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Katanagatari Part 1 Blu-ray Premium Edition Anime Review

9 min read

Twelve legendary swords must be collected by a swordsman who doesn’t actually use a sword.

What They Say:
Legend has it the unrivaled blacksmith Shikizaki Kiki’s masterpieces, the 12 Klesha Bringers, led the Sengoku Period of Japan. The “Land of the Rising Sun” was unified as one nation under one man. However, this man, the Old Shogun, feared a rebellion and enacted a notorious policy known as Katana Hunting, collecting 988 of the 1,000 katanas Shikizaki forged. Despite the policy, 12 of his true mastercrafts were left uncollected. The other 988 were merely experiments created for the sake of perfecting these 12, known as Klesha Bringers.

Yasuri Shichika, the seventh generation master of the sword art Kyoto Ryu, and his older sister Nanami live on the isolated Fusho Island. One day, Togame, a Shogunate official dispatched to collect the Klesha Bringers, pays a visit to the island…

This premium edition includes a full-color, 32-page hardcover art book featuring vivid, unique art work that conveys a story by itself, quest guides, including character information, and song lyrics from quests 1 through 6. A detailed glossary provides a deeper understanding of Japanese history and the traditional terminology used throughout the show.

Contains episodes 1-6. (Each episode is approximately 50 minutes long.)

The Review:
Please note:
This set contains both the DVD and Blu-ray discs of the series. For our technical review, we’re covering only the Blu-ray discs.

Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good for the single audio track that’s here as we get the original Japanese stereo mix in PCM encoded at 1.5mbps fixed. The series has a good mix of dialogue and action with both parts being well represented here. The dialogue portions of it with all the interaction works very well with it being placed properly and a good sense of depth when needed. The action part of the show is just as good, using the forward soundstage to spread out the action and having a good bit of impact. The opening sequence in particular has a good bit of music that is well served by the lossless presentation. The release didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The six episodes are spread across two discs with four on the first and two on the second with each episode running fifty minutes each. The encoding here generally runs in the low twenties for the bitrate but hits some highs in the thirties when things get a bit more active. There’s a lot of stills in this show as it uses wide shots with the characters conversing within it but it also spends time with a lot of close-ups as well during the setup phases of the episodes. There’s a lot of great colors here that are solid and well represented, often with a sense of almost fantasy about it, going in a very atmospheric way. There’s a lot of detail to the backgrounds as well and it all holds up very well and looks quite appealing. The one main flaw that many will point to, and I can certainly understand it and it is frustrating but hard to factor into a grade, is that the subtitles are locked on for the video, so you can’t toggle them off. You either get the commentary subtitles or the full subtitles.

Packaging:
Katanagatari continues the NIS America tradition with its solid collector’s premium edition boxes. We get an oversized heavy chipboard box here where one of the main panels features the two lead characters together and the opposite one has a look at some of the supporting players in it. The backgrounds for both of the panels are similar with the reds and whites used to give it a very fairy tale feeling that’s very appropriate for the show. The colors and character designs make it clear how the show is going to look and that’s an important thing since this show has a particular look. The side of the box has a detailed technical grid that covers both formats very well and is very clean and easy to read and accurate to what’s on the disc.

Within the box, we get two clear thinpak cases where each of them holds both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD disc. The front covers are done just like the main box background with both volumes showing off different pieces of character artwork pairing Shichika with Togame. The back covers break down the episodes that are available on their respective discs and each has a pair of images from each episodes that represent those episodes overall. The discs extras are clearly listed and a more disc-specific technical grid breakdown is included as well. A lot of space is given over to the production credits and the voice cast. There’s no artwork on the reverse side unfortunately either.

