Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Alt title: Seirei no Moribito

TV (26 eps)
4.083 out of 5 from 10,717 votes
Rank #679

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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StoryWhen I first decided to watch Seirei no Moribito, I must admit that, while it sounded somewhat interesting, I wasn't planning on being too impressed.  My perspective changed after witnessing the gorgeously animated opening sequence, and over the course of the next twenty-five episodes, my enjoyment of the series only grew.  While lacking slightly in story depth, the symbiotic orchestration of the animation and musical scores created a very distinct and unique feel to the series - the world itself wasn't too impressive, but I felt very much drawn into it. The series begins with Balsa, a female spearman, entering a small village in the outskirts of the New Yogo Empire where the Emperor's son happens to be staying.  As she's passing through, the royal carriage carrying the young prince encounters misfortune on the village's main bridge, falling into the raging river below.  Balsa leaps into the river without hesitation and ends up saving the boy from certain death, and for her heroism she is summoned to the royal palace for a reward.  Upon arriving, however, she finds out that she rescued the prince from an assassination attempt, and the Empress charges Balsa with fleeing the palace and protecting the prince from any further harm.  She reluctantly accepts, and so the story begins. While the plot sounds slightly cliché, the presentation of it is anything but.  With some of the most fluid pacing I've ever seen for a twenty-six episode series, much of Seirei is devoted to fleshing out its characters in a rather human light.  The vast majority of the anime, in fact, entails Balsa and Prince Chagum's everyday life in exile, and emphasizes his growth from a naïve child to a strong-willed man.  Though the first few episodes imply a rather tension-driven, hectic scenario of life-or-death proportions, this notion slowly fades as the episodes progress; in actuality, there are relatively minimal amounts of action within the central portion of the series.  As such, it provides for a very smooth, casual progression that magnificently captures the personas of the main characters. As I shall discuss later, both Balsa and Chagum serve as immensely fine main characters, and their well-rounded statures fuel Seirei's potential.  Neither bears any resemblance to the generic, stereotypical roles most anime characters fill when placed in similar positions.  The series tends to show the characters grow through the simple, required daily tasks they must do to stay alive, ranging anywhere from shopping in the city streets to splitting logs for a fire; a very calm, serene aura actually encompasses the greater portion of the series' airtime, and, for the most part, drama is emphasized much more heavily than action.AnimationWithout a doubt, Seirei no Moribito captures a quality of animation many OVA-standard productions would be jealous of.  The attention to detail absolutely amazed me, especially with the use of reflective surfaces such as water, and the quality remained consistent throughout.  This perhaps accounts for the unequal disparity in fight scenes scattered throughout the series, as producing such ubiquitous, high-quality visual splendor is neither an easy or cheap task for a studio to undertake.  If you take the time to notice, for instance, you can see the clouds moving, the grass shuffling, and fires flickering completely independent of camera movement, which makes every aspect of the series' visuals to constantly seem naturally in motion. Regardless, the fight scenes that are present boast some of the most amazing choreography I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing, as it's quite obvious the animators spent a fairly substantive amount of time studying the mechanics of actual spear and sword combat before putting them into production.  