Katanagatari is a 2010 anime produced by Studio WHITE FOX. It’s an adaptation of the light novels by NisiOisiN. It was directed by Keitarou Motonaga. Director of School Days and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Katana is the story of ex military “strategist” Togame and legendary fighter Yasuri Shichika as they travel the land in search of 12 all powerful swords.
Katana’s protagonists are a good place to start. Shichika is a powerhouse swordfighter who uses his body as a sword. This thematically ties into his character, as he grew up pretty much alone on an island his whole life, and has no way of interacting as an actual person. Thus, he acts as Togame’s sword. Togame is a clever tactician and A-Class conversationalist along with being charismatic in a pathetic sort of way.
There is a lot more to these characters than what meets the eye however. Shichika supposedly “falls in love” with Togame by episode 1 and the reasons for this are compelling yet aren’t spelled out for you. Thus, throughout their adventure, Togame and Shichika’s relationship slowly helps them grow as people. After a few episodes, Shichika seems rather simple. However, the more he lives and journeys with Togame, and the more we learn about his past, he becomes one of the most complex anime protagonists in the past decade. Togame, though her demeanor is rather slipshod and all over the place a lot of the time, she slowly reveals her true colors as well. It’s because of this, along with their endearing chemistry, that Togame and Shichika are quite possibly my all time favorite anime couple. Only really beat out by another Isin work.
Every villain is likable and reasonable in their own way, and every side character has a story and a life. They aren’t all Emiya Shirou, but I wasn’t expecting them to be, and you shouldn’t either. They are well developed for the time they have, which is good enough for me.
Considering this is Isin, expect a lot of talking. But also expect it to be constantly engaging, realistic, and often humorous. This isn’t just shown with Shichika and Togame, but with the entire cast. Witty, often self refrencial comments are thrown by the screen to the point that I found myself staring at the screen watching two fictional characters discuss moral troubles, which is an accomplishment.
Speaking of comedy, Katana has lots of it. Most of the time in anime, comedy blends awfully with dramatic action series like this one, but here, it works really well. That may be due to the tone changes being rather slow and not at all abrupt, but also due to just how funny the comedy is. I certainly laughed far more while watching Katana than I did while watching Nozaki-Kun or Maou Sama.
This sense of fun, even in times of darkness, may come from the vibrant colors and style of the animation. Which is not only fluid and expressive, but also very unique. A few episodes even have animation styles that are only in that episode. Episode 7, in particular, goes a bit overboard, and it ruined some of the episode. Nonetheless, the animation is overall very high quality. And, of course, the fight scenes. There are usually only 1 or 2 per episode, but when they do happen. OH MAI GAHD! Most notably, the fight with Sabi Hakuhei. The tension and build up to each fight helps this. The character designs are something that take a little getting used to, considering how odd they look, but I personally like them.
Katana’s musical score consists of choirs and sadness, as per usual for action anime. It’s a great fit, but I don’t have too much to say about it specifically. The voice acting in general is good, especially for the delivery of catchphrases. It also has 12 freakin’ ending songs, which is cool.
Thematically, this show is based around the chains of legacy and the pointlessness of fighting. Keep in mind, Katana is a tragedy, and it embodies that genre quite well. And then there is the ending. It’s sad and poignant yet completely inevitable. It’s a Gunbuster ending. The unfiltered ethos of the narrative in 50 minutes with tons of visual flare and dark colors, yet still enjoyable, Katana’s finale is something worth celebrating.
Katana isn’t told as a continuous story. Rather, it’s told in 12, 50 minute vignettes, each taking place roughly one month apart. With the string tying them all together being our “heroes.” Every one of these stories is compelling in their own way, in thanks to everything I’ve mentioned so far. The moral changes in how Shichika deals with his opponents throughout the series is something I personally really enjoyed.
The overall narrative of Katanagatari is based in history. More importantly, based in changing history which may be an absolute “Im watching this” or a definite “Im gonna stay away” depending on what type of person you are. Though, knowledge of samurai history will enhance your appreciation of this show, it is not necessary.
Now we get to flaws. This’ll be fun! Here’s the big one: This show is confusing. Not Evangelion or Lain confusing, but it certainly could be some trouble for someone not paying full attention and inferring a decent lot about some characters and backstories. I didn’t have too much trouble with it, but I do have some friends that were rather confused throughout the final few episodes.
There are a group of villains called the Maniwaningu that constantly interfere with our main characters and their quest throughout the show. And while they are thematically relevant, they also seem to be narrative throwaways. I get what they were trying to do, but they come off as silly some of the time. I don’t know how threatening Isin thinks Team Rocket with Ninja Penguins sounds, but it ain’t that scary when facing the 7 foot tall dude who kills things with his sword arms. Despite how fleshed out some of the one-off villains (and Hitei) are, these guys just pissed me off.
This is a more personal complaint, but I really did not enjoy episode 10. As much as I hate this word, it just came off as “pretentious” and worthless. I literally don’t understand what it was going for, and it came out of nowhere. I might just be “too dumb to understand its greatness” or something, but I just didn’t enjoy it.
+ Engaging Dialogue
+ Plays with History
+ Great thematic structure
+ One of a kind romance
+ Unique style
+ Perfect ending
+ Really funny
+ Intense fights (Particularly against Sabi Hakuhei and Emonzaemon)
+ Interesting characters
+ Tone shifts done right
+/- Character Designs
+/- Episode 7's animation
- Episode 10
- Team Ninja Penguin Rocket
Katanagatari is an absolute triumph of an anime series. Flippant and confident, yet it knows exactly what it wants to be. Despite the few flaws, I have no qualms awarding Katanagatari with an almost unreal 9.75/10 and absolutely recommending that you check it out. The American BDs are out of print, but you can find them if you look really, really, really hard. It took me 7 months to find them, personally. Have you seen this not-that-hidden gem? Comment below or on my MAL profile and tell me your thoughts along with any requests you have for reviews. This has been Fullmetal-Ghoul, and I’ll see ya next time.