Katana Maidens ~Toji no Miko – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser January 5, 20182 Comments
Hiyori bringing her sword in toward an opponent who is raising her blade above her head (seen from behind)

What’s it about? Japan is threatened by monsters known as the aradama, creatures that can only be defeated by sword-wielding shrine maidens known as Toji. Middle-school trainee Kanami Etou enters the finals of a Toji tournament, only to be swept up in an assassination attempt on the leader of the Toji forces.

Katana Maidens is in a hurry to get you on board. To that end, it’s willing to throw as many things at the wall as possible in the name of finding something that sticks. Do you like para-military fights against kaiju? No problem, here’s our info-dump opening sequence. More interested in battle maiden fanservice shows? Sure, here’s some weirdly plastic schoolgirls and a bath scene. Do you like tournament arcs, everyone’s favorite part of shonuen? Or maybe conspiracy thrillers? Oh God, please just tell us what you want.

The result isn’t so much bad as it is bizarrely half-assed, the equivalent of tossing a bunch of ingredients into a soup only for it to come out bland. This exhaustion might be felt most keenly in the fanservice elements, which are still present but not given any particular sense of weight: some of the middle-schoolers have enormo-boobs that would break their back, and there’s a flustered back-washing scene in the bath that’s only shot from the shoulders up and at a distance. The result is something that’s going to be mildly annoying for viewers bothered by those elements while also completely failing to cater to the fanservice crowd it’s apparently targeting.

Kanami scrubbing her friend's back in the bath. both are seen from the shoulders up

Meanwhile, the plot drops you right into the second arc of another series that’s been occurring in an alternate dimension somewhere. We catapult to the finals of what seems to be a pivotal tournament for future Toji, and then burn all the way through to the final match in half an episode.

There are some neat ideas, like the second-skin approach to fighting spirits that basically means combatants can cut each other in half without spilling any actual blood. At the same time, characters are busy spouting off stances and fighting styles that might be real things and/or a fun Easter egg for those familiar with sword-fighting, but felt more like that thing shounen anime does with hushed pointing-out of secret techniques, sans the setup or explanation beforehand for why the audience should also be impressed.

two members of Yukari's guard, dressed in matching military uniforms. caption: The okatana are mostly compatible with young people

By the time the final minutes introduce an attempted assassination and send Kanami and Mysterious Stoic Girl Hiyori fleeing into the woods, I felt completely broken and pummeled of expectations. What is this show trying to be? Is it about our scrappy band of heroes fighting the heretofore unexplained corruption of the Toji system? Then why dedicate the opening to showing us how cool the Toji top brass are? Is it about fighting monsters? Because that doesn’t seem like something Our Heroes can do on their own. Is it a Kill la Kill style fight to get to the top? WE JUST DON’T KNOW.

There are some nice things in this mess. Organization head Yukari Origami’s (yup) bodyguards have unique, appealing designs, even if seeing a bunch of high school students being referred to as the “old guard” made my eyes roll clean out of my head. It’s also somewhat refreshing to see Kanami and Hiyori going through some shounen tropes usually assigned to male heroes, like the cheerful dunce who saved someone just so they could have a cool fight later and be bestest friends. The few feeble attempts to meet the expected fanservice quota aside, it’s also pretty inoffensive as far as camera angles go.

a schoolgirl holding a glowing sword up to stop a giant lava monster

I don’t have much confidence that this show’s going to get its many disparate ideas into a group and deliver a satisfyingly cohesive story. That said, if battle maiden shows are your thing and you want one that’s at least trying to treat its cast like actual characters, it might be worth a look.

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