a character who claims to be unintelligent. Yet in the end, Shichika does come up with the strategy to obtain the second blade, a strategy that involves using Togame’s face as a springboard. Togame is angry after the fight because Shichika is the one who is a tool to be used, not her. She tells him not to do it again. He doesn’t, but this doesn’t stop others from using Togame.
In Episode 3, Togame ends up a tool in Meisai’s scheme. Meisai agrees to give them Tsurugi under two conditions: first, that Togame finds the original blade on her own and second, that Shichika defeats Meisai in a fight. This first condition–Shichika later figures out– was a way for Meisai to find time to hide the swords around the shrine. And, in retrospect, it makes sense: of course Meisai would recognize her own swords.
This changes in Episode 4 after the fight with Sabi Hakuhei. This fight is important because–if we go by what Togame and Shichika say– it is the first fight in which they worked together to defeat an opponent using Togame’s strategy.
Shichika: It was definitely a close battle. Without your strategy, I wouldn’t be alive now.
Togame: What do you mean? My strategies don’t mean anything without your skills.
In Episode 5, we see Togame and Shichika work together to win Yoroi from the pirate king. And in Episode 6, Togame is shown to be more ruthless than she has ever been before. At the end of Episode 1, Shichika vowed he would protect Togame but in this Episode Togame tells Shichika that if Kyouken jumps into her body then kill her even though both would die. But it’s in Episode 7 that Togame pulls off her greatest scheme: Shichika’s defeat of Nanami.
The episode is an important one for Shichika and his character development but it’s just as important for Togame. Because Shichika is emotionally unable to deal with the thought of having to fight and murder his sister, it falls to Togame to figure out a way. Although Togame knew nothing about swords at the beginning of the series, she is now the one who corrects Shichika’s moves, telling him which ones to discard, which to study. She is the one who picks the location and prepares the candles. Togame’s talks of being a top strategist have finally come true, further supported by the following episodes.
Most of the Katanagatari meta I’ve seen only talks about how Shichika’s relationship supposedly humanizes Togame. They fail to mention how he is also the whetstone that helps to sharpen her. An important point in relation to Katanagatari’s Deviant Blade metaphor. According to the show, Deviant Blades get their name from how they poison their users. Although this is only shown literally with Mekki, it is implied that all Deviant Blades have some influence over their others and Shichika is no exception.
But if Togame’s arc is about becoming a ruthless strategian–or at least her learning to utilize the skills she’s always had–why does make such a big deal about it from the moment she’s introduced? It could be because, in Katanagatari, reputation is everything. There is nothing more important than what you say or what others say about you.
Words are everything in Katanagatari, whether it’s a catchphrase or a person’s last words (you only say them once). The first episode ends with Shichika making a spoken pact to serve and protect Togame as her sword. All we know about the Sabi Hakuhei fight is what Togame and Shichika say afterwards. Yet even though the characters in Katanagatari talk a lot (does everyone from the mainland talk as much as this?), this doesn’t mean they are always truthful or unbiased. In the first few episodes of the series, Shichika says he’s dumb yet is shown to be more shrewd and ruthless than Togame. But he’s not lying. Of course Shichika would think he’s dumb when the only people he’s ever known, the only people he’d be able to compare himself against, are his father and Nanami.
Reputation is also important. Togame buys Shichika clothes, telling him that if he doesn’t cover himself others will gossip about them. The Pirate King doesn’t care if he wins or loses his armor, all he cares about is what will be said afterward. And Togame knows this. She takes pride in her self-made title of “strategian” and her reputation as a heartless tactician. A reputation she creates and clings to because it is all she has. She dresses like a princess but she isn’t one, not anymore. Revenge is all she has now. Even if the only means to accomplish it is by becoming only a tool in a greater scheme, a supporting role in Shichika’s sword story, her reputation is the only thing she’ll have after she dies. This is why she holds onto it, even with her dying words.