***This review contains extremely mild spoilers in the 'Story' section. Nothing major.***
Katanagatari is an anime that I have had to watch a couple times in order to fully pull my thoughts together. The first time I watched it I was very interested in the relationship between Shichika and Togame but the ending left a very bad taste in my mouth. After recently finishing it for the third time however, I have a revitalized liking to the show because after carefully deducting the plot, I am at peace with the ending.
A basic run down of the plot is that Togame (a self-proclaimed strategist) travels to hire Shichika in order to help her collect the twelve deviant blades that were left behind in the previous war. Unlike typical anime that have a runtime of around twenty minutes per episode, Katanagatari runs about fifty minutes per episode. When it first started airing, it only provided one episode per month so this pacing really made it a unique experience that both worked well and hindered the plot and sequence of events. Just a fair warning if you do not like excessive dialogue and the typical “I’m going to name all my attacks and tell you exactly what is on my mind at all times” speeches then steer far away from this anime. The very clever and witty dialogue between all the characters never gets boring or excessive in my opinion but to someone who is used to watching very cut up and short scenes, they might begin to lose focus. Everything about this anime feels like it’s continuously flowing on and never stopping or backtracking. Also the way each episode feels like a self-contained story focusing on one sword per episode is an example of how the runtime helped the anime feel more enjoyable. With all that screen time however there are some issues that affected me personally. While most of the dialogue is enjoyable and relevant to the story, in the earlier episodes there is quite a lot of rambling that honestly I think was put in to fill up some time. Also the real eureka moment where everything falls into place and you receive all the pieces of the puzzle doesn’t start formulating until around the ninth or so episode so while the earlier on episodes are entertaining on their own, I felt a little left out of the picture. These two negatives are the only reason I gave this anime less than a ten on the story section; it is a very well written story that’s ending will pull on your heart strings and also feel very rewarding for sitting through.
A first glance at the animation will make you think it looks “cheap” and “plain” and you are completely right in a sense. The animation style is very simplistic but yet at the same time very unique and beautiful. The backgrounds, character models, and fight scenes are all very quality work. It is also apparent that as the show progresses, the animation quality does in tandem. It still retains its style and presence but we see better reflections, more color depth, and much more fluid fight scenes. Each character we run into looks very refined and unique. The anime tradition of including obscure camera angles of certain lady parts comes into play in the later episodes but it is by no means ecchi. Overall it starts out a very unique looking anime and by the last episode, it blossomed into a truly beautiful work of art. It’s just too hard to score it higher when compared to other great looking anime (Fate/Zero, Nisemonogatari, Redline, ext).
I have to say that from a total music geek’s perspective, Katanagatari COMPLETELY caught me off guard. While most people will watch this anime and not really notice the score backing the show, it was very apparent to me from the beginning that the music not only set the moods perfectly but also as standalone musical tracks sounded great. The anime offers a very diverse offering of music ranging from pop and synth heavy parts to some of the best orchestral arrangements I have heard in a show. The music in the last episode really impressed me to a point that during my previous watch I grabbed my guitar and starting playing while watching the show. Not only is the music well done but also the voice acting of the Japanese staff. Since this anime relies on long drawn out conversations as a means to introduce different plot devices, it is very key to have voice actors that can bring out their character’s personalities and quirks. Each character in this anime was voiced very well and was distinctive from everyone else. I felt like this show really nailed all the acoustical elements needed for any form of film.
For a show that introduces a lot of characters, I felt as if most of them were given ample amounts of time to have decent character development presented. There were essentially three “factions” in this anime; Togame and Shichika, the Maniwa Corps (a faction of ninja that broke away from the government), and Princess Hitei and her servant Emonzaemon (there is also another character that acts on his/her own accord but I don't want to ruin the surprise). All three of these groups play major roles of who controls what swords and information. While some of their intentions are not shown until very late into the show, you could honestly side with any of them. There really wasn’t a “bad guy” presented until the very late stages of the show. Each group had rational reasoning for their actions so you felt more inclined to their cause. Another thing that I really like about the characters in this anime was how the Maniwa Corps was represented by different animals. Each member was symbolized by a different animal and their techniques mostly resembled their animal counterpart. Overall each main character performed very well and had a lasting impression on me. There were however some characters (mostly the Maniwa Corps members that had almost no screen time and a couple of the sword owners) that really did nothing for me. They just had no awe inspiring personality and in some cases were left out almost completely. One BIG example was the swordsmen Hakuhei Sabi who took the sword made out of glass. His character was described in such a way that made him sound like the most badass sword fighting character in recent anime history and when the episode came that they would fight him, I was completely stoked...except that they didn’t show it AT ALL. So that I don’t want to spoil what really happened during that episode but as for the fight between Shichika and Hakuhei, they just skip over it entirely and in the final minutes of that particular episode they briefly go over the fight and just say how close and amazing it was. But they never show it; it really pissed me off.
This show has gotten to a point where when new anime watchers ask what they should dive into first, I usually recommend this one first. It is just such a unique watching experience that I have never felt before. While I wish the plot was more prominent in the beginning and that some of the characters were explored a little more, this anime did more than offer an interesting adventure; it crafted a unique tale that had the best sense of growth that I have seen in recent anime. The ending ties up a very interesting plot that honestly caught me off guard. This anime has all the action, fighting, and beautiful set pieces you would expect from a high quality studio that made other great anime such as Steins;Gate. White Fox did an amazing job and I hope one day you will take the time to watch these brilliant twelve one hour episodes.
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