The Togame Report: The Story Within Katanagatari (Delicious Meta)

[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.’

Further Reading

Tell, Don’t Show, Observations on Film Art (Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell 2010/01/10; hat tip to jpmeyer who shared this on Google Reader)

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)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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31 Responses to The Togame Report: The Story Within Katanagatari (Delicious Meta)

  1. Togawa says:

    A nice article, but what I’d like to know is who the hell are these Togawa and Shinichi you speak of?

    • My bad. Typos: Togame and Shichika. Ugh. My apologies.

      • Togawa says:

        More like a brain-freeze, given how it persisted throughout the article 😉 (Not to mention the Shinbo/Shaft thing that I also noticed, but forgot about by the time I got to writing my comment, lol.)

        Fortunately the article itself is excellent enough to overlook all that 🙂

        I wonder if they have a “head and shoulders above”-like expression in Japanese, because aside from the conversation, it was quite funny to watch the two walking through the desert: one-two, one-two vs OONNEE-TTWWOO. Between that and all the hair-wrapping and sniffing, there was no time to get bored.

        • Yeah, my brain went somewhere cold while the rest of me wrote the post in some kind of auto-pilot. No excuses.

          Good catch on the pace of the walking — it should say something about the pace and rhythm of the show, and the kind of growth they’re making.

          It also says something about the growth they’ll experience as people. The younger, naive character would make the greater strides while the older, close-hearted woman wouldn’t make as big steps.

  2. 2DT says:

    Oh, lovely.

    I’ve had this odd hangup about Katanagatari. Because I see so many bloggers talking about how long and talky (well, let’s call a spade a spade– BORING) the show is, I haven’t been able to just sit down and watch. I find myself skipping around and eventually giving up, even though I don’t feel particularly bored of it. I’m just anticipating boredom. It’s like a sort of psychic contagion that stops me. You know what I mean?

    But you! You give me hope, the medicine I need. So I will try again. Cheers.

    • Boredom is a matter of interest. If you’re not as interested at the subject matter of the conversation, then the likelihood of boredom is higher. Another factor is that I thought that there was good chemistry between the characters. It’s rather interesting for me to see how the male is strong and naive about sex and sexuality.

      Consider Ararararagi and a good number of anime lead males. They are sexually aware and are embarrassed and/or ashamed when dealing with a woman in close proximity. Here we have Togame putting themselves in strangely sexual situations — and she knows what she’s doing.

      Contrast with Senjougahara who teases Ararararagi. What she’s getting out of the highly sexually charged situation is lulz and power tripping. Togame however, is actually getting off on the unwitting Shichika.

      “You may lick me as much as you want,” she says.

  3. Thanks for the post.

    Katagangatari isn’t being made by Shaft, though:

  4. Kiri says:

    The meta in the desert got pretty tiring after a while. I enjoyed the idea and discussion, but it just went on a little too long. I do appreciate that the results of the meta discussion were put to use at the end of the episode though and that it was effective despite the long journey (through the desert) that had been required to get to it.

    • Sure, we could’ve skipped a few catchphrases they threw out. But it would be better I think if the rejected catchphrases were better written. Think about Bakumanagatari, where Ashirogi Muto just shot the shit and came up with all these names and story ideas that were never really developed.

      They were rejects, sure. But we were still entertained by the manga’s indulgence of these.

      I think the catchphrases could’ve been better as a whole.

  5. Rakuen says:

    You, sir, get a gold star for the day for delving into this scene. I like how you pointed out that Shichika has to actually use his brain to get out of the intricate web that Togame sits there spinning. The characters are opposite extremes, so I imagine they’ll slowly move toward the middle as the series progresses. This also means that Togame should slowly become less conceited.

    Given how much this show likes meta, I’m starting to wonder if the disembodied narrator’s voice belongs to Togame, many years later. A narrator narrating self-narration, wouldn’t that be wild?

    • I suspected the narrator would be Shichika’s sister Nanami. I haven’t read the light novels so I can’t back this up though.

    • What Lukas said. However, your idea is rather interesting indeed. I think she’ll end up writing a stupid report that will ring so false that she will tear it up herself. Maybe Nanami picks up the pieces and puts together the story lovingly and eventually tells us.

  6. redmaigo says:

    Togame is the new Haruhi I mean she sounds and acts like Haruhi. Let’s see if she can get Shichika up to Kyon level snark and resignation and we may have something here.

