Katanagatari One – Novel Review

Katanagatari Cover Art

I tend to let it be well known that I have a serious love of books. I surround myself with them in my daily life. Books I’ve read, books I mean to read, books I plan to read again… Piles of books stacked on shelves and in odd little corners all in an order that makes perfect sense to me and me alone. I will seldom be found without a couple of books in the bag I’m carrying and certainly wouldn’t travel without the lighter e-reader version of a library.

So with that context, when I say that Katanagatari 1, a compilation of the first three stories of Sword Tale, is an extraordinary book, I do not say that lightly. I say it with love and admiration as right from when I first opened the package this one arrived in and felt the cover and admired the art work, that there is something very special about this book.

Katanagatari - Fold out image - Togame and Shichika

Part of that may be it is a rare case where I have a hardback version of a book, if only because there was no paperback version and I was keen enough to read this story that I did splurge a little on my usual book budget (a decision I do not regret in the slightest). However, unlike many hardcover books with their plain cover and then floppy book jacket that gets in the way while reading until you simply discard it in irritation, this one has the art beautifully attached to the actual cover with no flappy extras to interfere with the texture and feeling of the book or with trying to read it.

Now, full disclosure, I was already in love with the narrative here because the anime is something of an extraordinary watch with its 12 episodes of 40 minutes and quite unique art style. So I went in to this one knowing the basic outline of the story and what to expect. Still, I feel that whether you go in knowing or not nothing can diminish the pure joy of reading this book.

Katangatari - original table of contents spread

The care gone in to the book’s presentation only continues on the inside. The fold out art work is stunning, a table of contents given in English, and then a page which shows the first book’s original content’s page (this version of the book contains the first three ‘books’ of the 12 book story).

Throughout the book are footnotes which provide reference to the original kanji used and how it has been translated which helps at times to make sense of puns or jokes the characters are making or just adds insight into what the particular name of a place or attack might mean. These don’t need to be read in order to follow the story but they add enough in that I found myself regularly going back to read them if I’d gotten caught up in an action scene and skipped them for a page or two. While unnecessary, they just add a little something more to the story and I really appreciated them.

Katanagatari - Footnotes

Peppered throughout the books are liberally illustrations with double page spreads showing characters, action sequences or new settings. Each consistently demonstrating the unique art style that the anime certainly emulated and they are striking images that are well worth spending some time just taking in.

At the ends of chapters and in the transitions between books there is a character note page that usually outlines information about the ninja or enemy faced in the book and again this isn’t necessary information but it just adds a little extra.

Katanagatari - Double page image

All and all, Katanagatari has gone all out with worthwhile extras.

But, what about the writing and the story itself given this is a book review?

I’m pleased to say that the writing style is nothing short of lyrical. You flow from one event to the next with dialogue keeping the pace swift in places or bringing it up short in others. Enough description is given as is needed to sketch the scenes without belabouring the points. Action is tightly written and again enough description given that you know what is going on, and if they happen to linger over explanations of particular attacks there is usually some purpose behind it.

Katanagatari - Nanami

Overall though, the tone of the writing is highly entertaining. While I know this version is a translated work and some of the author’s original style probably got strained out in the process, there’s a genuine love of language and words that comes through with the writing style that makes it pleasant to read. There’s also a fierce desire to not take the situations overly seriously as the characters lurch from one scenario to another.

Togame, the Schemer, and Shichikia, her sword, are a wonderful duo who bounce off one another in personality and dialogue in a way that is fun to read. The zany nature of the ninjas introduces provide enough in the way of sensationalism without crossing over into sheer ridiculous (though at times it is a fine line). There’s some tongue in cheek and self-aware comments from the narration but none so persistent that it becomes grating, and you just can’t help but feel that the author knew exactly what they were doing and where the lines were that would push it from amusing to silly, self-aware to smug and kept firmly on the side of enjoyable without sacrificing individuality in the process.

Did I mention I really loved reading this?

Katanagatari - Shichika and Togame

While the story across each of the three books is formulaic, enough elements are differentiated that it doesn’t feel like a rinse and repeat effort and there is method in the repetition. The scenario of collecting the twelve swords automatically sets up a quest of the book situation where one sword becomes the target of the hunt and Shichika and Togame need to deal with whoever stands between them and the sword. However, in just these three books we travel from Shichika’s home island to a desert to a shrine and in each place they face off against a different kind of enemy with a different reason for holding firmly to the sword.

