Idle Thoughts: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Posted: December 27, 2011 in idle thoughts
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I went through the series in about a week, most of it today lying sick in bed. I was first tipped off to it for the bad ass spear fights, but it’s not really about that. It’s not an action or a martial arts series; it’s more like… I guess I would describe it as a political/fantasy drama with some action elements. On a whole, the story is pretty cerebral, dealing a lot with politics, culture clash, class differences, and so forth. The pitch is for a master bodyguard to protect this prince from his own father, who’s bent on assassinating him for the good of the kingdom. You could see that going in a pretty clear direction with just that, an unparalleled martial artist who needs to drag along this kid through all sorts of crazy dangerous adventures, living on the road like ruffians, all while pursued by an elite team of ninjas tracking them every step of the way. Wouldn’t that be a pretty cool show to watch? Maybe that’s a bit too typical, but I guess that’s what I thought I was getting into.

No, they decide to go a very different route than that. I can’t speak for the original fantasy novel series that the anime is based on, but the cartoon is definitely not the Samurai Champloo-style action dramedy i was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, the series is very very good; just don’t expect it to be any kind of typical show. it’s really quite slice-of-life-y, most of the series dealing with the prince’s adaptation to commoner life, with a healthy helping of aforementioned elite team of ninjas and master martial artist trying to out-think each other tactically, and a couple of side-quests thrown in for good measure.

It’s a bit difficult to get a good sense of consistent tone throughout the series, which is one of the reasons I’m putting all my thoughts down here. The characters are mostly interesting, if a bit on the dry side, so it’s probably intended for older audiences. There are only a few brief scenes of real fighting, so probably not meant for the young male action crowd either. There’s only the barest hints of romance and complicated emotional relationships, so you can count the soap opera and love-seekers out as well. Honestly, I’m a bit at a loss as to who the story is really meant for. On paper, it’s supposed to be a story about the foster-mother/-son relationship between the bodyguard and the prince, and how that grows over time, allowing the boy to grow up into a strong young man ready to face his destiny, and allowing the bodyguard to soften her heart a little after following through for her dead mentor. Stretched over the course of 26 episodes, I don’t know who would really want to invest the time for something that, at first glance, seems incredibly slow and dull.

But if you couldn’t already tell from all this, it’s really good, and definitely worth watching. It’s a beautifully crafted character drama, with any number of different things going on at the same time, always leaving you guessing as to what’s really going on or how things are going to turn out. The ending feels a bit lackluster, but I feel like that’s usually the case with adaptations from literature. The characters are pretty deep and complex, and there’s never any black and white position on who’s good or evil. Like life, everyone is a rich blend of both, resulting in a million different shades of gray. The conflict isn’t against some big antagonist; it’s against destiny itself, a race against time and the hands of fate, pitting what we think we know about the world against the silent abyss of the unknown. The action scenes that are there are done wonderfully, with great choreography and impressive animation.

If you fancy yourself any sort of connoisseur of interesting stories, I highly recommend you check this one out. It’s not a fast and furious thrill ride done to a kickin’ soundtrack; this is a long pensive look at how we live our lives among others, both foreign and domestic. While I can’t say this is something everyone will enjoy, I think the ones who do enjoy it will do so with gusto.

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