Hello again, Lusites! It is time once again to dive into the world of anime, and come up with something that is hopefully worth viewing. This week, the anime picked is called Katanagatari. Katanagatari is a twelve episode series based on the light novel series of the same title. The anime was produced by the studio White Fox, and a single episode was released every month for 12 months. The series is unique in that every episode is an hour long, rather than the traditional twenty-two or so minutes that an anime episode consists of. Katanagatari was originally released in 2010, and released again in 2011 in a more serial style, instead of the monthly basis it had been released in previously. The direct translation of the title is “Sword Story”, and a more fitting title the series could not ask for. Set in Edo-era Japan, the story focuses on a hunt for twelve swords, all crafted by Kiki Shikizaki, a reclusive swordsmith. He had crafted several swords that were very popular during a war that had only recently ended, but these twelve were all said to have been forged with magic, alchemy, and occult means.
The first episode introduces the main characters, a duo named Yasuri Shichika and Togame. Togame is a master strategist with a secret past who has come to the island home of Shichika and his sister Nanami to recruit him in her quest to collect all twelve of the legendary swords. The son of an exiled war hero, Shichika is the seventh head of the Kyotouryuu school of fighting which is the art of “sword fighting without a sword.” This is a fancy way to say that he uses a special kind of martial art designed specifically to face off against swordsmen and either disarm them, kill them or shatter their swords. Naturally, as each of the twelve swords is in the possession of a legendary swordsman, Togame feels that he is the key to collecting them. When she commands Shichika to come with her in the name of the shogun, he refuses. Having spent their whole lives exiled to this island, neither Togame nor his sister know anything about proper customs or manners, and they have not a single thought for laws of a shogun. Realizing this, Togame instead commands Shichika to fall in love with her, and help her because he loves her. Somehow, this works, much to the surprise of everyone present, and their journey begins. Not before one of the swords just happens to wander onto the island, its wielder having followed Togame in hopes of killing her. The twelve swords are known as “Deviant blades” because, though they grant great power, they also poison the user to become an evil and selfish person. The firs sword they encounter, the Kanna, gives its wielder the ability to take on the appearance of another, and the ninja who possesses it uses it to attempt and trick Shichika and kill him. Unfortunately for him, this is the first episode, and the whole point of the scene is to showcase Shichika’s Kyotoryu fighting style, which he does quite effectively, killing his opponent and taking the first of several swords into their possession.
From the first episode, the series takes on the direction that you would expect. Twelve swords, twelve episodes, and each episode focuses on one of the swords. It does not take long to see that several of the “swords” are not swords at all, and that draws the whole title into question, but nonetheless each episode leads to one of them for a while. There is also much in the way of character development for the main duo, and that is one of the strongest elements of this series. When the episode is an hour long and there is only two people to focus on, there is a definite need for strong character building. Thankfully, the author of the light novel series (Nisio Isin) is a fantastic writer and did quite an amazing job with characterization, a fact that translates quite well to the anime. It is shown quite early that Shichika is a man of no mercy, even with people that he has supposedly developed a strong bond with. In the third episode, the “sword” they set to find is actually one thousand swords, with one true blade that they must identify. The majority of the episode is spent with Togame searching for the blade while Shichika bonds with the leader of the group who possesses them, and it would seem they even become friends. Nonetheless, once they are set to do battle for possession of the sword, Shichika kills the leader without a moment’s hesitation. The development for Shichika also shows him coming to grips with the world around him, or rather, it shows just how strange a person might act if they were raised on an island alone with only their sister. He clearly has no idea what is expected of people in the ways that they behave or the manners they should have, has no sense of personal space, and has no idea about lies and deceit outside of fighting. He is honor, and swordsmanship, and until he fell for Togame, that is all he was made up of. Upon meeting her, however, his character definitely shifts. There are more moments of softening, moments where he spends actually getting to know the person he is apparently in love with, and just all around moments where he learns how much he enjoys travelling the world, especially with Togame. The development for Togame comes in two ways. First, there is growth in her as well when she travels with Shichika. Her life has been nothing but ambition for her own personal quest, the reality of which was not quite revealed when she set off and does not really become known until well into the series. Needless to say, as this is anime, her origins are not exactly happy ones, but there will not be too much revealed here as it is quite an amazing part of the story that should be viewed. That is the other part of her development, learning where it is that she came from and who exactly she is in reality, rather than the character who serves the shogun that was introduced at the beginning of the series. The first part, the softening, is shown in that she actually starts to enjoy Shichika’s company, rather than just seeing him as a means to an end, a tool that she can use to further her own ambitious goals. The two become closer with each episode, with each sword gathered and with all the times that he saves her she becomes more and more human and less just a master strategist with a serious chip on her shoulder.
The main focus, outside of the two main characters, is obviously on the weapons. They are called “Deviant Blades” and “Legendary Swords”, but as mentioned earlier, there are many different forms than just swords. The first major example of this is in episode 5, when the duo journey to a small port town in Satsuma where a man has taken control for himself, and is the holder of one of the legendary swords. When they meet the man, the sword is revealed to in fact be a suit of armor worn by a man named Azekura Kanara. Seeing that the swords can be several things other than just swords adds an interesting element to the battles, though it does make the name seem odd. Another good example of this comes in the eighth episode, where the duo encounter a robot, that is in fact the next sword they must capture. A robot with four sword arms, sounds kind of familiar. On top of seeing all of the interesting blades, the blade masters themselves bring a lot to the anime. Each one is unique in their own way, and while the swords themselves are said to be poison to their wielders, a few of the wielders seem to be genuinely good people despite the poisonous blade they carry. It is always more interesting when there is conflict not only between the characters, but also in deciding if the fight truly has a right and wrong side. The ambition of Togame means that Shichika will fight any of the wielders, and will kill if necessary, but not every blade master must be killed. It is interesting to see how a fight turns out, and whether or not the fight means that someone has to die.
The things that stand out for this anime are the character development, the excellent story and the fantastic animation. Each episode is filled with beautiful locations, and the character designs are quite unique in their own way. The fight sequences are incredibly fun to watch, and the animation for them is top notch. From beginning to end each moment with the main duo is entertaining, to the point where it is easy to forget you have been watching an episode for an entire hour. If one is a fan of action, drama, especially if one is a fan of old samurai movies, this anime is a must see. The influence of those old black and white masterpieces is easily noticeable in the story, as well as the action in each episode of Katanagatari. From the silly beginnings, to the incredible fights, to the touching moments between a girl and her sword, this anime is deserving of the highest praise, and definitely the highest letter grade of an A. And with that, we reach the end of our review! Have any of the readers seen this gem? If so, what is your opinion of it? Could you handle the length of the episodes, or was it just too much? Leave a comment below and let this author know if this is one that has been viewed, or one to add to the list of future watches. Until next time, Thank you for reading, and keep on watching!