Score: Very Good (but really weird)
Rating: 15 for violence
Shichika is heir to the Kyotouryuu school of martial arts that lets an unarmed man take on a swordsman. He’s lived his whole life on an isolated island with his sister, and seen nobody else. One day they’re visited by Togame, a strategist for the Shogun, who enlists his help in retrieving twelve powerful swords forged by an insane swordsmith long ago, each one strong enough to change the course of an army. But there are other people after the swords: Ninjas of the Maniwa tribe, former employees of Togame who want the swords for themselves.
That description can’t do the series justice because what marks it out isn’t the plot but the way it’s done. The visual style resembles that of the Edo period, what used to be called manga before it was westernised. The storytelling is oddly structured for modern anime: twelve double-length episodes that each form a contained story, the retrieval of one of the swords. The ninjas all wear utterly ridiculous outfits – like an otter suit, a cute little penguin suit, a preying mantis suit.
All the way through, Togame refers to Shichika as her sword, and that’s more than figurative. Fighters of the Kyotouryuu school cannot wield a sword at all; instead they hone their bodies and skills to the purpose of their wielder. The story follows Shichika’s progression from an unthinking weapon into a human being. Along the way they meet various interesting people and kill a good number of them. It doesn’t go in for gruesome blood and gore the way some samurai shows do, but it doesn’t shy away from what’s happened.
But what really sold this to me was Shichika’s sister. She looks mild-mannered and weak, but not only is she the strongest martial artist around – she’s also staggeringly ruthless. Her fight against three ninjas had me gaping at the screen.