While perhaps slightly exaggerated, the physical combat is of amazing realistic quality, as the fights often pan out in very life-like ways.  For instance, often times a character will lose a weapon at some point in a fight and be placed in a mortal situation and must quickly adapt or face pending death; this results in the grabbing of nearby rocks, sticks, stones, or whatever other makeshift weapons the character can find.  There's no glossing over the combat in any fashion, and for those who appreciate enormously beautiful, detailed, and realistic medieval fighting, there are a handful of treats scattered throughout the series.SoundWhile I cared little for the opening theme and only slightly for the ending theme, they are by far the worse tracks of the series.  Every insert track carries a distinct, atmospheric feel that really draws the viewer into the story, especially so given each track's beautiful orchestration.  Whether it be an intense, tension driven battle or a trek through a verdant forest, the musical score really brings Seirei's epic storyline to life.  Sound effects play a key role in exemplifying the very natural flow of the musical tracks, as the series employs a vast number of different effects to emphasize its focus on realism.  For example, as the camera moves about the battlefield in a few scenes, the echoes of clashing metal change based upon the viewer's perspective, which further amplifies the impressiveness of the already outstanding aesthetics. To make matters even better, the voice acting is absolutely superb, especially with Balsa and Chagum.  Chagum's seiyuu really captures his character's growth, as his vocal subtleties shift over the course of the series from a proud-but-frightened prince to a bold, confident man willing to accept all the circumstances put before him.  You can really feel his character growing in a very literal sense, which further proves just how masterful the storytelling is.CharactersWhile perhaps lacking a particularly deep world, Seirei's characters more than compensate in this case, as the story itself is meant to chronicle their growth.  As I just briefly mentioned, Chagum's character is amazingly well developed, and his very realistic portrayal makes him an incredibly empathetic figure.  Unlike so many other series where characters put in his position would whine and bicker for an entire twenty-six episodes, Chagum carries his burdens in a very regal fashion.  While he sheds tears a few times, he by-in-large shows firm willpower and resolve, choosing to adapt to his new circumstances rather than mourn his past.  Come the end of the series, he clearly displays his development, as the quality and charisma of his character both progress from that of a child to that of a man. Balsa proves somewhat different, as her growth is much more past oriented.  While her protection of Chagum demonstrates her inborn maternal instincts at work, her character tends to be fleshed out by others whom reflect upon her past.  While appearing idealistic, she proves a few times throughout the series that she is not bound blindly to her code of ethics, and if situations require she can break her rules to protect those close to her.  As the story of her upbringing pans out, it provides insight into her process of thought and, more importantly, her distinctly feminine features back-dropped upon a stereotypical male persona.OverallDespite hearing otherwise, I went into Seirei no Moribito with expectations for an average, run-of-the-mill series.  While it didn't blow me away, I was nevertheless enormously impressed with its presentation, and found myself intrigued from start to finish.  The sheer attention to detail and subtleties really made it shine as a true work of art, and had it been for a bit more involving storyline, I could have easily seen this series vying for a spot among such epics as Junni Kouki and Crest of the Stars.  On its own, however, a more than formidable series suitable for anybody who shares my appreciation for serious, well-told dramatic stories, and perhaps even those who enjoy a bit of action thrown in the mix as well; not to be passed up.