The big draw, once again, is the gorgeous hardcover book that’s included. This edition gives over a couple of pages to each episode where you get some great full color artwork, a breakdown of the story and the characters as well as the representative poem. There’s a beautiful section of additional artwork, the full lyrics for the opening theme and some character design artwork. I adore the artwork in this show and this book brings out a lot of gorgeous pieces to take in.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is pretty decent as it uses various clips from the series with a mixture of action moments and some more atmospheric background pieces. With the combination of the music, it has a good flow to it and and sets the mood right for the series. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward with the basic selections that you normally get and it all loads quickly and easily. Submenus have a good font to it and chapter access within episodes is also available, something we don’t always see in general.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the ending sequences and the clean opening.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Nisio Isin with artwork by Take, Katanagatari is a twelve episode series, six of which are here, that slowly unveils a beautifully animated story. The show is a curious one as we don’t often get things like this in how it was produced. The twelve episodes came out one a month over the course of 2010 and each one is just under an hour in length. The structure of the show allows it to not have to work with the same weekly pressures and design and by doing so, the fifty minutes each one runs has some great pacing to it as the characters come together naturally and the lead-up to the inevitable fight is much more appropriate feeling.

Because of the nature of the show, I find myself not really able to go into too much detail because it is, in its own way, pretty formulaic. But what it does with that formula is to massage it well, to make it far more engaging that it might otherwise be because of the structure of the episode and the beautiful animation and the near fairytale like aspect of it all. The series in its first half focuses on a young man named Shichika who lives on an island with his slightly older sister Nanami. The two are the only offspring of an exiled war hero who died a few years prior and they’re surviving well with Shichika training himself in the school his father belonged to, the Kyoto Ru, while his sister who has weak health frets about the situation in a simple way. The two are happy for the most part and have no real desire to leave, thereby honoring the exile of their father.

All of that changes though with the arrival of Togame, a supposed master strategist of the Shogunate who has come for his help. As she describes it, there were a thousand special swords made at one time but they were all considered to be trials for the final twelve that are beyond renown. These swords are now being collected for the Shogunate and she’s been tasked with doing it. The problem is that those she brought in to help her before haven’t really been a help. The swordsmen end up falling in love with the sword and refuse to let it go while the ninja group coveted the power of the swords for themselves. That’s led her to this island to find their father, but instead she hopes to use Shichika for it since he has no desire for money, fame or swords themselves. While he is a master swordsman in the school of Kyoto Ryu, he’s forged his body as a sword itself and fights without anything else but that.

While it does take a little effort to get Shichika going on the quest, he does agree to it and just he and Togame head out into the world to see the twelve swords. Each episode focuses on a particular sword which has its own history and personality as well as the person who has acquired it, whether it’s a samurai, pirate or ninja. Each encounter helps to forge Shichika more as a weapon but his time with Togame helps to give him a bit more personality there as well. He’s a fish out of water to be sure as at first he can’t even tell the difference between people other than his sister since he’s never seen anyone before and they all look alike to him. The ways of the world are a mystery and it’s a nice bit of exploration of it in a small and simple way that isn’t really done for big comedic laughs. It’s more from Togame’s frustration than anything else.

Because of this being the first half, it doesn’t get far in terms of story in a way because it’s focusing on the twelve swords and these first six in particular. What it does produce is a story that’s very, very engaging and fun to watch because of the characters and because each story is told completely within the confines of a single fifty minute episode. The characters get time to really explore who they are, the situation they’re in. It spends time letting Togame and Shichika arrive at their destination, discover what the deal is with who they’re facing off against and their story and then launches into the actual action part that has them trying to retrieve the sword. While you can see how this would be split into two episodes in a more traditional series, it would be more frustrating. Of course, having only one episode of this a month would be frustrating as well, but it’s a show with such great production values and a definite sense of self that separates it from other shows that it’s worth the wait.

In Summary:
Going into Katanagatari with no foreknowledge of it all lead to one of the better first-time experiences I’ve had this year. This series takes a fairly traditional story and through a combination of approach, animation and storytelling manages to make it feel fresh and now while still being familiar. The character designs may be a bit off-putting for some, but that in combination with everything else and the almost Japanese fairytale feeling really pulls it all together in a beautiful way. Each episode is worth watching by itself, spreading it out over a week, so that you can absorb it all without it bleeding into a different one just to be able to savor it more. While there are some technical issues with the release such as the subtitles being locked on (not hard subs) and the lack of being able to resume play, the show itself is wonderful and has me really looking forward to the second half to see if it can follow through on the promise of this one. Highly recommended.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closings

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
MSRP: $69.99
Running Time: 308 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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