    • I wouldn’t want that at all. I think she’ll thaw, and Shichika would learn how to make her happy without losing himself along the way. Kyon needs snark because he is powerless against the forces around him, Shichika is not. There’s no need for unseemly back talk if you’re as awesome as he is.

      Just to be clear I dislike neither Kyon, Haruhi, or their show.

  7. gaguri says:

    Difference between your first and second response to the episode is interesting, because for me personally, I didn’t find Katanagatari very interesting =/. I’ll just quote 2DT and say I found it boring. One of the problems for me was, as you’ve pointed out already, they talk for so long and is awfully drawn-out x_x. I didn’t mind this in Bakemonogatari because there wasn’t as much visual movements (kept simple like a slideshow), and the dialogue was just so much better (plus main characters are 100 times more interesting).

    As for the visuals of Katanagatari, I am not a fan of it so far. I have not watched episode 2 and don’t plan to, but maybe I’ll get on the bandwagon if it gets better.

    • It’s tough, when we seem to find things interesting or boring for opposing reasons; but that’s subjectivity for you. I can sit through long, contrived, ignorant Julian-let me play this role so you (Mr. Yang Wenli) can entertain us with your lectures kind of dialogue over and over (rewatching LotGH with Mechafetish), but have trouble staying awake rewatching Bakemonogatari to share it with friends (who somehow fell asleep while Senjougahara was taking her clothes off in ep 02 hmmm).

      The whole look of the show is rather pleasant for me. I like the stylized, cartoony work; the improbable fashion, and the treatment of the landscape. Also, the detail in the design of Togame’s pad is something I appreciate (string-bound).

      So I don’t know if ‘it gets better’ will be the appropriate thing to look out for unless your tastes are fairly attuned to the opinions of the viewers that talk about the show. For me and my friends in meatspace, it’s pretty entertaining.

  8. Ningyo says:

    Something profound to be found in Katanagatari? I’ve actually not been exposed to much feedback to it, and thus sort of dismissed it. I should give it a thinking over now. After G Gundam, of course. I digress, but I feel that Mobile Suit Gundam has finally got its dramatic devices right once they reached G Gundam. Surprisingly enough that it’s in a super robot series, too.

    Oh yes, another reason I dismissed Katanagatari was that one of their PVs featured the protagonist giving this fellow like a six hit combo that juggled him in the air right in front of him. That was so ridiculous I laughed out loud and disregarded it immediately. Not even Domon can do that. I thought it was a brainless beat-em-up with 2D fighter juggling, but I suppose it’s exactly opposite, if people are complaining that there’s too much dialogue…

    Still, ‘tell, don’t show’ is proving very hard for me to swallow right now.

    • I don’t know if I can call it profound, I am only certain that I find it interesting. Me, I like interesting. The swordplay makes it kind of nice too.

      Telling is doubly hard to handle here because we’re basically reading the subtitles, and attempting to appreciate the performance of the actors.

  9. Shinmaru says:

    I liked this episode much more than the first — the talk between Togame and Shichika in the desert is really clever and funny, I think, and I like how it is kind of breaking the fourth wall without being completely deliberate or obnoxious about doing so. The swordsman is also more interesting to me; he gives off the sense to me of choosing his words wisely, and I like the weird sense of honor he has too.

    • Oh man, the swordsman. I’m totally digging the whole idea — the metaphor, if you will. Everything about him is unsheathed. The far flung castle is a sheath, his little room is a sheath… or at least if these things aren’t sheathes, they’re the ‘absolute territory’ wherein he is most powerful… just like his sword.

      Consider how he is far less potent outside, that he’d prefer to be a recluse. The sword itself is at its most powerful in a sheathed state. Beyond iaijutsu being just so damn cool, the whole idea is built for maximum coolness.

  10. Elineas says:

    Really, I saw it more as a story that was building itself. It’s as if the narrator wanted to create a story that had all of the tropes of an epic shonen story, but didn’t quite know what to do. At times, the narrator has things well “planned out”, such as the setting, but he/she is unable to organize it correctly and just dumps it into a long piece of exposition. At other times it feels like the narrator is making things up on the spot, such as Togame’s exasperated plea to get Shichika to fall for her. Outrageous characters are created because they’re “interesting” and are killed off conveniently to avoid writing backwards. And when Shichika and Togame end up doing whatever they were talking about, you can’t help but feel that NisiOisin is creating a self-fulfilling story as a sort of tongue in cheek to the shonen genre.

