In the wake of a rebellion that shook Japan twenty years prior, Togame Hida, general director and strategist for the army, seeks to obtain the 12 "deviant blades" created by master swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki to help add stability and security to the Bakufu government. To aid in this endeavor, she looks to enlist the help of Yasuri Mutsune, head of the Kyotou-ryu school and hero of the rebellion. But when she arrives on the island where he lives in exile, she finds him dead, succeeded by his skilled yet slightly daft son Shichika. Undeterred, the two set off from the island in search of the swords armed only with Togami's sharp strategic mind and Shichika's powerful, swordless Kyotou-ryu.
StoryKatanagatari has no right to be as grand and engrossing as it is considering its impressively banal premise. A mysterious woman called Togame turns up on a lonely island to recruit the martial artist Shichika. She needs his help to gather twelve swords from twelve immensely powerful warriors, and the twist is he will do so using no weapons of his own. All we need now is to line up the bad guys and watch the good guy pound through them one episode at a time. Superficially, that’s exactly what happens. Every episode guarantees a bare bones episodic mystery and a feast of chanbara cliches to hook the mainstream (any fan of Ninja Scroll, Rurouni Kenshin, or the more bizarre Samurai Champloo, for instance, should find lots to love here). Substantially, though, this is just the show’s way of playing with us; after building certain expectations using the right hand, it magnificently twists and exceeds them using the left. I refer not just to its whimsical non sequiturs like The Fight That Never Was or its casual meta-references, but the entire construct in general is a curious marvel. While essentially delivering a rousing, twenty-first century equivalent to Kenshin’s Kyoto arc, it actually swaps most of the physical ‘action’ for clever dialogue. Those already familiar with other Nisio Isin adaptations (Bakemonogatari) might have been more prepared than I, but the initial episodes seem jam-packed with people talking. Luckily, with the script lifted to some significant degree from light novels, it benefits from sleekly edited repartee and witty wordplay. By the end, recurring lines consciously forced into the story - like Shichika’s ‘By then, you will have been ripped to pieces’ - become natural rabble-raisers or else clever motifs to thematically tie events together. Not that Katanagatari is incapable of stunning action sequences. The unusual format of twelve one-hour instalments ensures that, after substantial character development, there’s still plenty of room to stage a spectacular battle. Stylised and inventive, but also brief, the duels cap the hefty narrative like jewels on a crown. Anything from the fourth episode onwards is marvellous, but if Shichika’s final fight especially doesn’t set pulses racing, it means the audience is dead. Katanagatari has ‘brave’ written all over it. It subsumes a set of clichés and tropes into its own unique fable, neither insulting our intelligence nor forgetting to deliver thrills. Its conclusion is ponderous and potent without being overwhelming or contrived. I cannot imagine anyone walking away from it unsurprised, but for me its ending was an opportunity to sit a few minutes mostly just thrilled and enthralled by its rare creativity.AnimationI will not argue that Katanagatari is technologically innovative or even strong. Relying heavily on a combination of quick cuts, slow motion, and stills during fights, it ensures we rarely see more than a second of continuous movement. I will argue, however, that it is nevertheless beautiful and exciting. When it matters, the direction tries to find new ways to frame a clash, and the expert editing (aided by cinematic sound effects) leads to a strong sense of dynamism. Thus, Katanagatari’s artistry is much more evident in its clever composition and careful application of a modest budget. The animators didn’t scrimp on character designs either, which are quirky almost to the level of a Gainax work. Conniving Princess Hitei with her two-toned, cloud-like hair reminds me of Nia Teppelin from Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. Togame’s cute-but-understated design and Shichika’s maple leaf motif, as well as the Maniwa ninjas’ impractical animal theme costumes, all add an unusual zest to Katanagari’s visual concept.SoundMany of the main themes are not to my taste, being so heavy on the synth that I cannot quite distinguish a melody. The music during the episodes, however is subtle, diverse, and appropriate to the Edo period depicted.CharactersTogame represents the brains of Katanagatari’s outfit, composing schemes that utilise Shichika’s strengths to defeat their enemies. She combines her formidable intellect with a temperamental personality, which never seems as contradictory as it perhaps should. Interpretation plays a role, of course, but Togame’s embarrassed rants and petulant whinging come across like luxuries she affords herself while travelling with Shichika only because she otherwise plays the cool, unflappable strategist. This make her cute and vulnerable as opposed to crass and annoying. In any case, voice actress Yukari Tamura captures the contrasts in her personality marvellously, flowing from one extreme to the other while making it all meld into a coherent and deeply sympathetic personality. And Shichika, having set off from his island a ‘blank slate’ simpleton, clearly needs her direction. A somewhat blunt instrument, he is seemingly fit between duels only for carrying her luggage, holding her long hair while she dresses, or standing against the sun to provide shade while she writes. Apart from that, something appears essentially wrong about him. Although perfectly polite and forthright, his lack of moral opinions or principles signify deeper disturbances and a bizarre