Home > Episode Reviews, Katanagatari > Katanagatari Episode 1 – Stronger than the Sword

Katanagatari Episode 1 – Stronger than the Sword

My co-blogger has mentioned that light novels are “playground for experimentation and novelty” and that this often carries over into anime adaptions. Durarara!! and Baccano!, by Narita Ryohgo, are great examples of this. But it’s rare to see the anime format itself altered that much in the process. Whatever intriguing ideas a light novel series may have, it’s got to be segmented into 20 minutes chunks.

Enter Katanagatari, a show where each book is made into its own 50 minute episode, and then released once a month. Each novel/episode advances one month ahead in the timeline, and books themselves were written one a month throughout 2007. It’s a very unique way to preserve the spirit and structure of the source material, and an intriguing experiment.

It also means that this isn’t a show made for weekly updates, which makes blogging it a bit of a challenge. But it’s a good enough show to be worth covering, and now there’s enough of a buffer to be able to cover two episodes a month.

Despite seeing his polite and dignified older sister, I can't shake the impression that Shichika was raised by wolves

During the period of the Owari Shogunate (which, since there never was an Owari Shogunate, is probably just meant to mean “during the Edo period”) a rebellion occurred led by Takahito Hida, which was only put down through the intervention of the sixth head of the Kyotouryuu School, Yasuri. After the rebellion was crushed, the Shogunate worried about the power of the Kyotouryuu school, and exiled Yasuri and his family to a deserted island. Twenty years later, a year after Yasuri died, the island’s only occupants are his children, Shichika the son and new family head, and Nanami the older, wiser yet petite and sickly daughter.

Their solitary exile is interrupted by the arrival of self-proclaimed strategist Togame, who has a mission for the the head of the Kyotoryuu school. Spread throughout Japan are the swords of Kiki Shikizaki, a master class smith. While the Shogunate has had some luck collecting most of his more mediocre works (each of which would be a masterpiece in itself), they have thus far been unable to collect his twelve masterpieces, each of which is said to have the power to defeat armies. Worried about the possibility of another rebellion led by one of these swords and its wielder, Togame has taken it upon herself to collect them for the shogunate.

Nanami is the only one in the room dressed anything close to what historical Japanese would wear. Historical accuracy is not the point of this show

Unfortunately, her attempt to hire a ninja clan for the task failed, as the clan took the sword for themselves when they realized its value. The greatest samurai the Shogunate ever produced also was overtaken by the honor of owning a sword and abandoned her the moment he collected one. So Togame has turned to the Kyotouryuu school, a style of “swordsmanship” (really martial arts) that doesn’t use swords. Shichika has no desire for a sword or an overwhelming desire for money and worldly power. Of course, that also means he has little motivation to leave the island, so Togame offers him one: love, specifically, the love he will have for her, as his motivation.

It’s a rather odd premise, to say the least, starting with the various anachronisms in timeline, dress, and gender equity. Of course, this show isn’t trying to present a historical snapshot of Japan any more than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon attempts to accurately represent medieval China, but you’d think they’d at least try to look the part.

We can add being kltuzy to Togame's other flaws, including arrogance and terrible fashion sense.

Togame’s offer is interrupted, by a hail of daggers bombarding the three as they talk. Shichika gives chase to discover Koumori of the Maniwa clan, the same ninja who recovered one of the twelve swords and then ran. He followed Togame to the island to pry the locations of the other swords from her, but he has a sufficient amount of bloodlust that dealing with Shichika first seems worth his time.

Unfortunately for the ninja, he finds that even with his unbreakable sword he’s having trouble getting the upper hand against Shichika, so he does the things the ninja way and runs, taking Togame as a hostage. Once he’s alone with her, he uses his ninja skills to take Togame’s form, with the intent of using his disguise to get close to his unsuspecting opponent and then attack him. Unfortunately again for the ninja, Shichika is a bit of a blockhead who hasn’t been around anyone but his sister and father, so he attacks him anyway because he can’t tell the difference between Togame and Koumori.

Koumori finds out the hard way that it's poinless to try to outwit a moron

With his element of surprise blown, Koumori tries psychological warfare, explaining that Togame is actually the daughter of the defeated rebel Hida, who lost her family and her nobility as a result of the Kyotouryuu school and is now trying anything in order to regain power and position, including launching a mad quest to recover the swords. Togame, he argues, is a woman who can only use the people around her, and is so driven by ambition that she’d even turn to the family that killed hers.

This technique also fails, as Shichika seems only more interested in helping Togame after learning this, deciding to kill the ninja to keep the secret safe. So Koumori employs a third plan: he takes Shichika’s shape, becoming his physical equal in every way, but having the sword to give him the edge. Both he and Shichika prepare to unleash their ultimate move …

Togame's hair went white as she saw her father being killed. So at least one part of her character design has an excuse

… and the sword slips out of the ninja’s hands as Shichika explains that his family developed Kyotouryuu because, despite of their size and strength, they were utterly incompetent at using swords and had to learn to fight barehanded. Koumori is left defenseless and Shichika takes him apart.

Shichika locates where Togame is tied up, presents her with the sword, and declares that he will come and help her, because he loves her. While this is rather abrupt by anyone’s measure, Togame knows better than to complain, and they leave with Nanami’s blessing. For her part, Nanami has been wanting for Shichika to leave the island for some time to use the skills he’s built up over his life, and she senses that Togame cares for him more than she might initially admit.

For seemingly no reason, one of Togame's eyes looks like that at various points in the show. Shichika thinks it's cute for reasons equally inexplicable

Providing twelve shows to get twelve swords gives the show a clear goal and end point, but also leaves the possibility that things may eventually become rather repetitive. The episode ends with Nanami, as she watches them sail off, worrying about how weak her brother is—and to be fair, Koumori lost as much due to his own miscalculations as he did to Shichika’s skill—so there’s also a risk of a classic shounen-style “training” period where our hero needs to level up, but the series is short enough so I hope that won’t be necessary.

What’s going to be interesting are how the protagonists interact. Shichika has already shown himself to be a bit deficient in the common sense department, however skilled he is at combat. I’m also not quite certain why he’s fallen for a woman he has trouble recognizing, or for that matter what he’s thinking at all most of the time. While he’s not an idiot in the classical sense, he’s certainly ignorant of the ways of the world.

He might also be in the "too dumb to feel pain" category as well

His opinion of Togame is also not entirely clear. Even at the start of his fight with Koumori, he didn’t express much interest in helping Togame. Something the ninja said must have struck a chord with him, however, as he ends the episode completely obedient to her. It doesn’t seem to be a classic case of love at first or even second sight, or even love at all, but he seems to find some reason to follow her.

While Nanami, it seems, was previously responsible for directing most of Shichika’s higher brain activity, we have yet to see how well Togame will take over that role. Supposedly she’s a strategist, but we haven’t seen her have any great ideas besides recruiting the last Kyotouryuu head. This, it’s very clear that she’s meant to be the short, clumsy brains to his tall, muscular brawn, so perhps we’ll get to see that developed when she isn’t forced to be the damsel in distress.

Shichika and Nanami make a great comedy duo. It's a pity she's staying on the island

This had all the hallmarks of an introductory episode (flashbacks, exposition, lots of talking), and they obviously have quite a few more episodes to explain things. This episode alone is not much more than intriguing, but the concept and and the pedigree are enough to keep me watching.

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