Katanagatari – Episodes 1/2

Okay, I’m gonna keep this reasonably sized if at all possible. Briefly…

Katanagatari! I’m actually pretty excited this one was picked, mainly because it’s always sort of hung on the borderline of shows I should probably get to, but ehhh the new Hunter x Hunter is out and I’m kinda tired anyway and etc etc etc. I really love what I’ve seen of the visual style, and the adaptation’s by White Fox, who’ve brought us both Steins;Gate and Hataraku Maou-sama! Both of those adaptations have significantly impressed me – I feel Steins;Gate deftly managed the herculean feat of adopting a VN with multiple routes in a way that actually made sense as a single central narrative, and Maou-sama has regularly juggled written humor, animation, and storytelling in a way that constantly reveals how much they’re refining the source material. So I’m guessing this show is in good hands studio-wise.

And then, of course, they’re adapting a work by Nisio Isin.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest Isin fan. I do like how much of his individual voice and personality goes into his work – the characters in Monogatari speak like characters in no other shows. But a part of that is because they speak in a way no human beings ever would – he stylizes his dialogue to the point of near self-parody, and often uses his characters’ mouths as faucets for his own insane ramblings, adding very little to the narrative or characterization.

And of course, that’s his style, and that’s what a lot of people like about Monogatari. And it might seem weird for me to be so critical of Isin, what with the amount of ink I’ve spilled covering Bake and Nise – but honestly, almost everything that impresses me about that series can be attributed directly to Akiyuki Shinbo. His visual flare makes scenes that would be tedious vibrant, and his precise and goal-oriented direction makes a series that on paper would come across as pretty sketchily focused on the questionable sex drive of its writer actually rise as a fairly progressive and scarily ahead-of-its-class comment on sexuality and the medium. Isin himself is creative and driven, but what I get out of Monogatari exists largely in spite of him.

That’s not to say I generally dislike his stuff – I think his storytelling fundamentals are solid (the base concept of Monogatari is excellent, regardless of my feelings on his dialogue), I think he has occasional moments of dialogue or character-writing brilliance (the stars episode of Bake, every scene with Kaiki in Nise), and I pretty much have to respect such a distinctive and uncompromising voice. But without the counterweight of someone as talented as Shinbo, I can’t help but be a little worried this will end up being twelve episodes of Isin stand-ins bantering about nothing while holding swords.

Alright, that’s enough prologue. Let’s get right to it.

Episode 1

2:12 – Worries about direction so far unfounded. Excellent first scene

6:14 – Fears about Isin seem unfounded as well. These characters seem much more grounded than anyone in Monogatari

7:48 – …yeah, it’s still definitely Isin, though

9:01 – I like her soldier-appropriate bluntness, and I like his offhand confidence. This will probably be a good pair

13:45 – “You said no?” Great gag there. For a strategist, she’s not particularly adaptable – repeatedly going ahead with her preplanned strategy for situations regardless of actual circumstances

23:40 – I like these characters, but there is a bit of that problem I was anticipating – Isin just lets himself go entirely when it comes to dialogue, and without a very dynamic visual style (though I do like the character designs), it makes scenes drag on. But this is the first, establishing episode, so they’re dumping a lot of exposition and establishing the initial character rapports. Hopefully their relationship itself will be dynamic and interesting enough to maintain momentum in the future

24:40 – “Does everyone from the mainland talk as much as this?” I’m really liking this guy

29:00 – The ninja insulting his father’s style prompts maybe his first unreserved display of emotion… no, wait, that was when the ninja damaged “the house his father built.” So yeah, pretty clear where our protagonist’s priorities lie

36:51 – Right in the gut! Welp, glad they didn’t drag out that tired trick

37:23 – “Can’t recognize faces that quickly.” That’s pretty great

40:31 – Hahahaha. Trying to turn him against her by explaining how all her actions stem from reverence for her father? Yeah, that’ll sway him

And Done

Very nice! That episode cleaned up nicely in the second half, and that last speech was excellent. Shichika’s motivation and respect for Togame are abundantly justified, though her own feelings towards him will take some more explaining/expanding (plus, so far her status as a strategist has mostly been played for laughs – it’ll be nice to see she isn’t entirely terrible at her job). The visual design is great, and both protagonists have strong, distinctive personalities. Their epic quest is suitably epic and questy. Isin’s tendencies towards endless wordiness haven’t been stifled entirely, but they’re certainly more controlled than in Monogatari, particularly in the second half, and Shichika’s personality seems like it will act as a natural buffer against the banter. More, please!

