Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anime review: "Katanagatari"

I´ve noticed "Katanagatari" on AniDB calendar quite early, few months before it started to air. One look at the picture and I judged it a shounen anime for young kids and forgot about it. I browse the calendar quite regularly, so I once noticed two things: unusually high rating (over 8.5 at that time) and that is belongs to seinen category. But it really piqued my interest when I found out it is made by the same author that made "Bakemonogatari", Nishio Ishin.

"Katanagatari" is a surprising anime in many aspects. First a word of warning. This anime has a strong front of shounen anime, even though it is not. And if you watch it as shounen, it is not very good. Judging by comments over the Internet, to some people this anime just didn't sat right. Be of an open mind and watch two-or three episodes before dismissing it.

I won't go deep into the plot. At the beginning of "Katanagatari", an army strategist Togame arrives to an isolated island. This island is a home of last successor of Kyotoryou, a peculiar sword-style that uses no swords at all. He was a savior and a hero in the last rebellion against Shogunate some twenty years ago; he ended exiled on the island because Shogun started to consider him a threat. Instead of him, Togame finds his children Schichika and Nanami. Togame needs help of Kyotoryou to find twelve legendary swords made by Shikizaki Kiki, legendary swords of the Sengoku era. Swords have divine characteristics attributed to them and whoever collects them could present a threat to Shogunate. So Togame decided to preemptively collect them. Her previous helpers, ninja-village of Maniwa and samurai Sabi Hakuhei, both betrayed her when got a possession (or in a possession) of the swords. Although reluctant at the beginning, after being attacked by one Maniwa squad-head, Schichika decides to help Togame, while leaving Nanami of the island (she has weak constitution). This is the main plot; it stays the same one throughout the anime, but it changes many layers. I was thrilled with the plot because it was very surprising. And not in that wild way when author just throw concepts and events... Many things are nicely forshadowed and indicated. So, the plot gets the best grades!

As I said, at first look, anime looks very shounen, like something for younger kids. Animation is very simplified and childish: use of chibi-animation; characters from Naruto look like designed for some seinen drama compared to these ones. Maniwa-corp's members all look like half-human, half-animals; Togame is short girl with three-meter long white hair and Schichika a tall boy wearing only long pants... But I liked it at first sight. For some people, it just rubs the wrong way. The world-building was also very good; I especially liked special skills of Maniwa-corps and of the owners of the swords.

Characters are the best point of "Katanagatari"! At first, you expected to be one-dimensional and cliché. And they are most of the time. But every now and then, they will surprise you by their actual depth. Not revealing too much spoilers, let's just consider Schichika. He is a sword, with no feelings or remorse, killing everyone and anyone at Togame's request. He obeys Togame just because he decided she is appropriate person to command him. But, he is conscious of all this and questions his actions during the course of the show. But, contrary to shounen anime, he doesn't just decided "This is bad! I have to stop killing people". He thinks "Why is killing bad? Is it really wrong of me to use Togame as excuse for my actions? Maybe this is enough as a reason for an existence: being a sword for my owner?" and so on. This is just one example of philosophical questions analyzed in "Katanagatari". Most of the characters ask such questions about their motivations and morality. There was a strange variation of a love story between Togame/Schichika and it really had a unexpected course. Definitely not a shounen, this anime.

"Katanagatari" have some more faces. Humor is an important part of the series. It is achieved mostly partly through dialog, especially between Togame and Shichika.Partly it is done in overall design of the show: it is plainly ridiculous. Also, there are also puns and ecchi scenes, which were done very well. Even though this is a fighting anime, action is really simple and unimportant. Schichika has like seven moves and he shows them in first two episodes. But this is not a bother; action is second here to everything else.

Now, a bitter-sweet point: the fourth episode. If you don't like this episode, you will not like this whole series. This is the best episode of the show and has some really great author-solutions. I will not reveal anything, but after watching it you will be surprised, angry, delighted and scared, trust me! Be prepared to revelation of probably the best evil-character of the year! Even though, its real evilness is very questionable. The bad side of this is the fact that crescendo of the show is somewhere in the middle. And after it follows two somewhat weak episodes. They are not bad, but they are not on the level of those before it. Last few episodes are again good. And the end.... It is something special. I never saw that coming...

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that every episode lasts 50 minutes, so this is actually long as normal 24-episode anime.

My final words about "Katanagatari" are: try it! If you don't like it, I can understand it. But this is one of the best anime of the last year, and people how can appreciate it will be delighted by it. I could talk much more about it, but I wouldn't like to reveal anything, because each surprise (and there are many of them) is worth of it.

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