Katanagatari: Volume 2
by Jef Burnham
Now available in a Blu-ray/DVD Premium Edition from NIS America.
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Read the review of Katanagatari: Volume 1 here.
Katanagatari: Volume 2 opens with the seventh of this anime series’ twelve episodes. In it, government stratagemist Togame and her human katana Shichika face off against Shichika’s sister for the seventh of twelve powerful katana that, in the wrong hands, threaten the power of the Shogunate. These katana, known as the Mastercraft Klesha Bringers, are spread across Japan, and it is Togame’s ambition to collect them all and win the favor of the shogun. The series is divided into twelve, 50-minute episodes, or Quests, and each Quest, as you’ve probably gathered, follows the pair’s attempts to recover one katana from among the bunch. NIS’s Volume 2 Premium Edition of Katanagatari collects the final six Quests in what is assuredly the most essential series in the NIS anime library.
With the epic battle between the siblings Shichika and Nanami as the set’s opener, you have to ask yourself, “Where could it possibly go from here?” Surprisingly, it goes a rather long, long way. The characters are deepened as they are forced to come to terms with past traumas before moving forward in their journey. These personal revelations necessitate Shichika’s embracing of his humanity in his martial arts, and humbles the self-aggrandizing Togame. In addition, a game-changing mythology develops in the final acts that could easily have derailed the series and alienated viewers, but is just so damn cool I couldn’t help but fall more in love with Katanagatari for it. Providing you buy into this mythology, the conclusion of the series completely satisfies.
Katanagatari is a highly stylized series in which even the most minor elements reveal complex stylization. Again, flashbacks throughout are presented in a grainy, 1970’s film stock aesthetic. In addition, some sequences in this set are predominantly black and white with small splashes of color, as when Nanami slaughters a village in the opening of episode seven. But no element is more highly stylized than the character designs, which are deceptively simple in many ways. Single lines act as the characters’ noses and eyes are simplistic to the point of being almost expressionless. Yet the animators draw incredible amounts of emotion from the simplistic designs. The animation throughout is so breath-takingly gorgeous throughout that it’s really a shame sometimes that the series is so heavily dialogue-driven.
From a broader perspective, the pacing of Katanagatari is uncharacteristically slow for an action series due to the heavy emphasis on dialogue. The dialogue-driven narrative finds some conversations dragging on for upwards of five minutes at a time. Sure, it takes some serious getting used to at first, but by the time you get to this set, you’ll find you’ve long-since fully acclimated. You’ll be surprised by how engrossed you can become in the characters’ sprawling discussions.
I know I’ve said this before, but seriously, if you haven’t bought one of NIS’s anime Premium Editions, you you’re missing out on some incredible products! Contained within Katanagatari Volume 2’s hard case, measuring approximately 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD), are two slimline cases containing four discs (2 Blu-ray and 2 DVD) along with The Epic of Shichika, a full-color, hardcover supplemental book picking up where Togame’s Travelogue left off. As for the quality of the discs themselves, the 480i picture of the DVDs looks wonderful, but, of course, the 1080p Blu-ray discs will be your preferred viewing format. The Blu-ray discs, as I pointed out in my review of the previous set, are a feast for the eyes. Additionally, with the added image clarity of the Blu-rays, NIS is able to provide the BD transfer with smaller, less obtrusive subtitles than those included on the DVDs.
Special features on the discs are limited to clean opening and closings, but, as with Togame’s Travelogue before it, The Epic of Shichika more than compensates for the relative lack of disc-based features. The Epic devotes an entire section to each Quest contained in the set, and each section features character write-ups, a plot synopsis, the lyrics (in both Japanese and English) to the Quest’s unique closing song, and a beautiful, full-page artwork featuring the principle players of the Quest. The Travelogue also contains the lyrics to this volume’s opening theme, “Blade and Scabbard” (again in both Japanese and English), additional artwork including a two-page spread of character models, and, most importantly, the “Katanagatari Glossary.” This 2 1/2-page glossary, divided by Quest, acts not only as your typical glossary, defining the series’ terminology, but as in-depth translation notes. In this regard, it details for the reader the complexities and dual meanings of the Japanese names honored in the subtitles without translation into English, and relates many of the problems the translators encountered while working with the text. One useful feature of the glossary contained here is that it includes an abridged glossary of that contained in Togame’s Travelogue featuring ten of the most useful entries. As companion pieces, the two glossaries alone make Togame’s Travelogue and The Epic of Shichika indispensable for any devoted viewer of Katanagatari.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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