Seirei no Moribito tells the story of a female bodyguard named Balsa who, after rescuing a young Prince (Chagum) from drowning, is requested by the Empress to take him into hiding to save him from assassination by the Emperor. The reason the Emperor is planning this assassination is because the egg of a water spirit has been found growing inside him, and legends say that this water spirit will cause an impeding drought when hatched. Although the anime goes to great lengths to develop this plot and tie everything together by the climax, I feel that this mythical plot is secondary to the character interactions and development which result from it. Indeed, while there are significant plot twists throughout, and the water spirit story is given a proper climax, the most memorable moments ( in my opinion ) are those of character building or character interaction.
One of the predominant relationships, I suppose, is the quasi-maternal instinct that Balsa develops for Chagum. In return, Balsa increasingly something of a mixed mother-father figure for the young boy, who has, as one would expect, grown up in a very closeted environment. Even his interactions with his own father, the Emperor, are rather distant, so watching him experience the closer bonds of “commoner” life are wonderful to see. Balsa has her own backstory which provides the reasons for why she has given up her life to care for this boy, and it is slowly told throughout the length of the anime (culminating in full flashbacks near the end – two of my favourite episodes). Needless to say, it is very poignant and moved me very much. I personally dislike watching violence or gore, and that is why characters like Balsa and her history appeal to me. They are pacifist warriors – possessing strength but also compassion. Even as their enemies are willing to kill them, they are not willing to do so in return.
With that being said, my only fault with the series was that I felt the climax of the water spirit plotline was a bit underwhelming, and didn’t create those moments of anticipation and tension that I had expected. I also felt sometimes that the exposition was merely read to us or given directly instead of being woven into the plot. While these are noteworthy problems, in the end, they simply can’t override the fact that this series, due primarily to its strong cast, is going to stay in my mind for a long time, and certain scenes, such as a hallucination at the end of the third episode, are some of the most memorable I’ve ever seen.
On the technical front, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. The animation is superb, the landscapes are beautiful, and the character are drawn consistently. Even when there is lots of movement on screen, the visuals never cease to impress. Then there’s the superb music, which makes good use of traditional Eastern instruments to provide a very authentic and effective soundtrack. There is also an original song used in the series as a pivotal moment, “Nahji no Uta”, which reminded me of some of Joe Hisaishi’s work for Studio Ghibli.
As the show begins, it appears to be an action show, with episode three containing detailed fight sequences that clearly had thought put into them. However, as the show approaches its middle point, it becomes a calmer, gentler series – almost slice-of-life. This will undoubtedly upset a lot of people, and while the end of the show does pick up on the excitement factor, don’t come into Moribito expecting an action packed whirlwind, because it just won’t happen. This is a slow, character-based adventure drama which also contains some occasional moments of brilliance on the action front.
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