Hitogatana (Chapters 1 -21) – A Review

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As mentioned on an earlier podcast*, I started reading this new manga, Hitogatana by Onigunsou.

Well, I finished it.  Non-spoiler thoughts can be summed up very easily: this is awesome.

As I said in the podcast, Hitogatana is a futuristic, science fiction shounen manga.  The basic premise is that there are weaponized mechs (originally built for scientific research, but people, being people, started making them wicked and creepy-cool.)  Unlike a traditional Pacific Rim kind of mech, these are controlled from a distance by a kenshi, who kind of-sort of hand-wavingly downloads their consciousness into them.  For reasons, some of these mechs, called katana, have gone rogue.  So there’s a team of ‘good guys’ (the AKCD) who hunt down these bad swords and bring them to justice.

Our three main heroes are the members of the AKCD’s 8th Division:  a katana/kenshi combo of Tsurumaru/Seri Yachiyo, their ‘swordsmith’ Juuzou Tsukiyama, and, the final member, a mysterious (if very domestic) young man known only as Togusa.

The art is clean and the action is super-easy to follow.  However, sometimes there’s a little too much of the same-type-of-face-ism (aka SnK-issues) and you may wish you had this lovely cheat-sheet MUCH earlier:

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There are specific things I liked about Hitogatana, but I’ll let you bail now if you don’t want to be spoiled for this awesome manga….

SPOILERS

There are any number of things I find tremendous about this manga, but probably the first and foremost is the character of Seri Yachiyo and her katana Tsurumaru:

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As the chapters progress, we learn that Seri is a human who had been ‘bought’ by a specialized weapons-training program as a very young girl.  She was raised to to be an “artisan,” a kenshi who can stay inside their katana for far longer periods than your average person.  It seems, too, that a large part of their training involved learning to beat the crap out of people.  She kind of ‘failed out,’ not because she wasn’t bloodthirsty enough, but because she retained her memories from the past, and thus, it was deemed, broken.

However, her being ‘broken’ turned into a plus  when the program was shut down. Only Seri and one other were allowed to return to normal society.

What I love about this character is that, due to this past, her needs are kind of simple–while being really profound.  All she really wants is to live a ‘normal’ life.  Only… she really DOESN’T know how to do this, not really, but… close enough is good enough for.  She and Togusa kind of fake being a domestic couple–squabbling over whether or not to put tomatoes in a dish, how much Seri drinks, and all the small little things that make us human.

Which is only ironic, since Togusa, really isn’t human at all.

We learn fairly early on that Togusa is a human-katana hybrid.  His exact origins are still fairly mysterious (something about a soul drug, maybe, I wasn’t clear), but Togusa seems to have been raised much like Seri–to be a living weapon.  At one point, when they’ve discovered another like him (who seems to be entirely an automaton), it becomes clear Togusa only recently learned how to smile.

I love tragic backstories like these. I also kind of have a soft spot for ‘AI’s who struggle with being human.  Once they adopt the automaton girl into their fold I found I’ve really fallen for the motley 8th Division crew and their straight-forward, yet profound desire just to have someone’s smile to come home to at the end of the day.

There’s also a lot MORE going on in the background of this world involving an enigmatic shadowy woman/katana(?), the former ‘artisans,’ and other political machinations–all of which keep me on my toes, guessing, and wanting to read further.

So, yeah, this one has its hooks in me… like some kind of freaky-cool katana!

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