Crimes committed using manned combat-androids dubbed "Katana" run rampant. In an effort to maintain order, the government has organized the Anti Katana Crime Division (AKCD). Togusa of the 8th squad of the AKCD, while holding existential doubts as a Human-Katana hybrid, continually casts himself into battle.
Stories in shonen action titles often tend to be mere vehicles for fighting. Hitogatana is no exception. What makes it special is that it's so good at 'getting out of the way' of the fighting. While some action titles make half-hearted attempts at world building and emotional depth, Hitogatana is largely honest about it's identity as a android fighting manga. The author's best qualities are clearly art and pacing, and in those areas the manga shines. The first chapter's seventy pages fly by in a flash. Even the lazy 'save the princess' arc works because the author doesn't try too hard to make the reader
care. Stale cliches blow by so fast that they don't annoy. The fact is that they don't really matter- cool action is the core of the title. And what cool action it is! Androids smash things, chop each other, and occasionally explode. If that interests you, then that's all you need to know.
A good manga to clear your palette, Hitogatana starts off clean, proficient and stylish, tidiness and minimalism permeating both its art and story. This manga manages to feel fresh, even when its plot isn’t. To me it is an unexpected happy find, so I am eager to recommend it, but there’re two important points that I must mention right away. Firstly, it may be best appreciated if you have already read your share of other shounen and are tired enough of its cliché to appreciate something that breaks away simply for the very fact of it. And, secondly, I think that maybe right now, at
chapter 28, when its main story kicks in, it shows the first signs of decay.
The art may remind you of speed-painting or webcomics at first, and it is sometimes lazy or rough, but it also has a lot of great moments. After you adjust, you start to notice clever usage of composition and contrast, powerful frames, sometimes even visual storytelling. The general aim seems to be the imitation of a photo with exposure seriously jacked up. The fighting robots are designed to look like big industrialized humanoids – more like second persona for the fighters, than a techy shell, which has its pluses (human expressions, creepiness due to the uncanny valley) and its minuses (not that exotic). The battles do look good, though frankly you usually know who will win.
While the story so far has been episodic and focused on building the characters and showing them off, thankfully the main cast, or at least its very core, also manages to feel fresh. The main character, Togusa, is complex enough for me not to be able to summarize him in this review, and exploring his background is the main charm of the series, since it’s revealed in layers, and each new revelation changes your perspective on him and the events around (I strongly advise to try to go in with as little spoilers as possible). All I can say is that he sports an interesting combination of vulnerabilities and stregths, and belongs to the difficult type of people who rarely play first parts in shounen. Togusa is undeniably strong and unique for their world, yet he will hardly become the strongest. There is refreshingly little drama in the relationship between the main cast, the present relationships that is, there is plenty of torture and darkness in the pasts. It's worth to mentiion that Togusa is one of the youngest, and he is mentored by the rest of the cast, which also is slightly different from what we see usually.
But of course, it’s not all sunny, and there’re walking cliché. The most unfortunate part is that the author has being searching for the way to add moe to the cast for some reason, throwing yet another cute girl on the sidelines, and in the end inserted one in the main storyline together with a love story – right what wasn’t necessary. The latest developments in the cast may also be not optimal in the long run, in my opinion, since they add the very fluff that this manga was thankfully devoid of. It's a bit hard to keep track of all the new characters at times, and the big bad makes me worry. On the other hand not all recent introductions were poor, and the addition of the ultimate unit, that is godly OP and yet cripplingly scared of certain things, gives me hope. There’re hiccups in writing, but there’s also undeniable cleverness sometimes.
It’s good to remember that this was the first serialization by the mangaka. It’s not that it’s unskillfull, but it has this quality I’ve encountered in other debut works: there is a certain charm of an exercise done thoughtfully and orderly (that’s where the cleanness may come from, I think), yet also in the long run the author fails to discern the strong points of his own work and loses them. So far so good, I enjoy Hitogatana and expect it to continue to have moments of brilliance, but at the same time I don’t have much hope for it not to fall apart in the end, though I’d like to be pleasantly surprised.
I recommend picking this up if you look for the new and the unusual, are curious of what can be done with battle shounen, its characters and art, and are philosophical about the developments of the stories.
-Hitogatana- is a truly unique piece of work that surprisingly gets a lower amount of attention and exposure than it deserves.
The first thing that comes to mind about -Hitogatana- is 'clinical'. Everything about the art and plot is clean and precise, even the amazing fight scenes are the exact opposite of messy. However, this should not be taken to mean that the series is robotic (pardon the pun), but instead it has a very dynamic style that gives the art real depth of perception and movement.
The plot is unique and quite intriguing with primary focus on the theme of 'humanity' which the author
explores quite well between the 'human-katana' and the people whose sole meaning of existence is to pilot these automatons. The said main character himself also has an interesting personality with a dark and mysterious past that garners alot of sympathy. The pacing is consistent as well, not rushed and definitely not hobbling along.
A lower point for the manga would be character development. That's not to say the characters are not likeable. In fact, the characters are distinct and diverse and the way they interact with each other is great, but there's little current development to be seen where it counts. Perhaps that's only due to the small amount of chapters available or that it's setting the scene around the coming main events. There might also be some difficulty distinguishing and remembering characters when they're in and out of their (very cool looking) katanas.
Overall, -Hitogatana- is a true pleasure to read (again and again and again and...) and I hope it receives it's due attention in future. Now if only the updates would start up again THIS year...