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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Katanagatari 1

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

Katanagatari Series Review: A Story of a Strategist and Her Sword on the Fetch Quest of a Life-time.



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.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James