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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Katanagatari

15. Katanagatari, unlike Index/Railgun, is short and sweet. The whole series is 12 episodes, albeit 50 minute length episodes, that came out over the course of a year. This is quite a blessing, because most good series are interminable, you never get the satisfaction of a conclusion that wraps everything up and tells us, basically, 'what happened.' Berserk, for instance, is approaching 30 years old, and it's still seemingly in the middle, or maybe near the beginning, of the series. That's simply hell for fans and I would prefer if the anime industry stopped supporting such travesties.

I was probably unfair to Index/Railgun earlier. With such a short post, I didn't list some amazing quotes like I did with other series. One was by Kuroko, Misaka's best friend and a teleporter, who while chatting to her teleporter opponent says, "So like a villain, always caring about petty things." I think that is a masterful definition of any villain. Someone who cares about petty things enough to threaten truly important things that heroes care about. The vast majority of villains could be grouped into this category, and it is right to despise them for their misplaced values. Index really helped me understand that about villainy, about why people go wrong.

Attaching importance to race, rather than what race correlates to, is petty and thus villainous. This is why racists are hounded out of every dinner conversation with derision. People don't care about skin color or genes. They care about things that matter, like happiness, prosperity, security, and freedom. If racists stopped running their mouths about race and started talking about correlates to race, like how unsafe it was to be around blacks, how they were a public drain on our prosperity, and how their voting habits were steadily eroding our freedoms, maybe we could get somewhere. But instead they talk about race, a petty thing, while ignoring the correlates as unimportant. This is what makes them villains instead of heroes.

Another is by Aleister, talking to Accelerator to recruit him into GROUP. "Without Academy City, Last Order couldn't exist." This is the cute, small Misaka clone that Accelerator through a series of accidents has become the guardian of. She pays him for his care and protection by being grateful and irrepressibly delightful company. The two need each other, to be honest. And Aleister is right, last order, a clone who oversees a network of clones via a highly sophisticated computer network, etc, cannot exist outside of Academy City. This is her natural environment, her way of life. If Academy City is destroyed, her way of life is gone, and she can no longer shine as brightly and happily as she does today. I think this is true of everyone. That no one can shine outside their proper environments, and that we protect our cities, our territory, our laws, because we know that 'without America there can be no xxx.' Protecting the larger group, your sovereign territory, comes from the innate knowledge that an individual can certainly survive in a different environment, but he can never thrive in it, not like the one he has designed for himself, and learned to adapt to all his life.

We love cities and nations because we know how good they are to ourselves, our friends, and our families, and how much they benefit us on a daily basis. We'll protect them because we need them, just like we protect each other because we need each other. It's such a healthy and honest love. I'm glad that Index spelled it out.

Anyway, back to Katanagatari. What is Katanagatari about? Basically, a couple wanders Japan collecting swords of power and defeating their previous owners, sometime in the medieval age. It's a simple plot, and a simple story. There is some philosophy to Katanagatari, like the very zen message that most goals are unreachable so you'd better enjoy the journey along the way, and a villain (our hero's sister) who is so distant from normal human thinking that she can never even decide if what she is saying or doing is good or bad, and always concludes with "Either way," because she doesn't even care. But Katanagatari is mostly about production value. It has its own unique art style, which is gorgeous. It slips into the coolest alternate art styles at its own pleasure, like from the viewpoint of an old 8-bit video game, or turning into a visual novel, just for fun. The voice acting is of course great, as is the music. But the fighting scenes are just fantastic. They tend to be short, full of strategy and intelligence, deadly and pitched. They are some of the best fights ever portrayed in anime, one after the other. In the last episode of Katanagatari, Shichika fights the bearers of all 12 collected swords and beats them all in an absolute tour de force. In one episode! The fights are fantastic and none of them let you down.

This just goes to show that a story doesn't have to be 'all things.' If it specializes in just a few things, it can leave a more lasting and beneficial impression than animes that try to be the 'next great American novel' or 'the next War and Peace.' If I want to concentrate on romance, or mystery, or whatever, I can always go watch those series. But if I want beautiful art, a twisted since of humor, and dazzling fight sequences -- I should be watching Katanagatari.

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