I honestly couldn’t say I was dissatisfied with anything in regards to reading this story. Except of course where book 2 is not yet released so I’m now waiting for the next three stories so that I can continue the journey.

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This Story Is Getting A Little Grimm

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Grimms Notes Episode 9 Review

This week on Grimms Notes, Reina, Ex, Tao and Shane find themselves in a desert when Aladdin shows up to offer them some water. As you would expect, he also helps himself to Reina’s book and so they hunt him down so that Reina can deliver a suitable slap to the thief.

Grimms Notes Episode 9 Aladdin

Aladdin’s story is more or less what you would expect at this point given the way Grimms Notes has been unfolding. He found the magic lamp as his book of fate told him but then it was stolen from him and he was kicked out of the city. Determined to get things back on track they start crossing the desert but are soon attacked by villains and this is where something unexpected happens.

Grimms Notes Episode 9 Reina

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In the midst of battle, Aladdin steps in between a villain and a weakened Reina, and takes a lethal blow. With the main character dead you would think the story would be over and the story zone would collapse on the spot, but instead they point out that when they tune the world another person, similar enough, will just take his place. Wow, talk about disposable.

Grimms Notes Episode 9

The more I learn about story tellers and story zones, the more I think we should let Loki and the other chaos tellers just have their way. There seems little advantage to anyone in maintaining the status quo. Then again, there’s probably still something we haven’t heard yet about some kind of major consequence if we do in fact just let the bad guys win, but it makes it hard to get behind Reina’s tears as she tunes the world this episode. Part of me just wondered if perhaps things would be better if she didn’t.

Grimms Notes Episode 9 Loki

This series remains that little bit interesting, a lot confusing when it comes to what is driving the characters, and mostly I wonder how many episodes it has and whether we’ll get to an end point. Are the ‘villains’ making their move and if yes, why did it take them this long? What have they been waiting for? What move are they making? And do I actually want the ‘heroes’ to stop them?

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Arifureta: From Commonplace To World’s Strongest Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Arifureta Volume 4 Cover

Complete a quest, rescue a child, save the hero, and win the girls!

Okay, volume 3 and I of this particular series parted on a fairly rough note. They’d introduced a character I pretty much despised and she was eating a lot of page time with comments I found neither interesting nor funny. I felt perhaps that this would be the end of my acquaintance with these characters and that we would go our separate ways after this volume.

Let me assure you, I’m not parting ways with this series.

The annoying character is most definitely still there, though with so much else happening in this volume Tio’s presence feels muted or diluted at least. But, everything is happening in this volume.

Arifureta Volume 4 Shea gets a new collar

There are two fairly major stories that happen in this volume and then they are book-ended by information that is pretty crucial to the ongoing narrative. It makes for a very satisfying read in a series where drama introduced within a volume resolves but the greater story it is apart of continues fairly seamlessly. This is my favourite kind of series to read where I feel like I was given a wonderful conclusion yet am desperate to read more to find out what the next thing for the characters is.

The first part of the story feels less consequential though it does introduce us to another character (yet another girl) that is going to have a fair impact on Hajime. After volume 3 reunited Hajime with his teacher, he’s definitely started thawing though that isn’t a huge improvement given he still treats most everyone outside of his harem as his enemy. No, they give Hajime a child to protect and while that could have gotten very inappropriate and a little uncomfortable given Hajime’s relationships with the other girls in his life, they actually make this one a fairly wholesome guardian and daughter relationship and the impact of having someone vulnerable and impressionable to protect pushes Hajime’s personality yet further toward the Hajime we met back in volume 1.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that Hajime back. However the extreme personality make-over took Hajime to a place where he’s almost impossible to connect with so these small steps back to humanity are actually really appreciated and keep each step of the journey feeling fresh. Hajime isn’t wavering in his plans to defeat the gods and get himself back home and he’s still willing to trample whoever he needs to get there. But he is now carrying quite a few others with him.

While this was the shorter section of the book, it was nicely done. There were some battles and some city-wide destruction, and then Hajime moved on.

Which brings us to the second stage of the book. Finally Hajime is going to come face to face with the hero’s party and the other students. When first requested to go and rescue them, I really figured he’d walk away. Despite meeting Aiko in the last book and thawing a bit, and despite the influence of the child he was looking after, I honestly didn’t see Hajime as having captured enough of who he was to care about his former classmates.

