- A creative premise based on works from one of Japan's most idiosyncratic novelists.
- Stylish, fiercely colorful designs (based directly on the book's own illustrations).
- The visuals and storytelling might also be too outwardly quirky for some.
Director: Keitaro Motonaga
Animation Studio: WHITE FOX
Released By: Aniplex
Released Domestically By: NIS America
Audio: Japanese w/English subtitles
Age Rating: TV-14 (martial arts violence, blood, thematic material)
List Price: $69.98 (Blu-ray / DVD combo)
- Martial Arts
- Rurouni Kenshin
- Oh! Edo Rocket
A conclusion as colorful and diverting as its beginning
The second half of this most distinctive of shows more than lives up to the promises of the first half, which is saying something considering how many shows don’t manage to fulfill half their promises in the first place. It continues, and rather definitively concludes, the adventures of “stratagemist” Togame and the swordless sword-fighter Shichika as they collect a dozen weapons of untold power scattered across Japan that have fallen into the wrong hands.
It’s always heartening to see a show stick resolutely to its original mission and follow through on it. Katanagatari’s plotting and structure is relentlessly disciplined: everything that happens, and I mean everything, is in some way connected back to the heart of the story. There’s no wasted elements or filler episodes, which makes it even more fascinating to re-watch from the beginning when you’re done.
The very first episode of this set throws us right into the thick of things: in it, Shichika has to fight off and defeat no less than his own sister, the waifish-looking but impossibly deadly Nanami. She’s now more powerful than ever thanks to one of the weapons being in her possession, and the only way to take it from her may be to kill her. Togame, as is her wont, comes up with a way to use Shichika’s strengths properly—but the real problem is whether or not he can muster the willpower to end his own sister’s life.
Stratagems within stratagems
One of the patterns established in the first half of the show is how each sword is completely unlike the others, and that pattern is sustained here. With each mission the two of them are forced to re-think their approaches completely from scratch. Sometimes it means re-thinking their approaches to each other as well, such as when Shichika attempts to take kendo lessons from a female instructor … which inspires burning jealousy on Togame’s part, because she keeps (hilariously) misinterpreting everything she sees. Most other shows would just rely on that gag to drive the whole episode, but not here.
A great deal of Katanagatari’s appeal is in how it sets up and defeats expectations. The original story was laid down in a series of novels by popular Japanese author NISIOISIN, who gave us novels set in the Death Note and xxxHOLiC universes that were no less willfully perverse in the way they twisted the readers’ heads around. He loves contradictions and paradoxes that connect with each other and become a whole, like the pieces of those wooden puzzles you find in museum shops.
It’s the same here: strengths become weaknesses, good becomes evil, and allies are revealed as enemies, all set to dialogue as rapid-fire and witty as a stage play. Togame and Shichika have grown very close during this journey, but that closeness ultimately becomes more poignant and painful then redemptive. And by the final episode they have come to realize they are as much rivals as they are partners, for reasons I won’t reveal here.
Always an eyeful
I praised the first part of Katanagatari for its look, one which stands apart even from other anime courtesy of design work drawn directly from the illustrations by artist také in the original books. Every shot, every scene, is a riot of color and shape; there’s never a lack of anything to gawk at. But it also never becomes oppressive or hard to follow, the way Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo sometimes did.
And its look never comes at the expense of the story—which after all of its convolutions, double-backs and double-crosses turns out to be far more emotionally affecting than you might expect. It’s a treasure.
Last but not least, the deluxe presentation of both volumes of Katanagatari is an example of this kind of lavish approach for a title done right. Aside from including both DVD and Blu-ray Disc editions of the series, the accompanying booklet features everything from bilingual song lyrics to cultural footnotes.