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.
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.
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.