Turns out I was right and wrong.

Arifureta Volume 4 Hajime and Kaori

It wasn’t the class he went to save but rather Kaori, the one person in the class who had been nice to him.

This is perhaps the first volume since the first that has devoted any time to fleshing out the students and their personalities and interactions. It is also the first time we find out why Kaori was so distraught when Hajime ‘died’ back in volume 1, you know, other than seeing a classmate fall into an abyss.

Arifureta Volume 4 - Kaori and Shizuku watch Hajime

It is a lovely bit of character development and they managed to simultaneously work in some world building because the students encountered a demon who ended up being way stronger than anticipated and surrounded by incredibly powerful monsters. We finally get a bit of a look at the threat the students were summoned to defeat.

All and all there’s little to complain about in this volume as it seems to keep powering from one event to the next and each part feels meaningful. There’s some excellent character moments from a huge number of the cast, and the ending will leave you wanting the next volume ASAP.

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The Outlook Is Grimm

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Grimms Notes Episode 7 Review

I keep wanting the next episode of Grimms Notes to be the one that turns it all around. The one that reveals the motive of the heroes and presents the villains in an actual menacing light. The one that explains why story ones exist and who these mysterious authors are who are inflicting such pain upon their creations. And yet, seven episodes in and there’s still no sign of that.

Grimms Notes Episode 7

We did get a slightly more detailed look at one of the ‘villains’ as she inserted herself into the story to meet with Ex and the others but even then, other than a cryptic comment or two she provides nothing in the way of new reveals. The story of the week is much the same as any other though as always you have to wonder if resetting things to how they are ‘supposed’ to be is actually the right things to do.

Grimms Notes Episode

Our heroes never question their actions. That is what bothers me more than what they are doing. But even when asked about their actions they don’t pause and reflect for even a minute. They seem utterly convinced that keeping stories on track according to the books of fate is the absolute right thing to do. Yet they haven’t provided a convincing argument to the audience to make us want to get behind that motive.

Grimms Notes Episode 7

Otherwise there is little to note here. The story is ongoing in much the same pattern it has been with no real ups or down in animation or any other area. This show kind of just exists at this point.

Grimms Notes Episode 8 Review

Alright, so by the end of this episode Ex actually does ask if they are doing the right thing but the question is quickly dismissed under ‘no choice’ and ‘too late’ comments so it doesn’t actually get explored.

Grimms Notes Episode 8

Outside of that, this week the focus is on Tao and kind of Shane as we visit their story zone. And this is a bit of an issue because it really does prove that these story zones are literally just looping round in circles which makes you wonder why anyone sees the point. I mean why defeat the oni if you know that as soon as that is done there will be a new hero and a new oni threat and the whole thing will just rinse and repeat.

Grimms Notes Episode 8

The other issue being that neither Tao nor Shane are particularly complex characters so the backstory on them and how they met and ended up deciding to leave their story zone is pretty weak, as is their resolution to keep a story on track that doesn’t exactly seem like it is doing anyone any favours.

Grimms Notes Episode 8

Grimms Notes continues to not really do anything particularly note worthy but nor is it unwatchable. All and all, this one isn’t showing any sign of improvement but it isn’t getting any worse.

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FINAL FANTASY VII ACTION DOLL: CLOUD STRIFE
FINAL FANTASY VII ACTION DOLL: CLOUD STRIFE

The Friend Turned Foe

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20 Review

Kirito and Alice are finally back inside the tower after far too many episodes hanging off the edge. Amazingly enough they didn’t even make us watch the final stretch we got to actually just be at the top with Alice realising that Kirito had carried her the rest of the way. But, no time to rest because they need to track down Eugeo.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20

Through a bit of magic they track down the sword and find the leader of the knights but no Eugeo. I think the bit with the knight turning into stone was meant to be emotional but honestly we barely knew the guy and he didn’t leave much impact other than yet another obstacle so this was mostly just an on the way to the actual final act.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20
Also we clearly have time for another flash back in here.

They then go to the senate and act all shocked by the horror of how people are treated by the administrator, bit late now really to be worried about that. Then Alice and Kirito find the clown guy, they all babble a bit, the clown explodes, only doesn’t, and runs away leading them to… Well, we found Eugeo.

