With twelve fifty-minute episodes in its run, and each episode airing monthly, Katanagatari is asking for long term commitment. And baby, I’m ready. Okay: maybe I’m a little over-excited because I’ve really been anticipating this series – and it doesn’t help that Ookami Kakushi isn’t going quite as well as I’d first hoped – but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. And I’ll tell you why.
Beautiful art. It’s not the same as Sora no Woto’s background beauty, but Katanagatari can certainly hold its own. The peaceful setting in which the first episode takes place is the perfect way to get watchers into the groove of the art. Much of the background is subdued but detailed nonetheless, and provides a perfect balance to a cast of truly interesting characters. There are many displays of refine and finished detailing alongside the fantastically unique style of character design. The art direction moves through the episode bringing our attention to things that add an extra layer of richness to the story but never losing the story along the way.
The Characters. Yasuri Shichika is the 7th generation head of the family, and of the Kyotouryuu – a Japanese sword style that requires no sword. He is strong in body but admits to being bad at thinking. He remains calm throughout the episode (except for one instance after their house was damaged by a barrage of shuriken) whether facing an opponent or dealing with strangers. He didn’t even flinch after having several shuriken embedded into his arms and leg.
Yasuri Nanami is Shichika’s older sister. She has a weak body, but she’s smart, understanding a lot for someone who’s spent the past twenty years on a secluded island. She’s soft spoken but observant and insightful. She really wants Shichika to make something of his life off the island.
Togame, a self-named strategian (or strategist) who’s come to the island in search of the Kyotouryuu head. She introduces the legend of sword smith Shikizaki Kiki who forged 1000 swords only to perfect 12 of them. It is these 12 swords that Togame is after, and she approaches Shichika to aid her in her mission. Togame is also revealed to be the daughter of Hida Takahito, the leader of the last rebellion. Her father was killed by Shichika’s father, Matsue.
Maniwa Koumori, one of the twelve heads of the Maniwa Corps, a band of ninjas that worked with Togame in the past (for money), but betrayed her once they learned the value of the Shikizaki swords. He’s maniacal to say the least and has a body as bizarre as his personality; he actually keeps the Shikizaki sword, Zettou Kanna, inside his body. And that’s not all he keeps in there: he’s also got numerous shurkien and a long length of rope.
Dialogue. Yes: there is a lot of dialogue but it’s witty, clever, informative, and even humorous (“People who work for money are no good. People who work for honour are also no good. That leaves only one reason: Love. People who work for love can be trusted. Yasuri Shichika: fall for me!”).
The “scene” where Togame talks with Nanami and Shichika is a lengthy one – over eleven minutes – and despite nothing actually happening, you learn a lot, and the plot doesn’t drag either. Their banter is whimsical and educational, giving watchers an idea of what each of these characters are like: Togame talks a lot and doesn’t really listen; Nanami is both observant and tactful; Shichika doesn’t really get anything.
The Relationship. From the moment Shichika and Togame meet, there’s no surprise that a romantic relationship would build between them from then on. How it actually happens, however, is amusing. Togame more or less tells Shichikia to fall for her – and not for the sake of being in love but so that they can find the 12 swords of Shikizaki without her worrying about betrayal. After he retrieves the first sword from Koumori, Shichika tells Togame that he did it for her… because he’s fallen for her. In return, Togame gives him four directives, and I quote (relying entirely on the accuracy of the subbers here): One: Don’t break the swords. Two: Protect me (that is, Togame). If I die it’ll all be in vain. Three: Protect yourself. This is not me being considerate of you. Until we collect all 12 swords, dying is unacceptable. Four: Protect yourself. This is me being considerate of you. Ahww.
The Story. “We’re not swordsmen who don’t use swords; we’re swordsmen who can’t use them!” That is, they have no skill whatsoever with a blade. What’s more interesting than watching the tale of a man with no inherent skill with a sword and a clumsy, fragile strategian go up against eleven unknown characters wielding incredible weapons with unfathomable skill? Plus, I just can’t ignore the gut feeling that this is going to be good.
This was a lengthy review. I thank you for reading it all the way through. The next episode of Katanagatari will be airing February 8th, 2010. Look forward to it!