REVIEW: DVD Release: Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit - Part 1

Series: Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit - Part 1
Release date: 20th September 2010
Certificate: 12
Running time: 325 mins
Director: Kenji Kamiyama
Starring: Mabuki Andou, Naoto Adachi, Kouji Tsujitani, Ako Mayama, Rintarou Nishi
Genre: Anime
Studio: MVM
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Moribito is the first in the ten-volume Guardian series of Japanese fantasy novels written by Nahoko Uehashi, and this collection contains the first half of the series, which was dropped without warning from the Cartoon’s Network’s Adult Swim, after just the first ten episodes, angering many fans.

The story revolves around Balsa, a female bodyguard with a personal agenda hired to protect the second prince, Chagum, who has been possessed by a water demon, threatening the stability of the kingdom of Yogo.

The prince faces death at the hands of his own father, as the emperor fears the demon that possesses the boy is the same one that previously ravaged the entire kingdom. However, the prince’s mother opts to save the boy’s life by hiring Balsa, after she saves Chagum from drowning…

The central premise is that the protagonist, spear woman Balsa, is trying to atone for eight lives that she was forced to take by saving a further eight lives - the young prince’s being the final life saved. Balsa is a well-developed and intriguing character and that is the main pull for the series. Unlike many anime series such as Bleach, Moribito is more concerned with character development and long stretches of dialogue than pure action, although there are some tense and exciting moments, such as the fight scene in episode 13 between Balsa and her old adversary Karbo.

It is a refreshing to see a series with a female lead that is a strong and independent character, as well as one whose sexuality is not an emphasis, something Moribito avoids. Balsa is a thoughtful, quiet but strong protagonist, who is, at the same time, warm and protective of her young charge - the main focus of the series becomes the relationship between Balsa and Chagum, which becomes very maternal and affecting. Her character design is detailed enough to show a range of emotions, something which other female protagonists have frequently lacked.

The secondary characters such as herbalist Tanda, wise woman Torogai, and orphan Saya are also well developed, and add interest to what is sometimes a slow plot. The orphan boy Toya also adds some comic relief to the proceedings.

The animation in Moribito is consistently good throughout the first thirteen episodes, with an unusually high level of detail in its visual environment, whilst the energy and sense of movement shown in the characters’ clothes and hair is extremely well rendered. The backgrounds are beautifully realised and the music is haunting and fitting for the emotional scenes, though a little repetitive - the opening credits are a little on the mawkish side, but this is forgivable.

Many of the later episodes deviate quite significantly from the original novel, and purists may complain about this, but the storylines are appealing and engaging nonetheless. There are some emotive scenes in the early parts of the series when we see the growing relationship between Balsa and Chagum as she gives him a flavour of life outside palace walls. There are also some affecting scenes of a burgeoning romance between Saya and Toya.

The final episode of this first collection ends on a slight cliff-hanger as Balsa wrongly believes she has broken her vow to never take another life, leaving room for speculation as to what is to come in the second half if she does not discover the truth.

This series features good character development, as well as an easily understood plot. It does sometimes lack tension and the dialogue can be a little heavy handed. The plot is not vastly different from many other anime series of this type, but the characters are well drawn enough to hold interest.

Moribito is a satisfying piece of anime. It is rich in detail and emotion and is a refreshing change from purely action-driven anime. The characters are consistently engaging and the animation is superior to many other shows. The plot is slow, but for those with the patience, this is a satisfying watch. CP

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