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 20

I’m just going to point out, I really like Eugeo’s new look. It is definitely working for him. Now, do I think he has a chance of beating Kirito in this fight? Not really. Do I really get why Eugeo wants to fight Kirito other than generic brainwashing motivation? Nope. And why isn’t Alice getting involved if they really want to stop the Administrator because surely it would make more sense to dump Eugeo on his backside and go actually do the thing they need to do and then deal with it later, but hey, I’m pretty sure we’ve all wanted to see a serious Eugeo vs Kirito moment so logic be gone because we’re getting that fight. Also a tease about Kirito dual wielding again before that got snatched away from us.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20

Honestly, this episode progresses things along. I’m not really sold on Alicization and how this story is rolling out or its pacing, but this episode was fairly competent and had enough interesting moments in it. Plus, did I mention they set up a fight between Eugeo and Kirito? That on its own might be worth the price of admission (watching twenty episodes to get here) if they don’t exposition us to death mid-fight, have some silly interruption before they get serious, or unless Kirito just beats Eugeo down in one swing. In which case it would all be a fairly pointless build up to nothing.

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SWORD ART ONLINE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: ZEKKEN YUUKI MOTHER’S ROSARIO VER.
SWORD ART ONLINE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: ZEKKEN YUUKI MOTHER'S ROSARIO VER.

Goblin Slayer Series Review

He’s Not Trying To Save The World – He Just Wants To Slay Some Goblins

If you were on any kind of social media during the last months of 2018 then you probably caught some of the Goblin Slayer rape/infant killing controversy after episode one aired. Fortunately, after the storm died down and more thoughtful posts and commentary started coming out, most people seemed to agree that largely the problem could have been solved by the various streaming services providing sensible classification or warnings prior to the show airing and only a few extremists were still calling for the entire show to be trashed and calling those who enjoyed it degenerates.

Wow, I love it when people make a judgement over your entire existence based on your preference of fictional stories. That said, I don’t want this review to turn into a debate about censorship and I kind of covered my thoughts on this whole thing in a feature about triggers back when episode one first aired so I’m just going to get on with reviewing the anime now.

Still, the need for a warning label on this anime does exist because it does have content that some people will find distressing. I’d strongly recommend not watching it if you know that you don’t like shows where female characters are subjected to sexual assault or if buckets of blood flying about the screen in fight sequences is going to make you feel queasy.

The problem with that though is that while these things are in Goblin Slayer, it isn’t really what the show is about. Quite a few reviews I’ve read have criticised Goblin Slayer for not being as dark as Berserk or for being toothless. While Goblin Slayer does explore some of the darker aspects of adventuring and the less noble side of killing creatures most other consider merely pests rather than facing off against demon kings, the story is essentially about the two main characters: Goblin Slayer and Priestess.

In the first episode we meet the Priestess as she joins up to become an adventurer, gets recruited into a party of rookies and more or less lead to her death by the overconfidence and cockiness of youth and general perceptions about the weakness of goblins. It’s a solid opening encounter that sets the tone for a world where adventurers can and do die particularly early in their careers and goblins might be individually weak but in a dark cavern with numbers on their side if you aren’t prepared you are in for a world of hurt. It’s also pretty confronting in that the fates of these nameless rookies are pretty tragic. Fortunately we haven’t spent enough time with them to feel we know them, but basic empathy for humans and knowing none of these characters were actually bad people, just inexperienced, makes the whole encounter leaving you with a slightly sick feeling in your stomach, which is more or less what it intended.

Goblin Slayer Episode 1

Fortunately, Priestess is rescued by Goblin Slayer and the two then form a partnership of sorts. The story follows the two as they learn from one another, the Priestess learning how to use her miracles to best effect for a party and about the tricks goblins use and how to beat them, and Goblin Slayer learning slowly how to interact with others and to trust others even if just a little bit.

Goblin Slayer Episode 9 Goblin Slayer and Sword Maiden

What this means is the story seems to sway back and forth between life and death encounters in dark dungeons and slower moments where the two go about their days in the guild and town preparing equipment, eating and drinking with others, and generally living their lives. It is this two toned approach that seemed to annoy some viewers who stuck around after episode one. I think they might have expected the violence just to keep going and not let up, but the point of the story isn’t to be violent. Violence happens in the world being constructed but it isn’t all there is to life. That is what Goblin Slayer is needing to learn and his removal of his helmet in the guild in the final episode is a good sign that he is finally starting to realise he doesn’t need to be the armed Goblin Slayer 24 hours a day.

