Note: I’m not going to be blogging about Sword Art Online because lord knows enough people are blogging about it already and I don’t have much to say on the show. Thus, I’m going with Katanagatari, because the first episode was visually striking and seems to hold more potential. Unfortunately, my review was getting a bit too long, so I’ve decided to split it into two parts. The second will be released tomorrow/the day after.
My crimson heart was furious on the day it was plucked dry and snatched away…
At long last, a show that matches Casshern Sins on a visual level and adresses the visceral aspects of revenge; an endless cycle of hatred that can internalize one person and can leave another clueless and desperate for help. Welcome to Katanagatari, a show where there is more than meets the eye, and deception is at every turn.
Before going on, I would like to take a look at the mechanics of Katanagatari, which to me, prominently stand out. The first thing I noticed is that the show is divided into 45 minute long episodes rather than 25 minute ones, which rings of a ‘TV Drama’ vibe. Not only does this allow for scenes to pan out properly and for character development to be fleshed out, but it also makes way for interesting conversations to be handled. This then brings us to the second fact: the show focuses more on dialogue than action, which is especially interesting considering that the plot focuses around the “way of the sword”, or in other words, a rather shounen-like aspect. Dialogue can keep an audience hooked on for so long, so it does help that Katanagatari is beautifully animated, with rich and vivid colors and a unique animation style. This can be matched with the energy and atmosphere I sensed from the show. I always prefer a slow pacing to a rushed one, and the first episode of this series showed me with its energy that it knows exactly where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. That said, the first episode of Katanagatari did a good job of doing the basics: introducing our characters and the essence of our plot.
We’re introduced to a flashback; unlike most flashbacks, which are depicted in a muddled grey or bleak blue, this flashback is lit with the passionate flames of red and orange. In bold letters: Oushuu. A man cuts down his enemies only using his hands; we see no blood, no injuries, just silhouettes and fire. A dramatic opening, nonetheless, but it’s here where Katanagatari tells the audience that color use and visuals are as much of an aid to the viewer as the dialogue itself.
The story of revenge doesn’t take off immediately, which is nice, because that way, Katangatari gives us a little time to understand the context of our surroundings and introduce us to our characters. The atmosphere is first presented as a calm one. Shichika and his sister, isolated from society’s workings and cruelties, live in their own little world of their own. Shichika’s sister is ill and weak, tending to her brother’s dreams and his well-being but also itching to get back to the mainland a life where she and her brother can truly live in peace. Shichika has other plans, as he wants to live up to his father’s legend and uses the only thing he inherited from him- his fighting technique as a way to reconnect spiritually and emotionally with his father. Nonetheless, Shichika and Nanami are very close. The reason for this very deep relationship can be explained, as both siblings only had each other all these years on the island. Nanami acts as a sort of maternal figure to Shichika though she does love him as a sister, caring for his well being but also trying to focus on their lives together as she tries to tell him to get off the island and find his own life. Shichika also cares for his sister physically and relies on her to be his navigation to understanding concepts and common sense (1,000 swords- not too many, but 100,000 swords- a lot).
Our peaceful times are short-lived when Togame is introduced, presenting herself to be a well-dressed tsundere who tries to enlist the help of Shichika to exact revenge on a certain group of people who have betrayed her. Whereas Shichika and Nanami’s relationship is rooted in dependency, Togame exhibits clear signs of stubbornness and individuality. She is headstrong, egotistical and confident, as well as intelligent and humorous. Ironically, Shichika and Nanami have been isolated from the real world for their entire life, and yet they understand their limits and are codependent. Togame has lived in the real world, is well cultured and has a thorough knowledge of her history and role in society. Yet she rebels from that very same society because she is dissatisfied with how she is treated and the lack of power she’s been given. The contrasts are simple: Togame, having lived in cultured society, is abandoned by it, but Shichika and Nanami, who were technically never abandoned by society themselves, accept their status and live happily with what they have. Isolation in this story leads to acceptance, and immersion leads to disillusionment and betrayal. It’s a deconstruction of the usual roles where in most cases, the one who was isolated would be self sufficient and ready for deceit while the one who was well cultured and lived in a society was accepted and praised.