StoryWhilst 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.AnimationIn 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.SoundThe 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.CharactersThere 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.OverallSeirei 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.


ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom: FIRST IMPRESSIONS Moribito is a very good anime with a very bad pacing. That is the best to describe it in just one sentence. It is not a show for mass appeal either, as most viewers just want to waste their free time with escapism shows full of stupid people doing stupid things. Thus it is an anime for the niche audience, those who expect something out of the ordinary. The production values are amazing; amongst the best one can ever hope to encounter in an anime series. It is also the first show made by Production I.G. studio that doesn’t feel so bent on machines yet retains its humane feel. I mean they have made many highly acclaimed works in the past (Patlabor movies, Ghost in the Shell franchise, Neon Genesis movies) but they were always standing out for the heavy science fiction and never for its fantasy or humane characters. And it’s not like they managed to repeat the success many times in their later titles either. So it’s a double win of sorts as they managed to do great in both aspects. The directing is done by Kamiyama Kenji, who also did the directing for the GitS series. He had a perfect record with the vastly different yet equally good Moribito and seemed quite promising. But then he also directed the quite disappointing Eden of the East and I kinda lost faith in him. Oh well, at least he did right 2 out of 3. SPECIFICS The artwork is a mix of several far eastern civilizations, it is very detailed and has amazing animation. The soundtrack is also great, very atmospheric and fitting the feeling of the series. The voice acting is also mature, with well-written dialogues and no ridiculous pitches in voices. You rarely encounter such fine overall.The characters are also great. Nobody is an oversimplified, extreme stereotype, nobody is purely good or evil, or even has a specific role in the series. They are acting quite realistically and thus you can’t categorize them and tag them with the easiness you do with 99.9% of series or movies, both cartoons and live action. Despite not being stereotypes as means to be memorable, they still retain a strong presence, which is proof of what a great job they did with them. Although it is true that the only characters you will end up remembering are just the main two, Balsa the warrior and young prince Chagum, you still get to appreciate all of them for what they are. Furthermore, Balsa is considered one of the best female anime characters of all times for NOT being treated as fan service and despite being a warrior she is NOT useless. Try to think of five more characters filling that profile if you can. Hard, isn’t it? The story is also quite interesting as a premise. It has to do with spirits, and power struggles, and adventure, battle with assassins, monsters, mysticism, you name it. One is surely to expect one of the most complicating and mesmerized fantasy stories ever conceived. And although he does get all that to a point, the anime is otherwise quite simple in the way it plays out. The pacing is very slow and consists mostly of character bonding rather than battles or adventure into dangerous mythical dungeons. I mean just look at how small my review is; it’s because there isn’t that much to write about. If I am to make a simple separation of it in genres, I would say it is 70% slice of life, 10% adventure, 10% fantasy, and 10% action. So as much well made as it is, the series is definitely not suited for viewers who are fond of action and not of slow progress. This is not something you will be watching with the gang while laughing and eating pop corn. The 3 or 4 highlights of the series though are definitely rewarding, as they consist of amazing battle choreographies that are very realistic in terms of body motions and attention to physics. They rank amongst the best depicted martial art battles in anime. No ridiculous spells, or broken powers, or crap popping out of scrolls or circles in the ground. Try to think of five more anime filling that profile if you can. Hard, isn’t it? Despite the simplicity of it, the series has a solid story and a concrete finale. It may be just the first part of a long series of books but the main objective of the show is met and doesn’t feel rushed or ridiculous in the ending sequence. Try to think of five more anime filling that profile if you can. Hard, isn’t it? FINAL THOUGHTS Overall it is quite a rewarding experience if you have the patience for it. From experience I know most viewers that like something don’t care about the pacing at all, so all it takes is to fall in love with the setting and the characters in a few episodes. I on the other hand am rather apathetic to all that and I do prefer fast pacing and lots of action; and that is why my Enjoyment of it is halved. Wouldn’t it be awesome with less episodes and more action? It’s not like we had that many things going on in each episode. As for the replay value, you will most likely be skipping the boring talking parts the second time around, which is like 2/3rds of the show. So in a way it is not very successful at repeating viewings, which is a sign of true brilliance. Other than that, a very good anime indeed and I recommend it if you want something mature for a change. And now for some excused scorings. ART SECTION: 10/10 General Artwork 2/2 (well-made) Character Figures 2/2 (well-drawn) Backgrounds 2/2 (fitting with the feeling of the series) Animation 2/2 (good) Visual Effects 2/2 (good) SOUND SECTION: 10/10 Voice Acting 3/3 (mature) Music Themes 4/4 (fitting with the feeling of the series) Sound Effects 3/3 (good) STORY SECTION: 8/10 Premise 2/2 (interesting) Pacing 1/2 (slow) Complexity 1/2 (not much) Plausibility 2/2 (a bit weak at points but overall it’s fine) Conclusion 2/2 (not completely solid but it ends the current arc fine) CHARACTER SECTION: 10/10 Presence 2/2 (strong) Personality 2/2 (well founded) Backdrop 2/2 (elaborate) Development 2/2 (solid for the arc) Catharsis 2/2 (solid for the arc) VALUE SECTION: 8/10 Historical Value 3/3 (all-known) Rewatchability 1/3 (you are going to skip a lot) Memorability 4/4 (extremely well made to the point of forever remembering it) ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10 Too slow for my tastes but otherwise great. VERDICT: 8.5/10

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