Sword Story

I just finished watching Katanagatari. It’s about a pair of samurai with an odd couple relationship on a quest to collect twelve powerful swords from their equally powerful owners.

On the surface, one might think it sounds like Pokémon if Ash killed his opponents after taking their Pokémon in battle. However, the show avoids repetition in all sorts of clever ways. I mean, the third episode is about getting the sword from a shelter for battered women, while the episode after that is about a group of bad guys on a doomed mission to kidnap the protagonist’s sister (reminiscent of that issue of The Invisibles focusing on one of the jackbooted stormtroopers killed by the hero in an earlier story).

Based on the premise, one might also expect the show to be mostly focused on violence, but in reality perhaps 90 percent of each episode is taken up with nothing besides talking. Death and killing do take place, but the characters are so stylized that the violence is not gory. Perhaps the stylized aesthetics might put some people off, but if everything looked exactingly realistic then this show would be as bloody as a Sonny Chiba movie. If I had to summarize Katanagatari in one word, that word would be “surprising”.

The show surprises in small ways and large. In fact, everything is just slightly off. The background characters are straight from a samurai epic, while the ones with speaking lines mostly dress like cosplayers. Even the government of Japan is wrong. Everything about the show announces that it shouldn’t be taken as-is. There’s even an unexpected sci-fi twist and an episode examining the morality of revenge and violence before everything ends the way samurai stories always do – in an orgy of blood.

It should perhaps not be too surprising that the original light novel series the show was adapted from was written by Nisio Isin, who also wrote Bakemonogatari and the rest of that series. Of course, there’s an episode where the sentence “Don’t touch my woman” is uttered unironically, but there’s also a duel that resembles something from Samurai Jack so strongly that I have to wonder if it’s an homage or a result of parallel evolution of ideas. Everything in this show just looks incredible.

Anyway, apparently I like Nisio Isin’s stuff, which keeps attracting the right kind of people who end up making the exact type of anime that would appeal to me. I’m going to have to dig up the rest of his work.

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