Considering the massive critical and popular success of the anime adaptation of Bakemonogatari, it's not surprising to see a rush to translate more of NisiOisiN's works into an animated form, and thus 2010 is set to bring us monthly instalments of Katanagatari.
At its heart, Katanagatari is your typical samurai action epic... Except its protagonist not only doesn't use a sword, he wouldn't even have a clue how to. The boy in question is one Shichika Yasuri, the son of a rebellion leader who was exiled to a deserted island alongside the rest of his family for his part in that rebellion. Thus, Shichika leads a simple life on this island along with his sister, while he continues to practice the swordless fighting art known as Kyotouryuu, following in his father's footsteps as the head of the family.
It's this ability which leads Togame to the island - As a strategist for the Shogunate she's been tasked with organising the recovery of twelve priceless, and extremely dangerous, swords created by a man named Kiki Shikizaki which the Shogun worries could be used to power a revolt, and she's chosen Shichika's father to do it - However, as he's passed away some time before, Shichika himself will have to do.
In this opening instalment, we see the first of these twelve swords literally turn up on Togame and Shichika's doorstep, as our rather dim protagonist finds himself propositioned to help with the mission which has been outlined to him in the face of a rather dangerous ninja and the suggestion that Togame herself is not all that she initially seems.
The first thing that stands out about this opening episode of Katanagatari is its rather unique aesthetic - For starters it's a riot of colour, which is a far cry from the subdued pallets of many a samurai anime series. Then there's the unique character designs, which take a little getting used to and are occasionally not as expressive as I might have liked, but they soon grow on you if you'll give them ample opportunity to do so.
Beyond that however, NisiOisiN's writings which are the basis for this series will stand out for anyone who has watched Bakemonogatari - In short, it's hugely dialogue heavy, which can be both a blessing and a curse for this particular episode. Make no mistake, there are some great lines and exchanges here, and all of the dialogue is present with good reason so I have no complaints about its quality, but at times the action takes a back seat perhaps a little too heavily for what is after all a series about swordsmen and fighters. On top of that, the dialogue as presented here occasionally feels a little rushed, with the voice actors racing through their lines like a supermarket cashier throwing your goods down the conveyor belt so that she can go on her lunch break. It never entirely ruins the flow of the episode, but it does jar a little on occasion.
Overall though, you can't help but be impressed by this opening episode of Katanagatari as a whole - The visuals and character designs are certainly eye catching, the story and dialogue are as razor sharp as you'd hope for, and the promise and potential to do far more with these elements in future episodes is plain to see. If this once a month series of episodes can settle down and find a good pace to run with its story, then it could turn out to be a huge success in its own right - The tragic part is, we now have to wait another month just to see what it can turn out next.