Togame is a self-proclaimed strategist and in order to gain favour with the shogunate, she seeks out the aid of an exiled warrior to help her collect 12 legendary swords. The warrior is long since dead but she does meet his children and recruits Yasuri Shichika, a swordsman without a sword, to help her on her quest.
On the surface, Katanagatari is as simple as it gets. There are 12 episodes and 12 swords so pretty much each episode is the story of Togame and Shichika travelling to a location, confronting the person with the sword, and eventually collecting the sword. However, despite the fairly simple plot structure, this show manages a number of interesting developments, and with its striking visuals and interesting characters manages to keep the story feeling fresh from start to finish (also throw in a healthy dash of truly awesome music that gives the show a fairly unique tone).
I’ll actually get my major criticism of the show out of the way before I talk about all the reasons why you should stop reading this review and just go and watch the show. The biggest problem this anime has is that the villains for the most part are completely throw-away characters. The sword owners are all eccentric and interesting in their own ways (though we barely get to know most of them before the sword is collected and the characters have moved on), but there is also a troop of ninjas who have been hired to stop them and all of these characters have increasingly ridiculous outfits and abilities and really don’t add anything other than a few eccentric fights to a show that already has enough. Likewise, there’s a Princess plotting against Togame and while she’s needed for the final plot to work, for the majority of the run time she is an irritating distraction from the more interesting story that seems to be going on.
With that criticism out of the way, let’s get to everything that makes this show amazing.
First and foremost, from the very opening scene this anime looks unique. I think it is quite beautiful in some ways and bizarre in others, but it was just such a visual pleasure to watch. The outfits, the hair, the trees and scenery were all just wonderful to look at and while there is always a rich array of colours on the screen it never quite crosses the line to becoming an eye-sore or a distraction in the way that shows like No Game No Life occasionally manage. The character eyes were probably the only part I didn’t really think were pretty to look at, but even then they were striking and memorable.
Once you get past the look of the show, the fetch quest these characters are on to collect the 12 deviant swords is wonderful in its simplicity and yet each sword has such an individual feel that every fight and every sword collection is distinct. The swords are classed as deviant for a range of reasons, but essentially they come in all shapes and sizes (and one of them is clearly a pair of guns and not a sword at all). Their handlers are equally diverse and they all have their reasons for not letting go of their sword. They present an array of challenges for Shichika and Togame to overcome over the course of the series so while the basic arrive, find sword, fight for sword, gain sword pattern is followed almost pedantically you can’t help but want to see what the next location and sword will bring.
The show also delights in teasing its audience. Whether it is with the dialogue as the characters discuss a catch phrase for the hero, that only gets delivered once with the appropriate context to support it but gets used numerous times to humorous effect, or with the plot simply deviating from what is expected while still ultimately returning to the path we expected but not in the way we expected, it keeps you guessing where it will go next. A masterful fight between Shichika and one of the deviant blade owners took place almost exclusively off-screen and we only heard about the fight at all in a discussion over dumplings at the end of the episode. The episode in question had spent almost the entire time showing us Shichika’s sister fighting off some ninjas who had decided to try and kidnap her, which was highly entertaining, character revealing about the sister, and set up a future development that Shichika would have to deal with.
And that of course brings us to the characters. The best part of this show is the relationship that develops between Shichika and Togame. Given it begins in episode 1 with her boldly asking him to fall in love with her because otherwise she couldn’t trust him and Shichika basically agreeing because he’s a very simple person (at least in the beginning), the actual relationship developments between them are quite subtle at first but by the end you really do see how their journey together has changed both of them. Shichika also has a great moment with his sister, Nanami, midway along in the story that also pushes his growth as a character.
Basically if you want a classic adventure story with some decent action sequences, a bit of humour, and some very off-the-wall characters thrown in, you will absolutely love Katanagatari. There’s a few moments that might break your heart but basically this is a fun ride from start to finish and a show which I will quite happily return to watch again and again. Just a heads up (because I didn’t get one), while there are only 12 episodes, these are 40 minutes episodes so it works out to be about the length of a standard 24 episode anime.
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