Whilst many would think an average score on plot is a wounding loss, I would argue that that depends on whether the story is a character based tale or story driven tale. Seirei no Moribito is most definitely about the relationships, rendering the external situation less important. It is a very straight-forward plot with some great set pieces but ultimately few big surprises. Yes, this prevents it reaching the top marks it could have attained, but at the same time there is little harm done. The shortage of twists certainly isn't because the series lacks ambition; I wager it's more to do with there not being a need for it since the show is not about that.
What it is, is a mature fantasy drama and, in part, a celebration of nature in the vein of Princess Mononoke. The story takes every opportunity to make the viewer feel as if they were strolling through emerald forests or hiking up the Alps, and pausing to take a deep breath. Guardianship is a recurring idea and almost everyone here wants to protect someone or something, but the anime subtly reminds us that one of the most important things worth protecting is our world.
Although Seirei no Moribito is very fantastical (with comprehensive concepts for the religion, magic and costume, and royal ceremonies that feel like watching a documentary about another country), the more engaging parts turn out to be the characterisation episodes, those which drop the naïve prince into everyday situations to see what he can learn. There are also flashback episodes which fit with the cyclical theme of the story, thus adding a lot to our understanding of Balsa without detracting from the current plot. Of course, the drawback there is that the pace of the series feels choppy; one minute it's intense and action-packed, the next it's quiet and introverted, then back to intense and action-packed again.
In the first of many such luscious scenes, the opening seconds of the series treat us to bright images of mountain ranges with the howling wind disturbing little coloured flags. Indeed, this series is very, very good-looking, with vibrant scenes of the mythical Nayug as well as sprawling stills of the human world. Although Seirei no Moribito isn't necessarily pushing any new boundaries, it certainly stands somewhere at the front of where Japanese animation is right now, especially where fluidity of movement is concerned. Balsa's spear-wielding is something you don't see very often because most fantasy tales stick with swords, so it was doubly delightful to watch her style of martial arts in breath-taking choreography. The action sequences don't rely on clever cutting to add a sense of speed either; in fact, if watched in slow motion, it's possible to trace where this slash came from or how that block happened.
The opening and end themes capture the emotions of the story but aren't necessarily inspirational enough to download. Instead, I'd draw attention to the catchy children's choral piece about the Nahji, which at times serves as a cheerful reminder of nature's renewal and other times as a haunting piece about stark inevitability. Voice acting is superior throughout, especially Chagum's. His voice has a warm, mellow quality which easily draws sympathy from the viewer. Hail also to Balsa's voice actress, who gives a believable performance of feminine strength.
There are plenty of good characters on offer but a distinct lack of evil ones. This is the kind of anime where conflicts spring from misunderstandings and different conceptions of what is required, which I suspect is the root of the plot's (perhaps detrimental) simplicity; all it takes to solve a problem is to realise that they got their wires crossed and are on the same side after all. Still, all things considered, it is the characters that carry the series. We get to thoroughly explore how individuals cope with what they perceive to be the inevitable by learning to trust in and rely on each other; the external conflicts are thus a vehicle for the delicate internal journeys they make.
Chagum's part is of noteworthy charm because he transcends other child characters, which tend to be more miss than hit. Many are either kawaiiiiiiiii in the extreme or, in an effort to avoid the sickening cuteness, end up bland and lacking in depth, but the Second Prince, attains an engaging combination of naivety and nobility which I credit to the excellent voice acting. From learning to be carried on someone's back to learning how to gut fish, never once whining even when first torn from his mother, we see Chagum's noble potential blossom into something admirable.
Balsa on the other hand, presents a nice contrast in that, being nearly thirty, she is a warrior woman of significant experience. For example, she lacks an air of subservience when in the presence of those who expect her to be, and she often shows a total lack of surprise at anything that life throws at her. Resourceful and wise, she is someone who knows how to survive. Balsa is thus not in a position to learn much here, but is the individual from whom others draw inspiration instead. This might be the reason why her characterisation is framed almost entirely in terms of her past rather than any current events.
Being thinly plotted, Seirei no Moribito, can only develop a minimum number of characters, meaning that beyond Balsa and Chagum, there are few supporting characters that acquire much depth. Shuga the Star Diviner is one, as well as Tanda the healer, and the two street kids, Tohya and Saya. The rest, like Shaman Torogai and the team of assassins, still have interesting motivations but aren't in any way complex.
Seirei no Moribito is an all-rounder and highly enjoyable, and should appeal to both action junkies as well as those who prefer a more intelligent and mature approach to characterisation. Its single significant drawback is the lack of big surprises, which prevents it achieving true excellence.
In the feudal kingdom of Yogo, a dark secret is threatening its proud imperial family, and the Emperor intends to destroy it before it leaks out. Unfortunately this dark secret resides within his son, the young and innocent Second Prince Chagum. Enter Balsa, a wandering warrior who has sworn to save eight lives in penance for those she has taken during her violent career. Upon accepting her role as protector to Chagum, her eighth and final job, the two begin a perilous journey that tests not only their physical endurance and mental resolve, but also the tentative relationship they build along the way. Will Balsa fulfill her penance and protect Chagum as he seeks to understand the nature of his secret? Or will the Emperor's relentless assassins and other powerful enemies get them first?
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