On the precipice of a cataclysmic drought, the Star Readers of the Shin Yogo Empire must devise a plan to avoid widespread famine. It is written in ancient myths that the first emperor, along with eight warriors, slew a water demon to avoid a great drought and save the land that was to become Shin Yogo. If a water demon was to appear once more, its death could bring salvation. However, the water demon manifests itself within the body of the emperor's son, Prince Chagum—by the emperor's order, Chagum is to be sacrificed to save the empire.
Meanwhile, a mysterious spear-wielding mercenary named Balsa arrives in Shin Yogo on business. After saving Chagum from a thinly veiled assassination attempt, she is tasked by Chagum's mother to protect him from the emperor and his hunters. Bound by a sacred vow she once made, Balsa accepts.
Seirei no Moribito follows Balsa as she embarks on her journey to protect Chagum, exploring the beauty of life, nature, family, and the bonds that form between strangers.
Seriei no Moribito (or Guardian of the Sacred Spirit), is not your normal anime. It began life as the first in the ten volume Moribito series of fantasy novel written by Uehashi Nahoko, and although these novels were intended for children, they gained many adult fans. In fact, the novels proved to be so popular that they the first volume was adapted into a manga, an anime (directed by Kamiyama Kenji, who directed Ghost in the Shell SAC and 2nd Gig), and even a radio drama. The novel is also scheduled for release in english in mid 2008 because of the immense popularity of the
Seirei no Moribito has some of the smoothest and most fluid animation of any anime produced over the last few years. Production I.G. managed to produce one of the best looking anime of 2007, and with it, managed to introduce one of the most unique and interesting female leads in anime.
The colour palette is very "Ghibli-esque" as it mainly uses greens, browns, blues, etc, but Production I.G. has made good use of them for the characters and environements, and the overall effect gives the show a feeling more reminiscent of "Monoke Hime" or "Gedo Senki" than anything else.
Character designs are exceptional throughout the show, most especially the main and immediate supporting characters. Balsa is exceptionally well designed, and far more realistic than many other fantasy female leads. Her character is fairly muscular and stocky, yet without the extremely toned muscles shown in most other fantasies. Facially too, the designers went for realism more than anything else. Balsa is not beautiful, but not ugly either. She's plain (in a sense), and is most definitely a woman, not a girl.
The other characters are also designed very much with realism in mind, and this actually helps to pull the viewer into the show in a big way. It's also nice to see that attention was paid to the animals in the show as well, and it makes a nice change to see a horse in anime that actually looks like a real horse.
One thing that should be mentioned here is the design influences. Many people relate thise series to China and Japan because of the very obvious visual references to those countries (i.e. the palace, the emperor, the ninjas, etc), however this is really only a small part of the whole. In truth, Seirei no Moribito isn't simply based on China and Japan, but is actually based on the greater Indo-Chinese region. This is reflected in the differing facial structures, customs, practices, etc, that are seen in the show. Balsa and Jiguro are originally from Kanbal, a country that shows a number of elements of Northern India/ Kashmir, Nepal and Tibet. This influence also extends to Balsa and Jiguro's fighting style, which is very different to that of the stories other combatants. The backgounds, still scenes, the rural settings, even the mountainous regions and jungles, are very clearly based on a region of South-East Asia stretching from India to Japan, and it's a rarity to find this kind of scope or depth of detail in anime.
The animation quality throughout the show never really lets up, and the action sequences are especially impressive. The fights are swift and well executed, and the movements of the combatants is especially impressive during the action scenes. Production I.G. have also paid attention to the different combat styles used in the show as well, and have managed to include these in the animation, which gives the fights a far more "authentic" feel.
Each episode opens with a very nice, and rather catchy, J-rock/pop ballad called "Shine", which was performed by L'Arc-en-Ciel but never released as a single. The rest of the music in the show (composed by the famous Kawai Kenji), adds to the atmosphere and overall feel of the show. The dramatic moments, fights, and even the slow-paced scenes are all emphasized with some great background music.
The sound effects are exceptional in this show, especially as this is more of a "historical" fantasy. The background noises, the grunts, clucks, whinnies, and other noises of the various animals, the clash of steel on steel, etc, breathe life into the series, and makes the setting that much more "real".
It goes without saying that the star of the show is Balsa, the spear wielding warrior woman, and Balsa, as a character, is one of the strongest and most unique female leads in any anime. She is muscular and stocky, possess many skills (not the least of which is her formidable fighting ability), has a strong sense of right and wrong, is very rarely indecisive, and is sensible in many ways. As I've said earlier, Balsa is no beauty, and this again sets her apart from many other female leads, as the designers generally try to make lead women in anime "attractive" to male audiences.
