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Katanagatari Episode 12 – A Legacy of Failure

It’s been some time since the finale of Katanagatari aired, and since then I’ve had a variety of real life events (finals, the holiday season, etc.) to keep me from writing up a review. The real reason for my delay, however, is that I’ve loved the series, as I hope my reviews have shown. For months I was sure that this would be the best show of the year.

Thus, after seeing the last episode of Katanagatari, I had to spend a lot of time reflecting on what exactly to say. For if I am to properly explain why I think the series’ ending is a colossal disappointment, one which fails to properly deliver on almost every level, it’s important to be precise.

(My like for Katanagatari has led me to avoid putting major spoilers in reviews if possible, to preserve some of the clever surprises that made the show so good. That will even less possible here than it was for last episode, so fair warning.)
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Katanagatari Episode 11 – Changing the Rules of the Game

I mentioned last episode that I wasn’t too impressed with the revelations of the last episode, as the fact that the Kyotouryuu fighting style is a creation of Kiki Shikizaki was too clearly telegraphed in prior episodes to be that shocking. This episode, by contrast, is filled with surprises, such that I don’t even know where to begin covering them.

One thing I’ve tried to do in my Katanagatari reviews is not be too spoilerish; I’ve nearly always kept the method of victory in each battle secret. This time, however, its going to be impossible to say anything of substance about this episode without dropping major revelations, so I’m going to recommend that interested readers watch the episode all the way through first. Those who read on anyway, do so at their own risk.
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Katanagatari Episode 10 – Zen and the Art of Plot Revelations

November 3, 2010 1 comment

It says something about the quality of Katanagatari that whenever I come to an episode that isn’t superb, I feel somewhat cheated by it. The latest episode of Katanagatari is one of those less than superb ones, spending too much time setting up for the no doubt explosive finale to make a strong enough mark of its own. It mostly proves that the show as a whole is far more interesting for what it suggests rather than what it states outright.

It’s not as if there isn’t an solid-sounding set-up this time around: Rinne Higaki, a “holy man” rumored to be in possession of one of the deviant blades, happens to reside in the wasteland that was the home territory of Togame’s father, Takahito Hida. In the wake of his rebellion, the land was razed and the rebels executed en masse. The land is thus a magnet for bad memories, and Togame is going to find the task ahead of her as much a personal challenge as a test of cleverness or skill.
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Katanagatari Episode 9 – The Exception that Proves the Rule

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Katanagatari has had several running themes throughout the series, but of them the largest has been that the deviant blades of Kiki Shikizaki, while all very powerful, are in some sense corrupting. The wielders of those swords may not all be rampaging monsters, but their time with their particular weapon has not left them unaffected.

This episode tosses that completely out the window. The sword Togame and Shichika are after this time can hardly be called a blade at all; it’s crafted as a wooden practice sword, with seemingly no ability at all. And its bearer, Zanki Kiguchi, is perhaps the most honorable and fair-dealing character in the show. This makes it all the more ironic that recovering the sword this time presents the most time-consuming challenge yet.
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Katanagatari Episode 8 – Pinocchio’s Progress

I was fairly critical of last month’s episode of Katanagatari, but even there I noted it was not an objectively bad episode. It just completely failed to match the excellence that this show has shown on a regular basis. It felt like the writers took what should be one of the dramatic climaxes of the series—Shichika’s face off against his own sister—and produced it with the quality of a filler episode.

This episode, by contrast, provides the emotional catharsis that really should have been included last episode, but does it so well and so thematically I can’t much complain about the end result. Far from being a life-changing event, Shichika defeating Nanami and losing what biological family he had is only one step in his continuing journey to becoming human.
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Katanagatari Episode 7 – I Lived and Died by Suicide

August 24, 2010 1 comment

Katanagatari has been one of my favorite shows of the year, and seemed to improve with every episode. Nanami, Shichika’s sociopathic sister, is probably my favorite character thus far outside the leads. This episode contains the inevitable confrontation between the two Yasuri siblings, as Shichika’s sword hunt leads him in opposition to the only family he has left. It promised to be a wonderfully tragic moment and perhaps the most tragic event of the series thus far. So why don’t I like it?

I think a major element of it has to do with the discontinuity (in my view) of what was established in episode four, and here. We knew that Nanami had decided to start her own personal sword hunt, which led to the utter annihilation of at least two villages last season. We see the second set of sword defenders slaughtered at the beginning of the episode, as well as a completely unrelated group of monks later on when she decided to claim the Gokenji temple for her own abode. But she doesn’t do these things because she is trying to race Shichika for the swords. Rather, she wants to force a confrontation with him, and she succeeds.
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Katanagatari Episode 6 – A Dish Best Served Cold

I’m a big fan of serial storytelling. It’s one of the reasons I started watching anime in the first place, back in the late 90s where the only American show attempting a long-form story was Babylon 5. The episodic structure of American TV at the time was such that every week the writers were free to construct any sort of narrative they wanted—so long as status quo returned by the end of the episode. The absolute freedom to create anew was also a straight jacket of conformity, and prevented any real story from being told.

After the success of Lost, serial storytelling has become a bit more common in American TV, although often not to the same extent. Rather, shows like Burn Notice provide a self-contained story in every episode, but also have a running plot slowly advanced throughout. This creates a hybrid of the serial and episodic models: Each episode is technically independent, but character growth is consistent, motivations understandable, and there is a real payoff at the end of each longer arc. It’s a method that doesn’t overly penalize new viewers, but which does reward long-time watchers.

I comment on all this because Katanagatari is one of the best examples of this hybrid format I’ve seen in either American or Japanese media. The standard Japanese model is to either start off the meta plot directly, or do a set of self-contained intro episodes to introduce the characters and then start the meta plot. Rarely does a show keep self-contained episodes throughout its run and advance a metaplot at the same time. But Katanagatari, precisely through the “sword of the week” format I was originally so skeptical of, manages to make each episode wonderfully entertaining in its own right, even as the themes, motifs, and characters advance steadily.
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