On the Nature of a Great Battle

Katanagatari is a wordy show…but more than that, it sure does show off a great battle.

I’ve been observing some of the posts Chris Voyager has put out on Anime Voyage and they always get me thinking. One of his is What Are My Favourite Kinds of Stories, I Wonder? and the answer was surprising, for an anime blogger. (No spoilers – read it for yourself if you must.)

I’ve spilt a lot of indirect digital ink on the types of stories I love and the stories I don’t, plus the outliers in the latter category, but I don’t dissect in much detail when it comes to picking at narrative tropes or whatever. (In fact, my essay writing skill is fairly average and you’ve seen how many times I can lose my point in a finished post…) However, if Chibi Tamago and the AniList Anime Watching Challenge have taught me some things, it’s that I watch a significant amount of action anime and any ol’ anime fan will tell you action anime is dependent on the quality of the battles presented.

Katanagatari‘s 2nd episode is probably the best thing I can use to put what I like in a battle into words.

The stakes are crystal clear: Each party has something to lose and something to win, depending on the outcome. It could just be “time and expended effort” on some participants’ parts, but the higher the stakes, the more thrilling the battle. In this case, Togame has to win her way to the top, Shichika has to prove his win against Koumori wasn’t a fluke and Ginkaku has to protect his territory, which is noted to have been left behind after the Tottori area desertified. This battle ended on a bit of a bitter note because of what was at stake, but even the losing party accepts their loss gracefully.

Character development: I’m a sucker for the long backstory (about an episode long or more), provided it’s used well. Katanagatari fits in with that in that it has abnormally long episodes and this episiode serves as a character study into Ginkaku, so it basically created the same effect in a smaller scale of time. Also, since this is still the initial stage of Togame and Shichika’s relationship, there’s development in seeing the latter become less dense and seeing the former start to believe in the plan she plotted for herself (to have Shichika fall for her).

The animators care about their battle: Top-notch visuals aren’t always a must, but you need to at least get the sense that the animators were trying to care, rather than having what I’ve dubbed “shaky cam” (a still image shaken to pretend there is movement, noted in Eizouken as often being used as a cost-cutting measure). Since Katanagatari is about small details – it is a Nisio Isin work, after all, so wordplay comes with the territory – the focus on the movement of Namakura’s hilt and Shichika’s limb movements as a bare-fisted fighter are crucial.

Dissection of the human experience: This is the point that elevates a fight – no, all anime – from “cool” to “awesome”, possibly even “world-transcending”, for me. Katanagatari episode 2 clears that hurdle with a discussion on what it means to “protect” and what is necessary to do so.

It even takes jabs at how bland Shichika is through Togame’s quest to find a cool catchphrase for him – since he is a swordsman without a sword, I guess this is to be somewhat expected – but since Shichika is still clearly a work in progress, since it is only episode 2, it can really only get better after the conclusion of the fight with Ginkaku.

Notably, Katanagatari is out of print – legally speaking – as I type this, but I want to finish it if it ever becomes legal again…(Then again, I’ve noted my anime club has always been a bit sketchy on that particular front.) That’s why I had to use this post from Shibireru Darou? to jog my memory while listing out the examples.

So what elevates an anime from “it’s okay” to “it’s awesome” for you? Is there a single criterion, or it is just impossible to put your finger on because it differs every time?

5 thoughts on “On the Nature of a Great Battle

Add yours

  1. I thought this might be a satire post when I read “Katanagatari” and “battle” in the same sentence (ppl are always joking about how short the fight scenes are), but you’re very right. I love Katanagatari’s fights too, for the clear stakes and character development.

    Often enough, the fights are the last time we see a character ever. Though realism is probably the last thing you’d consider with such an art style and certain silly fight skills, such a set-up makes the fights more intense and realistic than many others in anime.

    Liked by 3 people

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