The first images people often visualize when someone mentions “Japan” are samurai, sushi, and super packed cities. At least, that’s what I think about. This doesn’t really have much to do with today’s post on Katangatari, with the exception of the samurai image, but it’s enough of a comparison to point out the popularity of feudal-Japan, more specifically Edo period, settings. This period is popular in several artistic endeavors, including art, literature, theater, and film.
The alternate Edo-period story of Katangatari absorbed a good bit of my 2010 excitement as the summation of its plot, art, and dialogue added up to something I had never before seen in anime. Following the pattern of the light novels, producer White Fox decided to release one episode a month, starting with January and ending in December, with a total of 12 episodes. This decision was both frustrating and ingenious; although I knew the pattern of the episodes and knew the same structure would probably apply to the following episodes, the anticipation from waiting heightened my interest in the possible twists to the inevitable. Despite this predictability, Katanagatari excels in art and dialogue, as these two factors are what hold this anime together and drive the plot forward.
As already mentioned, the plot of Katanagatari is yawningly easy to foresee. From the very first episode when Togame proposes the retrieval of all 12 of Shikizaki Kiki’s deviant blades, we already know how each episode will most likely progress. As there are 12 episodes, 12 blades, and Yasuri Shichika retrieves the first blade in the first episode, we can assume that he will most likely acquire a blade per episode by battling each of their respective wielders. The ending episode will probably do something epic with all 12.
We also find out that Togame originally set out to the island where siblings Shichika and Nanami live to employ their father, Yasuri Mutsue, the previous head of the Kyotou-style of swordsmanship. As he died a year prior to these events, Togame instead must convince the current head, Shichika, to enlist in her endeavors to collect these swords for the Yanari shogun family of the Owari shogunate. She is able to convince him, and the two begin their journey, leaving Nanami behind.
Over the course of the season, Shichika defeats each of the deviant blade wielders. Sometimes the battle ends quickly due to the overwhelming capability of kyotouryuu, and at other times it ends all thanks to Togame’s tactics. This fairly easy acquisition gets kinked with the meddling of Princess Hitei and her retainer, Emonzaemon, who begin collecting the swords from both their original wielders, and from the Maniwa ninjas. By the end, we have a showdown between the Togame/Shichika and the Princess Hitei/Emonzaemon parties.
Katanagatari has characters alright…a shit-ton of characters. This is another weakness of the anime, as there are so many intriguing characters, you end up feeling cheated by the end since we hardly get any face time with them, besides our two protagonists.
Togame the “Strategian”
Of the multitude of characters that populate Katanagatari, I find Togame to be the most engrossing of them all (well, with the exception of Emonzaemon, who fascinates me as well). The first episode opens up with fire and blood, and we witness the death of rebel leader, Hida Takahito, at the hands of Yasuri Mutsue. A little girl stands in the wreckage, and we watch as in the horror of the death and loss, her hair turns white.
We see her many years later as a young woman, rowing to the island home of the remaining two survivors of the Yasuri clan. Though she now calls herself Togame, she is in truth Princess Yousha, and for the greater part of the anime, she plays convincingly the part of the government official and strategist to Shichika’s battles. We also begin to see true affection blossom between her and Shichika. She is both serious and intelligent, yet we also get to see her vulnerable uncertainty towards reciprocated love from Shichika. She uses “Cheerio!” as a type of catchphrase, mistaking its meaning as a greeting for a chest punch.
In the moving last episode, Togame dies to a gunshot wound by Emonzaemon’s hand; however, she reveals her true intentions before dying. Given her tragic childhood and ultimate patience, she had hoped to use the deviant swords for her vengeance. Despite truly caring for Shichika, the side of her that fell for him is just another pawn in the greater plan, one that would have ultimately ended in his death. Her unforeseen death surprises Togame, yet also relieves her from the pain of having to kill Shichika.
The dialogue of Katanagatari brilliantly dazzles, yet sometimes blinds. The script writers for the anime know they’re clever, and as such, feel that their clever dialogue deserves to fill up every damn second of screen time. If new viewers aren’t turned off by the art style, then they most likely will get bored by all the talky-talk. The dialogue takes part in the predictable structure of each episode, as we start to notice the trend: Talk, talk, talk, talk, little bit of ass-kicking, and talk. I can’t help but think that they do this intentionally to partially nod at the habit of shounen action manga/anime of inserting pre-battle speech and asides into their fight scenes. This is reflected in the first episode of Katanagatari when Togame encourages Shichika to pick a catchphrase. He ends up using the line, “…though by then, you’ll be torn to pieces,” in every one of his fights thereafter.
The art style of this anime is breathtaking, yet can be off-putting to the more traditional anime watcher. They take special pains to include wood grain and textured materials in the background, yet give all characters rudimentary features. The simplicity of the character design is balanced with brightly colored clothing, perhaps nodding at the modernity of its audience.
I ended up rating Katanagatari 9/10 (great); the only factors that prevented me from giving it a perfect 10 were the predictability and the ending which pissed me off. The anime succeeded in making me an enemy of Princess Hitei, and seeing her by Shichika’s side did nothing to assuage the sadness I felt at Togame’s death.