Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Rumored to be the carrier of a water demon, the young prince Chagum is targeted by assassins who are after his life. Since the assassination attempt can be tracked all the way into the palace of the Emperor himself, Chagum's desperate mother turns to the warrior and bodyguard, Balsa, to protect her son from those who want to take his life.
As it turns out, Balsa herself is on a mission to save eight lives in a bid for redemption for the eight deaths she has caused. She has already saved seven lives, and therefor agrees to take in the prince and guard him with her own life as the eighth life she's set out to save.
Among the many fantasy series I've watched -- Lodoss Wars, Utawarerumono, Sacred Blacksmith, Tears to Tiara... hell, even Guin Saga -- Moribito definitely compares very favorably against any of them, both through its fine art, beautiful settings and mostly excellent storytelling.
What Moribito does that the others don't, however, is giving its world and the characters in it more ... I hesitate to use the word "realism" - but despite the characters living in a made-up world -- the two moons are a clear indication of that, as is the "two worlds" setup that is put into the equation later on -- it might as well have taken place in any Asian country. Everything, from buildings to general cuisine, is modeled after, presumably, Chinese and Japanese traditions and designs.
That also goes for the characters. Foregoing the more cartoonish aspects of shows like, say, Tears to Tiara or Sacred Blacksmith, Moribito instead chooses to lean towards more realistic character types. In any other movie, Balsa would have been considered a strikingly beautiful woman, though her visage invites comparisons to Terminator's Sarah Connor as she is portrayed in the second movie rather than the doe-eyed girls you see in shows like the aforementioned two. And even before you see her fight or throw herself in mortal peril, it's clear that she's a capable woman. She strides confidently, though there's nothing haughty or arrogant about her.
In fact, the same can probably be said about the whole cast. Chagum might be a princeling, and ill suited to life outside the palace. At first, but he rarely whines or complains about his lot, outside of a very understandable dissatisfaction with being separated from the people among his family whom he holds in high regard. Even the Emperor and his subordinates are clearly torn over the whole situation. None of them really wants to end Prince Chagum's life, but unless they do, the lands will suffer droughts that will devastate the population.
And so, Moribito leads into the story with a series of amazing fights, action scenes and dire situations for the main cast. Indeed, the fights aren't just well animated; they appear to even have proper fight choreography to them. But even at its calmest, Moribito is a beautiful show. I do suspect some of the buildings -- palaces in particular -- are made up of CG, but the countryside is beautifully portrayed, lush and colorful, so much so, in fact, that it kind of becomes a problem later on. Even the characters are well designed and drawn, distinct, though maybe not quite as elaborate as the ones in Guin Saga -- Moribito doesn't want or need to be quite that flamboyant.
Indeed, the story moves along at a steady pace; from its panicky and desperate beginning to its reflective middle part and eventually the resolution in all its introspective almost-glory. In a bit of a rarity in anime, most of the characters in Moribito are adults. But more importantly, Moribito is a very mature story. Which is not to say there aren't any kids in it, because there most certainly are. Some of them, aside from Chagum, are even main characters. I was a little worried when I saw Touya and his rather obvious buck-teeth overbite, but my fears about him becoming some kind of comic relief was thankfully quickly dismissed. In fact, the closest this show comes to comic relief is through the character of Torogai, who looks more like the goofier elderly people you'd meet in Ghibli movies. She's highly capable, but somewhat eccentric and travels around with a small, furry animal in her hat most of the time. Her character never gets truly goofy, though, so her design and mannerisms aren't really a minus either.
Sounds a little too perfect, right? Well... most of the time, I'd say Moribito deserves that accolade. Buuuut, what with me being a grumpy old pedantic bastard, there's some smaller details that need to be picked on. Certainly I mentioned the lushness of the scenery, which at any point makes the show worth just taking in, but it does make the potential crisis a little harder to swallow. Because who would think a country as bountiful as this would ever dry up and die out? My second complaint comes in that this crisis is solely centered around the Prince. Fair enough, given that he carries the spirit that may spell doom for the lands, but the show almost makes it look like his wellbeing is more important than the land and the people in it. It might sound like a cold thing to say, but the alternative does give the viewer the impression that the problem is ignored. Well, at least to some degree -- Moribito does at least have the courtesy and maturity to have the cast try to work around it, which, again, is a MATURE thing to do compared to just assuming everything will work out by itself if you only hit it hard enough with your fists.
Jason Huff (of The Anime Review and very good friend of THEM) mentions that he felt the show's end didn't live up to its boasts. I'm not entirely sure if he saw this from the same view as mine -- the weird disconnect between excellent background work and the audience's ability to see this come to any kind of ruin -- but, unfortunately, I think I can see where he's coming from. It doesn't really help that the alternative world from whom these spiritual beings hail is even more fantastic than the one Balsa and her fellow friends reside in. It's odd to think that a show with a cast as great as this, and a world designed as well as this can actually stretch one's suspension of disbelief.
And this is where one of Jason Huff's closing statements come to mind; "If someone were to tell me Moribito was one of their favorite anime, I would sincerely respect that." Because Moribito has to this point become my new favorite fantasy anime. I enjoy shows that generally keep to a general sense of optimism. I ESPECIALLY loved the characters in this show, which is a very important factor -- go read my Kono Aozora review to see the polar opposite of this show when it comes to character types and what happens when they fail. Moribito even managed to make listening to a backstory interesting; and you can all take that from someone who normally strongly dislikes flashback scenes.
Thankfully, Moribito also has far more closure than Guin Saga, even though both are based on only a small part of a full story -- in fact, at first, I actually thought I had the full story. Now that I know otherwise, I would have to admit I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to see more of it animated. However, as a standalone series, Moribito comes highly recommended.
The last quarter or so might make you want to deduct a star. Maybe. Personally, I would like to see more of this. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: This is a fantasy series based heavily around martial arts, so naturally, fights -- even ones leading to deaths -- are to be expected. It's not a particularly grisly show, though, so teenagers should be able to watch this just fine.
Version(s) Viewed: multi-region Bluray release, bilingual
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit © 2007 Production IG
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