The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Katanagatari

Title: Katanagatari
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: White Fox
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 25 Jan 2010 – 10 Dec 2010

Synopsis: Yasuri Shichika, the 7th head of the Kyotouryuu school of swordless swordsmanship, lives with his sister Nanami on the island where they and their late father, the 6th head and the hero who quashed Hida Takahito’s rebellion against the Yanari Shogunate, were exiled by the same Shogun Yanari after the events of the rebellion. One day, he meets an interloper on their island, the strategian who goes by the name of “Togame”. It is then he is persuaded to join her in the hunt for the 12 Perfected Deviant Blades, legendary weapons made by the heretical swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki.

The Highlights
Visuals: Unique, with the style of a pictorial book.
Music: Eclectic mix of Asian elements; imbues a unique character on the story world.
Setting: Nishio Ishin is a master at creating interesting, if over-the-top, alternate universes.
Prolixity: Everything is based on words words words words words words…
Characters: Almost everyone is well-fleshed, compelling, and has a lasting influence.
Plot: Engrossing in its own right.

Nishio Ishin is well-known for a writing style unique amongst his contemporaries, the prime example of which has to be the 2009 hit series Bakemonogatari. In that vein, Katanagatari is his take on the martial arts genre, and his special treatment of what would be a generally “shounen” premise makes for another tale which, like its predecessor, may take some patience to get fully into, but for which the return is well worth the investment.

Whatever reasons Nishio may have for going with White Fox in favour of Shaft and Shinbo Akiyuki, whose demented visual artistry gave Bakemonogatari such a distinctive style, the choice proves to be inspired; Katanagatari also has a visual style distinctive from that of most contemporary anime, looking something like an animated pictorial book, with cartoonish character designs set against a characteristic background. The background music by Iwasaki Taku, the man behind the fist-pumping melodies of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, is an eclectic blend of musical elements from all over Asia one never tires of listening to, which adds a unique character onto the not-quite-real feudal Japan of Katanagatari. Ninjas are of the highly visible (even thematic) variety, certain katanas are only so by name, and the clothing worn by any character of note in the story is nothing like actual period costumes. There is little realism to be found in Katanagatari‘s faux feudal Japan, but that hardly detracts from such a characteristic setting.

If Bakemonogatari has not made it clear enough by this point, to partake of a Nishio work is to expect a level of verbal indulgence which makes me look like a man of few and concise words. Indeed, there isn’t actually all that much action in Katanagatari. What little there is is nicely enough animated to pass muster as an action series, but the main part of the story is, without question, the humongous amount of dialogue. It’s not even there for dialogue’s sake; if it’s not utilized for world building, it’s there for shedding greater light on the background and motivations of the characters. If it’s not banter which underlies the relationship between any two characters, it’s verbal sparring on a scale which makes the physical action look pedestrian by comparison. This focus on dialogue for every event in Katanagatari can be trying for anyone expecting more action out of such a title, and it probably would take a fair bit of patience for anyone who didn’t know what to expect to sit through all of it.

However, anyone who does manage it (through experience and/or force of will) will find that the torrent of dialogue is very important to the story as a whole. Through dialogue, every major character lays out their stories and their motivations, and play off each other to a significant degree not often seen in most anime. The lead pair Shichika and Togame, in particular, display the development in their relationship through the changes in the way they speak to each other, and how they develop as characters is also apparent in how they expound on their worldviews which have changed as a result of events. This extends even to the majority of the opponents they meet along the way, each of which, although lasting only one episode in the story, has an influence on the two leads so strong that it remains apparent long after they have exited stage right. Every character is a sympathetic personality in their own right, and none are truly out-and-out villains; it is not often that character development is done this well.

That is not to say that the story takes a back seat to the characters; on the contrary, Nishio proves that Bakemonogatari was no fluke, and that he is indeed a talented storyteller. Pertinent information is withheld until the right time, and plot twists hit unexpectedly with all the force of a kidney stab. What starts off as a sword hunt by Togame and Shichika slowly but surely gives way to a wider political game, where the schemes of each and every player can and do come to naught in the end. To watch Katanagatari, is to get increasingly engrossed at the direction of the plot even while knowing and empathizing more with each character in it.

The only real way to maintain a proper sense of perspective on Katanagatari is to make comparisons with its illustrious predecessor, Bakemonogatari. Strong as characters Shichika and Togame may be, they still fall just short of that iconic pair Senjougahara and Araragi. However, Katanagatari has the more ambitious scope, which makes for the more interesting story. In the end, it is arguably the case that while Katanagatari might indeed not reach the heights of its more celebrated predecessor, it certainly isn’t much far behind as a great story, and certainly just as well worth the watch.

The Rating: 9
9/10

Reviewed by: Ascaloth

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