Hidden Gems: Seirei no Moribito

Although anime is typically associated with massive battles, endless power-ups and extremely dramatized dialogue, there exist much quieter and more graceful series waiting to be discovered.  Seirei no Moribito, or Guardian of the Spirit, is one such a series.  And I recommend this series to basically everyone because I think it does everything right for the story it’s trying to tell.  My one caveat is that this show probably isn’t for anyone who can’t handle slower character driven stories and needs lots of action.  Now let’s look at the premise.

The story follows Balsa, who I touched on before in my post about badasses here, who returns to the country of New Yogo just in time to see a royal procession fall victim to a dangerous accident while crossing a bridge.  After rescuing the second prince in river, Balsa is brought to the palace of the second wife of the Mikado, or emperor of New Yogo.  She explains that the court believes her son, Chagum, is possessed by some kind of water demon and is trying to kill him to maintain the purity of the royal line.  She begs Balsa to protect Chagum and Balsa accepts the task.  Balsa and her allies in New Yogo must raise Chagum in hiding, dodging imperial assassins along the way.  They must also find some clues as to the mysteries of Chagum’s apparent possession and what it means for the young man going forward.  Moving right along, let’s examine the setting.

New Yogo makes for one of the best historical settings in any anime despite also being a fantasy kingdom.  In New Yogo there are two distinct ethnic groups, the Yogo who migrated to this land a few hundred years ago and the native Yaku.  But while most anime would use this ethnic division to add discrimination and oppression to their story, Seirei no Moribito takes a different approach.  It explores the costs and benefits of cultural assimilation with various Yaku songs and traditions being altered or adopted outright by the Yogo, while other Yaku traditions begin to die off and get replaced by Yogo traditions.  It makes for a fascinating multi-layered historical setting that feels so right and so complete.  But wait there’s more.  In a fashion similar to Nickelodeon’s Avatar, New Yogo has physical and spiritual worlds that exist side by side with some places overlapping in both worlds, and people with the correct training can visit the spirit world.   The spirit world looks amazing, with all kinds of unusual landscapes, flora and fauna, all rendered in fantastic detail.  Likewise the landscapes and cityscapes of New Yogo look gorgeous, like movie quality gorgeous.  Overall I’d say you could watch Seirei no Moribito for the setting alone and still be wowed by the level of depth and detail poured in its construction and visuals.  Now it’s time to talk characters.

I’ve already covered Balsa in some detail in the post linked above, but here’s a quick recap.  Balsa is a fully mature, strong female lead and one of the best of her kind in all of anime.  She is a badass spear fighter who is comfortable in her own skin and supremely confident in herself.  She’s the glue that holds the rest of the cast together but the rest are no slackers either.  Chagum is actually a very interesting character because he’s well educated and intelligent but has no experience in life of a commoner.  But rather than cast him as a bumbling fool who can’t adjust, as I’ve seen happen before, Chagum’s story is about how he matures by experiencing life outside the royal palace and grows to understand the joys and struggles of everyday life.  Balsa and Chagum are assisted by Tanda, a Yaku healer and old friend of Balsa’s.  He tends to be the voice of reason in the group and the support character to Balsa and Chagum, while occasionally playing the role of surrogate father to Chagum.  The final major character in the group is the shaman Torogai, the badass grandma.  Her role is largely restricted to solving the mystery of Chagum’s demon possession since she can interact with the spirit world.  She also serves as a font of wisdom and humor when it’s called for.  Now let’s wrap up with all the things this series has to offer.

I mentioned that this series doesn’t have much action, and while that is true you should also know that the action it does have is phenomenal.  This show has some of the best fight choreography around plus some great camera angles to spice up the experience.  The world is amazing especially if you have an eye for detail or just like staring at artist renditions of more untamed China-esque landscape.  The story can be a bit slow, but there’s always a lot of things going on and even when during the most quiet and calm scenes I never felt bored.  And the characters are great, which in turn is great for the story because this is really a character driven story.  The narrative has its twists and turns to be sure but the human drama, Chagum’s coming of age tale and the examination of Balsa’s life and maturity are what really keep the story going.  It’s hard not to like and root for these characters and because we spend so much time with them, as opposed to watching them fight, we can really get invested in them.  Overall I found this to be an amazing show and I highly recommend it.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

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