Katanagatari. Based on a story by the dude that did the alright-but-not-all-that Bakemonogatari.
Apparently he wanted to do his own take on Naruto or something, except he draws out his fight scenes with lame dialogue rather than lame flashbacks.
I’ll admit, the fight between the main dude, Shichika, and the first villain, Koumori, is pretty decent once they shut the fuck up and fight. Save for the way the villain loses, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The first episode’s main problem is the fact that the dialogue isn’t particularly interesting. It’s all a big info-dump. Exposition is needed at times, but do we really need twenty minutes of straight-up explanation? Couldn’t this have been spread out across the episode while mixing in some action or something? And are we supposed to find all of this stuff about the history of swords interesting? It could’ve been summed up as “there’s 12 swords out there made with heretical techniques and the Shogun needs them” and we’d have gotten the same amount of info.
All of this would be OK if the dialogue had the same sort of interesting banter as Bakemono. The interplay between Senjougahara and Araragi was filled with clever allusions and witty back-and-forth. Maybe something’s lost in the translation (I noticed a few puns that didn’t work in translation), but even then what was being said wasn’t particularly interesting. None of the characters demonstrate enduring personality traits at this point of the story. With Bakemono we got a great sense of Senhougahara’s personality within moments of her introduction. Here, all we learn is that Shichika is an idiot backwater hick who knows absolutely nothing. I like that he’s upfront about it and realizes that he’s not the brightest dude on the block, but if that’s going to be his shtick he needs some support in order to make things interesting.
Togame isn’t helping much, especially because she exposes herself to be just as much of an idiot as Shichika. She brags about being a strategist or whatever, but she’s far too slow in realizing that it was the dude that rowed her across the sea that’s the hidden ninja spy. Maybe it’s arrogance and not stupidity that leads her to this, since she’s far too full of herself and proud of her prowess, but that’s just another way to spell “stupid.” So we have two idiots who intend to gather a bunch of special magical swords that may or may not be in the possession of people superior in intelligence and power.
Sounds like the plot of the latest Shounen Jump series.
The plot structure doesn’t really bother me too much. You can take something as simple as “gather X-number macguffins to save the world” and turn it into something interesting. It’s a device that gives you an excuse for the characters to come together and come into conflict with the antagonists. What irks me is that most anime series, when they insist on going down this route, insist on the main character(s) being complete morons. They’re often clueless as to why they need to do what they’re doing. Goku from Dragonball Z is an idiot, but he’s tasked with gathering the dragonballs. Luffy isn’t the brightest kid on the sea, but he’s off to find the One Piece. I don’t expect the lead character to be some super-genius (especially since that roll is usually fulfilled by some side character), but I’d at least like to see a lead character that’s competent outside of his ability to hit stuff hard. Can’t he be just a little worldly and savvy? He can still screw up, but can’t it be because of a bad decision rather than general incompetence?
At least at this point I’m not seeing Shichika as some sort of commentary on the lead character of shounen adventure shows. He isn’t like Maki from Air Master. He doesn’t seem to live in the moment of the fight, especially because he’s never been in a fight until his island gets attacked by a ninja. His exaggerated lack of knowledge of the outside world could be some self-aware jab at the “country bumpkin” stereotype, since his lack of knowledge is bordering on the ridiculous at the moment, but I wasn’t getting that vibe. It’ll probably take another episode or so to see how he pans out, but given what we saw in this episode I don’t see him being anything more than a complete moron.
Togame’s almost as bad. She’s supposed to be some strategist for the Shogun, but she’s so absorbed in her own little world that she can’t even pay attention to what’s being said. The scene where she’s talking with Shichika and doesn’t realize he’s said “no” to most of her questions is probably being played off as a joke, but it fell flat and made her look like a fool. Throw in the fact that she’s yet another damsel in distress that needs the aid of the powerful male father/protector figure in her quest and she’s just as annoying as Shichika. Again, can’t we have a female lead that can at least attempt to stick up for herself? When she draws her sword on Shichika she falls on her ass. When she finally catches up to the fight, she gets kidnapped. When she tries to escape her bonds, she falls on her head and exposes her panties for the world to see. This is supposed to be the daughter of the revolution who will get revenge on the Shogun? Whatever.
I do have hope for the villains in this series. Koumori may have been a blabbermouth that wouldn’t shut up and gut Shichika when he had the chance, but he had interesting motivations. He’s a ninja. It’s his job to be a backstabbing asshole. That’s what ninja do. But at the same time he and his clan have pride in what they do and they don’t appreciate being fucked over. They know that Togame plans on backstabbing them. They work for whomever pays them, in this case the Shogun, and they don’t appreciate her using them in the guise of aiding the Shogun when her ultimate plan is to turn around and use their efforts against them. They know full well that their act is traitorous, but they’ve been forced into this situation because the very person that’s hired them is just as much of a traitor.
Togame is not only a traitor due to the fact that she intends to enact revenge upon the Shogun in the guise of one of his aids, she’s also going about it in a cowardly way. She’s incapable of getting revenge on her own, so she goes around hiring more skill people to do her dirty work for her. Couple this with her righteous attitude and haughty personality and she seems more like a villain than the people the series tries to portray as “villains.” I have more sympathy for Koumori and his actions than I do for Togame’s cowardly actions or Shichika’s ignorant actions. Shame he has to die in such a pathetic way.
And talking about his death, it was the one thing that pissed me off the most about this episode. He transforms into Shichika and attacks him with his super sword. But he fumbles the sword and opens himself up to Shichika’s Hyper Attack Super Duper Fatality Move. The reason why: Shichika’s bloodline uses hand-to-hand fighting not because it’s a conscious choice. They do so because his bloodline can’t use swords. To this I say: Whatever.
I like the fact that he uses martial arts as opposed to swordsmanship. It’s a cool stylistic choice. But why do they feel the need to insert in some lame-ass excuse for this? Why does “I use my hands instead of a blade” have to be anything more than a choice? Why does it have to be some curse or whatever? And how in the hell does this “curse” transfer over to Koumori when he transforms? He didn’t gain Togame’s clumsiness and stupidity when he transformed into her, since he was able to run towards Shichika without falling on his face, so why would this weakness transfer when he transforms into Shichika? This results in a thoroughly anti-climatic conclusion to what had been an interesting confrontation. I’d totally believe Shichika winning because Koumori isn’t familiar with the martial arts inherent to the body. That’d be cool to see him struggling with this power and ultimately failing. I’d buy that. But having the blade literally slip out of his hands in mid-attack is just about the crappiest way you can end a fight scene. Shame on the author for writing this scene and shame on the animators for not changing it into something more interesting. Shame!
All of this complaining out-of-the-way, Katanagatari wasn’t that bad. There’s plenty to like here. The villains seem interesting and the action scenes are good once they finally get around to fighting. The art style is also refreshing and acts as a good contrast to the tone of the series. But there’s also far too many crappy bits to get too excited about it. The series needs a desperate infusion of Bakemono-level dialogue or a few supporting characters that aren’t complete morons. It has plenty of potential, but like far too many series as of late I’m afraid it’s going to squander that potential.
I hope that’s not the case. We’ll see in another month or so when the next episode airs.