What They Say:
Yasuri Shichika and the Stratagemist Togame have reached the middle of their katana collection journey. Realizing that Togame has so far succeeded, Princess Denial initiates countermeasures to simultaneously help and hinder the woman she hates the most in the world. The final few katana are held by even more fierce and dangerous foes, not to mention the Maniwa Ningun, who grow more and more desperate to reclaim their village’s honor.
It’s up to the power of Kyoto Ryu and Shichika to see this journey to its completion, accomplishing what the Old Shogun tried to accomplish with an army of thousands. His only weapons are his fists and Togame’s always-devious stratagems. When they learn one of Shikizaki Kiki’s katana is held by none other than Shichika’s sister, Nanami, they find it prudent to track her down as soon as possible…
Contains episodes 7-12. (Each episode is approximately 50 minutes long.)
This premium edition includes a full-color, 32-page hardcover art book featuring more vivid, unique art work that conveys a story by itself, more quest guides, including character information, and song lyrics from quests 7 through 12. A detailed glossary provides a deeper understanding of Japanese history and the traditional terminology used throughout the show.
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.
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.
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.
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 wrapped up together with a lot of beautiful greens to it and the opposite one has the clockwork doll character immersed into the same kind of background. The backgrounds for both of the panels are really appealing with a great sense of the natural about it and some very choice colors that draws you in. It’s all quite poster worthy. 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. Add in a glossary that covers all twelve episodes and you’ve got a great book.
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.
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)
With the first Katanagatari set, it was a show that completely captured me with its structure and visual design. With the series being released one episode a month over the course of a year that dealt with the pair of Shichika and Togame searching out the Klesha Blades that she needed in order to complete her mission, we got a show that was familiar but awash in style. The narrative worked very well for me in how it was essentially a double length episode that told a complete tale but moved forward the overall storyline. The whole method gave the episode room to breathe, to have dialogue and discussions, while still having some beautifully choreographed action sequences that worked the concept well.
With the second half of the run, bringing another six episode that are just under an hour each, Katanagatari works a more personal level while still going with the overall Klesha Bringer quest. In fact, the opening episode here is a particularly brutal one for Shichika in that the Nanami has not only caught up with his journey, she actually got ahead of him and has gained a fair amount of power herself through one of the blades used in a very creative manner. While there is the action standoff between the two, something that Shichika has a real hard time coping with since the way his sister has been so weak and frail for all this time, that to go against her just feels very wrong. But she has a larger storyline as well that comes out through it as we get a better exploration of the family past she shares with Shichika and a better look at the truth of their father and what he did. Her reason for life, and being here, is sad to be sure but done in such a way to really strike a chord about the pair and the suffering that each has to face here.
The other episode that really stands out well here in terms of the one-off fights that Shichika has to deal with involves a clockwork doll in ruins that has one of the Klesha Bringers in hand. It’s a very different kind of challenge for him to deal with since similar one he had to fight before, he’s completely unable to read their intent since they don’t give off any emotion. The doll, Biyori, has plenty of moves and there are predictable aspects to it, but it’s not something that has the real intent and emotion behind it that allows him to bend and flow with it. It’s a beautiful episode with how he and Togame work up a strategy to deal with her and Biyori herself brings a good bit to the table with the she operates, with two swords in hand at all times and four legs that helps to deal with some of the traps. It’s a very different character from all the others yet just as quirky in its own way.
Katanagatari has a lot to work through with these episodes as it progresses past that though, working some of both Shichika and Togame’s past in order to see more of who they are and what motivates them. Shichika has to cope with what happened to his sister and the idea that his father may have been part of a much larger, elaborate and disturbing plan. Togame for her part has a lot of issues with her father that are worked through in one episode that deals with an illusion (hallucination?) that really does a great job of getting to the core of who she is. But what really sells Togame with this set is when events unfold in a way that has the two of them admitting their feelings for each other. It doesn’t wait until the very end either and works it into a couple of episodes which allows the show to change the dynamic a bit. It’s been there to some degree for awhile but this allows it to progress well and makes their much more emotional and intense scenes together when they face the final challenges of Princess Denial to come across honestly without being forced.
Katanagatari does go big in the end when they deal with Princess Denial and she has some really great scenes over the course of the set as she sends out Ho’o to do observation and tweaking of the situation to nudge things in the direction she wants it all to go. The ideas behind it do get a bit big and convoluted at times with what the Princess is doing and how she lays it out to the Shogun, but I liked the way it approached it overall and tying it to Shichika’s final attack there where he’s both emotional yet controlled. With the way he changes throughout the series and comes to a new level here, it’s definitely an engaging show to see his evolution yet to still retain a simple feel that thankfully does avoid casting him in the role of an idiot. He may not be swift on the uptake, especially when dealing with the fast talking Togame, but there’s a great charm to him.
Katanagatari really does a great job here in this set and the series as a whole with just about everything. While the main storyline itself can be considered weak since it’s largely a series of twelve fights, it’s the combination of that with the characters and the visual design that allows it to all work in a really engaging way. The evolution of both Shichika and Togame over these six episodes is great to watch and I absolutely adored the fact that they spent plenty of time on dialogue and interaction. There’s a part of me that feels that the show is kind of empty in a way, but it’s still one that I found to be very fulfilling and has left me with a lot of strong memories, mostly visual, but also some great character moments as well which is what dominates this set. Katanagatari is a show that won’t grab a wide audience, but it hooked me hard and kept me intrigued the whole way through while taking the extra time to really enjoy the visuals. It’s a rare show that actually does something different with its look but this one did it and did it in spades in a way that worked perfectly for me.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, 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: September 20th, 2011
Running Time: 308 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.