Seirei no Moribito – Rocks like a bears back

It’s been a few years since I last enjoyed a Production I.G. TV series. The "mega-hit" Blood+ was a safe and predictable action series, while the elegant period setting of Le Chevalier D`Eon was dull and uninspired. All that is to say, I suppose I was expecting to be bored when watching Seirei no Moribito (a.k.a Guardian of the Sacred Spirit); it’s funny how wrong one’s expectations can be, and it’s subsequently great to be proven so profoundly wrong.
Based on the first of 10 fantasy novels by Shihoko Uehashi, Seirei no Moribito follows a precocious female warrior turned bodyguard called Balsa. The story so far is that it’s her job to protect the young Prince Chagum, a kind hearted member of the Royal family who has been "possessed by a water spirit" and since targeted for assassination by his own father (the Emperor). Amidst flames and confusion, Balsa flees the royal palace with Chagum in tow, hunted by the Emperor’s finest warriors.

Let’s get this obvious fact out of the way; Seirei no Moribito is a gorgeous example of high budget animation. With Production I.G., you expect lavish and detailed background art, but rarely do you see such objective, rural beauty in an anime TV series. Only Mushishi comes close to this obsessive reflection of nature. The art director is Yusuke Takeda, who was also behind both the stylised look Gankutsuou and the grandiose feel of Giant Robo. Takeda’s got talent.

It’s obvious that Seirei no Moribito is based on a novel, not only is the story deceptively straight forward and unconcerned with pointless details, the characterisation is striking and unique; the product of a seasoned and talented writer. Chagum isn’t the stuck up prince we expect him to be and Balsa isn’t a cold and efficient killer either, their personalities feel essentially human, different to what we expect.

It’s hard to write a review when you enjoy something so much, but stick with me; I’m not saying all this just to fill time. The director is Kenji Kamiyama, he of Stand Alone Complex fame. Indeed, Kamiyama is a steady and assured hand, never attempting to impose a distinct style on the narrative, preferring instead to let the story unfold at a natural pace.

No doubt, the soundtrack is my favourite of the spring season. It’s composed by the world famous Kenji Kawai, revered for his work on the Ghost in the Shell movies. Here his ethereal, emotional music bleeds into the animation, giving absolute life and emotion to the landscapes and wildlife that surrounds the characters. It’s particularly notable when Chagum scales a slippery, dangerous cliff. At the top, he finds a wolf; the background is filled with rain and lightning, the fearsome animal stands there starring at him, then just turns around and walks back down the cliff. The music during this moment is a heart stopping and tense epic; I need the soundtrack now!
I’ve saved the best for last; the action. I thought Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann had some fluid hand to hand combat, but episode 3 of Seirei no Moribito rivals the famous "rain" episode from Samurai Champloo. The warrior costumes, their unconventional weapons (spears!) and the actual battle choreography is absolutely electric. There is no real "style" or posing to speak of; it’s real fighting, skirmishes that are often over within 10 seconds, but what a 10 seconds!

It’s hard to summarise a series I’ve enjoyed watching as much as the first three episodes of Seirei no Moribito. It’s already licensed by Geneon in the US, so expect a DVD release state-side soon enough, and the actual novels are going to be published too (in North America by Scholastic). Since Seirei no Moribito is simply the first book, I can only hope that this is the beginning of another big franchise for Production I.G.

20 replies on “Seirei no Moribito – Rocks like a bears back”

Seeing as how production value is an influential factor of my view of the show, I have to say I really like this show as well.

chevalier is pretty good, its just that it focuses on story more than anything else. give it a chance. considering that i have observed we share the same tastes, u might like it. i also thought it was kinda slow, but its all a build up.

Awesome Episode no doubt.
which episode in Samurai Champloo is the one you mentioned? ("rain episode")

@kauldron26: I feel duty bound to like Chevalier. It’s mature and serious, but something about that period setting switches me off – I suppose I just find that whole era boring. Sooner or later, I’ll give it another chance; just right now I have so much anime to watch.
@Dire: "which episode in Samurai Champloo is the one you mentioned? ("rain episode")"
It’s either episode 20 or 21; the one where Mugen and the "blind" spear woman go crazy on the rocks and fight out this amazing sequence of martial arts. It’s probably the high point of the series.