That might seem like a small step but it is some massive character progress for him and it builds on dozens of small exchanges peppered throughout the series.

Priestess is no slouch either really stepping up in the final fight to both immobilise the final boss and to heal Goblin Slayer. She uses his plan and her own decisions to get the outcome she decides is best.

However, in case it seems like I just keep heaping praise on this series, I do have to point out the biggest problem with it. The series works best if you’ve read the source (either the manga or the light novels will do).

And that’s a problem.

Goblin Slayer Episode 5

An anime adaptation should stand alone. It should show the story in anime form for fans of the source who want more of the characters, but should also be accessible and make sense on its own.

Goblin Slayer fails in that regard in that a lot of the decisions and ideas are kind of hinted at in the anime but don’t make sense without the additional knowledge the source gives you.

One example that stands clear from reading episode reviews was when High Elf Archer asked Goblin Slayer not to use fire and a whole bunch of other things on the goblins under water town. And he agreed. That was all there was to the exchange in the anime.

From reading the books there was a lot more behind both her request and his acceptance. Namely the whole town being above the sewers and potential collateral damage. Now it makes sense why she’s being fairly specific with her limitations (other than she doesn’t want to get set on fire or poisoned) and why he actually listens and agrees. More importantly, it makes sense that in the next episode, when he is about to set off an explosion he checks first that they have travelled beyond the borders of the town before he puts his plan into action.

Now, the sequence makes enough sense in the anime in that you aren’t completely unable to follow it, but it also feels like you are missing something. That isn’t how a story should make you feel and this was only one scene out of many that had anime only viewers tilting their heads and wondering just what was behind a decision.

So while I will recommend this anime, it is an average anime. It isn’t great or amazing. There are definitely issues with how this has been adapted from its source.

Still, I thought it looked great, I enjoyed the characters, loved the sound design, and all and all had great fun following along with these characters and adventures. While it does get dark, there’s also plenty to balance it and from a narrative point of view it makes sense that those moments are as dark as they are.

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Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Cover Image

The party are all doing their own thing in this volume and in the end we get small vignettes of characters living in this world.

While the first three Goblin Slayer books have jumped around a little bit between adventures and quests and some slice of life stuff, the fourth volume really does feel more like a collection of short stories loosely connected via the setting and the cast. Expect no epic goblin slaying antics in this one, as we follow Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess into the sewers (a story that appeared in the anime much earlier on in the timeline), Goblin Slayer doing his solo goblin slaying thing, some shopping, drinking and other mundane tasks, and the defeat of a necromancer.

Goblin Slayer - Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess

If that all seems horribly unfocused (and it didn’t even cover everything) then you have a fair idea of the reading experience. I found this volume worked best when I read a chapter (or story) and then stopped for the day, picking it up later to read another story. There was no real flow or connection between sections but each story on its own was kind of interesting enough.

While Goblin Slayer features in a number of the stories, there are plenty of moments for other characters, both major ones like Priestess and High Elf Archer, and more background characters like Heavy Knight, get some time to be developed as characters. It all adds to the sense that this is a world, real and whole and these characters don’t just cease to exist when their adventures end. Their lives continue off-screen or off-page so to speak and this volume very much feels like a glimpse at some of that down time (and not so down time when you see what Goblin Slayer is still getting up to).

Goblin Slayer - Yep, he's slaying goblins
Is this down time?

Now, when you get the end and read the afterward, the scattered feeling of the book really makes sense as the author explains that this collection of stories take place largely between volumes 1 and 2 or volumes 2 and 3. So at least that disconnected feel was deliberate.

This one I’d recommend if you are really into the setting of Goblin Slayer and would love more of the support cast. However, if you are wanting the grand adventure, I would simply skip this one and head to volume 5 (review coming soon) because honestly it is a much stronger narrative and one that is really exciting to read (can’t wait to review it). I had fun with this because I do really enjoy the world of Goblin Slayer but again, this wasn’t the greatest of reads as a whole.

Goblin Slayer - High Elf Archer and Guild Girl

That said, I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read this one, and there are definitely some fun stories in here, so if you enjoy sharp, short stories featuring these characters this one will probably entertain.

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Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)
Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)