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…
Per other NIS America releases, this release is in 2.0 stereo for Japanese audio. This is a bit disappointing, as the sound could have been a pleasant complement to the stellar animation and production value. Admittedly, the majority of this series is a bit of a talking heads show, but those few wonderful scenes of action and musical bravado really could have benefited from a little 5.1 action. Understandably not in the stars for the release, but it would have been a wonderful feature. On the whole, however, the audio track gets the job done with no issues or problems to speak of.
This is a very pleasant series to look at. From its vibrant colors (slightly reminiscent of American cartoon color schemes) and unique character designs, the series sets a pleasant bar of creativity, cleverly mixing old Japanese style art with modern anime style. The DVD transfer of this—while not optimal for HDTVs (Since it’s not Blu-Ray)—is about as solid as it can get. Even in standard definition, it’s a very pretty thing to look at.
The menu consists of very attractive art bordering the options. On the right is a shot of the two lead characters, of which changes in each submenu you go into. It’s very simple and minimalist. Admittedly, for some reason, it looks a bit stretched out and low-res, and isn’t quite a highlight of the disc. In the background plays one of the more obnoxious themes of the series.
Like the menu, this release is very minimal in the way of on-disc extras. Each episode has a slightly different ending, and the extras in the disc consist of the clean version of that ending. Other than that, you’re looking at a pretty bare-bones release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shichika Yasuri and his sister Nanami have lived good lives cut off from the rest of the world. As the seventh generation master of the sword art Kyoto Ryu, Shichika knew he would make his way to the outside world some day. One day, shogunate strategist Togame arrives at the island, requesting his assistance to help her collect twelve of the strongest katanas in the land. His compensation? The opportunity to fall in love with Togame. A strange method of payment to say the least. Despite his initial hesitation and Togame’s questionable motives, Shichika agrees and sets off with her to find these katanas, and defeat whatever foes stand in their way.
The easiest thing to notice upon looking at Katanagatari is its unique art style. With its strange-eyed character designs, and its overly-colorful almost-woodblock print style art, it definitely looks unlike most of the anime out there nowadays. Motion-wise, there isn’t a lot going on, which, in a way, increases its Japanese feel, where it’s not the motion, but the anthemic still image that matters most. It manages to break outside of the typical anime mold while still looking undeniably Japanese in a very attractive way.
Despite its beautiful art style, I was definitely a bit hesitant going into this. Often times I had come across anime that was undeniably beautiful yet incredibly lacking in story and character. After a rocky initial episode consisting of an abundance of exposition and boring banter, we launched into the meat of the series. I am pleased to say that it got better. A whole lot better. The relationship between Shichika and Togame is both simple yet complicated. With Togame’s unclear motives, each of their interactions is layered with subtext. Each episode pushes their relationship further along, and even changes each character individually. As the series goes on, I was able to see Togame’s layers of defense slowly dwindle. Shichika, a man of dumb simplicity and dog-like obedience begins to experience true human emotions that come with interacting with people, but in such a way that is subtle and realistic. To get to the point, this series handles character development well.
It’s also a series that isn’t afraid to take itself too seriously. It has fun with its rigid “one katana per episode” structure. Without spoiling anything, the episode that comes to mind most is episode 4, which takes a detour off the beaten path and travels into a more unique and interesting direction with both the tone and style of the series that changes things for the better. It even goes so far as to almost “troll” the audience by only showing them something completely different from what they had expected to from a specific episode. The story is told in such a confident and fun way that after that episode, I let myself into the storyteller’s hands, knowing I would be completely fine with whatever direction it was going.
As fun as they had with the structure, Katanagatari had even more fun with its characters, most notable are the members of the Maniwa Ninja Corps., who are both the goofiest characters in the series, as well as the most frighteningly serious. Each character design has an animal theme, and a personality to suit, and an often-eccentric character quirk. My favorite ninjas are the bug-themed, their hilarious motto being “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and prey like a mantis.” With cool gimmicks such as this, the characters become more than just typical background characters. They become memorable. And despite their goofiness, this show isn’t afraid to take them to dark and serious places, which was helpful in getting me to really care for them.
But at the end of the day, it is the relationship between the two protagonists that matters, and I am delighted to say that they did a good job carrying the show. As a series so heavy on dialogue, their banter and discourse was entertaining enough to go through with little pain. The antagonists are usually interesting, and watching as Shichika discovers their individual weaknesses is a treat in and of itself.
In a series with so much dialogue, personality really has to shine through. And luckily for me, it had a lot of personality. In instances where I had only planned to watch a single episode, I found myself watching a few (and these are fifty minute long episodes, mind you). Any series that gets me to do that is doing something right. Thought it is not a perfect show. It could handle to cut some scenes down. For instance, cutting down on the some of the banter. As entertaining as it was, it often went a few minutes too long, resulting in the ultra-inflated runtime of fifty minutes an episode (the series would have been fine at forty-two minute episodes). On the whole, however, it really did have me clamoring for the second set. More so than any anime has had me clamoring in recent memory.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Six Clean Endings
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: C
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
Running Time: 316 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL-40EX400 BRAVIA EX400 LCD hdtv 40 inch. Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player. Electrohome ELE-HTB920E 5.1 Channel Surround Sound Home Theater Speaker System