I’ve also really enjoyed this show– the animation is obviously very good, and the music is good too (although I’d prefer some subtler, non-music moments as well– the OST seems to be everywhere, which I find too emotionally "manipulative" and aggressive for my tastes), but it’s the languid yet focused pace of the story (a la a novel) and the characterization that really gets me. Also, Balsa is awesome.
As you pointed out bateszi, the show both tends to let unnecessary things go by the wayside (details of the world or cultures, etc), instead focusing on only the essentials, and yet, simultaneously, it doesn’t have that feeling of having to cram an adventure into every episode, the way many anime-original stories do. The plot moves as it needs to– action occurs (and what amazing fight scenes!!)– but it never feels forced narratively.
The characters are interestingly ambiguous, on a moral level, which I appreciate– even the King and his cohorts come off as rational thinkers, even as they seem cold hearted at times.
Definitely though, so far, Balsa’s been great– she’s the real heart of the show for me, rather than the plot (which isn’t too shabby either). I see some bit of Motoko from GITS in her character designs– the shapely, feminine build of a woman in her late 20’s or 30’s (read: she has a bust), the pretty face, the full lips, and yet, she’s not absurdly over-feminized. She’s not a joke like Motoko is, with the way she’s dressed. She seems very no-nonsense. Motoko, frankly, is sort of offensive (or atleast very off-putting) to many people I’ve known– physically, she’s such an obvious product of male wish fullfillment that watching her walk around in that french-bikini style skin tight suit just makes me laugh, even as she’s so totally badass.
Also though, Balsa really looks muscular– her arms are thick, her shoulders broad… she looks like she can really weild that spear with a vengance. You get a real sense of that in the pic you put up where she’s weilding the butt-end of the spear to crack that guys head. Beyond all that– she’s actually a real person– funny at times, caring, not overly motherly or silly or "male" focused. What I mean by that is that she doesn’t feel like she’s been created to be an object of male sexual desire, or some sort of wish fulfillment (whether as a sex object, or a mother, or a caregiver), and yet, at the same time, she still a woman– she’s not de-sexed. She’s sexy and caring of Chagum in a bit of a motherly way, and yet those things don’t define her whole character. It’s cool. I enjoy that. She really feels like a real person.
I wish sometimes the plot was moving along a bit faster, and that they’d been able to give us some of the exposition in a slightly more dramatic way, but these things are really me being nit-picky because I like show so much. Also, frankly, this director has shown he has issues with exposition anyways. What I’ve watched with GITS definitely had it’s share of talking heads. This one does to. And yet– it’s nice to get away from the need for every episode to be an "audience-attention-capturing" device in and of itself. They obviously know they’re making a high quality product with a real built in viewership, and that comes across in the fact that they’re letting themselves build the plot appropriately– even as they keep us interested with real characters (that have interesting emotions and responses) and amazing fight scenes.

@Questmark: "the OST seems to be everywhere, which I find too emotionally "manipulative" and aggressive for my tastes"
That’s interesting because I’m basically the opposite, I love overpowering soundtracks, in fact, I own many of Sergio Leone’s movies just for the accompanying Ennio Morricone soundtrack. In the case of Seirei no Moribito, the soundtrack pretty much made episode 3 – especially loved how it cuts in right at the start of the that episode and plays over the episode title card. It immediately introduced "impending danger". I think from that moment I knew this show was going to seriously rock; well, that and the hunters whistling as a form of communication.
"The characters are interestingly ambiguous, on a moral level, which I appreciate– even the King and his cohorts come off as rational thinkers, even as they seem cold hearted at times."
Very true. I intended to make a point about the lone hunter who would rather kill the prince himself. His mini-arc lasted only 5 minutes but it had a real impact on me. Little details like the way he held onto the flower pattern, it’s an odd attention to detail that characterizes a personality that was on-screen for merely half an episode.
"I see some bit of Motoko from GITS in her character designs– the shapely, feminine build of a woman in her late 20’s or 30’s (read: she has a bust), the pretty face, the full lips, and yet, she’s not absurdly over-feminized."
I can only agree. I suppose that since many of the SAC staff are working on this, it’s easy to point out that similarity but it’s obvious that she is highly influenced by Motoko; her personality, like Motoko, is aggressive yet feminine. It’s great to see a female character like Balsa in anime; that’s not so tailored to the "oogle" factor. Even Revy from Black Lagoon is dressed up to titillate and attract the more superficial otaku out there.

