Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: NIS America
MSRP: $69.99 US
Running Time: 316 minutes
Release Date: Available Now
The legend of the living swords begins again.
NIS America certainly made things interesting last year when they released a number of quality anime releases that made fans realize that they can certainly compete with the big boys. This year is actually turning out to be a very interesting one as well as we can see from their recent releases that include a series about a human weapon and his beautiful companion on a quest to overthrow a war lord that rules Japan with an iron grip. The Premium Edition of Volume 1 of Katanagatari is another stellar release and trust me when I say that you’ll have a blast watching this one.
Set in Japan’s Sengoku period in an age of great turmoil, the Hidan Castle is in flames as a lone figure slaughters the samurai guards and reaches the top level where he encounters a shogun of such incredible talent that he uses his hands as though they were swords. Unfortunately, the great Mutsue Yasuri is defeated and exiled to the desolate Fusho Island with his family. Several years pass as an attractive girl with hair as white as snow makes her way towards the island looking for the savior that will help her carry out an important mission.
She is Togame, a Shogunate official with a rather long official title but she considers herself a “Stratagemist” who is gifted in coming up with various strategies for any given situation. Instead of finding the hero, she finds Yasuri’s two only offspring – the sickly Nanami and her brother Shichika who happens to take his father’s place as the 7th Kyoto Ryu. The mission is to obtain the 12 legendary katana created by a famous blacksmith named Shikizaki Kiki and the cute girl could only do that with Shichika as her personal guard … or human sword since the young man is trained in the same arts as his famous father.
Leaving his sister Nanami behind, Shichika decides to go on this dangerous mission simply because the girl offers herself as an incentive since he doesn’t seem to be interested in money or his right to take over as ruler of the land. Together they leave to seek out each katana that is scattered throughout the land but there’s a problem. You see, Togame had once made a deal with the Twelve Shadows of Maniwa Ninjun – a ninja clan that is composed of colorful costumed squads. Shichika even takes care of one of them who has come to the island.
Their first stop is to a castle hidden in the desert where it is said that a swordsman is residing and using one of the 12 katana. He’s a formidable fighter who, while staying within a single room, manages to slice a Maniwa ninja without the ninja even seeing his opponent move. When Shichika and Togame finally find the castle, Shichika shows that he’s actually smart enough to come up with a battle plan to take the swordsman down. As it turns out, Shichika is not the kind of man who hesitates when it comes to killing. He says he does it for love since Togame did tell him it was Ok for him to fall in love with her.
The next target is the beautiful abbot of a temple shrine and only Togame knows the truth about this woman but what she doesn’t know is why she has one of the katana. The shrine, we can see, is composed of women and the secret is out but – in the end – Shichika doesn’t seem to have an compassion either. After all, he was raised on an isolated island with only his father and sister to keep him company.
They find the next blade in the possession of an armored pirate captain named Azekura Kanara who is immediately smitten by Togame to the point that he makes them an offer that annoys Shichika. His wager is that if he should win the fight between him and Shichika in a battle arena that he will step in as Togame’s protector. If Shichika wins then they get the sword and safe passage to the next possessor of the 12 katana. In the final chapter, they head to the frozen tundra of an archipelago where a lone little girl happens to have the sword in her possession but has enough strength to protect it.
All of this is told in only six episodes that make up Volume 1 but I should note that each episode runs at around 50 or so minutes. While the series follows the repetitive pattern of moving from one katana owner to the next, it still manages to be entertaining, comical and interesting. This actually has a lot to do with both Shichika and Togame whose chemistry is genuinely amusing. Togame stands out the most and even more so thanks to her improper use of the word “Cheerio.” Their budding romance is actually cute.
The rest of the cast of characters is also interesting such as the ninja squad that wear theme costumes that fit their squad whether it’s the animal squad or the insect squad that comes to the island to kidnap Shichika’s sister – who surprises everyone when she reveals that she’s not a sickly weakling. On top of that, the animation is delightfully unique and fits the series perfectly and even more so on the Blu-ray discs that comes with this Premium Edition set.
Volume 1 of Katanagatari is an enchanting and beautifully told story that will hook you in thanks to the characters that keep things interesting and fun to watch. Sure, the episodes seem to follow the same pattern but it’s the stuff that happens in-between that makes it all worthwhile. We are so looking forward to the next volume so here’s hoping it will be released soon enough.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Long after a bloody rebellion changed Japan forever, a young stratagemist named Togame seeks out the son of the rebellion’s only true hero who lives in exile with his sister. Convincing him to help her locate a legendary blacksmith’s 12 katana and overthrow the Shogun who rules the land, both Togame and Shichika embark on a dangerous journey with deadly (yet colorful) ninjas in hot pursuit.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
If you have a Blu-ray player I strongly recommend watching it in high definition since this series looks stunning. The animation is quite unique with the character design really standing out and the backgrounds are delightfully colorful. Even the action scenes flow nicely enough.
AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The voice acting is top notch with a great cast pulling off some really convincing performances such as Yukari Tamura who makes Togame a likeable character. Then there’s the music in the series that is another highlight with its traditional era-specific melodies. While the opening theme song isn’t a personal favorite, the closing theme songs more than make up for it.
Each disc comes with the clean opening and closing theme songs for those who don’t want the gorgeous animation sequences to be cluttered by text. The real treat here comes in the form of the 32-page hardcover “Togame’s Travelogue” complete with an episode guide and beautiful artwork. Plus, you can watch it on Blu-ray or DVD.
A beautifully sweeping and charming tale with just enough action and romance to keep things interesting, Volume 1 of Katanagatari might follow a familiar formula but there’s no denying that you will enjoy the journey of these two characters. If Volume 2 is anything like the first volume, we are definitely looking forward to it.
Review copy provided by NIS America