First Look Fair: Seirei no Moribito

Crunchyroll recently made the first four episodes of Moribito available to premium subscribers, so I took a look. How did I miss this one after all these years? Seirei no Moribito (aka Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit) is the sort of anime I want to watch nowadays.

There are many “sexytough” women in anime, the archetypal one probably best embodied in Major Motoko Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell (another work of Kamiyama’s). She is good with weapons. She is a bit of a hardass and is emotionally reserved, sometimes to the point of seeming constipated. Yet she is always out there to protect something or someone—a younger charge, in the case of Claymore’s Clare and in this one, where Balsa must protect possessed prince Chagum from assassination by his own father. The wandering warrior + younger companion is itself another archetypal plot setup (see: Lone Wolf and Cub, Guin Saga, etc.) and is a useful one as a setup for an epic journey.

What's amazing is that she doesn't smash him in the face for that comment

Balsa is perhaps the most balanced out of the “sexytough” female leads I’ve seen in anime yet. She is sharp and no pushover—witness the way she basically threatens the second queen and demands to be treated as an equal even by royalty. However, she is a bit more nurturing than, say, Clare toward Raki in Claymore, perhaps helped by the fact that Chagum himself is not nearly as annoyingly whiny and dependent. She has friends, like Tanda, subtly undermining the “lone warrior” motif. This being a NHK show, there are also the two kids she looks after from time to time, Touya and Saya, which is the part that reminds me most of the other NHK fantasy adventure Guin Saga—though in Kamiyama’s hands the direction is never condescending or dumbed down. Balsa is woven in more tightly to a community of sorts, and has personal reasons of her own to pursue this job. This is a great setup for a rich character.

Kamiyama directs this show straightforwardly, compared to the heady Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and the frequently bizarre and mishmash of Eden of the East. However, he is the expert of the slow build and tension, particularly as the chase after Prince Chagum gets underway. The fights are animated with extreme fluidity and grace—though without one drop of blood!—and emotional moments like Balsa’s life-endangering injuries are handled very well.

Hey, at least he tries

While watching the show, the word “stately” kept coming to mind as a way to describe the pacing; however, by the end of the fourth episode, it seemed inappropriate. Rather, it is simply unhurried, as befits a show with a long journey ahead. Its lack of the usual gore or fanservice now makes it seem almost odd compared to most modern TV productions; the fact is, however, is that it doesn’t need them. It simply focuses on telling the story, and telling it well.

Finally, the soundtrack is notable for being one of the finer orchestral-based scores I’ve heard in a TV anime. It was no surprise to learn it was the venerable Kenji Kawai, the composer of the terrific Ghost in the Shell film soundtracks, though he works without the traditional instrumentation as much in Moribito As many know, I’m a sucker for great music in anime, and for once, the music is worthy of the show rather than being its only saving grace. I am actually not as fond of the L’Arc-en-Ciel OP as some are, nor the ED.

The first few episodes are available on Crunchyroll, though the rest of these series is already available on DVD. I’ll almost certainly be picking this up sometime myself. This is the kind of prestige, quality production that is all too rare in TV anime these days.

4 thoughts on “First Look Fair: Seirei no Moribito”

  1. Hmm, I don’t like to be negative (well, I do, but I refrain as much as possible)… but this series was a big disappointment for me. Interesting and hot warrior woman (with rarely utilized short spear)? Check. Fighting against corruption of the elites? Check. Dirty political machinations? Check. Mystic portents? Check. Otherworldly influence and shattering revelation of incorrect worldviews? Check. It has ingredients of win and awesome.

    I thought so, too, at first, but I found it really really boring. The majority of episodes, almost nothing of note happens. Many fight seems seem pointless, other than to show fighting and keep viewers from falling asleep. Characters spend multi-episode arcs painfully plodding through obvious plot items. It’s like a gripping political intrigue/fantasy/action story that found itself mistakenly directed as a really staid slice of life show. Many of the middle episodes WERE just slice of life ones. I don’t think “stately” is the word I would use, perhaps “moribund.” It should probably have half as many episodes (but I think that about a lot of shows).

    On the other points, I agree. The soundtrack is excellent, the characters mostly have depth and are not nearly as cliche as they could be, the plot (what there is of it) is interesting, and the art is rich and pretty. I would add that the setting, in terms of actual plot elements and the art style, is also not cliche. It’s not a generic western fantasy land or quite a generic East Asian-land (buildings look like, uh, Frank Lloyd Wright on drugs does Tang dynasty to me); there are real cultures with at least a little real anthropology. Better than most.

  2. I found the flow of the overall storyline to be especially pleasing, and the eventual resolution of the narrative arc — wherein a grievous misunderstanding is satisfactorily and realistically resolved in time for the principal and supporting characters to face the real threat together without distraction — benefitted from the languid, even Kurosawa-esque, pacing. Such slow, slice-of-life pacing is required to build the audience’s engagement with and emotional investment in the fate of the characters. Likewise, the climax and the denouement of the story were both dramatically satisfying and politically plausible. The respect Balsa is shown in the last few episodes is hard-won and well-deserved, as is recognized and foreshadowed by the blacksmith early on in the series (in one of the most important and otherwise action-free episodes).

    This is one of the most “literary” series to come along in several years, and as such is perhaps unsuitable for recreational viewing in bulk, but rather needs to be savored slowly as a project over several weeks for best enjoyment.

  3. Two very contrasting opinions! Thanks for your feedback. I guess I’ll have to experience more of the show to see which side I agree with :) I do have to say that the “literary” descriptor entices me, being a literary person and all.

  4. I think DojiStar, perhaps desensitized by the droves of emotionally unrealistic and manipulative action shonens, has completely missed the importance of character building and emotional exploration found in Moribito. If one were aware of such important building blocks of a character driven narrative, they would have never come to such ridiculous conclusions about Moribito’s pacing and importance placed in every drop of engrossing dialogue.

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