You’ve got me there Ken-Goh, I always thought precocious meant "surprisingly" talented but clearly I was wrong. I watch too much football and subconsciously pick up the lingo 🙂

It’s a fantastic show, both in the writing and the technical execution, and I hope it goes on for a long time at this level. But you say she’s a "precocious female warrior?" She’s 29 — a little late to be "precocious."

so i finally finished chevalier. Bateszi. pick. up. this. show. seriously. on a scale of 10, i’d give it a 8.5 – 9. the story and characters make this anime.

seirei moribito is disappointing me… ok… were my expectations for this show waaaaay too high?? did 12 kingdoms raise the bar waaaay too high?? because as much as it hurts to say i am quite disappointed. i was expecting to be blown away, i was expecting layered characters, i was expecting political intrigue, i was expecting action, i was expecting some character growth… i dont know… the anime is very nice to look at and all… but i dont care about the characters or if the country suffers through a drought and doesnt have water *gasp* the show is not bad… maybe 12 kingdoms was just too good. well im still on ep 19, and i am quite upset because i actually chose not to watch this when it was ongoing, the first 3 eps blew me away to the point that i decided to wait till it was over and then marathon it. now im just trying to get it over with…

wow… that was disappointing… ~sigh~ im surprised so many of y’all liked chagum. somewhere along the line i stopped caring about everything, but tanda and balsa’s relationship. i hate being crushed with disappointment. if anything seirei no moribito has numbed my thirst for great anime. how everything led up to them fighting gigantic squids… omg… saddest thing is that they show had so much potential, and moments of greatness. what happened to the philosophical themes about murder?? that did not even play into anything… i was hoping chagum would commit patricide, and contemplate on what it means to take a life. and for fucks sake i hate balsa for not even seeming to pay attention to the one person that has been there for her for 20 yrs. yet she knew chagum for what a year? yet tanda gets no love? ugh… this reminds me of how upset i was after bakumatsu.
moribito: 7/10
if u want to watch fantasy done well, fantasy as a masterpiece watch 12 kingdoms, 12 kingdoms puts moribito to shame. funny thing is that i wouldnt have been so mad if the first 3 eps werent so good. la lunga turns out to be gigantic squids… the highlight of the show?
“if you cant see me as the cure, then there is not point waiting” every guy that has ever been in love knows exactly what tanda felt at that moment.

for me Seirei no Moribito was perfect
story characters music aniamtion every thing was amazing
i watched the first few episodes of 12 kingdoms and it was decent
but i will prefer Seirei no Moribito to it by a huge difference