Chagum, on the other hand, is exactly how you would expect a young prince to be, but without the arrogance (which makes a nice change). What makes this series really work though, is the attention to character development that both Balsa and Chagum receive, and how, as each of them develops, their relationship with each other changes.
There are several other characters who appear throughout the series (Tanda, Touya, Saya, Jiguro, etc), all of whom receive a certain amount of development because of their association with Balsa. The nice thing about the development of the supporting characters is that it is often directly linked to the development of either Balsa or Chagum, or both in some cases. This is most especially true in the case of Jiguro, who was Balsa's guardian and mentor as a child, and is the one who taught her how to fight with a spear. The various references and flashbacks to this character slowly begin to make sense as the series progresses, and with this clarity it is possible to understand Balsa's character even more.
There is a downside to the characters though, in that there are other characters who receive little to no development. In addition to that, the characters who do receive development rarely get it continuously. Strangely enough though, this does very little to impact on the story or the viewers enjoyment of the show.
The story is actually a nice role reversal of the typical "rescue the princess" scenario and, although it's meant to be a serious fantasy action drama, there are some genuinely humourous moments.
The story flows at a nice steady pace throughout the series, and although it does slow down from time to time, these are effectively the times when the majority of the character development happens. The premise was good on the whole, and although the story at times seems more like stock fantasy, there are enough differences, as well as some great character development, sound and animation, to make watching this a worthwhile experience.
This isn't a light-hearted series, but it also doesn't become overly dramatic. It doesn't focus so much on action that it gives up areas of the story, and it never lets the story become so bland that you get bored of watching. It's an interesting show to watch and the pacing of the show, as well as the slow delve into Balsa's past, serve to ensure that you keep watching.
Although the plot may be simplistic at times, this isn't really a show that suffers from it, especially as the show itself is more character driven than anything else. The main focus of the show, from beginning to end, are the characters. This is emphasized by the fact that the action and drama clearly take second place to each of the characters.
Overall I'd recommend this show to any Ghibli fan, and also to anyone who like shows like Claymore, Slayers, or even Rurouni Kenshin or Sword of the Stranger. It's an extremely enjoyable example of how good a fantasy series can get if you do it right, and because of it's characters, it will appeal to fans of many different genres.
Seirei no Moribito was one of those rare anime that I commenced with an unshakeable sense of anticipation and with high expectations. I can never resist the urge to assume a show will be spectacular based on the staff or studio involved, even if my hopes have all-too-often been crushed (as was the case with Darker than Black). So, when I heard that Kenji Kamiyama, who is largely responsible for some of the finer creative inputs for both seasons of Gits SAC, was going to be heading this show with Production I.G, it instantly became my single most anticipated series of the year. By the
time the trailer came along I was well and truly brimming with excitement. However, the show that I got was both different to what I had hoped, and also not as memorable or entertaining. On some levels, the show is a resounding achievement, and there are moments dispersed throughout when it reaches remarkable heights of excitement, emotion and splendour. Yet, when looked at as a whole, the show has failings that can not be ignored; most notably, flaws in the pacing and the build-up of the story.
The element of Seirei no Moribito that most screams for attention is its stunning production, and here is where my faith in Kamiyama is affirmed. The entire series has maintained an unprecedented quality of art and animation. It has the look and feel of a (good) movie, with a sweeping cinematic mode of directing that befits the stories’ expansive fantasy world, and stunningly realised landscapes that bring the show to life. More so than in any other anime I can recall, the background art in Seirei no Moribito left a profound impression on me - this could well be the finest example of background art in anime, not just for its level of detail, but for the way it is used to enhance the atmosphere of the show and draw the viewer in to its vibrant and striking settings. On top of this, the cel animation, while it could quite easily have been blessed with a higher level of detail to match its surroundings, is amazingly fluid and vital when it needs to be. The use of cel-shaded CG has been popularised among IG’s producers it seems, and it’s generally put to good use in Seirei, to animate hordes of extras in scenes such as in the towns, or when the palace assembles its army. This means that these scenes are bought to life in a way that would otherwise not be possible with a tv anime budget, successfully avoiding the common anime trap of either having a surprising absence of people in the background, or have large crowds of people inexplicably still. Unfortunately, it sticks out a bit too much on a number of occasions, providing a nagging distraction.
