[Major errors need to be corrected: The work isn’t by SHAFT nor SHINBO. All mistakes are mine. The Production is by WHITE FOX, and the director is Keitaro Motonaga]
I watched the first episode of Katanagatari and was immediately infatuated. I enjoyed the snappy dialogue that I discovered in Bakemonogatari, and loved the incredibly styled animated illustrations. On my second watching, when I shared it with a friend, I noticed how long and drawn-out the dialogue was. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I did the first time.
This seems like a natural consequence, but to me it’s rather particular to this episode and all of Bakemonogatari. It’s not very rewatchable, unlike say, a Quentin Tarantino film many of which I’ve rewatched for the scenes that happen to have lots of dialogue. But there is something rather interesting in Katanagatari, in that it uses far less of the cuts and stills, and text walls used in Bakemonogatari. While this may just be the result of budgetary considerations, and I do think when one is in doubt, go overboard! Katanagatari is making me pay attention more to the conversation. Hmm!
Not that I didn’t pay attention to the dialogue in Bakemonogatari, I pored over those conversations over and over attempting analysis. However, I wasn’t much use in breaking down the visual storytelling, despite finding many of the images clever and striking. I spent some time reading this post on film storytelling technique: Tell, Don’t Show (Observations on Film Art), and I came to appreciate what Shinbo x Shaft was able to do in the first two episodes of Katanagatari that they weren’t able to do much of in Bakemonogatari.
Now, I don’t think that there’s a one-to-one correspondence to the elements and observations made in the post with how Katanagatari handles its dialogue. There is this one scene though, that although it talks about abstractions rather than past events, kept the ‘camera’ on the characters for the most part: The Meta in the Desert (Togame anguishes about the ‘literary’ report on the retrieval of the 12 swords she’s preparing).
Even more interesting: there was practically no background since they were in the middle of the desert! It was just sand dunes in slightly varying bleak colors, so it was just Shichika and Togame sticking out in their colorful stylish costumes shooting the shit. At most, Togame produced a prop: her steno style writing pad, where she indicated that she’s already done a number of rewrites of the capture of the first sword (events in episode 01).
So narratively, we see a sequence of Togame browbeating Shichika to match the eccentricity of the Maniwa Ninjas in order to make her report cooler than it really is. We see Togame gather momentum and resolve, revealing her conviction for this task, her eyes ‘on the prize’ and seldom really talking to Shichika as opposed to talking down or at him. Shichika, on the other hand, is worn down like the sand dunes facing the wind, his stance slowly getting lower and lower, until he’s hunched over and playing along, giving Togame whatever she wanted.
With regards to the content of the conversation, I find it very interesting as well. I had mentioned before (in agreement with the movie reviewer Roger Ebert) that good dialogue is ‘about something,’ and not merely details that progress the plot. In the case of this conversation, we are treated to a lesson in hype, marketing, and making a story capture the imagination of its consumers.
The details have to do with catchphrases, ‘attitude,’ and comportment as they complement the true protagonist of Togame’s report: Togame herself. The whole thing speaks about the vanity of the author, as well as the liberties people make in documenting history. I remember Nereis Beebaus from Banner of the Stars speak about writing his memoirs as an admiral in the war, and I have no doubt that the events depicted will be colored by his vanity and self-promotion.
It is interesting to note, despite this exercise in vanity and self-promotion, Togame refuses to write about what she didn’t witness first hand. What a contradiction! She’s willing to fabricate behavior, but not substitute fiction for ‘documentary.’
So how does Shichika, the fighter who doesn’t like to think, survive this exercise? He actually does some thinking. He comes up with a portmanteau for the Maniwa Ninjas: ‘Maniwani’ that Togame appreciates the cleverness of, then becomes decisive (even if mostly due to resignation) and picks out a catchphrase from the items Togame brainstormed. It’s very cool how towards the end of the episode, ‘life imitates art’ and he actually gets to use the catchphrase to dramatic effect.
So, we are treated to a demonstration in how the characters of the story ‘write themselves’ as NisiOisiN writes them. It’s a clever trick, that Shinbo x SHAFT WHITE FOX did well to under-present (if we can call many of Bakemonogatari‘s conversations over-presented) — making the cleverness stand out rather than smother it with too much attempted cleverness. I’m not well-versed in NisiOisiN, SHAFT, and Shinbo, WHITE FOX, and Motonaga, so those who are–please tell me if my observations here are representative of their bodies of work, or if not, indicative of some ‘growth.’
I enjoyed Bakemonogatari for the dialogue indeed [->]
I enjoyed this particular post on Shinbo (otou-san 2009/07/20)
The storytelling is somewhat of a weakness in this view of episode 02 (Hanners 2010/02/10)
A great way to put it:
Their conversation turns to the bizarre with Togame lodging complaints about Shichika’s lack of personality and catch phrase. She isn’t breaking the fourth wall, simply leaning on it quite hard. (Rakuen 2010/02/10)