What particular qualities make a human being worthy of power? What particular qualities make a human being worthy of life? Can a person who is morally righteous and good be at the same time incompetent in leadership?
One of the many strengths of Juuni Kokuki is how it spends much of its time answering these questions. Throughout the show, these questions are not only addressed, but are tackled with exuberance. The end result is a philosophical commentary that is unexpectedly perceptive and interesting in its analysis.
Another major point in Juuni Kokuki's favor lies in its absolutely fantastic character development. At the beginning of the show, Youko (no, not "Yoko" like many people here are spelling it) is almost irritatingly pathetic. Self-centered and vulnerable, one has trouble finding any redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Gradually, however, this changes completely. By the end of the show, Youko has transformed into a wonderful human being, a person qualified to rule an entire country. Other characters, as well, undergo a similar metamorphosis. Though initially selfish, unworthy and detestable, all of them are eventually tempered into superior beings. Seeing these characters find their courage, wisdom and morality in the face of overwhelming adversity is one of the most rewarding processes that I have ever experienced
Finally, there is a lot to be said about Juuni Kokuki's overarching storyline. Though the plot initially appears to be very similar to Inu Yasha or Fushigi Yuugi, it soon changes into something completely different from either of the other two. The plot then grows and grows in complexity and depth, and ultimately achieves truly epic proportions. Not since Crest of the Stars have I seen a narrative so satisfyingly intricate and intelligent.
Though admittedly not as good as its story and characters, Juuni Kokuki's animation and sound are nonetheless quite commendable. The animation hosts a very nice and fluid feel, harkening back to animation styles of Record of Lodoss War and 3x3 Eyes. The character designs are all definitely above average; I especially liked Youko's design change early on in the series. In terms of music, the traditional arrangement of violins and wind pipes really works well with the overall mood of the show.
In fact, the only perceivable weakness of the anime lies in the fact that the story is incomplete. Production ceased at episode 45, which barely scrapes the surface of the original novels. However, this is less of a fault then one would think. Episode 39 is a very nice place to stop; nearly all of the plot lines are resolved at that point.