Twenty years after a big rebellion, Yasuri Shichika and his sister Nanami live by themselves on an island. Their hero father died a year ago, making Shichika the head of the family’s Kyotou fighting style. On this particular day, he comes across a white-haired girl named Togame who is a strategist of the Shogunate and has business with him. She first tries to test him, but she fails to attack him after tripping, so he takes her home with him where she meets Nanami. As it turns out, Togame is trying to gather twelve powerful swords made by the famous swordsmith Shikizaki Kiki. She can’t trust anyone who’d work for money or fame because of those who have already betrayed her, and instead she wants Shichika to act out of love. Specifically, she indicates that he can fall in love with her, and in the ensuing silence, the house gets attacked by shuriken. Shichika goes after the perpetrator who Togame realizes is part of the Maniwa clan of ninja that betrayed her after finding one of the swords.
Once on the beach, the perpetrator introduces himself as Maniwa Koumori, and he’s actually carrying that sword. What surprises Shichika in the ensuing fight is that he’s unable to break the sword, but Togame doesn’t want him breaking the swords anyway. Koumori then puts the sword away by stuffing it down his own throat, and instead of sticking around and fighting, he distracts Shichika with shuriken and kidnaps Togame. After tying her up, Koumori transforms himself to look exactly like her so that he can trick and kill Shichika. Unfortunately for Koumori, when he attempts this, Shichika instinctively kicks him, and Koumori coughs up the sword. He doesn’t give up though and instead tries to turn Shichika against Togame by claiming that she’s only after the swords for her own gain. He reveals that Togame is actually the daughter of the leader of the previous rebellion, a man who Shichika’s father had killed.
Koumori then transforms himself into Shichika and attacks with the sword, but what he doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that Shichika has no talent with swords. This means that Koumori inadvertently loses grip of the sword mid-attack, and Shichika is able to finish him off with one special unarmed technique. Afterward, Shichika finds finds and frees Togame, and he tells her that he’s doing this for her sake because he’s decided to fall in love with her. The two thus prepare to leave the island together, and Nanami is actually okay with it because she wants Shichika to experience the world. Once on the boat, Togame gives Shichika three general instructions, which she calls four because she emphasizes the last one twice: don’t break the swords, protect her, and protect himself. The two then embark on their journey to collect the remaining swords.
So the opening song was pretty good, though I swear Kuribayashi Minami’s songs start to sound similar after a while due to the way she sings. The corresponding sequence had some nice shots of the characters too. The ending song isn’t bad either, but I’m less fond of because of the way it speeds up after the opening part. It doesn’t matter much though since it looks like they’ll be changing ending songs every episode.
For the most part, I thought this first episode was decent, but not exceptionally good. I mean, WHITE FOX did a fairly good job animating an hour-long episode, the music was as good as I’d hoped it’d be from the promotional videos, and I can’t say I missed SHAFT‘s unique style. But at the same time, the first episode failed to draw me into the plot, and I have my reservations about the sword-of-the-month approach, the same way I do about the monster-of-the-week approach for other series. The characters are probably the most interesting part because I’m curious to see how Shichika and Togame’s romance develops from this odd arrangement (I’m still not quite sure what’s motivating Shichika), and it’s a bit of a shame that Nanami is getting left behind since I liked her character.
As many of you probably know by now, Katanagatari was written by Bakemonogatari’s author NisiOisiN, and so there was indeed a lot of dialogue here. I suspect the episode probably could have gotten through the same general plot in two-thirds the time if they had cut some of that dialogue out. And while the pacing never felt too slow due to it, I was hoping for a bit more action from a series where swords play a central role. On that note, I also wondered if the series wouldn’t benefit from having a normal two-season broadcast with half-hour episodes instead of this one-hour-a-month-for-a-year deal. It’d certainly be easier for the audience (or in this case, myself) to stay interested in the series and remember the plot details that way. The second episode is fortunately airing in less than two weeks on the night of February 8th, but the episodes after that will have a full month between them. Anyway, I’m still not quite sold on the series, but I’ll probably keep watching for at least a few more episodes.