Anime: Katanagatari – 刀語

Last Saturday, I took the train to downtown LA and visited Anime Expo—something I haven’t done since the last time it was held in Long Beach. To tell the truth, I wasn’t feeling all that great and only ended up staying a couple of hours. It was a madhouse in the expo hall (I bought a one day, exhibits only pass) but I managed to get what I was most looking for: the limited edition set of Summer Wars Hanafuda cards from FUNimation.

But importantly, I discovered what has turned out to be a great new anime: Katanagatari – 刀語. With its truly unique style and fascinating story, I think it is destined to become one of my favorites.

I only vaguely remember having heard anything about the series (I’m not really all that big on following the new shows until they’re licensed here) but couldn’t help but want it after seeing the gorgeous artwork blown up to heroic size on a wall at the NIS America booth. After one brief look at a sample of the superb art book that comes with the Premium Edition Volume 1 set, I had no problem shelling out the $60.00 they were asking even without knowing about the show itself. That also got me an even more spectacular freebie—a set of 6 gorgeous, double-sided art cards from the first set.

One additional bonus that I hadn’t even realized until I was reading the box on the train home, is that it’s a Blu-ray/DVD combo set! And let me tell you, it is truly beautiful on Blu-ray. The anime style is really quite unique—the characters are done in very saturated, super-rich colors and an almost stylized, block color way, but the backgrounds are in a much softer and more detailed style—almost like watercolors in some places. The effect is truly striking, and a spectacle not to be missed (in Blu-ray especially).

But it’s the story and format that are so compelling. This original 2010 series is composed of twelve, hour-long episodes that were originally aired once a month in Japan (the original light novels were similarly published once a month through 2009). Set in a somewhat stylized Sengoku Jidai period, the main protagonists are on a search for twelve legendary swords scattered about the country—the so-called “Mastercraft Klesha Bringers”. Togame is our heroine: an emissary of the Bakufu and a so-called “Stratagemist”. Her first encounter is to enlist the help of the master of the Kyoto Ryu sword style—unique because although it is a “sword style”, its practitioners don’t actually use a physical sword. Instead, they themselves “become” the sword. It turns out that our main protagonist and last master of this school, Yasuri Shichika, has lived in exile on an island with his sister, only becoming the school’s master after the death of his father.

I don’t really want to go into a lot of detail with a review (trying all the while to avoid spoilers), so I will just say that Shichika agrees to become Togame’s sword and accompany her on her quest. Each hourlong episode then, is the quest and battle for one of the missing swords. An hour also gives a lot of time to explore the rich story, steeped in Japanese history and legend—I absolutely love this stuff. With the stunning visuals and a constant musical background (another thing that is quite unique), it is an absolute feast for the senses. Not to mention that the story, plot and character actions engage you on a lot of different levels, including ones that you don’t actually see on-screen but merely exist, perhaps only in the back of your mind. Some of the episodes are pretty straightforward, others leave a lot to ponder afterwards—and some are quite shocking and even surprisingly brutal (#4, Hakuto Hari, springs instantly to mind).

Premium Edition Volume 1 contains the first six episodes in two thin pack cases each holding a DVD and Blu-ray disc (4 discs total) and the aforementioned hardcover art book, all in a sturdy and attractive slipcase that is a hallmark of NIS America’s premium releases. I would highly recommend this series—and cannot wait until part two comes out!

1 thought on “Anime: Katanagatari – 刀語

  1. I’m glad you got Katanagatari ^_^ (and in such a nice release too!) I also saw it at NIS America’s booth at AX – in fact, I took a photo of some Katanagatari cosplayers standing in front of the booth with that big artwork behind them =D

    I watched the series as it aired monthly last year. I liked it, despite having difficulty following the staggering amount old-style Japanese names, places, and terminology ^^,, The art style is what drove me to watch it. It’s very reminiscent of one of my favorite video games, Okami, which has a similar stylized cartoon-like take on ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

    I won’t spoil anything for you, but I personally had issues with how Katanagatari ended. So I’m really curious to see what you’ll think of the ending when the second box set comes out.

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