‘Seirei no Moribito’ (‘Moribito, for short) is a very polarizing series. Many praise it for its stellar production values, great atmosphere and layered, believable characters. Others find the show relentlessly boring and slow-paced, disparagingly referring to it as ‘Boribito’.
I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The basic story is the typical tale of a seasoned warrior seeking to atone for a checkered past by protecting a child who’s being hunted by powerful forces both human and inhuman. Moribito’s narrative, however, manages to distinguish itself through 2 things: excellent character development and meticulous world-building.
Protagonist Balsa in particular is a great example of the former. Her strong, dignified personality, captivating backstory (subtly alluded to initially) and multi-faceted interactions with other characters make her one of the most well written anime protagonists around. The hunted child in question, Prince Chagum, doesn’t fare quite as well. He goes through a fairly predictable character arc that boils down to learning to live like a commoner and growing up. There’s also a handful of moments where he displays unusually keen insight that feel rather forced. Though it must be said that the conclusion to his story has a surprising turn that’s both surprising and very poignant.
As far as supporting characters go the biggest standout is Tanda, Balsa’s dogged love interest whose difficulty reaching out to her makes for an interesting if pitiable character. Others aren’t quite so interesting: there’s 2 kids who hero-worship her who mainly serve to run errands for Balsa and provide some humorous moments as well as an old lady who’s mainly there to provide exposition and snide remarks. The latter sticks out like a sore thumb by feeling like an archetype in a series filled with fully fleshed out characters. And I really do mean that last part, even a good deal of antagonists are developed and given (somewhat) sympathetic motives rather than being raving psychotics who can’t go 2 minutes without strangling a puppy. Moribito’s willingness to avert this easy, manipulative sort of characterization is yet another strength of its storytelling.
Sadly, not all of its storytelling is as stellar. While the series also goes to great lengths to expand on its world, it also becomes a weakness. Many a times the series devotes an entire episode to fleshing out one particular section of Moribito’s world. And while it certainly helps to make the series’ world feel more alive one can’t help but feel that a more deft storyteller could reduce the content to a subplot without losing any relevance or impact. As it is Moribito has a stretch of episodes in the middle that have very little to do with the conflict that kicked off the story which, when combined with the glacial pacing, makes for a somewhat frustrating viewing experience at times.
Another fault with the storytelling that it contains a number of contrivances and other moments that feel all too convenient for the main characters. This is particularly jarring in regards to Balsa, whose vow to never again take another life should be rather cumbersome when being hunted by highly skilled assassins. In the series, however, it is mostly a slight inconvenience. There’s an episode around the halfway point that takes it to its most absurd extreme, ending what should have been a grave no-win situation in a big copout. Moribito certainly isn’t the only series to be guilty of such things nor is it the worst example but it’s jarring nonetheless.
The visuals and audio of this series has been the subject of much praise, and for good reason. The animation, from characters doing chores to the lightning fast action sequences, is consistently stunning and the amount of detail is simply staggering. This is easily one of the best-looking TV-anime ever produced and a worthy part of Production I.G.’s legacy in that regard. In terms of character designs Moribito opts for a more realistic style which perfectly fits the serious tone. The audio is of similar quality. Sound effects are believable and the music always does a good job complementing what’s happening on-screen even if it’s not very memorable in and of itself. The astounding presentation manages to make even the slowest episodes more enjoyable than they have any right to be.
Moribito is, without a doubt, a very ambitious project. It boldly stands out stylistically and in a narrative sense. Providing multi-faceted, believable characters and captivating situations all set in a gorgeously rendered word. It also deserved accolades for refusing to use its female protagonist for fanservice-oriented jokes which would only undermine her character. There’s a maturity to the way the overall product presents and carries itself that most anime series wouldn’t even consider. All of this makes ‘Seirei no Moribito’ a series that, in spite of some missteps, is worth checking out by anyone open to a more serious style of anime.