mystery at the heart of the story. For him more than anyone, the quest becomes a unique opportunity for growth. Togame and Shichika take a leaf out of the Spice and Wolf book of romance by being open about their feelings without bashing us over the head with it. I would venture calling them a comedy duo first and lovers second. Their development as partners involves a lot of playful antagonism as she insults his lack of flair or poor dress sense while he absorbs her teasing with a combination of steadfast pragmatism and simple gormlessness. Satisfyingly, they are not limited to playing quaintly off each other, delivering troubled or tender as easily as they do slapstick, and encapsulating the warm charm of Katanagatari’s cast. Relegated to one episode each, the antagonists mostly stick to their gimmicky roles. There’s Ginkaku who sits in a tiny room of an abandoned palace, mourning the loss of his kingdom. Or Meisai, who runs a kind of nunnery in repentance of her murderous past. Their personalities hinge on peculiar tragedies but how their narratives spin out never feels manipulative. One or two of them even emerge from the left field to crash what seems a purely Togame and Shichika driven narrative and make unnerving impressions of their own.OverallKatanagatari’s episodic format is merely the springboard from which it leaps towards heroic heights. It takes us on a long journey that miraculously feels over all too soon, and when the characters walk onto the screen, we cannot wait to hear what they say. For fans sick of shows that blunder maddeningly at the finish line, especially, it offers a cure of perfect delivery - a story that’s witty and thrilling from its first moments all the way to the final cheerio.
Katanagatari (directly translated to English as Swordstory), is from the same guy who wrote Bakemonogatari. As famous as that anime was, I wasn’t very thrilled with its episodic nature. The smart gags and the wordplays were all nice but all the rest felt like random psychedelic rambling with lots of otaku culture cliches. But it still had enough artistic expression and weirdness to be memorable in a way.Katanagatari is practically reusing the same formula, only here it offers a better feeling of progress, focuses more on the main characters and less on most others who come and go in the same episode they appear. I for once welcome this change in a positive light. You can’t watch the episodes in random order and the characters don’t mysteriously disappear after their use in the story is over (even when killed they are still mentioned in passing). ENJOYMENT The strongest feature that exists here is its style of conscious trolling, you literally know the scriptwriter is messing with your expectations but you actually like it. That means, things are made as to make you expect something that never happens and surprises you with its unexpected turn of events. In most other series, being trolled is a very negative feature, the cause to hate an anime and downvote it for disappointing you or ruining your expectations. Easy examples are the wars foreshadowed for dozens of chapters/episodes in famous fighting shounens such as Naruto and Bleach. We were promised a war of epic scale and were offered a lukewarm and poorly handled line of small spars that were hardly exiting. Katanagatari managed to reverse the feeling with smart gags, wordplays, and using a famous literature devise of foreshadowing called “Chekhov’s Gun”. If you are given a detailed description of a gun, you are given the impression it will be useful in the plot later on; that is, someone will fire it or it will be a key element in revealing the mystery. Most authors are advised to hide their guns as best as possible with subtle hints and red herring (intentional misguide) in an attempt to make the revelation less expected. But not this author. No sir, he is firing his gun all the time and throws it at your face. You are of course expecting for this gun to be damn important later on. And no, that moment comes and goes as if the gun was just a cigarette lighter. Ooooh, you didn’t see that coming! How unexpected!As I said, this works only because the show never tries to be too serious to anything other than the core reasons every character is fighting for. All your expectations from the plot, formed by decades of stereotypes and tropes are in this case working against you, being used by the author in a way to make YOU the reader/viewer the expected and the stereotype. The roles are in a way reversed and you become the kitsch factor; the joke is on you and in this case it is funny. It is a kind of humor that directs at you, making you part of the show. Just like when a magician makes a building disappear, you being present and gasping at the illusion is actually part of the act as well. You don’t know it but DAMN it works.So yeah, I liked it how I was being trolled all the time with events I couldn’t predict. To the overcritical this will feel like the show is going through totally random events and stupid character reactions, which is true and made deliberately as such. It was funny, unlike those stupid wars in other shows that were supposed to have seriousness and consistency. The only reason I didn’t give a full mark is because I’m not fond of the long talking feature. I prefer more action and less blah-blah, which is a personal taste that can vary from one person to another. ART First of all two warnings about what will follow. By any means, do not try to view this show as historically accurate. It has ninjas dressed more colorfully than circus clowns, while it features guns and robots centuries before they are even invented and introduced to Japan. Also, by any means do not try to view this anime as an action series. It has action alright but it is much undermined in favor of dialogue. Plus, most battles are made to last only a few seconds as part of being trolled again. You would expect them to last for entire episodes yet