I think this show’s production also excels in a way that people generally don’t give credit for, and that is the expertise with which it is directed - Kenji Kamiyama’s style of directing is a subtle yet effective one. Unlike the in-your-face stylistic shots of Akiyuki Shinbo’s work (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Tsukuyomi MoonPhase, Petite Cossette), Kamiyama has presented this series in a conventional yet fresh manner. The fight sequences, particularly those in the third episode, exemplify this, where the use of camera angles serves to make the fight more engaging while not drawing from the choreography. The wide and distant shots used in and around the palace are excellent at creating its cold, detached atmosphere, and the overall choice of shots is amazingly good at highlighting the show’s beautiful scenery. As he did with his directing work on Gits SAC, Kamiyama has created a visually captivating series.
The music was a surprising achievement from the veteran, Kenji Kawai, whose scores I generally find bland and uninspired. I’m not sure why this anime marked such a great deviation from his usual standards, but the music in Seirei no Moribito is a really crucial contributor to its dramatic impact - from the urgent and threatening battle theme, to the quiet and hauntingly evocative tracks, the music delivers in every respect. I’m shocked to say that his work here was more compelling than much of Yoko Kanno’s recent work, and he wasn’t even creating music with real instruments. Fitting with the visual style of the show, the score music is very much produced in a traditional cinematic way, which does this show justice.
Unfortunately, the show’s content fails to live up to its gloss, and I think this is mainly a failure of the pacing of the script rather than of the story itself (which comes from a novel series). The bare plot is an accomplished exploration of life and adulthood, and of the connection between humanity and nature. It is set in a fantasy world, but at its core it depicts a very down-to-earth, human ordeal. Fortunately, the intricacies and depth to the characters and their relationships is well incorporated into the show - the connection formed between Balsa and Chagum gives the show most of its emotional weight. The other thing that I found to be well written is the development of Chagum himself, as he is torn from his palace life and forced to experience life and shoulder responsibility. It is satisfying to see him grow as a person as the show progresses. Perhaps the egg inside of him is a parallel to his rearing into adulthood. The problem lies in the amount of time the show takes to achieve this development, and in the unsatisfying climax.
My appreciation of a good story stems from its sense of direction toward a climax that brings together all of the crucial plot threads from throughout the show and culminates them in a burst of excitement of drama that pays off the time the viewer has spent watching it develop. Instead, the big event that the show had supposedly been leading up to was a rushed affair with a surprising lack of tension or emotional potency. The show did not have any filler per se, but by the time the conclusion was wrapped up I felt that a lot of the show’s time was poorly spent on redundant subtleties of its character development. The trailer gave a very different impression to what was delivered. Balsa and Chagum living together was nice a pleasant affair, but it lacked a sense of tension or danger that ultimately dragged down the middle of the show. The exploration of Balsa’s character was far too spontaneous and vague for my liking. I did get a strong sense of her character from her actions throughout the show, but I really think she had a lot more potential and that we were never given the kind of insight into her that was frequently hinted at.
All in all, this show left me feeling unsatisfied, like being left hungry after a serving of fine food. The show is of undeniable quality; however the writers behind it failed to capitalise on its full potential, through sloppy pacing that made its stand-out moments seem like a tease, and through its inability to deliver a conclusion that sends off the show at its peak. I recommend this show to anyone with an ounce of patience, as the subtle development of the characters and their companionship is ultimately its most rewarding component. I think this show also succeeds in its fantasy elements - its portrayal of two intersecting worlds is fascinating. Don’t go into this series expecting non-stop, heart-pounding action, because it’s a laidback show about the endearing strength of the human spirit with only intermittent bursts of excitement.
My favourite anime of 2007. I decided to check this out solely on Production I.G's involvement, those nice guys behind one of the best anime in the world: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
The animation for this show was superb all the way through, which is nice for a TV anime. Each episode looked gorgeous, so I liked the consistency. The unique alternate fantasy setting and protagonist of this series were a nice departure from anime convention.
The main character is a wandering thirty year old spear-wielding woman who bodyguards people for a living. She basically ends up as a guardian
of a prince who's possessed by a water spirit. His father, the emperor, orders his death to save the land from a drought, and thus the being-on-the-run-from-awesome-assassins template begins.
The assassins are awesome in this case simply because they get time to develop as characters. Not as much as the main characters, but still depicted as a cohesive unit of honourable and professional men, as opposed to remaining faceless goons who obey orders like automatons. Balsa is usually one step ahead of them but they're hot on her heels for most of the anime and this is due to their skill and cunning, not stupid errors on Balsa's behalf.
