This is a strange, fascinating, and unique story. Overall, it seems like an exploration into taking very standard ideas and tropes and putting a highly unique spin on them. A lot of the anime feels like an experiment into character and relationship development, although not in a bad way. Because of this, we get to see some things that are extremely rare in anime. To put this in perspective, Katanagatari is a work by NisiOisin, the creator of Bakemonogatari (my #3 favorite series). Please note that Katanagatari is not related to Bakemonogatari and its progeny.
Purpose: Excellent. On a broader note, the purpose is about an individual finding a purpose and the effects of following others’ purposes. Most of where it’s going isn’t exactly clear until you look back from the top – Episode 12 puts everything in perspective and hammers the point home. Really, watching this anime is like the passage of time – while you’re watching it doesn’t seem like it’s going too far or too fast, but by turning around and looking back, you see how far you came. This anime ended in an extremely interesting place.
One other part of the purpose was the experimental quality – doing really interesting things in a short period of time or playing with expectations and doing something differently. All in all, really interesting to watch.
Characters: Excellent. To start with, the character design was fairly simple, yet fascinating. The costuming in particular was highly varied and unique. The art was done in a relatively clean way that only emphasized key points of characters.
As for the characters themselves, they were interestingly done. Most of the characters that appeared were developed over the course of a 1-hour episode. The role most of the characters played was to draw something out or highlight key points in the growth and development of our main characters. One particularly interesting aspect of the characters was the treatment of the “bad guys,” who shifted and changed role with respect to the main characters.
One of NisiOsin’s strong points is relationships. In this case, there were several different relationships – the main characters’ relationship with each other and their relationship as a pair in relation to other actors in the world. All of these interactions were both fluid and unique because they changed based on plot events. One of the highly unique points of this anime is the way the main characters’ relationship was depicted – I have never seen, in anime, a relationship that conveyed the same level of comfort as our main characters. The level of comfort subtly developed over the course of the anime and changed how the characters interacted with each other. It helped guide both sweet and funny moments, giving those moments a very real feel to them. ll in all, this anime was about the characters and characters’ relationships more than anything else.
As a side note, the first half of Episode 2 was fascinating because it was, essentially, a monologue by NisiOisin about character development – rather it was a depiction of the author’s internal struggle and thought process in making a character.
World: Very Good. Much of the world was about the 12 swords the characters were to find. That was the broader context driving the anime. On a more practical level, the swords themselves had an interesting “character” and affected characters in interesting ways, driving parts of the story. This acted in combination with the setting to really help shape the nature of character interactions. One interesting thing about how the world developed was a sense of “big players.” The world didn’t really have a place for “small fry,” which really kept the viewer’s focus solely on the events happening. Heck, there really weren’t too many lines by “small” characters. The result was that it helped create an odd sense of importance of the quest and give an almost unforgiving feel to the world.
Plot: Very Good. At first, it seems as though the plot is very simple and straightforward – find sword, fight bad guy, collect sword. However, this turns out to be a gross understatement. Really, those are smaller plot points in the grand plot turning behind the scenes. It takes quite a while before we actually see what’s going on in the background, because the plot points themselves are acting almost like snapshots of the bigger plot. That said, the smaller plot points are all about changing the characters’ relationships and standing. As a result, these points end up really changing the course of how the characters develop and change. What is fascinating is how the plot ultimately ends up – characters who have changed, yet are the same, things that have changed, yet are the same. Once again, only at the end looking back do we see what was actually going on behind us.
Storytelling: Excellent. The storytelling was highly varied, which kept the events interesting. Although there was a lot of talking, it was always relevant to what’s going on and helped either develop characters, characters’ relationships, or the characters’ relation to the viewer. The talking points often served as the bridge, helping tie events together into the greater narrative. One other interesting point was how the storytelling often played on expectations in conveying information. Really, it was guiding and shaping the viewer in relation to the characters. For example, they would tell the story in a way that made certain “bad” characters seem good, and certain “good” characters seem bad to the viewer. Often it served to highlight character motives and reasons for doing things. On the note of shaping the viewer, the stories were often told in a non-linear fashion to guide the viewer’s attention. An example of this is where the viewer knows “of course they’re gonna collect the sword,” but they tell the viewer that from the outset, so the viewer then focuses on the how, rather than the result.
Pace: Very Good. In all, this is a pretty talkative anime, so that tends to slow things down a little bit. One of the more interesting pacing choices was to make 12 50-minute episodes. This allowed the anime to “get out of the station” without dragging too much. It takes about episode 3 until it really starts taking off. Honestly, the pacing is a bit like a freight train – really slow to get started, but once it does, there’s no stopping the momentum.