dude u only watched the first few eps of 12 kingdoms, which is nothing about the real story nor do u even get to know the character well. 12 kingdoms is literally a really dense novel. u havent even tapped the first layer by the first couple of eps. the best aspect i love about fantasy is the transcendence of having a specific goal. the entire anime became about chagum and the egg in his chest. if i asked u what was jk about, there is not one thing to focus on. the issues and concepts continued to grow and grow, but this was just to linear. jk did not just focus on how a regular girl can fit in a fantastical world, it also expanded on so many issues ranging from murder, betrayal, self loathing, trust, our own personal demons, friendship, suffering, the meaning of life, the birth of life, order, politics, what it means to be a ruler. but SnM in the beginning not only focused on the egg, but the importance of taking a life… commiting murder. but that issue was not fully developed to delved into. it came and it went.
we didnt even understand why tanda was the only one that could reject her for her murders, why did she listen to him, if killing had no weight? what made her listen? why did she leave him? how could chagum suddenly go back to a life that threatened his own and acclimate so well. my point is that in all reality, the show is not complex at all. no adult themes. no shades of gray. everyone found their niche in the end. no one was really faced with any heavy confrontation. the heaviest moral confrontation was the slap btw chagum and balsa, and that was comical. im not saying the show was bad, im just saying that i was expected to be blown away. look at the episode when balsa goes all tiger on the dude? what then, she’s fine because she didnt kill him? all was well with the world? every thing just fit too well…
or how bout all those mysterious scenes and conversations at court?? why did the head sage try and kill shuga? yet he didnt even know the truth, the head sage was just acting mysterious as a plot device. yet his attempts on shuga’s life and multiple attempted murders of the prince carried no weight. dude just came and went. what was up with the prince why was he so sickly? are u telling me that the first wife held no malice for the death and silence of her son, and the second prince was bound to ascend the throne? c’mon… balsa reminds me of motoko from ghost in the shell, she just does what she’s supposed to do or believes what she’s doing is right, there is no range in her emotional contenance. atleast motoko was redeemed in 2nd gig where we saw a completely different side of her. Balsa was boring as fucking hell. no passion for anything whatsoever. now compare her character arc to someone like yoko, or caska, or saya… theres not even any point. Balsa can be summarized as hot and formidable. nothing more.
i remember watching jk for the first time, and i had no idea where the show was going, or how it would end, yet by eps 4 of SnM i would bet a billion dollars that chagum would be safe and sound in the end, and everyone will live and be happy. even when chagum was hunting with balsa, he accepted seeing death and blood so easily… yet i remember when yoko killed a man for the first time how that changed everything. or when renton in eureka seven realized that he had been killing people all that time he had been riding in the nirvash. that shit was chilling. yet chagum just went on and on, and only complained about going back home. for a show that was so detailed in art and story, it wsa ridiculously simple and linear. it might has well have been a disney movie with the best production values money can buy.

i stopped watching 12 kingdoms because it Deviates from the manga so i was afraid of being disappointed after watching a long series

chagum go back to his life because he has no choice
balsa left tanda because she has another life to save and she dont see him as a
why do you say killing has no weight for balsa?
as for the mysterious scenes and conversations i dont remember them or dont know which do you mean?
as for the man who will kill other people if she didnt fight him what do you want her to do their was no other solution than going berserk but i remeber the man forget his memory or something like that i didnt like that
as for the prince he could be sicky for any reason it doesnt matter what matters that he died and ofcourse the first wife held malice for the death of her son
hunting isnt the same as killing and may be he have seen people hunting before

Chagum returned to the life of a prince because it was the beginning of his new journey in life. He grew so tremendously throughout the show and by the end he understood what it meant to be responsible and to be a man.
Balsa didn’t necessarily leave Tanda. She just had to return to her home land of Kanbal to honor the spirit of Jiguro. She had completed her quest by rescuing all eight lives. I truly do think that she loves Tanda and I’m sure that she will return to him some day. I mean seriously it was implied heavily throughout the entire show that their was something between the two of them other than friendship.
For me Guardian of the Sacred Spirit was one of the best shows of the summer season. Right up there with Moonlight Mile and Gurren Lagaan. The characters were deep and interesting, the action was fast, fluid and served a purpose, and the story itself resonated with me because it was about growing up and learning what it meant to be alive.
I highly recommend this anime to anyone who prefers slower more character driven experiences about growing up in a fantasy world.
eight and a half out of ten

this show sucks balls. im not kidding. plot is obvious. characters more so. animation annoying to watch. boring waste of time

I love it when the quality of comments in the comments section after a review make the quality of the the reviewed work evident.
Almost all of the ass-grammared, 5th grade writers who seem to show no evidence of being able to appreciate mature film-making seem to find the show disappointing, boring, feel the need to recommend a laughably simplistic show over the subject show, and are baffled over praise of character realism and depth.
Meanwhile, almost of all of the collected, sophisticated writers feel the opposite.
Thank you for reinforcing my intent to watch this series intellectually repressed commentators.

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