they end quite fast and anti-climactically. Sounds frustrating but it’s meant to be funny. Now onwards with the rest of the animation.A nice contrast of plain character designs next to a broad range of colors and patterns filling said designs; it creates a dreamy feeling, open to personal interpretation. I mean, how old is each character or how does he look in real life? The artwork does not help; you need to imagine all that; and this is what makes it great; making you imagine the scene despite it being shown to you. You are forming the details in your mind, practically embracing the characters. The environments are basically colorful cartoons so even when you don’t want to think, you are still taken in by the visuals, like reading a very well made picture book. Once again you are tricked to be part of the act, which is what I call genius.But you don’t need to think so deep if you don’t want to; there still is a large amount of fan service present, as each scene with the main duo is basically passing like sexual foreplay. It is not original in any way but in this case the author once again manages to turn the joke on you. Because the stereotypical couple would be about a tsundere loosing her clothes all the time before the guy, who would immediately have a nosebleed, she will scream, call him a pervert and hit him a hundred times. Well, again this is not the case here. The lead guy has NO idea how to be ashamed of nude and the girl is NOT afraid to be naked. Heck, they spend a lot of time being naked or him smelling her hair and although it doesn’t feel sexy to them, we are completely taken in by the fact that for us it is. Ingenious! I will still not give full points here. Although the cinematography part is brilliant, the characters remain terribly frozen for several minutes. It is supposed to be part of the whole picture book act but ten minutes of endless talking with the screen showing the same picture slowly scrolled sideways can get to your nerves. Not a tragic problem but I sure mind it a bit concerning animation... which means something moving. SOUND Voice Acting is superb; although at first it will feel like amateurish or stereotypical, in reality it’s again just more trolling. Each character will have a very distinctive voice, accompanied with personal catchphrases and different pinch in voice. It may feel like a repetitive joke at first but in reality it is a basic way of character immersion. At some point all their reasons for talking like that are exposed. So yeah, voices are not random cartoony squeaks, they are part of one’s personality. The dialogues are again great to listen too; I get easily tired if they are long but they are great nonetheless. After all, most of the series consists of talking rather than acting, so we are talking about a lot of speech here. In fact you can watch half the show without even staring at the screen but just listening to what they say. What makes it interesting is once again the trolling part as you are constantly fed with possible future actions that are proven fault or meaningless a few seconds later. Heck, the characters themselves are constantly fooling one another with misunderstandings and wordplays, so the feeling is mutual. But jokes aside, the seemingly endless talking offers insight to each character’s personality. Ten minutes of a monologue and you know who someone is or what he/she wants. It will feel artificial or forced at times because of the long duration but it still helps you to get to know them. So yeah, great work here as well. If I need to lower the score a bit, that will be the Music Themes. Nice pieces of pop with folklore and ambient overtones but not something to hum for life. Not a real minus but I only give full score to series with memorable songs. There are otherwise numerous and each episode even features a different ending. STORY The core story is quite the simple one; one guy and one girl, stroll around Japan to find twelve magic swords. One each episode they face a villain of the month (well, it was a monthly series) and acquire a sword. This pattern does not change from beginning to end but what DOES make it feel better is the way each sword is acquired. The method used each time is different, the circumstances are different, heck, the whole aim of the episode is different. So don’t expect the lead to constantly use his signature move as panacea every time; each adversary needs a different approach. Another minor but nice detail is how the weather slowly changes per episode to signify the time of the year it takes place in. So even in such a formulaic show there are plot twists. Some events occur in moments or in ways you were not expecting, thus being trolled once again in a good way. Even the ending is considered quite uncommon for such shows. Not only it is strong and solid but features events most would never expect the outcome despite the info being offered by previous events. But as I said earlier most of the plot is talking rather than acting; the actual screen time of getting the sword lasts only around 5 minutes at each episode. The rest is getting to know the characters and fooling around; thus the core series is way too small next to the side stories of the characters they meet in each episode. Very good entreating-wise but rather poor story-wise. Most secondary characters are never shown for more than an episode so the feeling of expanding future possibilities as the episodes go by feels a bit off. But other than that the pacing does not feel erratic at any point. Since each episode is pretty much self-contained in plot there is no room for fillers or staling. And no episode is really treated as unnecessary since there always is a sort of progress present; so it is not really bad. It’s just that powers and characters found on one episode would make an interesting event if they met powers and characters from following episodes. Sounds like poor excuse for needless crossovers but I still like the