Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit Collection (Cert 12)
4 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 702 minutes approx.
A blast from the past for some of you, this fantasy adventure was first released a decade ago but on DVD only. MVM have now brought it back with a shiny new HD transfer on Blu-ray and hopefully a new generation of anime fans will appreciate this overlooked and underappreciated treasure.
Wandering female warrior Balsa arrives in Yogo with the idea of having her short spear repaired. Instead, an act of heroism in saving the life of the Second Prince Chagum from drowning brings about a change in Balsa’s plan. Chagum’s mother, the Second Queen, hires Balsa to act as a bodyguard for her son, explaining his father, the Mikado, plans to kill Chagum, believing him possessed by a water demon which will bring drought to the kingdom.
Balsa reluctantly accepts the job and steals away with the young prince in tow, setting Chagum’s bed chamber on fire as a distraction to trick everyone into thinking the Prince has died. However, royal conspirators have seen through this ruse and put the word out that Balsa lit the fire and is now wanted for the murder of the Prince. With the help of an old friend, herbologist Tanda, his eccentric elderly teacher Torogai, and street orphans Toya and Saya, Balsa and Changum traverse the kingdom to safety.
Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit, based on the novels of Nahoko Uehashi, approaches its themes with great intelligence and maturity. One thing it immediately establishes is the eschewing the typical Anime convention of having a “villain of the week” obstacle for Balsa and Chagum to slice and dice as a part of their fugitive lifestyle, instead, using its twenty-six episodes to tell an actual story with depth and substance.
Some may balk at the comparable lack of action for a show with a warrior for its lead, and the abundance of dialogue heavy episodes but this is a wasted concern; the time is well spent developing the characters and the story, a sinuous tale laced with intrigue and emotional human drama, whilst making each fight more of a treat where the endless repetition of clashing weapons would soon batter the viewer into submission.
Directed by Kenji Kamiyama, this is not just a visual treat but much care has gone into providing depth to the two main characters. Balsa is more than your typical warrior chick (no fan service but she is still shapely) as, contrary to her aloof and insular attitude, has a caring side. In her time as a bodyguard for hire, Balsa has slain eight people which she regrets so her personal mission is to save the lives of eight people to atone for these killings – Chagum would be number eight.
Therefore, Balsa goes into battle to wound and not kill, which is not as easy as it sounds especially with a bounty on her head, putting additional pressure on her duty to protect Chagum. Over time, a bond forms between the two as you might expect, but a maternal one on Balsa’s part, hinting at possible regret of a life path denied to her by the itinerant lifestyle she is beholden too. And whilst Tanda might be a potential love interest too, we may never know.
Chagum also defies stereotype insofar as not being a spoiled petulant royal brat; instead he is a shy and sensitive lad who is initially confused and overwhelmed by the situation he finds himself in but slowly adapts to his new life as a commoner after finding it hard being ordinary. The transition is not easy one but to his credit, Chagum makes an effort to learn and grows to appreciate the lifestyle of the common people, whilst carrying the burden of his fate with immense dignity and maturity for a lad not yet 12 years of age.
Representing a permanent threat to their safety on behalf of the Mikado, are the royal star readers whose counsel spurred the actions against Chagum. However, younger star reader, Shuga, has breached the rules and read the archives which appear to have been misinterpreted over the years, and the fate of Chagum is entirely different to what they have been led to believe.
Just as Torogai has also learned, the drought has been greatly exaggerated but worse still for the carrier of the water spirit egg, the only way it can be born is for their body to torn apart by invisible egg eaters. With no way to defeat the egg eaters yet known to them, the missions of Balsa and Shuga now coincide with each other, but will both sides be able to trust the other?
Hidden beneath the historical chanbara elements, the fantasy and the political intrigue, Moribito relays a tale of surrogate parenthood – Balsa’s maternal bond is mirrored by the relationship she had with her guardian Jiguro, whilst Chagum adopts a similar concern about the egg growing inside of him. Ironically, and sadly, one true parent, the Mikado, doesn’t appear to have any genuine concern for his son as long as the public image of the royal family and official protocol are upheld.
Quite a lot to take in but the eximious Production IG keep us enthralled with stunning imagery – enhanced by this new HD transfer – of incredibly detailed backgrounds and artwork and smooth, meticulously observed animation that stands many notches above that of most TV series even by today’s standards. One can feel the bucolic atmosphere of the Japanese countryside permeating through the screen, buttressed by a rich and immersive sound design for the complete sensory experience.
Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit is a show that successfully marries high end production values with masterful storytelling without compromising one for the other. It may slow in pace for those who expect fantasy to equate to endless action, but the reward for the patient is sharing a tumultuous and unpredictable journey of growth, self-discovery and danger with a fully rounded cast. An unheralded classic without question!
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 4 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Moribito Panel Discussion
Cast Press Conference
Rating – *****
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