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[R1 DVD box art]
AKA: 刀語, Sword Story,
Genre: Samurai / historical fantasy
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 50 minutes minutes each
Distributor: R1 DVD from Nippon Ichi Software America
Content Rating: 17+ (violence, cruelty, being plain miserable)
Related Series: None
Also Recommended: Any dark samurai/ninja tale would do; Blade of the Immortal, Shigurui or Basilisk are the shows that come particularly to mind.
Notes: Based on the light novel series by Nisio Isin (Monogatari series).

This series was broadcast once a month over the space of a year, representing both a month of real time and a month of series time.
Rating:
 

Katanagatari

Synopsis

Katanagatari is the story of Yasuri Shichika, a swordsman that fights without a sword, and Togame, an ambitious strategist that seeks to collect twelve legendary swords for the shogunate. The son of an exiled war hero, Yasuri Shichika is the seventh head of the Kyotoryuu school of fighting and lives on isolated Fushou Island with his sister. At a request from the female general Togame, Shichika and Togame set out on a journey across Edo-era Japan to collect the twelve Deviant Blades. (as taken from Wiki)

Review

Well... normally I would say 'what can I say about this series?' but Katanagatari is the complete opposite. What can't I say about the series?

I can't say it's good, for one thing. I'm not sure if I can say it was bad either. Normally I would say it was average but that doesn't fit the bill at all. It's strange but the strangest thing is while the series isn't bad, if I try to look objectively (as far as it's possible), I have to say that I absolutely hate it.

Everything about this series screams at you that it wasn't going to just be your normal series and it certainly is not in many ways. The problem is, though, that special and different don't always mean better. There are reasons why stories and TV shows are the way they are and Katanagatari seems to prove that by showing us how to do it wrong. Ironically, if it had adhered more to tried and tested methods of modern storytelling then I would have an awful lot more to recommend about it.

First of all, modern storytelling dictates that a show should have characters that we can empathise with and enjoy (or something along those lines). Not Katanagatari. While many shows try and fail to achieve that goal, this show seems to deliberately ignore it from the very start. The protagonists are painfully annoying (one actively and the other by not having a personality at all) and most of the antagonists are animated blobs of existential angst waiting to be slaughtered brutally. All of the characters of actual quality are episodic and still in the ridiculously negative mould that forms each character. They do, however, give the series a certain interest if the episodes are viewed independently of one another but sadly we're left with the same, old motley crew of main characters at the end of it. Did I mention that nearly everyone in this show is also irredeemably evil? Even the 'heroes'?

To be honest, the whole tone was a major problem for me. It's dark, it's miserable and it doesn't fit well with the colourful scenery and vibrant animation that makes this show so stark and interesting. The series at its heart is nihilistic but it just creates dissonance with the sillier, light-hearted moments that crop up from episode to episode which make them almost painful to watch. These moments are a failure. They don't highlight the brutality or counterpoint it, they don't add depth or humanity to the characters, they aren't particularly funny - they just niggle away at you and to be niggled isn't why I watch animé. To be shocked. Sure. To be outraged. Fair enough. But to be annoyed? I don't think so.

Again, the thing that blows my mind is that these flaws seem to have been deliberate stylistic choices. Shichika is meant to have the personality of a fence post, the show is meant to be uncompromisingly bleak... it's the story that the makers wanted to tell. My only question is: what's the point of writing a story not worth telling?

I think Katanagatari would like to be deep. To be fair, the philosophical content of animé is one of the great positives of the medium and to aim to achieve any measure of poignancy is something I welcome, but once again this show fails to do that. It fails once again by choice. It actively chooses not to highlight or cross-examine its own nihilism and instead just wallows in it. Don't get me wrong, though, I have nothing against negativity or cynicism - any viewpoint and theme is welcome - but what is the point of it if there seems to have been no thought put into what it means? Put a lot of crapsack characters in a crapsack world and things suck? That's hardly broadening anyone's horizons.

Putting my (very damning) complaints aside, there are definitely things to recommend this series. The dialogue, the excellent composition of each individual episode and the interesting variety of the cursed swords are what you'd expect of the original creator of Bakemonogatari. The action is infrequent but well animated, exciting and never repetitive as each challenge is starkly different from the last. The art is good. Every character design is unique and interesting and the different styles of presentation it adopts are excellent. The pacing of the story works and I think very highly of the 50 minute format that it was broadcast in, giving us plenty of time to get a feel for each of the episodic characters and it certainly makes me happy to see a show that wasn't struggling against its runtime.

In truth, the show only truly falls flat as a whole product. While individual episodes can be quite enjoyable and interesting (hence why I maintained that the series was not truly bad), they fluctuate far too much in quality for the show to overcome the lead weight of its wretched overarching plot and bad characters.

As much as this show annoyed me, there is too much good about it to truly damn it. Add one star if you aren't looking for anything deeper than a paddling pool. It would probably hold up fairly well under a lot less scrutiny. You could also add another star if the fact that the overarching plot is a mess doesn't bother you. Aiden Foote

Recommended Audience: It is violent, it is cold, it is callous, but not particularly bloody. It is still definitely not for younger ones so I would say older teens and above.



Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Katanagatari © 2011 Nisio Isin / Kodansha / Katanagatari Committee