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Fun With Names: Katanagatari (刀語)

Welcome to Fun With Names, where I break down the various names in anime and this week's name of interest is none other than NisiOisiN's Katanagatari. This author is known for his character-driven mystery works and his widespread use of wordplay and emphasis on the eccentricity of his characters. NisiOisiN plays around with a whole lot of the names in his works, including Hachikuji Mayoi from Bakemonogatari (you can find that Fun With Names entry here: Hachikuji). With the author's emphasis on wordplay, I figured it would be cool to look at a NisiOisiN work that anyone somewhat familiar with his work will automatically link to him: Katanagatari.


Katanagatari is set in feudal Japan, during a time of great political turmoil and follows the journey of Togame, a young woman sent by the Shogunate to travel across the land in order to collect the "Deviant Blades". The swords were created by the mysterious swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki and each of the twelve blades has its own abilities and uses. Togame visits a seemingly uninhabited island seeking out the head of the Kyotouryuu style, a sword-fighting where one's own body is wielded as a blade. Yasuri Shichika, the enigmatic 7th head of the Kyotouryuu style lives in exile with his sister Nanami; however, when Togame requests his help in searching for the Deviant Blades, Shichika accepts out of his interest in her. Together they travel the land meeting strange and interesting characters while also engaging in exciting politically-charged combat against swarms of enemies who want the swords for themselves.


Now on to the fun part. Katanagatari is instantly recognizable as a NisiOisiN work at first glance by people familiar with some of his other stuff, like the Monogatari Series, for example, due to the nomenclature of the various parts of that series. We have Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Hanamonogatari, Kizumonogatari etc. forming part of this greater "Monogatari universe" and Katanagatari sounds like yet another installment in this universe. It isn't. In Japanese, "monogatari" is written 物語, and the word means "story". So each fraction of the Monogatari universe is some story centred on a particular theme. When one sees "Katanagatari", it isn't much work to automatically associate it with the Monogatari line of stories, except with... Japanese swords?


Katanagatari is written 刀語, which is literally "Sword Story", so even in written Japanese the show seems to follow the same nomenclature as the Monogatari Series - but what's different is how it isn't "KatanaMONOgatari". The way it is written, the intention behind the name is to bring out the fact that it is a story about swords. However, there's more to it than that. Knowing NisiOisiN's wordplay, "Katanagatari" could be seen from two perspectives. 1) Katanagatari, as in, a story about swords. 2) Katanagatari, as in, a phonetic combination of "katana" and a modified form of "katari" (騙り), which means "to deceive", perhaps a nod to the nature of the Deviant Blades, how people come to possess them and even how they themselves are not all that they seem?


The second one is of course a play only on the sound of the word "Katanagatari" and is hence just a construction one could make if they only hear and never see the official Japanese title. However, it's still interesting to think about. NisiOisiN has written many stories and the implication of the written form of the Japanese word for story, "monogatari" (物語) contains the character for "talk". Perhaps each "monogatari" NisiOisiN writes is one expected to be passed on through word of mouth, much like the tale of Shikizaki Kiki and the Deviant Blades spread throughout feudal Japan in the series. Perhaps these are just musings. Stories themselves come with names of their own... because names are important.


Katanagatari Op-ed fun with names anime

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