Episode 2

1:43 – Jeez, complaining about him sticking out, Togame? You’ve got main character written all over you

2:44 – I really do like this art style for the characters, with each of them being defined by such distinctive repeating colors and symbols. Shichika’s new outfit maintains the brown leaf visual motif of his prior one, which also matches the actual shape and color of his hair – he’s perfectly recognizable even in silhouette

4:23 – “I can’t kill them? Is that a mainland custom?” Man, basically everything Shichika does makes me like his character more. He doesn’t really have anything resembling a default sense of morality – he just has specific things he values, and otherwise acts in the most direct and unassuming manner possible. Togame’s certainly a solid articulation of her style of character, but Shichika seems to actually be pretty damn unique

7:31 – What do you even call a scene like this? Togame’s too proud and Shichika too blunt and unconcerned with standard customs for this to actually read as very tense – it’s like they’re already an old married couple. Isin certainly has some ideas about intimacy

10:31 – I like how he takes one step for every three of hers, as well as how well their personalities are portrayed in their walking body language alone

12:11 – “No matter how I worded it, that ninja stood out more than you.” C’mon Togame, surely you can appreciate the novelty of a protagonist who gives this few fucks.

Also pretty typical of Isin to draw attention to how interesting his protagonist is

13:15 – “There’s a ninja who always speaks backwards.” “What’s the point of that?” “He’s trying his hardest not to be boring.” Are we still talking about ninjas, or are we referring to shitty writers at this point? Like how so many films after Pulp Fiction thought unorthodox structure and witty banter were the key to success – no, it’s mainly just making something that’s good

13:45 – “The readers will come to understand you better.” Curse you Isin, who told you I was weak to meta storytelling humor?!?

15:40 – Yeah, Isin’s pun-based nonsense from Bake just tends to bore me, but if his banter is going to be about the annoying hoops crappy writers set for themselves, I am totally on board with this

19:18 – I like how they don’t even need an interior monologue for him anymore, I can still hear “Why won’t she stop talking. Why won’t she stop talking.”

19:47 – Who’s this grandmotherly narrator, anyway?

30:58 – “I’d be the laughing stock of my dead fathers.” Man, sins of the fathers left and right up in this show!

Also some nicely underplayed jokes throughout, like her justifying her elaborate outfit by musing on how it protected her from the sword

31:40 – “I am most definitely a swordsman.” I wonder if they’re doing something with the implications of that term. I’ll keep an eye on it

43:00 – “I just wanted to protect something.” More parallels with Shichika. I like where these ideas are going

17:15 – This whole speech about the importance of final words is giving me a baaad feeling

And Done

Again, fun stuff. The style is great, the characters are excellent, and I’m interested in seeing where they take these themes of family, legacy, and impermanence. I get the feeling I’m probably missing a decent bit of cultural relevance, what with my only passing familiarity with the spiritual side of classical Japanese swordsmanship, bushido, and the tenor of the warring states period, but it’s such a vivid and interesting setting regardless that I can’t feel too bad about that. It also can’t be an accident that three of the four developed characters (our main two and this second episode opponent) are trapped in cycles brought on by their family – that plus the fact that Shichika and Togame ought to be born enemies makes me think there’s pretty much no way this series will end happily. I know it’s an odd comparison, but this show is kinda reminding me of Cowboy Bebop – the snappy protagonists, the distinctive and comprehensive style, the distinct but thematically linked episodic adventures, and that base theme of living in the inescapable shadow of your past…

Anyway. Starting to ramble at this point. These episodes were really interesting, and I’m looking forward to more.

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  1. Pingback: Rough Notes Archive: Katanagatari | Wrong Every Time

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