This characterization extends to the land most of the story is set in, so you are actually concerned about the impending doom, as opposed to many other generic anime where you really couldn't care less.
The story is laden with feeling. Episode 17 for example has one of the most touching moments I've ever seen in anime, its a very brief sequence but it really put a lump in my throat. But what follows is even more emotional, with Balsa's back story and the inevitable climax...there are really amazing moments spread out through the story, where in any other anime they would be mishandled, but in this production they hit all the right beats. I was teary eyed many a time I'm not ashamed to admit.
Seirei no Moribito has a very well written story, great direction and fantastic fight scenes, while bravely eschewing most anime narrative clichés as best as it can for 26 episodes. It does this because its adapted from a fantasy novel, and I hope they adapt the rest of the books in the series.
Its a testament to everyone involved in this production, from the writer to the animators, that a story can be so epic and yet not even have a typical antagonist. In fact it wouldnt be too far off to say that we dont really see a villain in Seirei no Moribito. Yet the conflict and drama is monumental, which makes it all the more remarkable. Sure there are characters you wouldnt want to have tea with, but the anime steers clear of generic cliches, there's no black and white good versus bad plot, no easy resolution to everyone's troubles.
Seirei no Moribito charts a rites of passage, a life-altering journey, the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. The characters struggle, they run and ultimately have to face their destiny head on. It's inspiring. Why? Because the anime never talks down to the viewer, because it retains its dignity, it doesnt follow the trends of today, it sticks to the source material as best as it can.
The only bad thing I can say about this show is that the beginning credits sequence is bland and the song is too, but then I don't like L'arc-en-ciel at all. The short sequence halfway through each episode signalling an advert break is very cool though, it slowly charts the birth of the water spirit.
If you like the medium of anime at all, you must watch this. If you're looking for tons of action, you'll be disappointed because this has a story to tell, and it will tell it in its own pace designed to develop characters, and yet it still has some of the best action scenes I've ever seen in my life. If you have any taste at all, you'll enjoy this masterful example of Production I.G's contribution to anime.
"If you are in a position to act, it would be a sin not to, even if you had nothing to gain from doing so."
Here we have a Production IG fantasy series, directed and written by Kenji Kamiyama, who has previously worked on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which just so happens to be possibly my favorite anime series ever, and all of it based on a successful novel series. All of that already sounds hella promising. Here’s my review explaining why I think this series is good stuff and deserves more recognition.
Seirei no Moribito is the story of Balsa,
bodyguard, skilled spear-fighter and total dreamboat, who is tasked by a Queen with the protection of her son prince Chagum who has a dangerous supernatural entity living inside of him and is being pursued by the assassins of his own father, the king, or the Mikado in this case. All of this is set in the fantasy land of faux-Asia, which is close enough to the real world to be vaguely familiar, but just different enough to be its own interesting fantasy land.
This initial set-up serves as the first act of the story, which has us following Balsa as she outmaneuvers the king’s forces both by using her wits and her incredible fighting ability. All of this is fairly exciting with satisfying amounts of action and is an excellent introduction to Balsa and the large cast of side-characters.
After this cat-and-mouse game, the pacing of the show slows down considerably in the second act and the entire series switches into an almost slice-of-life fantasy series with a semi-episodic presentation, which are used to further develop Chagum’s character, his relationship with Balsa and her allies and some world-building. It is this switch in pacing between the two acts that may come across as jarring to some viewers. Personally, I was surprised by it, but it didn't bother me a lot. Even with a lack of action, it’s still very much worth watching and seeing the characters grow and live together.
Once the series closes into its finale it all moves along a bit faster and the scale grows more epic again. Overall, the story behind Moribito might not be the most original one and the switches in pacing may throw off some, but I still found it to be executed quite well. It takes it’s time to properly develop the main cast, has some interesting twists along the line, is exciting when it needs to be and hell, it even manages to make flashbacks interesting.
I have a special little boner in my heart for some good, detailed world building and Moribito delivers in that regard, which is why I will make this short section to comment on it.
Moribito has its own version of everything from funeral ceremonies, regional superstitions over smaller gadgets, mechanisms and weapons to wildlife. There is a lot of attention to detail here, but the thing that really makes it shine is the completely seamless and natural integration into the series. The world in Seirei no Moribito really feels coherent, alive and like it’s been around long before the main plot of the series started.
