Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anime and Video Game Characters: Nanashi Part 2

So I am damn unsatisfied with my earlier Nanashi post, so this time I hope to do a better job. And to do this I asked myself a very crucial question.

Why does Nanashi go back to help Koutaro? In the beginning he didn't even want to help the boy. Hr only agreed to take Koutaro to the temple because Koutaro promised a reward of a gem worth "ten ryo". And at the temple Nanshi finally receives his payment. His duty to Koutaro ended there. So why does he go help Koutaro? It can be argued that nanashi and Koutaro formed a friendship together. in fact, they did. That's the majority of the movie. But doing so forces Nanashi to risk his own life. Would Nanashi die to save a friend? That's a conflict that requires a look at Nanashi's past.

Nanashi lived a good part of his life as a samurai serving a feudal lord. he served the lord blindly and became the best soldier. It is uncertain, but I think that Nanshi became friends with Itadori. At the very least, Itadori admired Nanashi. Nanashi had a future as a samurai. Then everything changed when he was forced to kill two girls. He hesitated because it went against his principles, but he also had his loyalty to his lord to think about. The insults from the older girl finally makes Nanashi act, and he kills the two.

So does Nanashi help Koutaro because they are friends? There is definitely that in the decision, but it is not the main reason. If Itadori was a friend, then Nanashi threw him away. That is the same as if Nanashi left Koutaro to die. Another argument is that Nanshi did it for himself.

While walking away from the temple, Nanashi did not know that Koutaro was in danger. All he heard was the sharp cry of the hawk, the same cry that interrupted his fight with Rarou. And after seeing the wounded soldier, Nanashi jumps into action without knowing what the conflict is. He is fueled by adrenaline, and he's probably not in full control of himself. Yet he sees Koutaro being carried off, and he gives chase. He fails and takes out his anger out on the monk Shouan.

And here is where more interesting stuff is revealed. Nanashi accuses Shouan of betraying Koutaro. And Shouan agrees. But Shouan also defends himself by saying that if he hadn't, he would have been killed. Then Shouan asks Nanashi if he could do it, if he could go against authority and do what's right, even if it means dying. And at that point Nanashi recalls the moment where he killed the two girls. Back then, he could not follow his principles. He was just like Shouan, following the orders from authority. But Nanashi wonders the same question as soon as Shouan asks. Can he do it? Can he do the right thing? He no longer has obligations to an authority figure. Now it's just him and his principles. Would he try to save Koutaro even if it means death? And finally, Nanashi decides to save Koutaro. He calls Shouan lower than a dog for betraying Koutaro and leaves.

Is Nanashi being selfless, or is he trying to prove that he is not the same? He called Shouan lower than a dog, and he probably thought the same of himself back then. Perhaps Nanashi is trying to make sure that he is differentm and saving Koutaro is how he is going to prove to himself that he can stick to his principles. With this argument Nanashi is no longer primarily motivated by friendship but by trying to attain self worth.

And then there is another crucial element to consider: the seal on his sword. Although the truth is never revealed, it can be assumed that Nanashi placed that seal on his sword after the incident. But what does the seal represent? Does it represent his desire not to kill? No. Even without breaking the seal Nanashi kills. This can be seen where Nanashi thrusted his sword (inside the scabbard) against the neck of the Ming soldier. Then what other meaning can be given to the seal? Perhaps it is to remind him of the evil that he did. But wouldn't his life already remind him of that? He is no longer an honorable samurai but a wandering ronin, without a place to belong and without friends. Then maybe it represents his promise never to stray from his principles anymore. It is a possible explanation. Equally important is his breaking the seal. This comes right after Nanashi dreams about his past, and the audience gets to see the dream fully for the first time. Why does Nanashi break the seal? He needed to break the seal so that he could kill the scarred soldier quickly, and that's a practical reason. But perhaps there is also a meaning behind it? Either way, it is a powerful moment in the movie and is the only time where there is a slowdown of time. Maybe Nanashi no longer needs to promise himself to follow his principles. He is already doing so by saving Koutaro.

So there is support for Nanashi risking his life to save Koutaro. Nanashi formed a friendship with the boy and wants to save him. Nanashi uses it as a final test to see if he can truly live up to his principles. I think that it is a mix of both arguments. Then it wouldn't hurt to consider one more thing.

Why does Nanashi accept Rarou's duel at the end? He finally achieved his goal, saving Koutaro. So why does he enter one more fight? The reason is not because Rarou would kill him if he refused. Rarou's reason for living is to fight the strongest warriors, and in his eyes Nanashi is one of them. He wouldn't end his dream right there. No, Nanashi is free to walk away. But he decides to fight Rarou. And when Rarou offers to take away Nanashi's pain, Nanashi refuses and replies, "Pain let's me know that I'm still alive" Maybe what Nanashi means is that there is no person that doesn't go through hardships. Everyone goes through painful experiences in their lives. It is up to them to survive and move on. Monk Shouan could not and committed suicide. Nanashi accepted what he did and moved on. As for the fight, maybe Nanashi wants to feel that nostalgia of being a soldier. Maybe he is not so different from Rarou. He also wants  a fight that will leave him satisfied. But this is a questionable idea because when Koutaro asked Nanashi to teach him how to use a sword, Nanashi warned Koutaro about it not being all glory and power. I think that at this point Nanashi no longer has the desire to seek fights. But emotions can change quickly, and maybe just meeting Rarou awakens Nanashi's bloodlust. That bloodlust is definitely there during the battle.

And maybe Nanshi is willing to accept his death. He followed through with his principles, and now he has no more goals in life. "But Nanashi also fights back against Rarou and desperately dodges," is a possible counter. But I did not say he wants to die. What person wants to die willingly and does nothing to prevent it? No, Nanashi wants to fight Rarou, and if it is time for his death, then he will accept it. Of course, the ending doesn't help because it's unclear if Nanashi survives.

But I think the strongest motive for rescuing Koutaro is friendship followed by self worth. Why friendship? Nanashi empathizes with Koutaro. After Nanashi bathes at the hot spring, the black hair dye comes off ,and he reveals that he is a foreigner. He dyes his hair so that other people won't see him as different. And afterward at the bandit camp, Koutarou reveals that he had no one to depend on. His mother died, and his father disappeared. Monk Shouan took him in, but his only friend has been pretty much only Tobimaru. Hearing Koutaro's past may have reminded Nanashi of his own. I am guessing that Nanashi too felt alone because he was different and was only used by the feudal lord as a tool. And this perhaps cements the friendship between the two.

But enough with this. I am still confused about Nanashi's character. Perhaps there is someone who can help me understand him better. I did not expect this much complexity in an anime character. Especially in a character from a movie.


  1. That not two girls, but an elder brother hugging his little sister ( who I presume must have the same age as Koutaro - and the same bad temper -), who scream hysterically after her brother being killed inf ront of her.

  2. How do you know that? I'm so amazed!!!!!!!!!!!!!