idea. CHARACTER The prime thing any series needs to have is memorable characters. This show succeeds and wins by failing, thus performs a double victory. Sounds weird? Let me explain.The main duo is definitely worth to remember. Although they initially feel like the usual tsundere and blockhead of so many anime out there, by the end of the show they are given so much color and insight that you have all the reason in the world to cherish them for life. That is something I can’t say for other shows with similar duos like Inu Yasha or Spice and Wolf. Their development and presence was a lot less bold, stretched amongst several episodes, most of which are fillers, while the ending was lukewarm at best. But here they did an excellent job at making them worthy. I mean, Shichika is a clueless to the world swordless swordsman; he fights better against swords when he is not holding one. Isn’t that weird enough? And here I though the three-sword style of Zorro from One Piece was too much. As for the lead girl, her title is Strategian (a fusion of tactician and strategist) Togame looking for 12 hentai swords, who keeps using the word “cheerio” with the wrong meaning. Isn’t that weird as heck? And it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what their personalities are like. The secondary cast is also memorable for being… killed right away. Sounds weird but it’s the trolling effect again. Most adversaries will be presented as super powerful and will be handed a Chekhov’s gun. But when the action happens they will pretty much not use the gun and die fast and anti-climactically. What is funnier is how a simple handgun is far more powerful than elite ninjas, which is true but still not something you would expect to see in a show about superhumans. Trooolled! But anyway, most characters will still be colorized enough before they kick the bucket on the same episode they appear in; it will frustrate you but you will probably like the feeling. Besides that, all characters have a really strong presence on screen; they all have their set of catchphrases, unique uniforms, special attacks, demeanor, etc. For a cast where most are killed right away and the rest just talk to the end, they did a great job and I salute them for that.And no, I still don’t give a full mark for a cast where most are rather stereotypical and die 20 minutes after they appear. This trolling trick still has its limitations. VALUE I am not a fan of episodic plots or this trolling business. It worked on me all right but only this time. I am also not willing to sit down and relive all those long dialogues either. But heck, going though rough times in the anime industry I say this anime feels like an oasis in the desert. I mean, it is not devoid of moe, sex jokes, or meta-modern feeling but at the same time it is not aimless, carbon-copied, lukewarm adventure either. So ok, some say it pays tribute to Rurouni Kenshin, or Dragonball, or even Inu Yasha and Naruto. The similarities are still not clear enough to make it a retelling of those shows and to my knowledge it has a lot better directing and feeling than most of the above. So yeah, it’s a good show… Even for MY strict tastes.And now for some excused scorings. ART SECTION: 9/10 General Artwork 2/2 (artsy) Character Figures 2/2 (generic but distinctive) Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series) Animation 1/2 (basic) Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy) SOUND SECTION: 7/10 Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but elaborate) Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series) Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess) STORY SECTION: 5/10 Premise 1/2 (typical) Pacing 1/2 (slow) Complexity 2/2 (rich context) Plausibility 0/2 (none) Conclusion 1/2 (troll but solid) CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10 Presence 2/2 (cool/sexy) Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded) Backdrop 2/2 (everyone has some) Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there) Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there) VALUE SECTION: 6/10 Historical Value 1/3 (it is a bit famous for its style) Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot) Memorability 4/4 (extremely artsy to the point of forever remembering it) ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10 Art 1/1 (looks artsy) Sound 1/2 (the dialogues are fun) Story 2/3 (it’s trolling you to the most part but it’s good) Characters 3/4 (they are caricatures but are fun) VERDICT: 7/10
If I had to describe this anime perfectly in one sentence it would be this. Talking the anime. Yup. That is all you will see (hear) from this anime. You'd figure there would be some fights (episode 4 exists wow! sigh) in every other episode considering the plot but no. This is talking the anime. Or heavy dialogue anime! Oh there is some weird animation style and lots of FINISHING MOVE NAMING but mostly all you will hear is people talking without (or very litte) any action in between. Jokes that fall flat and uninteresting topics at that. I guess if you enjoy audiobooks and you can speak Japanese I'd recommend you'd convert your blu ray vids to flac and go for a jog while you go write a haiku of nothing. It became a chore to finish this anime and I'm only doing this review to warn others of what NOT to expect unlike other reviews here. You know if anything this anime suffers from the Dragon Ball Z syndrome. In which they amp and try to make their fights epic only to not do anything (nothing to it but moving like idiots because they are totally fighting and not killing time faking!) except cock-tease you of awesome things to come! (in that sense even DBZ fights were better) Also anybody that dares call this humorous needs to go get dragged behind a shed and shot. This is the most slow paced anime I have ever watched and maybe if it weren't so damn boring I would have enjoyed it.
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