Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Taking place in an earlier, feudal era of Japan; the story begins when a spear wielding female mercenary named Balsa arrives in the New Yogo Empire. After witnessing an accident and saving the youngest prince from drowning she is invited to the castle as a reward for her courage. While there Balsa is asked to meet with the second empress and learns the accident she witnessed was actually an attempt on the prince’s life. The Star Readers (essentially educated diviners) of the castle have determined that inside Prince Chagum is a demon and he must be killed by the orders of the Emperor, Chagum’s father. Tasked with keeping Prince Chagum safe, Balsa accepts the job as part of her own personal atonement for sins from the past. Taking the boy into hiding, she puts her life on the line to make sure no one ever realize he has escaped the castle alive.
Over the course 26 episodes, their secret will be revealed however and hunters from the castle will attempt to track them down. Meanwhile Balsa, with the help of her best friend and a mystic named Torogai finds out more about what is inside Chagum. Together they will begin a journey to see him find and fill his true destiny within the spiritual and physical worlds.
More behind the cut
Good and the Bad
Over the last few weeks, Moribito is a series that I have been savoring. Adapted from the first book of the Guardian novel series written by Nahoko Uehashi (published in the US by Scholastic), I started this series based solely on the praise of a few others. After learning that the series was produced by Production I.G (Eden of the East, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) and had music from Kenji Kawai (Fate/Stay Night, Sky Crawlers), I felt secure going forward and was not disappointed.
From the first episode, the production values put into this series are absolutely beautiful. Production I.G does an absolutely amazing job of creating a lush world that looks almost real on the screen. Between detailed backgrounds to moments of wonderful lighting (the lighting effects used in episode 8 are a great example of this), there is one of the best looking TV series I’ve seen from the last couple of years.
Moribito is not just pretty animation though. Once it begins, the story in this series will grab most viewers within the first couple of episodes thanks to characters which sound and feel natural right away. This is in every sense a period character drama but more importantly, this is a series that gets by with characters rather than just character types. Within only a couple of episodes, viewers are going to be able to tell that Balsa is not the typical mercenary/bodyguard stereotype. Coming across as a real person, Balsa acts naturally and feels as though she could be a real person. A couple of episodes later, the same becomes apparent for Chagum. Never presented as a spoiled stereotype that we’ve seen before. He is a tough young man and presents himself as humble, grateful and willing to work hard in his new life helping to create the likeable and sympathetic pairing that you’ll be spending the next 26 episodes with.
This is perhaps the easiest thing to enjoy about the series: three dimensional characters that will gradually show many facets to their personalities. While calm in her approach, the layers of Balsa that appear throughout the series from her protective instincts to the levels of anger trapped within her continually create new compelling moments that push you further into the series.
Unfortunately not everyone is going to walk away from Moribito feeling the same amazing experience that I am describing. This is a rich story that twists back and forth between the royal Star Readers and into the life on that run that Balsa and Chagum now share. But all the way through, Moribito is still very much a Japanese story. What I mean by this is that despite the heroine being a female mercenary with a spear, Moribito will rarely attempt to win you over with its fight scenes.
Don’t be entirely mislead. There are occasional fight scenes throughout the series and they are all very fast paced and intense. Mostly though, the story is completely driven by slow dialogue. Occasionally entire episodes will be devoted to developing just one new side to a character’s personality or take the longest route possible to plant the next plot seed. There will be a certain (read: high) level of patience needed to get through this series but most people who have been thirsting for anime with a real story to tell should find the attention span needed to watch this all the way through.
Composed by Kenji Kawai, the score for Moribito is mostly made up of soft string themes. Occasionally picking up the tempo for a rare fight scene, most of the score however remains low key as mood music. Particularly during travel scenes and whenever the characters enter the mountains, the music composed by Kawai has the ability create a beautiful sense of grandeur and mysticism creating a perfect compliment to the animation.
Not everyone who starts this series is going to be able to finish it and there’s no crime in that. This is a very slow moving, period character drama and that not everyone is going to find that to be a particularly thrilling way to spend their downtime. Those who have bemoaned the lack of anything with depth or substance should be looking to this series should have their sights targeted on this series. While dry, the characters and journey towards the end create a fantastic viewing experience. This is an excellent addition to any collection while it’s still available.