I’ve heard a few times that Kenji Kamiyama is a pretty good director, and when I hear a director is good I like to seek out their work to see for myself. Kamiyama’s most well known work, the one he gets most of his attention for, would be Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Unfortunately I’m just not into sci-fi so I’ve only seen a small part of it. It seemed like I would never really get a chance to see Kamiyama’s work, but then I caught wind of a series called Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, a fantasy series directed by Kamiyama. I don’t think it’s a particularly well known series because I’ve never really heard anyone talking about it, but nonetheless it would be my first real exposure to Kenji Kamiyama’s directorial abilities.
Moribito is based on the first book in a series of novels and tells the story of a bodyguard named Balsa, who has tasked herself with saving eight lives to atone for eight people who were killed because of her, and the young prince Chagum whom she was hired to protect. The young prince has been possessed by a water spirit, and his father, the Mikado, plots to have him killed. In a final desperate attempt to save her son, Chagum’s mother hires Balsa, and she sets out to protect him from the Mikado’s forces.
Despite the premise, Moribito isn’t entirely about Balsa and Chagum escaping from the Mikado’s forces. The first seven or so episodes are, but after that it becomes more about Chagum getting used to living his life like a commoner and the developing mother-son relationship between him and Balsa. This serves to make the series much more interesting though. If it had just been about Balsa protecting Chagum from the Mikado’s forces, we would have gotten twenty-six episodes of mindless spear fights and horse chases. Instead what we get is a series that focuses more on a young boy learning about the world around him, a world he was previously sheltered from, and the change in lifestyle Balsa goes through when becoming a mother figure to Chagum.
Of course, this also means that the series doesn’t have much action, which is unfortunate in a way. We are treated to an amazing fight scene in the third episode, in which Balsa takes on several opponents at once. It’s fast, brutal, and animated amazingly well, making it a truly entertaining fight and one of the high points of the first few episodes. But after that there really isn’t another fight until episode thirteen. This fight is also just as amazing as the first one, but at the halfway point of the series there have been a total of two significant fight scenes. Given how amazing these fights are it would be nice if there were more, but there really aren’t that many. So if you’re looking for something with plenty of action, don’t let the third episode trick you into thinking you’ll find it here, because you won’t. But again, what you do find is still a great series, just a little slower paced than you would expect.
The two main characters help make this slow approach easy to sit through. Chagum is a typical young sheltered prince who knows nothing about the real world, but he’s handled in a way that sets him apart from that character type. Normally that kind of character tends to be a spoiled little brat who has trouble adjusting to the world, but Chagum isn’t like that at all. He doesn’t snap at people for not paying him proper respect, and he doesn’t look down on other people. Granted, he may refer to them as commoners which isn’t exactly a polite way of saying it, but that’s because he doesn’t have the same vocabulary as a normal person, not because he disrespects them. Chagum may just be a kid, but he fully grasps the situation he’s in and learns to handle it rather quickly.
I could go on about Balsa and how she manages to be a tough, strong woman without being a hateful bitch – as tends to happen with this kind of character, but I’ll be concise. Simply put, Balsa manages to strike a balance between being both a woman and a warrior without compromising either one. She’s a strong and powerful fighter, but still maintains certain feminine qualities. Likewise, those feminine qualities don’t make her seem any weaker, as she has the muscle build you would expect from someone who has been fighting most of her life. She manages to be both a mother figure to Chagum, and a warrior capable of taking on several opponents at once, and both seem like completely believable aspects of her character.
Bang Zoom!’s dub for the series is passable. There aren’t any performances that really stand out as amazing, but likewise there aren’t any that are really grating either. Cindy Robinson does a fine job as Balsa, providing a voice that can sound both strong and motherly. Mona Marshall’s role as Chagum can take some getting used to however. The voice fits the character, I just don’t find the voice very pleasant to listen to, but it’s less of an issue as the series goes on. The script itself has a few issues of not being tailored to fit the mouth flaps, meaning out of place pauses crop up in a few lines, but it’s fairly infrequent. It’s not a stellar dub by any means, but if that’s your preferred method of watching a series then it’s perfectly fine.
Visually, Moribito is simply stunning. The series does have a tendency to use still shots, or pan across backgrounds, but when you have backgrounds and environments as beautifully drawn as Moribito‘s it’s hard to hold it against it. Every field, every mountain, every insignificant detail is handled with such care and expertise that it’s hard not to just stare at them and forget about whatever is going on. In particular there are a few shots in the second half of episode 11 that are just breathtaking. These shots were easily some of the most beautifully animated ones I’ve seen, with such amazing and vibrant colours that I wish they had been around longer. Production I.G. does seem to like using CG however, and it causes a few problems here. Whenever there happen to be crowds of people milling about in the background, they’re done with CG instead of traditional animation. This CG shows up in a few other scenes and it just doesn’t mesh with traditional animation very well, and it detracts from the experience a little bit. But it’s easily forgivable given how amazing everything else looks.
Moribito is simply an amazing series so far, in both story and visuals. It has a great cast of characters, a few truly amazing fight scenes, and breathtakingly beautiful artwork, making it a truly enjoyable experience. It’s a must see for fantasy fans, or for people who want to see what Kenji Kamiyama is capable of but just aren’t into sci-fi.