Okay, let me first heap some praise on Balsa, who is exactly the type of female main characters I’d like to see more often in my chinese cartoons. She competent, confident, intelligent, mature and I totally don’t have a crush on her. She’s also 29 years old at the beginning of the series. If any of you reading this know more anime with close-to-30 female leads, feel free to recommend them to me. You may keep all the lolis, moeblobs and tsunderes. Seriously though, the best thing about Balsa is how, despite the fact that she always has a plan for everything and is a capable enough spear fighter to hold her own against four elite soldiers, she never comes across as mary-sue-ish. This is a very delicate balance to hold for a main character, yet this series makes it look effortless. Aside from being excellent at her job as badass bodyguard, Balsa also has a softer side, which is evident by her interactions with Chagum and other allies. As the series progresses she becomes more and more of a mother figure to Chagum.
Chagum himself deserves a lot of praise for being a child character amongst a mostly adult cast, who despite his age and status never comes across as annoying or spoiled. The prince is intelligent, polite and willing to learn about the ways of the common people, despite being holed up in a palace for his entire life prior to the events of the series. The entire series I was expecting him to do something stupid or act spoiled and it never happened. So congratulations Seirei no Moribito, you managed to make me like a child character. Both Balsa and Chagum are the focus of the series and are developed extremely well.
It’s the secondary cast that could’ve used a bit more time in the limelight. While absolutely no one in the shows sizable cast is completely unlikable, which is an impressive feat in and of itself, I wouldn't have minded for the side characters to get some more attention, but that’s only a minor gripe in an otherwise fantastic show.
Also notable is how this series doesn't seem to have a clear villain, the antagonists are mostly just misguided or misinformed. Even the supernatural ones aren't evil so much as they are simply following their nature. A surprising amount of conflict in the series gets resolved by characters simply talking to each other and explaining their situation rather than through fighting, which is certainly a breath of fresh air and a mature way to resolve conflict (don’t worry, there are still cool fights in there).
Oh yeah, special shout-out to the character Torogai, who is one badass old granny that doesn't take shit from anyone. Welp, I guess this series made me like a granny character too, so there you go.
All you really need to know about Seirei no Moribito’s visuals is that it’s Production IG at its best. Kenji Kamiyama’s signature realistic artstyle is one I really enjoy, the backgrounds are stunningly beautiful, the color palette is vibrant and it’s all held together by good cinematography.
A special mention goes to the fight scenes, which are almost movie budget-smooth and have incredibly satisfying to watch choreography. Also, all the outfits the characters wear are really well-designed without being overblown or unrealistic. I especially like the ones worn by the hunters which initially pursue Balsa and Chagum.
As for negative aspects of the visuals, there is the cg, which admittedly is still better justified/used more tastefully than in most more recent shows. It’s occasionally utilized to animate part of a crowd and in those cases it’s barely noticeable, but towards the very end of the series they use cg to animate a certain group of monsters and it doesn't look great unfortunately. It’s particularly bothersome cause the monsters are actually hand-drawn in other scenes and look great there.
Overall however, the show has excellent visuals, and aside from the occasional cg, is about as good as an anime show can look with a tv budget.
Man, composer Kenji Kawai really outdid himself with this soundtrack. And that guy is already a well-known, incredibly competent composer, so that’s saying something. The background music does such an excellent job of enhancing every scene, no matter if it needs to be sad and emotional, creepy or fast paced for an action scene. It’s tasteful and fits perfectly and that’s all a good soundtrack needs to be. In fact, I’m listening to it as I’m writing this review and probably will for a while after I’m done.
It’s a shame the Op and Ed can’t live up to this. The opening is a rather cheesy pop/rock song, which L'Arc-en-Ciel fans will undoubtedly enjoy, but simply isn’t my thing nor do I think it fits the series very well. The ending is better, but not remarkable either.
As for the voice acting everyone on the cast does a good job bringing their characters to life, especially Balsa’s voice actor, who has a nice deep female voice that fits the character perfectly.
Of special note is the fact that Chagum was actually voiced by a young boy, instead of a woman, as is usually the case for young male characters in anime. This lends some really nice authenticity to the character.
Seirei no Moribito is an excellent series with only a couple of minor shortcomings, which thankfully don’t sour the experience much at all.
If you want a classy, good fantasy anime that has all the feel of an old historical saga and you don’t mind a bit of slower pacing, then please do yourself a favor and give this often overlooked series a watch.
As usual, thank you for taking the time to read this review, please excuse any grammatical mistakes as English is not my first language and please feel free to leave me some feedback, as I want to improve.