Katanagatari: Balancing Simplicity and Intricacy

[Description] A visual breakdown of what makes Katanagatari’s characters so memorable and effective.

Katanagatari is a show that is absolutely brimming with compelling characteristics but perhaps the most immediate and tangible of them are its distinct art style and outstanding character designs. Whether Shichika or Togame, one of the Deviant Blade wielders or one of the Maniwa ninjas, the characters each possessed excessively unique designs that not only set them apart from one another but established them as some of the most visually memorable characters in the medium. Katanagatari’s original illustrator, Take (竹) , possesses an incredibly interesting style which I think can best be described as both simple yet overwhelmingly intricate. I want to discuss how his particular style of design built Katanagatari into the aesthetic gem that it is and why the characters are so remarkable.

To speak firstly to the presence of simplicity in Katanagatari’s characters, I think this trait is quite obvious when looking at any member of the cast. Each of their designs is punctuated by vibrant colors which often contrast with one another though they remain visually cohesive. These colors are very clear-cut and there is hardly any mixing or gradients shared between them – they flow into one another abruptly and purposefully and make up the character’s design in great swaths. Each character’s hair is an additional example of the simplicity of their design. Though their actual hair styles couldn’t be more outlandish and different, they possess no texture – no indivisible strands but instead solid, continuous patterns that often accentuate their respective characters in the same way as their wardrobe.

The final example of simplicity is in the eyes of the characters and it is here we can begin to see something more complicated taking form. By themselves, the peculiar eyes of Katanagatari’s cast are already rather unconventional – utilizing odd shapes and colors to achieve something akin to the pupil and iris. The shapes used are very rudimentary but they create incredibly unique patterns and designs with the assistance of the aforementioned colors. These elementary shapes are the building blocks which Take uses to further complicate his designs – alone they are simple but in excess and when given meaning he creates something greater than the sum of its parts.

Katanagatari’s designs aren’t just visually cohesive because their colors share a similar temperature but because almost if not all of them exhibit some kind of thematic structure. This can be seen very obviously in Shichika and his motif of maple leaves. They litter his attire from his belt to his hands and even the shape of his hair parallels the seven points of the leaf and its stem. Even more blatant examples are the members of the Manawi ninja corp whose designs directly compliment their respective squad – Bird, Beast, Fish, and Insect. These thematic attributes not only present room for a lot of inventive wardrobe choices but also create a visual dialogue between the character’s appearance and their personality.

To cite one example: Kiguchi Zanki’s design is sharp and angular, her eyes honed to blade tips and her straight, black hair accompanied by a loose strand resembling the edge of a sword. More than just a thematic aesthetic this speaks directly to her role as head of the Shinou Issou school dojo and her mastery of kendo. Her tranquil and serious personality is also mirrored by this aesthetic. This conversation between design and characterization would be interesting enough by itself but when compounded with the many layered writing techniques of Niso Isin such as complicated and meaningful naming schemes and a variety of memorable catch-phrases, each character really comes to life distinctly.

Where the true visual intricacy of Katanagatari comes into play is in just how busy many of the characters look. Though the individual elements of their designs are simple, when used in excess these simple elements coalesce to form something very visually engaging and complicated. Togame is defined by her flowing white hair and cool color palette of blues and purples but she has many pieces of her wardrobe that offset this initial simplicity. A draping sleeve punctuated by three streaks of gold, black, and blue which spin off into the motif of a snake adorns her right arm. On her left there is a crisscrossing purple armlet that weaves its way down into a single black glove. About her waist is a gold and white striped belt that clashes against her darker torso-piece. By this point you get the picture – there’s a lot going on.

In summary, Katanagatari finds the perfect balance between straightforward, rudimentary design-points and very detailed wardrobes and character traits. Accentuated by a vivid color palette and a playful, thematic cohesion, the cast of the show really shines when thrown into a world of a similar design with gorgeous backgrounds and animation. For all these reasons and more Katanagatari’s aesthetic and characters have stuck with me over the years and this is all to only name a single facet of the show! I hope this has been provocative and I highly recommend the show to those who haven’t yet seen it. Feel free to leave comments and thoughts below and thank you for your time.

5 thoughts on “Katanagatari: Balancing Simplicity and Intricacy

  1. I really loved this series. I didn’t know what I was in for when I started it and then the art style took awhile to grow on me, but it is just striking and beautiful and the character designs are perfect at conveying the characters and their purpose to the audience. A very enjoyable watch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am here by way of the carnival, very pleased to have stumbled across this piece. A really detailed and well thought out overview of the show’s visuals. I have seen images before but never the entire work, but I will add it to the watch list for sure. I’m looking forward to other posts by hou in the future, most definitely.


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