Reviews of yesteryear: Katanagatari

Katanagatari started as a light novel series by Isin Nisio. Who’s written nothing else that I’m familiar with. He wrote some novelizations for both Death Note and xxxHolic, but I’m only familiar with the originals for those two and novels based on established series tend to vary a lot in quality. The anime adaptation was handled by the relatively new White Fox studio. They were behind both the Jormungand and Steins;Gate anime, so that could be a good sign. Then again, every studio tends to do some good and some bad work so this could be the first anime they’ve done that I dislike. Only one way to find out.

The story follows a martial artist, who incorrectly refers to himself as a swordsman because this anime doesn’t know what a sword is*, named Shichika. He lives with his sister in exile on an island. That ends when a woman named Togame shows up and asks Shichika to accompany her on a journey to collect twelve deviant blades. He agrees because he’s fallen in love with her for no adequately explained reason. Did I mention he knows her for all of thirty minutes at that point? Maybe she’s just the first woman he’s ever met besides his sister and he’s very pent up. The story follows their journey to wade through a massive sea of exposition in order to collect the blades. This anime breaks the most important rule of story telling, show, don’t tell. There’s very little that happens with any bearing on the actual plot. The episodes are roughly fifty minutes long with most episodes using three minutes for the themes, eight minutes for action sequences, five minutes for plot relevant content and thirty four minutes for long stretches of exposition. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that one episode has a twenty minute stretch of dialogue that’s nothing but the characters expositing over plot points. Because… showing the information in a natural way would’ve taken too long? One of the most inexcusable scenes happens in the middle of a fight scene. The characters just stop for more than five minutes so that one can exposit about her backstory.

Then there’s the narrator, whose only purpose is to waste time by telling you where they are, which they invariably mention in their exposition anyway, or to spoil what’s going to happen in the next episode thereby killing any tension before it even has a chance to build. Smooth. The only real exception is the last episode, which spends most of its time with action sequences and a scene where someone, I won’t spoil who, dies for fourteen and a half minutes. The worst part is that there’s someone around who could’ve tied a tourniquet or something but prefers to spend the time crying because the first character is bleeding to death. Because.. death is more tragic if there’s someone guilty of criminal negligence. The biggest issue that comes out of the whole thing is that it’s boring. Stretches of dialogue can be interesting, but they barely have any actual dialogue. Most of it is incredibly stilted exposition, which isn’t interesting. Then there’s the romance, which never evolves beyond an attraction that comes out of nowhere. Nothing interesting is ever done with it, rather like the anime as a whole. The attempted comedy is so lacking in actual humour that it can be difficult to tell whether something is supposed to be a joke or it’s just stupid. Then there’s the ending, which features an anti-climax followed by abject stupidity.

Then you have the characters. First you have Shichika himself, who calls himself a sword because he formed a club with Gundam 00’s Setsuna for people who think they’re inanimate objects. He has very little in terms of personality. He’s pretty much defined by being stupid, hitting things and falling for random strangers. He’s your typical big dumb hero character. Then you’ve got Togame, one of those characters who’s supposed to be clever but never acts clever or demonstrates any intelligence whatsoever. She can be recognised by yelling a lot, falling over, blushing and hitting Shichika while yelling “cheerio.” She’s a pretty typical tsundere character, except with fewer dimensions. There aren’t any interesting characters in this. They just fill their role, spout exposition and then stay stagnant or die. The worst part of it is that they try to have tragic moments, but they’ve never given you any reason to care about any of the characters so they just fail.

Now for the art. I actually have a few positive things to say about it. The first is that there are some really nicely drawn backgrounds. The second is that the weapons, whether they’re actually swords or not, are nicely designed, mostly. Now back to giving discredit where discredit is due. The character designs in this are horrible. The eyes are just off and convey no emotion other than dull surprise, and they show up in spite of being covered by hair on several occasions. The noses appear when the characters are in profile and vanish entirely when they’re shown head on. White Fox does know that noses have depth, right? Even stuff where the noses are just dots or small triangles manage to display them from a head on perspective. The characters really do look like badly made plastic dolls. The sad thing is that they try to have fan-service by giving Togame the occasional bum shot. Yeah, this art style doesn’t work for that. The animation in this is frequently lazy. There are several cases where they just hold on the same image for no reason. The fight scenes are exceptionally bad. The characters are drawn so they’re almost never actually coming into contact with one another and there’s one fight scene where they play the same animation three times in a row.

The music is another thing that I’m going to give some actual praise to. The music is well done. It could’ve made it in a decent anime. Then there’s the voice acting. This is another anime where no one seems to be trying. I know that several of the major seiyu can act. Tamura Yukari, Tomatsu Haruka, Okiayu Ryotaro and several others are skilled at their craft but none of them seem to be putting any effort into their performances. Although, to be fair, there are very few people who could sound natural while delivering all of that exposition.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. This has no yuri.

The final rating for Katanagatari is a 2/10. There’s a pretty clear lack of effort on the parts of everyone involved. The story is mostly told through tedious exposition. Character development is absent. The fight scenes, and most of the art in general, are just poorly done and none of the seiyu seem to be trying. In the end, Katanagatari is by far the most boring anime I’ve ever seen and the few scenes that kind of work aren’t worth sitting through the exposition for. To this day I don’t know if I’ve seen another anime that beats its long stretches of exposition for sheer tedium.

* They are chronically confused by what a sword is. They refer to Kunai as shuriken and every weapon, from guns to an android, as swords. They even refer to some non-weapons, like a suit of armour, as swords. 

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