What follows Togame’s introduction, however, seems to be a set up for the format of most of the conversations in the show: a dialogue immersed in puns and gimmick tricks. Whereas I’m more familiar with serious dialogue opening up the character’s views and standpoints on certain subjects involving him/herself and others, Katanagatari keeps the conversation fresh with some humor here and there. It can be said though, that 40 minutes later, this sort of conversation becomes tiring. I understand that these lines are supposed to make fun of dramatic action found in anime, but Katanagatari seems to overdo it a little. Nevertheless, it does open up a realm where the character’s motives and traits can be found in these strange one-offs. The characters reveal themselves through their motives and their thought process; this can be seen often with Togame and Shichika, who like to speak a lot. Togame emphasizes her job as a strategist: therefore, when she speaks out loud, most of her points are about herself and her thought process. Either that, or condescending remarks toward other people. Togame thus presents herself to be a highly individual character who ironically, seeks desperate help in order to complete her goal. She’s so highly bent on getting what she wants that she’s oblivious to people sometimes, as seen when she interrogates Shichika. Togame fails to notice that because he’s been cut off from the normal world, he is not very well-cultured nor does he have a thorough knowledge of history and people. Shichika on the other hand, is less intelligent in his approach to conversations. He bluntly speaks what’s on his mind, often questioning the basics of Togame’s judgment which results in some humor as Togame is not used to being questioned in the first place. To say that Shichika is unintelligent however, would be out of line; Shichika fully is aware of his limitations when it comes to thinking, and even admits it. He’s honest and I find him a likable protagonist. Shichika doesn’t speak as often as Togame, but he does still play a very large role in sequences where dialogue is the main tool for character construction. As such, their relationship quickly progresses to an interesting one, where symbolically, Togame is the brain and Shichika is the brawn. However, it’s more complex because of the way they play off each other, mainly due to their conversations and how they respond to what’s being said. Togame does order Shichika around, but Shichika doesn’t always seem to obey completely- he has to have a good understanding of why he’s doing something. Likewise, Togame may question Shichka’s actions for the same reason. This often leads to a ridiculous argument that still develops their relationship. So as much as the jokes might be annoying at one point, the use of dialogue in Katanagatari serves multiple purposes. It’s not only used as a way to stimulate humor, but it also manages to touch broader themes while offering subtle character and relationship development. As the show progresses, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at these conversations.
Togame tells Shichika and his sister a wild story about 12 unique swords: Kanna (Plane, The Absolute), Namakura (Blunt, the Decapitator), Tsurugi (Blade, The Thousand), Hari (Needle, The Light), Yoroi (Armor, the Grudge), Kanazuchi (Hammer, The Pair), Bita (Poor, The Evil), Kanzashi (Sai, The Tiny), Nokogiri (Saw, The King), Hakari (Scales, The True), Mekki (Gild, The Poison), and Jyuu (Gun, The Flame). Judging by the names of these swords, which have multiple ‘nicknames’, I’m assuming that each sword is a representative of a power or technique in one way or the other. I have yet to figure out the roots of the names and what they mean, but the one Sword that we see in this episode- Kanna- means ‘Plane’ or ‘Absolute’ which is interesting because we don’t actually see much of the sword’s power, but it is said that the sword is indestructible. In that way, it is ‘absolute’- nothing can stand in its way. Judging from this, I’m assuming that the rest of the swords each have their own unique traits but also represent the flaw or the main characteristic/theme of the character/battle that’s going to be seen in that respective episode (similar to Shoujo Kakumei Utena, where each duel represented a certain theme).
Of course, it has to turn out that one of the Special 12 or Deviant Swordsmen in this episode is a Ninja named Hyannamaru, one of the original Ninja who worked for Togame until he sought out the blade and took it for himself. I will admit that Hyannamaru was more of the weaker points of this first episode; he turns out to be nothing more than a power hungry joker who likes looking for trouble. Not to mention that he exhibits some strange abilities- namely, being able to store his sword inside his own body, and being able to transform into anyone else. Whether these abilities are due to the Deviant Blade’s power or not is something that has yet to be answered, but nevertheless, Hyannamaru is a formidable opponent. He of course, has the fatal flaw of hubris; something that’s made fun of by Shichika in the episode. What I find interesting about Hyannamaru is not his physical prowess but his character reveal through his conversation with Shichika in the woods when he captures Togame. Hyannamaru calls Togame out for her actions of deceiving others and using people to obtain what she wants. He calls her deceitful and terrifying- ironic, considering that Hyannamaru in the end betrayed Togame despite having a contract. (Lord forbid a woman for being deceitful, but a man who betrays others easily through appearance and motive- I guess that’s not really much, is it now?). What’s interesting is that Hyannamaru betrays Togame out of the same selfish reasons that Togame used Hyannamaru for the first place. Togame hires Hyannamaru, thus creating a contract, but Hyannamaru betrays Togame, not out of disrespect or fear for her, but because of the Deviant Blade. Had this been expanded further, I think we would have seen an interesting side to Hyannamaru, but unfortunately it’s cut short. In the end he falls victim to that flaw and gets easily beaten by Shichika, who uses a technique called Kyoutoryuu. What is so fascinating about Kyotoryuu though? And why does Shichika prevail?
Edit: I realized that the subs used “Tomake” for the first episode but have switched to “Togame” in the next episodes, so I’m sorry about that mistake! It’s been corrected now.
(To be continued in Part 2)