    Or maybe White Fox is taking NisiOisin’s literary style a bit too literally. I was able to sit through these talkathons, but I definitely don’t think they’re what I would call good storytelling.

    • I wouldn’t call them ‘good’ storytelling either, the same way I’d call the first arc of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina good storytelling. I’m perfectly okay with liking less than good work, as long as it’s enjoyable, and perhaps more importantly interesting.

      Interest is the most subjective thing ever, so if you felt like you had to endure or tolerate this, and I felt captivated, it says more about the things we like. You can have ‘better’ taste and I won’t argue that (because it isn’t an interesting topic to me), but I do find your speculations re: the writing process in this work rather interesting.

      The games NisiOisiN is playing here, I’m happy to play along… for now at least.

      • Elineas says:

        I wouldn’t call myself uninterested. I also found it intriguing, but something in the back of my head kept saying “there has to be a better way to do this.” I don’t know, chalk it up to the style being unconventional. Bakemonogatari’s dialogue was the exact opposite because it was snappy and kept afloat by two engaging characters. I found the meta discussion fascinating because that’s a topic I don’t think enough people talk about, but I can’t help but criticize it at a technical level. It’s ironic, I guess, that the aspect I dislike acts as the vehicle to convey the part I like.

        • I get you. Technical criticism isn’t what I do a lot of, but I get you. It’s just difficult to find the actual distinctions because I find the characters just as engaging as Bakemonogatari’s after two episodes. Bakemonogatari is only a 20 or so minute show, so the dialogues only run at half the length of this one — which I think contributes to how bearable they are relative to each other.

          I got to tell you though, I rewatched Bakemonogatari at least thrice while sharing it to different people. The conversations get really boring after the initial novelty wears off. After all, the formula is the same — get Araragi to reveal some depraved part of himself by mercilessly teasing him, and have the girl let him off the hook, or lecture him.

  11. vendredi says:

    It’s a little interesting watching this – as you note, the snappy NisiOisiN dialogue is here with all it’s wordplay but with a different studio at the helm. It’s interesting seeing things pan out without SHAFT’s frenetic visuals; I keep expecting random illogical cuts and text slides, only to have just typical dialogue.

    White Fox seems like a relative newcomer, having only done Tears to Tiara before this. Previous to this they were an in-betweener studio, but Katanagatari is really gorgeous looking, although I suppose the one month timeline helps.

    • Schedules, they’re make or break stuff. Too much time leads to procrastination and other bad habits. Too little and you get rushed shit. I can only talk about my own projects both hobby-related and professional. I can’t really imagine how it is for a studio adapting a novel for tv animation.

  12. donkangoljones says:

    LOL! Don’t worry! I made the same mistake of watching the first episode and for whatever reason thinking it’s a Shinbo X SHAFT production. Anyway, I’ve finally caught up so I’m happy to start talking about this series. I have a feeling that this will be perfect for you to write about.

    When I saw the first episode, I loved its style, but the dialogue wore on me terribly. I started to get that same feeling in episode 2. But the dialogue seemed to pay off more for me this time. The points about “fighting to protect someone” and the catchphrase really made the fight feel like a blossoming crescendo (okay what I just said was probably going overboard) for the entire episode. And the ending really seemed to drive home how it’s not just about what you do, but what you say as well.

    Togame did a wonderful job of differentiating catchphrases from a man’s dying will. And I thought it was important and consistent with her character so far to deny Shichika the right to have a dying will. Despite a personality that makes me think she’s all fluff, she does show some actual intelligence and foresight from time to time. I still don’t like her, but I’m learning to accept her. Maybe I just feel sorry for her since she got kicked in the face.

    • Yeah, it’s really about putting ‘talking the talk’ on par with ‘walking the walk’ — which is expected from such a wordy piece of work.

      Togame, is designed to appeal to certain fetishes but her character is broken and flawed — to be healed through time and interaction with the naive and innocent Shichika. It’s not so different with Senjougahara and Arararararararagi; the difference being Senjougahara’s worldliness is a mask, and Ararararararagi’s lechery hides a naive innocence and heroic well-meaning.

  13. Pingback: Bakemonogatari: showing vs telling « HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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