Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Thoughts: Katanagatari

Well, it took me a while to get back to this series (and anime, for that matter). I actually had episodes 10-12 just sitting in my laptop's hard drive, waiting for the day when I would finally resume watching the show. I don't know exactly what happened, but one month became two, then three and before I knew it, it's February of 2011 and a new crop of anime are out. Good thing these new titles turn out to be interesting (I'll leave it to Lu to blog about her choices) because I was this close to giving up on anime all together. A pity, too, since out of all the shows from last season's lackluster list of releases, Katanagatari was the only title that actually delivered. It just took me a little while to realize it.

Below are my final thoughts on the series. Mind you, there be SPOILERS, so be forewarned.
Shichika and a dying Togame -- final words

Katanagatari  is a show adapted from a light novel series written by NisiOisin of Bakemonogatari fame. The story takes place about a hundred years after the end of the warring states era. The current shogun has commissioned Togame, a young self-proclaimed strategian with a colorful -- emphasis on colorful -- past, to seek out and collect the twelve perfected deviant blades forged by the master swordsmith, Shikizaki Kiki. The blades are said to be imbued with strange powers, giving their possessors extraordinary abilities but distorting their souls as a result. Needless to say, the owners of said blades are far from willing to give up their blades without a lethal fight, making Togame's task that much more challenging.
a murderous Shichika prepares to storm the shogun's castle

Enter Yasuri Shichika, the 7th generation head of Kyoutouryuu, a sword school that eschews the use of swords on the principle that the warrior himself is a weapon. Twenty years ago, Togame saw with her own eyes how her father, the rebel Hida Takahito, died at the hands of Yasuri Mutsue, Shichika's father; however for the sake of the mission, she is willing to forgo even revenge and tries to recruit Shichika to fight as her "sword." After some hesitation, Shichika agrees, declaring that he has fallen for Togame. What follows next is a seemingly generic adventure story of two people going on a journey together, both literally and figuratively, in a quest to find twelve legendary swords and their true selves in the process.
Shichika and Emonzaemon in the heat of battle

I almost did not pick up Katanagatari when I was compiling my shortlist for the season. But I have to admit that I was attracted to the simplistic, almost childish art style and the fact that it is a samurai story (which I'm very fond of). So I watched the first episode without any real expectations or any prior knowledge about the material...and got wowed on first watch.

Visually, Katanagatari is a stunning anime. My first impressions of the show hold true even now:

It's definitely a stand-out. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before -- whimsical without being childish, colorful without going overboard and just pure, unadulterated eye-candy.
In fact, I think the art style of this series is a saving grace. Katanagatari, being based on a light novel series by NisiOisin who seems to be mastering the art of dialogue, is an extremely talk-y anime. I mean, extremely -- like 45-minutes' worth of conversation in an hour-long episode. That's how talky this series is. It can be a bit off-putting, especially if you came to this show thinking you're in for some action adventure treat. Well, there's action in Katanagatari and plenty of adventure alright, but there's also lots of inter-character conversations and revealing of key plot points through dialogue.

Shichika and Princess Hitei

The series tend to take a tried-and-true episodic approach with the protagonists going after one of the swords, talking about its abilities and its owner along the way, and culminating in a dramatic battle for possession of said sword. This happens for the first six episodes before suddenly deviating from the usual by choosing not to show a most hyped-up face-off between Shichika and one particularly cool Sabei Hakuhei to focus instead on Shichika's sister, whom one would never suspect of playing a bigger role in this tale of sword quest. The episode is brutal but it isn't senseless. And at the end of the day, it's the same lesson taught over and over in previous episode: Nothing is ever as it seems.

Then, as if that episode is the breaker where the author decides to tear down convention, Katanagatari takes on a life of its own. The series is never the same again. New characters are introduced, new villains, and the plot is slowly and painstakingly revealed. At this point, Katanagatari is a compelling watch, however, one drawback to it is the decision to release the series only episode per month. When it takes this long to release a single hour-long episode that's mostly dialogue, people tend to forget. And this is true no matter how good the show might be.


Katanagatari is lovely-looking anime with a whimsical art style and a simple storyline. But don't let appearances deceive you because this anime is anything but.