Monday, April 27, 2009

Seirei no Moribito

Seirei no Moribito is one of the few animes I think would have succeeded no matter what the animation looked like. The story walks that fine line between realism and fantasy that draws people into a different world without alienating them with bizarre concepts right off the bat. This is a show you could easily use to introduce someone to anime. That's probably why Adult Swim originally picked up the rights for the series. Though it's not as fast pace as the standard shonen series like Naruto or Bleach there are some very nice action scenes throughout the series. It's a shame that Adult Swim lost the broadcast rights when Geneon went under earlier this year. Still the series is good enough that I have no problems waiting patiently for the DVD's to be released after watching the fansubs. I'm also excited that this anime was based on the first book in a series of ten dealing with the same characters. Since the anime has been wildly popular in and outside of Japan there's a high chance we'll see further anime adaptations though no announcements have been made yet.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Story: 18
Moribito starts off with a fairly simple plot where a female bodyguard is hired to protect a prince from assassination attempts. However, things quickly start growing in complexity as the bodyguard, Balsa, learns that the one seeking the prince's life is his own father. I know what you're thinking, "But having an evil father is standard fare in anime." However, the plot continues to jump off the beaten path and actually assigns logical reasons for every one's actions. No one is trying to kill the prince just because they are cartoonishly evil. Even Balsa has her reasons for accepting a job which is practically a death sentence. The prince himself manages to avoid falling into the spoiled rich kid cliche and actually comes off intelligent. He deals with his possession and the numerous attempts on his life like an actual person. Sometimes this means being brave when facing his father's assassins and other times it mean quaking in fear when hearing what the La Lunga do to the Guardian of the Sacred Spirit. All in all its a great fantasy story with a historical overtones, though the pacing in the middle is a bit slow. Still the ending more then makes up for this by being heartfelt and actually resolving every issue, a rarity in most animes.

Animation and Artwork: 19
Beautiful, Ethereal, and Moving. I could stop there but I would be selling the series short. You'll notice right away that most of the characters in Moribito are realistically drawn and lack the stylized hair and facial features that can be found on most anime characters. This might make them look a bit plain especially if you're used to recent series like Code Geass which have adapted the bishonen look for mainstream appeal. However, I believe this more realistic style allows the characters to be better animated in action scenes. This is especially noticeable in Moribito which has some of the best choreographed fight scenes I've come across in anime. Everything sort of flows together in a rapid fire manner which is more like a dance then a battle. It actually reminds me a lot of the Avatar series for some reason though Balsa sticks to everyday weapons instead of elemental magic. The background artwork is very beautiful, especially in episodes that deal with the dual nature of their world. The way the real world and the elemental world exists in parallel allows the animators to have fun with the background artwork. Thus you get scenes where the characters can be walking in a dried out gorge and all of sudden find themselves underwater with exotic fish and sea creatures. Also the way La Lunga fades between the two worlds is also very creepy.

Characterization: 19
Seirei no Moribito is carried almost entirely by its two main characters, who are rather unique in the anime universe. You would think that prince Chagum would be a spoiled and selfish child since he's been isolated and pampered his whole life. Almost every anime I've seen portrays royal/rich children this way and usually throws in a bit of tsundere. Instead, Chagum's got his head on pretty straight and he quickly figures out life in the real world. Balsa is another exception to the rules since she's a middle age female fighter who actually dresses like a warrior instead of some over sexualized Amazon. The character design for her is still feminine, but they animators weren't afraid to add some muscle onto her. In general, the supporting cast is less developed, but none of them fall into any filler roles or cliches. I found Shaman Torogai to be quite entertaining and surprisingly enough is the comedic support in the anime. Her and Toya have slightly exaggerated features like a caricature portrait which is probably a visual cue that they are less serious then the rest of the cast.

Sound and Voice: 16
The opening theme of Moribito is one of the few anime songs I've heard that manages to avoid being unintentionally funny while using a mix of Japanese and English words. If you've ever seen the closing theme songs for Wolf and Spice or Naruto then you know what I'm talking about. The rest of the music in the series fits into the story very well and augments the mood at appropriate times. The fight scenes in particular are set to some fast paced orchestra pieces which match the realistic style of fighting used in the series. Not counting the fight scenes the series has a lot on beautifully composed string and woodwind pieces mixed in with a few folk songs. So far this is probably one of the better sounding animes I've run across. I only got to sample the dub soundtrack, but it seemed like the English voice actors did a great job. While Moribito is an epic fantasy tale, the plot and characters are fairly realistic which always seems to make the voice actors a little less self aware during the dubbing process.

Originality: 17
If you dissected Moribito into its component themes it becomes noticeable that the series actually uses a lot of conventional plot devices. It would be hard to watch more then one fantasy anime without running into a mysterious bodyguard, elemental spirits, or royal family members on the run. Still the reason this series feels so unique is that it turns these standard themes on their head. The mysterious bodyguard is a strong female character who doesn't dress like a prostitute and the prince is actually likable straight from the start of the series. Also I found the way Moribito handles elemental magic to be very spiritual and a nice change of pace from characters just yelling out attack names to conjure giant fireballs. Unfortunately, the series does loose a bit of its realism and originality by having Balsa magically not killing anyone she fights. Then again after watching a series like Simoun which has so many pointless deaths I'm bit more accepting of everyone living after a battle. Except for the La Lunga, Balsa has no problem killing hordes and hordes them.

Final Score: 89 Great

Note: An almost Excellent series except for some pacing issues and a couple of supporting characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Amazon has the first two books in the series translated into English: Guardian of the Spirit and Guarding of the Darkness. The anime episodes have only been partially released at this time though I believe Media Blasters has the DVD rights to the entire series.