Reviews: Katanagatari

Truffaut Was Right and a Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story

When I saw the last chapter of Katanagatari, I felt angry. Princess Hitei survived? And maybe she Pair The Spares with Shichika? Unforgivable! But then it hit me: I was completely at peace with Togameís death. Why?

First I tought this tale was a deconstruction of the High Fantasy Chambara sword fights in eighteenth century Japan. But then I couldnít place exactly where was the deconstructive work. I certainly recognized Truffaut Was Right or Shoot The Shaggy Dog, but I was still confused.

Now I think I have figured it out and I want to share my theory:

We are seeing not a deconstruction, but a very normal and even typical Chambara story. There is an Ancient Conspiracy that must be stopped. There is Gray And Gray Morality, there is the usual epic battles, heroic sacrifices and cardboard villains and heroes.

But in this tale, the Sympathetic POV is in the villains, and all the attention is given to the protagonist of the Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story, because is the only way to truly avert the Truffaut Was Right trope.

Sympathetic POV: Togame is the Dragon In Chief who thanks she was killed before getting a true chance to become the Big Bad. Shichika is The Dragon. The Big Bad was Shikizaki Kiki, the guy who organized all the plot. Princess Hitei is the Antihero and Emonzaemon is The Lancer. The Evil Plan was stopped. Japanís true history was restored, and You Cannot Change The Future.

Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story: This tale is not about Princess Hitei and Shichika (lampshaded as the least interesting characters and among the only ones to survive), is about the Maniwani Corps, whose every member had less power and more personality than Shichika. Itís about the story of the mook who looks cool for a moment and is killed immediately by the Antihero. Itís about The Lancer who knowís the antiheroine will never love him and yet fights for her. And more than anything, Itís about the interesting villain Togame, who sacrificed everything to accomplish his goals and is killed by the antiheroine just in her moment of triumph.

Only that you can avert Truffaut Was Right. Only that you can explain chapter 4, when instead of a Crowning Moment Of Awesome you get a Mook Horror Show. Indeed, swords and Nanami, even when beautiful, where created to kill.

You have to love and respect a show that reminds you of that little truth.

Characterization at its Finest

Katanagatari is the story of a sword - a man without humanity. It's a story of revenge, of the meaning of fighting, of love and triumph, of hate and loss. And what a story it is.

Story: 7/10 Katanagatari's actual plot is solid. While it isn't the most original or the most well written (it can get confusing at times, especially near the end and the importance of "history"), it's enjoyable to watch. The ending, however, is bittersweet at best and completely heartbreaking at worst, though I won't spoil anything.

The plot actually takes a back seat to characterization, which is where the show truly shines.

Characters: 10/10 Nearly every character introduced has an origin, a reason to fight, regrets, ambitions - all of it. They're some of the most human characters I've ever seen in visual media, let alone in an anime. And with the show residing firmly in Gray And Gray Morality territory, they're even more believable. Honestly, sometimes it's hard to decide which character to root for during a fight - and sometimes the character who should win is an antagonist.

Shichika's characterization is also some of the best I've seen, and it's central to the story.

Music: 8/10 Nothing revolutionary or special, but it matches the show well and it's played at just the right times. The Scare Chord/suspense music/title card music definitely does its job.

Art: 10/10 The style used in the show is original and unique. It's pretty different from the norm, and there's a good amount of both Scenery Porn and Scenery Gorn.

Final Thoughts: 8/10 Katanagatari is a unique experience. It's an action show that isn't based on the action (though that's not to say that the action isn't exciting or enjoyable); instead, the show is based more around the individuals it introduces and the effects of revenge, history, and overall humanity on those characters. And the ending of the show will leave you in a strange combination of sadness and complacent happiness. The art style is gorgeous and something you won't see anywhere else. Katanagatari is a great show and definitely made itself one of my favorites. I'd definitely recommend it.

Oddly Plausible

Katanagatari is a story about epic fantastical sword-fights in eighteenth century Japan. Granted this premise, we could expect a show that's pretty out there. But here's the funny thing- it really isn't.

Don't get me wrong. Such things as a swordless style of swordfighting, ninja powers that screw around with the physical laws of the universe, and beings who have held consciousness for hundreds of years are completely implausible. Be that as it may, if such epic characters were real, they would still have feelings and desires beyond sheer wackiness. What unites the warriors in this show is not their impressive fighting ability but rather their palpable human character. This show has much Talking Is A Free Action- not for the sake of exposition, but because to these characters their identity and goals are essential. If they die they want their reasons for living known. Would a real person really interrupt a fight for a monologue? For characters this defined by conflict, absolutely. They had to go to a lot of trouble to get this far- their motives are very personally important.

Actual battle pacing is similarly reasoned. These aren't scripted encounters designed to last exactly ten minutes so as to whet the appetite of the audience. Fights end when they end. Battles between opponents with quick, decisive, destructive weapons go by fast, as the first good hit ends the struggle. Characters with an emphasis on defense who try to wear down their opponents stamina? Their fights last longer. The absence of Power Levels is welcome, as it turns the show into a legitimate analysis of strategy.

But where you get to the real beauty is where these two aspects intersect. The fourth episode contains little scenes of actual conflict- and yet at the same time it's some of the most terrifying fiction I've ever seen. This work has a strong sense of what really makes a man who can kill several hundred people scary. It's not the fact that he can kill so many people. It's why he would do such a thing- and the cold cruelty he'll exercise on the individual level if he has to.

The eerie plausibility of these tropes in action is something to behold. If you're looking for something in the typical action-adventure mode this show isn't for you- but if you want to see the basic trappings of these tropes exposed to new ends, this is definitely worth checking out.