Before I get to my top picks of 2009, I thought it would be a good idea to write some of my winter anime impression posts. I started with Katanagatari because it was one of the titles I was really curious about and also hopeful that it would turn out well.
Rating: episode 1 – 6/12 B-
Anticipation Level: 2/5 – Below Average
Set in medieval Japan, our main character, Shichika, is a young man who lives alone on a remote island with just his sister. The reason the pair of siblings live on this island is because their dad was exiled there 20 years ago by the shogun who worried about the father’s popularity after he put down a rebellion. And the siblings might have lived their entire lives on this island in peace if Togame – a young woman who happens to be the shogun’s chief strategist – hadn’t decided that she needed the skills of Shichika in her quest to find 12 supernaturally powered swords. Of course, taking the time to travel to a remote island and employing the skills of the son of a banished swordsmen might seem like an odd decision by a chief strategist but she had already been burned by her supposed loyal ninja subordinates (who took the swords for themselves) and Shichika’s style of swordsmanship does not involve using an actual sword (so he can’t actually use the 12 swords). The other reason Togame thinks she can trust Shichika is because she plans on him falling in love with her 🙂 .
The Fine Print
For potential viewers of Katanagatari, probably the first thing I should mention is it’s unique episode setup. Katanagatari is made up of 12 episodes that run 50 minutes long with one episode being released per month starting in January 2010 and running to December. Also noteworthy is that the source material comes from the same guy, NisiOisin, that wrote Bakemonogatari – the summer 2009 season hit – but the animation effort for Katanagatari has no connections to Bakemonogatari (animated by Shaft and Katanagatari by the animation studio White Fox).
I tried to keep my expectations in check for Katanagatari because shows can almost never live up to hype but Katanagatari still felt like a bit of a letdown. Oh, it does have some things going for it but taken as a whole, it feels like there’s more going against it then for it.
The first problem was the show’s pacing and how it spent it’s 50 minutes. A halfway capable (and willing) director could have condensed what happened in episode 1 down into half the time without losing anything of importance and given the show some of the snappiness in pacing that a Bakemonogatari (or a Toradora or a Baccano) display which helped make those shows so interesting to watch. Instead, the show just lazily stumbled from conversation to conversation to conversation to conversation with only an infrequent interruption of a small action scene before going back to talking. And speaking of action scenes, I have to say that I was very underwhelmed with Katanagatari’s action scenes; episode 15 of Railgun had a 30 second fight scene that was miles better than anything that episode 1 of Katanagatari had to offer. I’m willing to cut it a little slack since this is the first episode but I expect future episodes to contain more interesting content or else I’m going to drop it.
I was also surprised by how flat this show felt and I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact problem. There’s the two main characters – Shichika and Togame – they’re interesting and likable but they feel more like a third or fourth generation copy of Senjougahara and Araragi, similar but lacking the finer detail that made the originals good but that hardly covers it all. Another area that I think helped contribute to the flatness was, during the dialog scenes, White Fox was content with just showing the talking heads, talking; I’m not saying they need to copy Shaft but at least when Shaft did the conversations in Bakemonogatari, they provided your eyes with something to look at – even if it was just the character’s body language. Another possible reason that just came to me, as I find some screenshots to take, is as interesting and pretty as the animation style is, I was never wowed by it. I was constantly wowed by Bakemonogatari and even new shows like Ookamikakushi, Hanamaru Kindergarten, and Durarara have more of a wow factor to their animation. And there’s the possibility that the longer episode length could be contributing to the flatness of the this show by making the show feel like it drags.
You might be saying to yourself at this point – why did steelbound give it a 6/12 B- and not a lower score when he had so many problems with it? And I’d reply, that’s a good question so I’m going to switch to what I liked about it.
First and foremost, I do like the animation style; it’s refreshingly different from what’s normal in anime. Also, the characters aren’t bad; Togame is probably my favorite and her screen time in the first episode were the best parts and I’m interested in how there might be more to the sister but it seems that they’ll leave her behind – which is a shame – and the weakest character so far is Shichika but all they need to do is some quality character development soon and he’d be fine. And not all the dialog was boring, there was some flashes of greatness, now if only there was a greater percentage of those moments. And finally, watching the first episode left we feeling pretty good (which is always a big plus for an anime) so I’m optimistic that the future episodes will be better.
So, in conclusion, Katanagatari is not a bad anime but does have room to improve; therefore, I’m willing to say it’s worth a watch (especially if you like to appreciate different animation styles) but can’t really recommend it right now. If this conclusion changes significantly after the next episode or the episode after – either positively or negatively – I’ll be sure to post my updated thoughts.