Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Seirei no Moribito: A Good Story in Epic Proportions

A long long time ago in a kingdom far away (actually, it looks like Korea), a century-old prophesy is foretold of a great drought caused by a demon spirit that possessed a child of the kingdom. Now, the prophesy has become truth, but the greater misfortune is that the chosen child is none other than the cherished second son of the emperor himself!

His life threatened by assassins under his own father's orders, Prince Chagumu must flee the palace and escape with his life. But who will help him when no one dared disobey the emperor's command?

Enter Balsa, the spear woman from Kanbal. Sworn to save eight souls to atone for the eight whose death she believed she caused, she takes on the role of bodyguard for one who has virtually no hope of being saved. If she were successful, she would have accomplished her life's purpose. But when the enemy was the Emperor and friends were all too few, what are the chances of success?

This is the engaging premise of Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit), the 2007 Production I.G. anime adaptation of the fantasy novels written by Nahoko Uehashi.

Fresh from his success of incorporating into the scifi world such modern issues as nuke bombs and terrorism, acclaimed director Kenji Kamiyama, of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. fame, returns at the directing helm with this Asian-flavored fantasy series set far back in history in a country threatened to be torn apart by an impending natural calamity and dangerous court intrigue.

And in the midst of it all is a simple warrior, a bodyguard-for-hire even, whose ideals are nevertheless so noble that the character more than deserves to be the heroine in this retelling of a grand epic.

"Seirei no Moribito" Trailer
"Seirei no Moribito" OP clip (English Subs)
"Seirei no Moribito" Fight Scene
Sachi Tainaka - Itoshii Hito e (PV for ED theme)

Strong Female Lead

Production I.G. is no stranger to producing anime series with strong female leads. Ghost in the Shell, as well as all its derivatives, likewise makes use of a strong female character as the 'face' of the series.

In Seirei no Moribito the strong female lead comes in the form of Balsa, who is a warrior in a time when female warriors are a rare breed. With the spear as her primary weapon, she can rival any man in fighting prowess and battle experience. Some of the best fight scenes in the series are that of Balsa cornered but not beaten, refusing to back down even as she is surrounded by the Emperor's elite fighters.

But don't get me wrong. Despite the rather strong characterization, Balsa is no butch. In fact, the series features one of the most touching (het) love stories I've ever seen in an anime that does not tout itself as a romance.

The Wise Prince

While Balsa lends the muscle and the face of the series, troubled Prince Chagumu balances it out with his dual role of frightened object and, later, brave subject of the plot. The extent of his development throughout the whole series is delightful to watch, not to mention the relationships he forges with people he would not have otherwise met along the way. The bond between him and Balsa is so genuine the ending is made all the more heart-wrenching, yet strangely uplifting, for it.

Seirei no Moribito is one of those stories that manages to give you a neat and tidy ending without committing the grievous mistake of wanting to please everyone. The story ends but there is no finality, and Seirei no Moribito, like all good epic tales, concludes with a beginning.

Production I.G. for Production Value

It is consistently top-notch, with little to no quality erosion even in the middle episodes. This is, of course, only to be expected from a studio known for its animation quality, but in Seirei no Moribito all aspects of good animation come together so flawlessly it's hard to separate a part from the whole.

The series predictably capitalizes on fight scenes but does not saturate every episode with rehashed action sequences. Everything is new. Everything is created from scratch. So everything is always fresh.

But as wonderful as the fight scenes are, it is in the quiet moments that Seirei no Moribito shines. Just as Balsa the warrior appears larger than life when she is at her most human, and therefore at her most vulnerable, point, Seirei no Moribito is at its peak when its characters speak without words and landscapes reflect the desolateness or the harshness of what each character goes through. Because this is where the sheer genius of the author comes through for the viewers.

Sure, Seirei no Moribito is a great-looking action anime but beneath the glossy appeal of fantastic animation and superb design is where the series has its core: a good story. And in that regard, Seirei no Moribito excels.

"Seirei no Moribito DVDs @ Amazon
Seirei no Moribito DVD 1 @ Yes Asia
OST Vol. 1 CD @ Yes Asia
OST Vol. 2 CD @ Yes Asia
"Seirei no Moribito DVDs @ Play-Asia

Where all good anime starts from

You have to hand it to Production I.G. for their knack in choosing good stories -- whether they are of the epic variety or the psychological brain-mixers. With such good material to start from and then coupled with superior animation technique, it is no wonder the studio churns out one masterpiece after another.

And even as there are times when the series seem to segue a bit into slice-of-life, the story maintains just the right pace to keep viewers interested in the plot and at the same time allow characters to develop. The result is a complete and satisfying story populated by fully-developed characters rendered in beautiful 3D-animated design and a vibrant color palette.

Truly one of my favorite 2007 animes, Seirei no Moribito is recommended to those looking for a good story in epic proportions.


Production I.G. (Japanese)
Production I.G. (English)
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