Katana Maidens: Toji No Miko is an original 24-episode anime series produced by Studio Gokumi. It began airing in January 2018.
In the action anime, each main character has their own Japanese sword (okatana) with an individual name. Each character also uses their own specific fighting style. Although the series has many sword fights, Katana Maidens: Toji no Miko has its own unique way of showing fights in a way that is thrilling yet not violent.
Katana Maidens, or ‘Toji’, are middle school and high school students who exorcise evil spirits called Aradama. The main character, Kanami Eto, is a swordsmanship-loving 14-year-old girl who is looking forward to participating in the annual national swordsmanship tournament which takes place in front of the prestigious Origami family. She witnesses the failed assassination attempt on the family head, Yukari Origami, by Hiyori Jujo. Kanami escapes with Hiyori as she realizes the reason behind the attempt. Together with new friends, the two Toji stand against Tagitsuhime, the Great Aradama who has possessed Yukari.
While the series is becoming really exciting towards its final stages, we interviewed Takao Aoki, a member of the original story creation team and producer from Studio Gokumi.
Could you tell us how this anime series began to take shape? Our readers Gerson from the US and mori chii are asking a similar question: ‘How did Toji no Miko start? Who came up with the idea? How did y’all find out and understand all the different sword fighting techniques used by the characters?’
Aoki: We at Studio Gokumi first worked with production company Genco on Kin-iro Mosaic in July 2013. When the first season was coming to an end, they asked me if I was up for creating something new and original. They started out by just asking me what I liked, and I answered that I personally liked Japanese swords. I started to organize my ideas and wrote about the settings as well as the base of the story for them. They liked it and that’s how the series began to take shape.
You created the initial draft.
Aoki: The anime originated from my fascination with Japanese swords. In the process of Japanese sword-making, iron, sand, and charcoal are heated to extremely high temperatures to create the base material called tamahagane. Swordsmiths only use tamahagane and leave impurities in the ash. I had a vague idea to create a story about those impurities.
I also was interested in the ancient Japanese word ‘Toji’ [刀自, written with the kanji for ‘sword’ and ‘self’, unlike the title of the anime which uses 刀使, which is written with ‘sword’ and ‘use’]. It’s an honorary way to refer to an elderly lady but includes the kanji characters symbolizing a sword within. I began to wonder if there might be a hidden history of a strange power that connects women with the sword. I wanted to apply this idea to the story as well. These are the bases of the story and the title which I submitted.
It must have been hard work to create 24 episodes of an original story.
Aoki: This series is the sixth original anime work for me. I feel grateful because creating an original work is invaluable despite the struggle of creating something from scratch. I love the process of bouncing ideas off everyone to create characters, developing the characters with many staff members while having fun, showing the characters to viewers, and receiving reactions from them to know that they enjoyed the anime. It’s a hugely enjoyable and priceless experience because we create all this from zero. The joy is strong enough to make us forget about our struggles.
Every staff member has something to say about the anime when creating an original work, which gives everyone a particular personal and emotional attachment to it. I’ve witnessed that this special feeling creates a kind of chemical reaction and characters become much more charming as a result. I love creating original works because I can see many people enjoying the creation despite the struggle it takes to get there.
The series is airing over two cours with 24 episodes. Is there any reason for that?
Aoki: The series was originally planned to have only 12 episodes. We had almost finished the screenplay for all 12 episodes and were about to finish the story when we got the offer to continue until Episode 24 as it was a waste to end this story with just 12 episodes. To be honest, we hesitated at first. However, we changed our minds because it allowed us to explore the characters and the world of Toji, which already was well-developed. We knew it would be difficult, but we wanted the viewers to enjoy the anime on a deeper level. Although we added new characters in the second season, we basically tried to hype up its characters and the story based on the first season.
Now I believe we needed 24 episodes for the series to depict each character in depth. I felt the emotional involvement of the members of staff and cast much more. There are so many characters in the series, but I believe that we managed to depict the drama between characters and the individual fate of each character.
I became more ambitious and had the desire to show the charms of each character more in the expanded world of Toji no Miko. The mobile game Toji no Miko: Kizamishi Issen no Tomoshibi distributed by Square Enix compensated the desire a good deal more. I feel like I’m spoiled. They started to develop the game from the early stages of planning.
The producer from Square Enix joined our meetings for the screenplay of the anime and gave us a lot of ideas. I truly appreciate him for expanding the world of Toji no Miko in both the anime and the game.
The young voice actors portray main characters whereas the experienced voice actors portray the supporting roles.
Aoki: The characters can be divided into three groups. First, the main six characters and Nene, the mascot character. Second, the characters of the Elite Guard. Third, the principals who played an active role in the great disaster day 20 years ago. It wasn’t our intention, but it turned out that young voice actors were cast for the main characters, experienced ones for the Elite Guard and the veteran ones for the principals. It had been already decided that the cast members for the principals would play both their present versions and their versions from two decades earlier. We looked for voice actors who were able to play the present roles based on what happened in the past. We feel fortunate to have cast these talented voice actors for the anime. I hope viewers will enjoy such a star-studded cast.
The anime introduces actual kenjutsu, Japanese swordsmanship, into the action scenes. I guess it must have been a laborious task.
