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Katana Maidens: Toji no Miko Part 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read
The fight against the aradama is in the hands of government-sanctioned high school girls.

The fight against the aradama is in the hands of government-sanctioned high school girls.

What They Say:
Protecting the world from supernatural beings has been the task of shrine maidens for centuries. Now, under special authorization of the government, these uniform-wearing, sword-wielding girls spend their days honing their skills at five special schools throughout the country. Among the many who attend, only the strongest can become champions at the annual tournament!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that works its dialogue well with placement and depth with a lot of scenes in how the ships are setup and some of the other sequences so there’s good design at work there. A lot of dialogue is fairly straightforward face to face material that uses the forward soundstage well. We do get some really good sword fights where the 5.1 mix is able to boost things just a bit more nicely so that it has a better feeling to it overall, especially with the warmth of the score at times. The series works a good sprawling feeling where needed but it also gets up close and personal pretty well too. The dialogue itself is clean and clear throughout at all levels and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 2018, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs in a standard nine/three format. Animated by Studio Gokumi, the series works a really good visual presentation and I even like the CG character animation in the battle sequences as it works with the way they speed up and the fluidity of it for the attacks. The show works a lot of standard design material here with costuming and sets but it’s done with just enough detail to stand out a bit more and some good color design, even if a lot of it seems to lean into darker sequences. The encoding brings it to life well with a good solidity with the colors and no problems in handling details in the darker sequences. The character animation is solid and there’s a lot to like in the high-motion sequences that’s clean and smooth.

The packaging design for this release brings us a standard-sized Blu-ray case as this is a Blu-ray only release plus the digital. The o-card slipcover that comes with it replicates the case artwork but what a difference in color quality and depth here just from the blues in the background and then the character artwork. The main piece uses the familiar key visual for the season as we knew it would but it’s a solid cast shot with a nice background that lets it all stand out well. The back cover has a nice layout to it with the red slice cuts that hold two strips of shots from the show above and below set against a white background. The white is what helps everything stand out with the layout and character artwork while also making for an easy to read summary of the premise in the middle. The extras are clearly listed and we get a solid technical grid that breaks down how the Blu-ray was put together. The reverse side has two panels with more character artwork from the Japanese covers and we get a nice inclusion of two art cards featuring Hiyori and Kanami that are pretty nice even if they’re just character shots against a white background.

The menus for this release go for the simple but effective route where we get the same static image for both discs. Working with the main key visual that’s also used for the cover, it’s kept to the right and gives us a good look at the main cast and all their designs and details. Unlike the cover, it’s set against a white background with some widgets across it to give it a little more definition. The character artwork stands out well here in a colorful way and placing the logo over the empty space sets it all together well. The navigation is near the bottom with the “bloody splotch” red approach that has the navigation across it in blue and white as selected. It’s quick and easy to navigate and it looks good with both discs. The menu works well both as the main menu for setup and as a pop-up menu during playback for further adjustments and movement.

The only extras included with this set were the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Part of a multimedia project, Katana Maidens landed in the winter 2018 season where it ran for a two-cour plan, the first half of which makes up this set. The series had a manga adaptation that began a few months before the anime and finished up this year while a visual novel game was released at the midway point of the anime on mobile platforms. The show also had a follow-up short-form project, Mini Toji, which I actually watched before getting into the series proper through this release. The anime came from Studio Gokumi working from scripts by Tatsuya Takahashi and having Kodai Kakimoto directing. It’s a solid and enjoyable venture overall that plays with lots of familiar ideas and executes them well.

Taking place in a world similar to our own but with some significant differences, Japan has a group of schools that have been setup that are government sanctioned. They’re to help train sword-wielding maidens known as Toji who are a kind of policing force. Through exorcism through the blade, they deal with strange creatures known as “aradama” that appear. There’s not a lot of detail on them overall when you get down to it as it’s focused more on the girls in this opening half and seeing the group dynamic build. It’s nicely done in this regard in that we get the basic concepts rolled out and the focus on showing the harder work of being a Toji made clear – even if there’s a big tournament aspect to this waiting in the background.

Though there’s a sprawling and growing cast within this since it deals with five schools coming into a tournament, we primarily focus on Kanami and Mai from the Minoseki Academy. The opening of the tournament is fun as there’s some good fights there and we see the two make some real progress in it and having it turn toward an assassination attempt on by another participant named Hiyori as she tries to take out Yukari, it takes an odd turn. Having Kanami and Mai protect her and escape from the tournament we get a brief bit of them on the run as they believe in the warrior’s heart that Hiyori has shown them from their time in the tournament. This sends us into a couple of episodes where we do get a bit of a handle on the characters and how they interact with each other while also exploring some of the larger themes in just how the aradama are seeping into more layers and areas of society and the threat they represent.

Bringing in the factional aspect of the schools and that some are just flat out opposed to Yukari for other reasons complicates things and that combined with the growing cast means that everyone gets less time in general. But there’s a lot going on here as each episode feels like it’s trying to work through a lot of material since there are so many groups at play here. Having the core group protecting Hiyori works well and then seeing other groups wanting to protect her as well in order to push back against Yukari complicates things. But Yukari herself seems to make everything complicated as she makes some big plays against one of her more troublesome opponents with Mokusa. The series hits some big material toward the end with her going around and essentially raiding three of the schools and immobilizing their Toji, laving a lot of people uncertain about what’s going on.

Having watched the Mini Toji show before this, I had a kind of warped view of some of the characters even though that series basically existed between scenes of the main show. I had a different view of what this series would be like as I thought it was filled with more action, more dealing with aradama. But it has a bit more of a political vein to it in how it deals with the factions and bigger plans in motion that have not been fully revealed yet. It also spends a lot of expected time just on relationship-building for the main cast in making friends and the whole protecting of Hiyori. It’s not bad but it just didn’t do that much for me since as it went on we had so many more people introduced that it reduced quality time with them individually. The action sequences, however, are pretty strong. I know a lot of fans still aren’t keen on the CG use of character models like they do here but it fits so well with what they’re doing and the blending with the aradama worked very well, making for some intense and compelling bits that came a little too close to looking like gaming cut-scenes at times.

In Summary:
I’m… really mixed with this series. It’s got a lot going on but it never felt like events were clearly defined enough in a narrative sense to really hold onto it well. The cast grows a little too much too quickly for my tastes but most of it makes sense in-context with what they’re doing. But that kept me from really connecting with any of the characters and feeling somewhat distant from the show. I like the concept and there are some really nice moments in here, especially with Yukari, but it feels like it needed to be spaced out a bit more in some areas and had a stronger narrative through-line to it. The release will please fans with a good looking encode, a solid dub, and I loved the inclusion of the art cards in the set as a nice little bonus. It’s a welcome addition to the library for fans of the show to have.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B=

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: March 26th, 2019
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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