Anime Review: Katanagatari Volume 2

Katanagatari, Volume 2
Studio: White Fox
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Drama with Light Comedy Elements
Release Date: 09/20/2011

Back in July I reviewed the first volume of Katanagatari and found it to be an okay series, but that it paled in comparison to the other anime series Nippon Ichi released at the same time, Arakawa Under the Bridge. This time, I get to watch the second half of Katanagatari on its own and I have to say the second half of the series is much better than the first.

If you missed the first half of Katanagatari or “Sword Story,” it follows the adventures of two characters Shichika Yasuri and Togame as they travel around Japan collecting twelve mystical weapons referred to as “Deviant Blades,” even though a good portion of these weapons aren’t actually swords. I strongly suggest reading my review of Volume One for a more in-depth look at the basically plot hook that drives the series. Yes, this anime follows the generic trapping of “good guys face a specific enemy in each episode and overcome it by the end” which may turn people off looking for a more original story. I’ll admit the first volume had that effect on me as well, with very generic characters and a storyline that we’ve seen in many other animes. However, this second volume really changes things up. We saw a sign of things to come in the last volume’s fourth episode (the best of that set), but things really go off the rails of predictability and at the end, Katanagatari ends up feeling like its own unique series rather than a generic battle sequence oriented anime.

Some of these highlights include Episode six with a fight between Yasuri and the person in the world he loves most. It’s a fight to the death by the way and it’s a very compelling episode where you keep hoping that there will be an outcome where a major character doesn’t die. Episode eight feature a wacky accidental love triangle of sorts. As the comedy aspects of Katanagatari tend to be when the series is at its best, it was great to see an episode almost fully revolve around them. Episode ten was a battle oriented episode, but it was far more about cerebral combat and it was a nice change from the usual combat sequences, which are when Katanagatari is not only at its weakest, but its most generic. Like episode four in Volume One, this episode highlights that the story isn’t just another Vampire Princess Miyu mixed with Wrath of the Ninja – at least not all the time. Episode eleven finally has Togame and Yasuri admit their love for each other and episode twelve…well, it’s up there with episodes four and seven as the best the series has to offer. I won’t spoil it other than to say it it’s the exact opposite of the other episodes. Where everything else about Katanagatari basically fit into a “paint by numbers” routine, this episode blew me away. There’s a major swerve regarding one of the main characters’ motivations, a very unexpected and tragic death, and the entire series ends on a really melancholic note. It might disappoint some readers to know that Katanagatari‘s final episode is extremely dark and gory when the series had a decent amount of comedy in it up until this point, but it will definitely make you stand up and take notice and also help you to realize how much you’ve grown to care about the characters in it. It’s funny because as apathetic as I was to Volume One, I found myself invested in the characters by Volume Two, and found myself quite sad about how the series and the fate of all the characters. The only downside is the true origin of the Deviant Blades (revealed in episode eleven) as it’s pretty insipid.

The two most unique aspects of Katanagatari are the length of the episodes and the art style it uses. I can honestly say I’ve never seen an anime series that has the visuals appearance of Katanagatari. It throws away the usual trappings of most anime character design and yet manages to be distinctly Japanese at the same time. You can watch an episode for just a few minutes and know that this is Japanese animation, but you’ll also know that you’ve never seen anything with character designs quite like this. The art style might not be for everyone, but I really came to love it as the series went on. It’s just so unique looking.

Then there’s the aforementioned length of each episode. Most anime episodes are between twenty and twenty five minutes (depending on when it was brought stateside and the cutting that might have been done to it). Each episode of Katanagatari is a whopping 51 minutes long! Again, like the art style, the sheer length of an episode might be a turn off to a viewer, especially if they begin to notice where there’s padding put in to stretch out the length of the episode, but the fact these episode are so long does help in giving Katanagatari its own unique identity -for better or for worse. It also helps people understand why each volume of the anime only contains six episode while bearing a price tag of $55.99. This isn’t the days of Central Park Media or Pioneer with their $30 VHS tapes containing three twenty-two minutes episodes after all.

So let’s talk about that $55.99 price tag. You might think that sounds like a lot for half of an anime series, especially since companies like Funimation put out entire sets for less than that. Well, that’s because those sets tend to be “no frills.” Nippon Ichi however puts out pretty intense collections for diehard anime fans looking for a little something more than just a few episodes. In this case you’re get three perks beyond two DVDs. The first is that you’re also getting the series on Blu-Ray besides the standard DVD format. The series looks amazing on Blu-Ray as the colours really come to life in this format. The jump in visual quality is instantly noticeable and if you have a Blu-Ray player, this is definitely the way to watch Katanagatari. Hand Drawn cartoons always seem to get the biggest boost from a high definition format, and this is no exception. If you don’t have Blu-Ray, then you can just hold on to the discs in that format and watch the series in standard definition.

The second piece of the collection is that the series comes in the usual Nippon Ichi oversized hardcover collector’s case. This case is twice as long as a normal DVD case and holds both DVD cases nicely. It’s a bit hard to find a place on a shelf. The entire slipcover is made of a durable cardboard like material which is then wrapped in beautiful illustrations featuring characters from the series. The front of the box contains artwork featuring Yasuri and Togame in an odd embrace amongst lily pads and clovers, while the back features the four female opponents Yasuri had to defeat throughout the series. The artwork on the box is in a slightly different style than what you’ll see in the anime itself, but it’s very striking (and very green) and it will definitely make for a conversation piece when someone sees it.

Finally we have the hardcover coffee table style artbook that also fits into slipcover case along with the DVD Volume One’s book was entitled “Togame’s Travelogue,” while this one bears the name “The Epic of Shichika.” The artbook is thirty-two pages long and it’s far more than just cells from the series on high quality glossy paper. You get original artwork featuring the characters (including what is shown on the DVD case covers and both sides of the collector’s case), episode synopsis, character bios, lyrics to songs from the series (in both English and Japanese), character models and a glossary of terms. It’s a great book sure to delight any fan of the series and a wonderful companion to the artbook in Volume One.

So for fifty-six dollars, you are getting six hours of anime, two DVDs, two Blu-Ray discs, an artbook and a collector’s case to house the entire set. That’s not a bad deal by any standard. Volume Two is definitely a stronger set of episodes than those in Volume One so if you didn’t enjoy those, Volume Two just might change your mind about the series as a whole. I know it did me. I went into this review hoping I would be as bored as I was with a large chunk of Volume One and I came out pleasantly surprised by the second set of episodes and with a favourable opinion of Katanagatari as a whole. If you’ve been on the fence about the series due to the entire collection costing a little over $100, my advice would be to watch an episode from Volume One and then one from Volume Two to see if it is something you want to purchase. Katanagatari definitely isn’t the strongest anime offering from Nippon Ichi, and the things about the series that make it stand out will either make someone love it or hate it so “try before you buy” (if you can) if definitely the way to go here.



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