Katanagatari is a slow burner. It’s not meant for everyone, and it does have some rather large and important flaws. With that in mind, if you choose to hike up the somewhat rocky terrain that the show starts off with, you will be rewarded with some amazing and fantastic results. Whether you choose to take the challenge is up to you, but for me, this show was immensely enjoyable, and I had a great time watching it.
To begin with, the show is rather distinctive in how it chooses to tell its story. Rather than following a set of 23-minute episodes, the show chooses to go on a monthly, 50-minute episode basis, which ends up working quite well, with some minor mishaps. It’s because of this format however, that I’d recommend not marathoning it – each episode has its own story and theme, and works more coherently if you take the time to savor every installment. It’s also because the show tries to play out with this format that you have a rather uneven start. The first two episodes try to find a middle ground between comedic discourse and action, and for the rest of the show, it works out decently. But there are many times in these two episodes where you feel a bit bored, or where the pacing drags on. The good news is that this really improves later on, and by then, you’re almost addicted to the storyline and the characters. The bad news is that you have to sit through 100 minutes of disjointed storytelling.
But from then on, the show smoothly flows. Togame and Shichika are lovable characters who are quite easy to root for with their hilarious and emotional relationship. The antagonists of each episode are also interesting and admirable in their own right. From the Maniwani Corps and their tragic end, to the mysterious Princess and her henchman – nearly every character in Katanagatari is treated with respect and decent screen time to make you feel something for them. Not to mention that the main two protagonists are deeply complex, in respect to their roles as the typical “heroes” of our story. They receive a lot of wonderful, layered character development and their own individual arcs at a point – arcs that hook you to the spot and allow you to empathize with them to the very end.
The themes in Katanagatari are also really well formed, with the “theme of the month” as a recurring arrangement, but also with a general, overlapping set of themes that encompass the entire point of the show. Nisiosin, whom I’m not very familiar with (but apparently loves to do a lot of talking – in that sense, this show doesn’t stray far from his usual style) examines the simplicities found in a typical plot like Katanagatari, like the actual line between good and evil, the reason for fighting, the meaning of a “blade” and the general elements found in chanbara drama. If you’re worried about the show being led astray by so much talk, however, don’t be: Nisiosin knows exactly what he’s doing, and for 95% of the time, he does it extremely well.
It’s here’s where the second flaw comes in: the plot, though it’s less of a fault and more of a….twinge of unease. It’s not like the plot in Katanagatari is hard to understand. On the contrary, the show makes use of a rather conventional and simple plot to focus on other aspects of the show and to examine contrivances of such a plot. But towards the end, the show pulls off some stunts that manage to be comprehensible for the most part. The point is that while these plot twists are necessary to understanding the meaning of the show as a whole, they could have been pulled off slightly better. Do keep in mind however, that this doesn’t take away from the fact that Katanagatari has one of the most complete and satisfying conclusions I’ve seen in an anime. Whereas many shows tend to have rushed endings, this show makes use of a very deliberate style of storytelling to get to the ending which not only completes the show in terms of characterization and plot development, but manages to round up nearly every question and theme explored. Many shows tend to leave the stage with a general “this is what you’re supposed to think about” question, but Katanagatari actually answers the question it asks in the first place. It may not have necessarily been the answer all of us were looking for, but at least it’s a solid answer, and I admire that nonetheless.
Lastly, the music and animation are stunning. Taku Iwasaki has never disappointed me as a composer, but I’d have to roughly argue that Katanagatari is one of his finest works. Melding traditional Japanese orchestra and sounds with jazz and rap to the point where it’s almost natural, but composing melancholic piano tunes at the same time – there’s no shortage of beauty in these tracks. Some of them won’t stick with you, but some of them will, for a very long time (see: Last Battle, Gettouka, and Bahlsa Plus), just like the show. The OPs and ED are also pretty great, with a different ED every episode to fit the mood. To match up in consistency, the animation is beautiful, except for one episode where it takes a turn in style – not a bad turn, just a different one. In contrast to how much depth the show has, the character designs are rather simple, but don’t be fooled: everything is deliberate that way, and if you stick with the show, you’ll see why.
Katanagatari at its heart, is exactly what it says: a sword story. But it’s also so much more than that, and if you dare to walk the long trek that it paves, you’ll see what I mean. There’s the ending and the journey, and the show understands the values of both elements. For fans of Nisiosin, I’d highly recommend, but even if you’re new to him, just like me, I’d also recommend Katanagatari – it’s just that worth it. Rarely have works been so satisfying and such a rich experience, but Katanagatari is both. It grips you along the way, and you might even learn a lesson or two if you manage to keep with it. And in the end, you may not like everything, but anime has always (at least for me) been about what we carry away from a show, and Katanagatari makes sure that it does just that. It will stick somewhere inside your heart, like an almost polished stone – a pebble for you to roll over and over as you think about it and savor it. And the more you look back, the more you’ll begin to see how polished it really is.