Aoki: The idea of introducing actual kenjutsu came from Tatsuya Takahashi, who is in charge of the series composition and the screenplay. We had decided that the anime would feature Japanese swords and depict science fiction-like action scenes in a sci-fi-like world setting. Takahashi gave us a new aspect by depicting kenjutsu. We are fortunate to have met and learned from people who have vast knowledge in kenjutsu or study traditional kenjutsu that has existed for a long time. They also agreed to demonstrate the kenjutsu of different schools and supervise the kenjutsu scenes in the anime. It was hard work but worthwhile as it gave a sense of uniqueness to the anime. When I consulted them about adding kenjutsu actions to the screenplay, they gave me ideas on how to show the actions depending on which schools the Toji’s fighting style belongs to.
The anime has two types of action scenes: 2D and 3D. Tomohiro Kamiya directed the 2D action scenes, whereas the 3D action scenes had a staff member who is responsible for the movements. The fusion of the dynamism of the 3D animation and the hand-drawn serious swordfights makes the action scenes of the anime very special.
We created an original Kenjutsu manual for each fighting style. We included the traditional demeanor of kenjutsu, the culture of movements unique to Japan, in the manual as much as possible. For example, the kamae (stance), zanshin (a state of awareness) after killing, and the way the sword is sheathed. Further, the manual includes chiburi, the movement of shaking off blood from a sword. Chiburi isn’t usually included in the demeanor, but we created them following advice from kenjutsu experts. There are many ideas from staff members in this manual alone.
Each character has a different fighting style.
Aoki: We roughly plotted out the story and the characters first, and then we decided on their fighting styles by considering their personalities and story development. For instance, we chose Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu for Kanami because we thought its difficulties and uncommon movements like go-no-sen (counter attacks) would fit her personality. Ellen is an energetic girl, so we chose Taisha-Ryu which utilizes taijutsu, which is a martial art without weapons that relies on physical strength. Kaoru is capable of swinging the huge okatana Nenekirimaru, so we considered two fighting styles for her: Satsuma Jigen-Ryu which excels in its deadly blows or Yakumaru Jigen-Ryu which specializes in the initial attack. Our kenjutsu supervisor suggested the latter one, and we followed his advice.
I think the idea of Utsushi techniques is quite interesting.
Aoki: It was another one of Takahashi’s ideas. We didn’t want bloody swordfight scenes in the anime. Utsushi is one of Toji’s unique techniques and transforms the user’s body into an energy-like state. Girls won’t be killed while they are in this state, however fierce their fights are. Utsushi are also heavily involved in the anime’s plot. For example, Yukari Origami who is possessed by Tagitsuhime chops off her own injured arm returns to normal, then goes back into Utsushi state in Episode 12. This scene is possible because of the Utsushi technique.
Are there any parts which did better than you originally thought?
Aoki: We were given lots of ideas from a variety of people for this anime and applied many of the ideas which interested us. Yoshinori Shizuma, who dealt with the character designs, is one of them. We held meetings for the screenplay at our meeting room in Studio Gokumi and Shizuma joined us via Skype because he lives far from Tokyo. He usually listened to us talking as if listening to a radio program. When we were stuck for ideas for the story development or wanted to expand on some ideas, he gave us a shout via Skype and showed us a picture he’d just drawn, saying, ‘I’ve just drawn this according to what you’ve said. What do you think?’ We were all so excited to see his drawings. It happened many times and was possible because the anime is our original work. It was a really refreshing experience for us to develop its screenplay while seeing the first drawings of the scenes in real time.
I’ve got several questions from overseas. ChuuritsuTV from Poland and phenomenon_xox ask ‘Who is your favorite character from Katana Maidens: Toji no Miko?’
Aoki: It’s difficult to narrow it down. I’m personally attached to the six main characters, especially Kanami and Hiyori. I created their names, brief profiles, and the original plans for them. They are the origin of the story. I created those two characters and then added the other main characters. I have many unused prototypes of them. Hiyori was much shorter and had a different personality at the start. I feel like I have watched over their growth.
The next question is from MrNiceGuy in the US. ‘What are some of the best aspects of producing this series?’
Aoki: I feel privileged to have witnessed the process of bringing the characters to life with the ideas given by many people.
therealluthfi wants to know if you have a favorite manga artist.
Aoki: It’s also difficult to narrow down, as I have so many. Takahashi recommended me some manga which are related to kenjutsu. Most of them were written quite a while ago. I haven’t read manga of this genre from that period before, so it was a refreshing and interesting experience for me.
The story is entering its final stages. What do you think we shouldn’t miss watching?
Aoki: We created the characters and world of the anime, introducing many ideas from various people. It’s quite condensed so that viewers will find something they didn’t realize when they watched it for the first time, even if they thought they watched the series carefully. We intentionally created the parts that’ll give new discoveries to viewers when they watch it for the second time. Some parts require re-watching to understand fully. I’d like viewers to enjoy these new discoveries.
Lastly, would you like to give a message to our readers?
Aoki: I’m grateful to have received the opportunity to bring life to the new characters thanks to the many staff members, and for it to be watched by viewers. Even better, the series includes 24 episodes rather than the usual 12. I’m glad that the viewers could enjoy the anime for a longer period. We’ll strive to create shows that you’ll enjoy. Please continue to watch Katana Maidens: Toji No Miko.
Born in 1974 in Tokyo. Aoki joined Gonzo in 2003. After working as an assistant producer for the TV anime SoltyRei, he was in charge of planning original anime works including Strike Witches and BLASSREITER. He then produced anime adaptations based on manga including My Bride Is a Mermaid and Saki. He is currently working at Studio Gokumi, an anime studio founded by the core members of Gonzo’s studio No. 5 and has been producing many hit anime including Saki: Achiga-hen, Saki: The Nationals, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, and Yuki Yuna is a Hero.